Anam Cara Honor ~ Proud to be a “soul friend” of Lowell Irish Culture and Heritage

Last night I was among the 2015  Anam Cara honorees – this award recognizes local “soul friends” who have made significant contributions to the preservation of Irish Culture and Heritage in the Greater-Lowell. After listening to the Acre Forum panelists – I felt so much a part of their experience that after the presentation, I asked forum moderator Dick Howe if I could be considered a part of the panel as I too had a story to tell… he agreed.

Why am “I” in this place tonight? What is my story? Let me give you a little bit of the story. I’m proud to say that these are my people…

Patrick Meehan (1847-1913) and Margaret McDermott Meehan (1849-1916) arrived from County Sligo in 1864 – when married they settled in the Acre on Worthen Street – he was a bookkeeper and a grocer. Patrick was noted in his obituary as a “man of magnetic personality with a host of friends, a man ready to lend a helping hand to anyone in need… it notes that he was a prominent factor in the growth and success of several well-known societies of St. Patrick’s Church… and his passing “a cause of genuine grief to all” … Margaret or Maggie as she was called – had nine children – they raised a family of the six surviving children. Patrick and Maggie died young – each at 60.

 My paternal great-grandmother – Margaret “Maggie” McDermott  Meehan (1849-1916)

Patrick Kirwin came from County Dublin … and by way of Blackstone, Massachusetts came to Lowell early in the 1870s – he had a valuable skill – he was a wool sorter and he had management skills…. Ellen Courtney – a bit younger than Patrick – also from Dublin by way of Blackstone – came to Lowell and married Patrick in 1876. They raised a family of eight children – first, in what we call the Flats – but they soon moved up to 30 Agawam Street in what would be called the Sacred Heart Parish. Patrick was considered one of the pioneers of the Sacred Heart Parish as he was one of the committee who met often in the Lyons Street School to organize this new Catholic parish. His son – William J. Kirwin, Oblate of Mary Immaculate – would later become its Pastor. Patrick had a large circle of friends – he was known as a loyal friend and family man. With Ellen – who survived him by many years well into the mid-1930s – and their children, they formed a solid part of their community – but were NOT – as was made clear to me many times – of the 400!

Thomas Deignan – a 6′ tall red-headed man came to Lowell from County Leitrim – by way of Liverpool – to the Acre… he was a laborer – he was into wood and coal and a teamster… The lively Elizabeth “Lizzie” Charles came to Lowell from Ireland with her sisters … she married Thomas at the Immaculate Conception Church in 1885 (I’m wearing her wedding ring tonight)… they had ten children and raised eight into adulthood. Lizzie lived for many years – to 1940 – and was the center of the Deignan home on High Street – ensconced in her rocking chair in the family kitchen. Only three children married – and just two had children – the others lived at home well into adulthood and not surprisingly – bringing home the paycheck to Lizzie. (I suppose then it was a pay envelope!)

 My maternal great-grandmother – Elizabeth Charles Deignan (1868 – 1940)

Joseph Burke and Matilda Montgomergy Burke emigrated from Newtoncunningham, Londonderry, Ireland to the United States in November of 1898 – arriving on-board the “Nebraska” with two children in tow – Katherine and Bill. They had their first child in America – in Lowell, that was my grandmother “Tillie” – in 1900. They raised their eight children – first, in the Sacred Heart Parish on So. Whipple, Gorham then on Moore Street before settling by the late 1920s in the Highlands on Stevens Street. Joe Burke was a physically strong man who could do the hard work of many…. he walked long distances for most of his life usually with his dog Rigger – I’m told there were many Riggers – and Joe “Pa” Burke lived to be 100… Matilda sailed and traveled back to Ireland many times to visit her brothers… she enjoyed life, she was a fashion-plate in her time and worked as a saleswoman in a department store for many years. Joe outlived her.

My maternal great-grandmother –  Matilda Marie Montgomery Burke (1878-1965)


My grandparents were of these beginnings…. (the Meehan-Kirwin wedding was at St. Patrick’s and the Deignan-Burke…) both grandmothers Agnes Meehan – a Notre Dame Academy – Lowell alum, trained for business and sales – and Tillie Burke – homemaker, great cook and founding member and President of the Ladies AOH – Division #46 – were strong women… strong of faith and family. Both grandfathers – Patrick “PJ” Kirwin and James “Jimmy” Deignan were charmers… they both worked in government – Papa Kirwin – born in 1884 -for over 50 years at the Lowell Post office… and Papa Deignan – born in 1895 – a WWI Army veteran – at the Watertown Arsenal… Then for “PJ” there was the Meehan and Kirwin funeral business with his brother-in-law the Post Master and former Mayor… and for Jimmy Deignan – with the beautiful tenor voice, Irish wit and repartee – there was the BF Keith Vaudeville circuit, appearing in local shows and gigs, he even produced a number of Keith Academy Shows and in the late 1930s he served a few terms on the Lowell City Council! What a heritage….

My paternal grandmother – Agnes Emma Meehan Kirwin (1882-1962) here in 1913 in her wedding dress with newly-baptized first-born William J. Kirwin – later an Oblate of Mary Immaculate

These men and women – my great-grandparents who came to Lowell – left their mark and their legacy through their children, grandchildren and great-grand children. Their influence brought men and women into all walks of life – education, military service, public service, service to the Church, medicine, healthcare and public health, government service – they became teachers, doctors, nurses, businessmen and businesswomen, laborers, librarians, maintenance workers, car salesmen, accountants & CPAs, a Mayor, a city councilor, a school committeeman, a postmaster, organists, pianists, music teachers, priests, sisters, funeral directors, social workers, CCD teachers, computer and technology workers, writers, lawyers… they “got on the city”, the telephone company and the electric, worked at the SUN, the bank, the hospitals, the Housing… ran nursing homes, were in private practice, became Tewksbury Hospital medical and nursing directors, got into food service, were civically and culturally active…. and so much more.

 My maternal grandmother – Matilda Marie Burke Deignan (1900-1957) with my grandfather Jimmy Deignan ~ cira 1919

For me it’s always been as I was taught… as was role-modeled for me – the legacy of faith, family, community, our Irish heritage and culture and service. And – well, a little Democratic politics thrown-in.

I want to thank the committee on behalf of myself, my husband Bill – my partner of over 47 seven years who I first met in Sr. Rita’s kindergarden at the Sacred Heart School – and my sons Bill and Ted, daughter-in-law Nicole and granddaughters Abby, Hannah, Eva and Mae… and for all those who came before me – for including me in tonight’s honors. To be included with this group of people is a great part of the honor. Anam Cara – an honor to be deemed a “Soul Friend” of Irish culture and heritage – along with Peg McAndrews – an old friend so committed to her Irish heritage, St. Patrick’s Church, the work of Catholic Charities and to whom I had the pleasure of giving the Greater Lowell Area Democrats “1999 Distinguished Democrat” award; with Leo Mahoney a good man, a humble and generous man, “the salt of the earth” as they say with whose son and nephews and our sons and nephew share a friendship and a bit of history; with Mike Demoulas – another humble and generous man of the Acre whose friendship with my Dad lasted for over 50 years of business and shared beginnings; and lastly, with the great leader Paul Sheehy – a colleague, a mentor and actually my boss for a while… but most of all my longtime friend… and as with the others – greatly missed.

Thank you all very much!

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