Uncover Clues About the Lives of the Irish from the 1800s
By Karen Angelo
Scrape, shovel and sift. Repeat.
From a distance, an archaeological dig appears repetitive. Zoom in a little closer, though, and a buzz of activity emerges.
Recently, at a dig site at 509 Market St. in downtown Lowell, students from UMass Lowell, UMass Boston and Queen’s University Belfast swung trowels, buckets and brushes. They were part of a team searching for artifacts from a grocery store and dwelling that was operated by Irish immigrant Patrick Keyes in the mid-1800s.
“It’s exciting to hunt for a glimmer or twinkle that could be a piece of glass or pottery, giving us a peek into the past, and to learn what people’s lives were like in the mid-19th century,” says UML history major Deirdre Hutchison, who grew up in Ireland. “I am fascinated by history and find it poetic that Irish immigrants helped build the canals in Lowell, and now I’m using a pickaxe to uncover their way of life all these years later.”
Led by archaeologists from UMass Boston and Queen’s University Belfast, the project provided opportunities for nine students from both of those universities and UMass Lowell history majors to find clues about what life was like more than 150 years ago, before a planned new development covers over the past.
“We don’t always think of archaeology being performed in an urban setting like downtown Lowell,” says Carlsmith. “Yet the human record is a rich one, because of the different layers of settlement spanning back through the centuries.”
Keyes established himself as an entrepreneur and leading member of the Irish community in Lowell. In the 1870s, he served as a representative in the Massachusetts Legislature. His family owned the Market Street property until 1906. In the mid-1950s, the building became home to a nightclub called the Cosmopolitan Lounge.
“The experience in Germany was great, and then to get hands-on experience with an archeological dig right here in Lowell was amazing,” says Blake. “History and archaeology are fascinating to me, because they are our connection to the past and we have evidence of how people lived so many years ago.”
The project continues archaeological work, conducted by UMass Lowell and Queens University, that started in 2010. Researchers hunted for clues of Lowell’s early Irish settlers at an excavation on the grounds of St. Patrick’s Church, also in the Acre neighborhood.
Prof. Audrey Horning of Queen’s University, who led the dig with Mrozowski, said the team uncovered a variety of artifacts, including buttons, pipe stems, shoe heels, nails, clay pieces and marbles. “To dig up these pieces of the past is incredibly exciting,” says Horning. “These will be researched and documented to preserve an urban history of a prominent Irish immigrant and the people who lived in the Acre area of Lowell.”