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‘Irish in Massachusetts’ to Celebrate Immigrants’ Story

People’s History, Impact on Region to be Explored at UMass Lowell Conference

UMass Lowell Image
Shown here is one of the artifacts unearthed during archaeological excavations conducted in Northern Ireland and Lowell by UMass Lowell and Queen's University Belfast. The items' significance will be discussed during the conference.


Contacts for media:  Nancy Cicco, 978-934-4944 or and Christine Gillette, 978-934-2209 or

LOWELL, Mass. – Irish immigrants helped propel Lowell to become the birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution and have had a dynamic influence on Massachusetts’ culture for centuries.

UMass Lowell and Queen’s University Belfast will present “Irish in Massachusetts: Historical Significance, Lasting Legacy” in September, uniting scholars, students, community leaders and the public to explore Irish-Americans’ many contributions to life in the Bay State and beyond. The information and artifacts featured during the conference will become the basis for a permanent Irish-American history exhibit in Lowell.

“Although census figures show 24 percent of Massachusetts residents identify as being of Irish ancestry, we don’t have a detailed historical resource dedicated to Irish immigrants who helped build not only the region’s infrastructure but its culture,” said Frank Talty, co-director of UMass Lowell's Center for Irish Partnerships and assistant dean of the College of Fine Arts, History and Social Sciences. “This conference will answer that need, distilling Irish-Americans’ vast contributions in order to provide a definitive account of their experience here.”

More than 120 people are expected to attend the conference, which will be held from Wednesday, Sept. 24 through Friday, Sept. 26 at the UMass Lowell Inn & Conference Center, 50 Warren St., Lowell.

The underpinnings of Irish immigration since the 1600s and immigrants’ contributions to American life – with an emphasis on their influence in Massachusetts and across New England – will be explored at the conference. Historians, authors and archaeologists will be among those who lead more than a dozen sessions. 

Shining a light on Irish-Americans’ history in Lowell, a session on Friday, Sept. 26 will showcase the findings of UMass Lowell and Queen’s University Belfast archaeological excavations, which were conducted by archaeologists and students from both universities in Northern Ireland and Lowell over four years.

Speaking about his participation in this work will be Colm Donnelly, director of the Centre for Archaeological Fieldwork and a senior research fellow in the School of Geography, Archaeology and Palaeoecology at Queen’s University Belfast.

“The conference is a timely and exciting next step in the ongoing relationship between our two universities and one which will further highlight the cultural connections that exist between the island of Ireland and Massachusetts,” he said.

Artifacts unearthed in these excavations help trace the evolution of Lowell’s “Irish Acre” neighborhood, which began in the early 1800s as an immigrant encampment on what is now the grounds of St. Patrick’s Parish, one of the dig sites. The Acre, as it is best known today, was home to laborers who built Lowell’s canal system, which powered the textile mills that became the cradle of the country’s Industrial Age. A tour of St. Patrick’s Cemetery, Lowell’s first consecrated Catholic burial ground and where many of the immigrants are interred, will be conducted on Saturday, Sept. 27.

Irish-Americans’ involvement in settling Maine, their participation in the U.S. Civil War, their contributions to the arts and sports and their influence in Massachusetts politics will also be examined. Speakers on the latter topic are scheduled to include UMass Lowell Chancellor Marty Meehan, who represented Massachusetts’ Fifth District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1993 to 2007 and now teaches a course on Congress at the university.

“Growing up in Lowell’s Irish community, I know firsthand the rich history of Irish-Americans. Together with immigrants from many other cultures, they continue to make Lowell and the region a vibrant place to study, work and live,” Meehan said. “Throughout the Commonwealth, Irish-Americans have made tremendous contributions to many endeavors, not the least of which is public service. The conference’s roundtable on politics promises to be an insightful look into that realm.”

UMass Lowell’s Center for Irish Partnerships has collaborated with Queen’s University Belfast since 2009, when the institutions launched their Irish-American Heritage Archaeological Program, which inspired the upcoming conference. The public is welcome to attend the event. Conference packages, including registration and lodging, are available. Costs start at $40 per person and the early registration deadline is Friday, Sept. 5. For a list of sponsorship opportunities, speakers and more information, visit

UMass Lowell is a national research university located on a high-energy campus in the heart of a global community. The university offers its 17,000 students bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in business, engineering, education, fine arts, health, humanities, liberal arts, sciences and social sciences. UMass Lowell delivers high-quality educational programs, hands-on learning and personal attention from leading faculty and staff, all of which prepare graduates to be ready for work, for life and for all the world offers.