LOWELL -- In 2009, UMass Lowell and Queens University Belfast set off on a collaborative effort to conduct an archaeological dig at St. Patrick's Church in the Acre, where many of Lowell's first Irish immigrants settled in the 1820's.
Three digs at St. Patrick's turned up remnants of an early Irish settlement, but the archaeologists didn't stop there. They also conducted a dig in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland, at the homestead of Hugh Cummiskey.
They wanted to study not just what the immigrants' lives were like here in Lowell, but what their lives were like before they immigrated from Ireland, according to Colm Donnelly, an archaeologist and professor at Queens University Belfast, and one of the project's leaders.
Cummiskey was born in 1789, immigrated to Massachusetts in 1817, and came to Lowell with a group of laborers in 1822, according Donnelly.
Cummiskey and his laborers were among those responsible for digging the canals that have long given Lowell a big part of the city's identity, according to Frank Talty, co-director of UML's Center for Irish Partnerships.
The project began because UML Chancellor Marty Meehan, who had worked on the Irish peace process when he was still in Congress, and UML Provost Ahmed Abdelal wanted to see a stronger international component at the university, Talty said.
The project was the first undertaken as part of the Center for Irish Partnerships, and its success bred others, according to Talty.
Five years later, UML is building on that success and hosting a conference called "Irish in Massachusetts: Historical Significance, Lasting Legacy," from Wednesday to Friday.
The conference, and the collaborations between UML, Queen's University Belfast, and Dublin City University, focus on much more than history, though. Seminars will explore Irish influence and history on topics ranging from literature to sports to the continuing impact of the Irish.
Victoria Denoon, a graduate of both UML and Queen's University Belfast, and co-director of the Center for Irish Partnerships, said more than 100 attendees will take part.
Denoon said that while there have been in-depth studies of Irish history in places like Boston and Chicago, the conference seeks to examine that history, and its continuing impacts, throughout Massachusetts.
The event continues Thursday and Friday, with perhaps the most high-profile seminar including Meehan, former Boston Mayor Ray Flynn and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, former lieutenant governor of Maryland, taking part in a discussion of Irish-American politicians.
Artifacts found during the archaeological digs will also be on display.
For more information, visit: www.uml.edu/international-programs/Irish/Irish-In-Massachusetts/