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Lowell History: Visitor Observations 1827-1913

Observations of Irish in Lowell by Thomas Colley Grattan, 1859



Thomas Colley Grattan,
author, born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1796; died in London, England, 4 July, 1864. He studied law in Dublin, but soon renounced this profession, and obtained a commission in the army. He then married and settled in France, but went to Belgium in 1828 and resided principally in Brussels, devoting himself to literature. Having taken an active part in supporting the pretensions of King Leopold to the throne of Belgium, he was, at that monarch's special request, appointed in 1839 British consul at Boston. He held this office until 1858, when he accepted an office in the queen's household. His works include a pamphlet on the "Boundary Question between Great Britain and the United States" (1842); "Civilized America," a splenetic attack on American society and institutions (2 vols., London, 1859) ; "The Woman of Color " ; and "England and the Disrupted States of America" (1861). 


Among the many virtuous Roman Catholic ecclesiastics, who took a distinguished part in urging on this moral reformation among their labouring fellow-countrymen, during my residence in America, the Rev. James McDermott, of Lowell, was conspicuous. His labours were unceasing, his zeal untiring, and his success complete. I quote from a letter of the reverend gentleman, which I cannot, in justice to the subject I have taken in hand, withhold from the public.

"'I know not,' observes Mr. McDermott, 'of one habitual Irish drunkard in this place, and there are but very few who drink ardent spirits at all. The temperate drinkers, as they style themselves, begin to join our society, one by one. A change of circumstances and condition is the happy effect of change of habit. Their homes are now clean and comfortable, and they are happy and respected by the authorities and the citizens. To the officers and board, who are a light to this city and this land, we owe a debt of gratitude, which time can never cancel. In them I have always found protection and support, and a kind co-operation in all my humble efforts to promote the happiness of the flock intrusted to my spiritual charge. To our enlightened Board of Education, the Irish citizens are deeply indebted for an honest liberality in the appropriation of the school fund, and in the provision made for the education of their children. We have one grammar and five primary schools established exclusively for the Catholic children, supplied with competent and approved teachers, who get a liberal salary; and the committee acknowledge, that the children are as docile in theirdeportment, and as studious as any in the country. The Irish here are sensible of their advantages, and are determined to deserve them. Let the other cities of the Union do as our own happy Lowell has done, and the next generation will never blush at the brotherhood of an Irish American.'"

No exhortation can be required in addition to this plain, yet powerful, statement of facts, to cause this example of Lowell and its benevolent magistrates to be extensively followed.

If, as is now admitted by all rational observers, the domestic grievances of Ireland are to be redressed by her own sons, so in like manner should the elevation of the Irish character in America be accomplished by the same agency. The encouragement given to temperance by the Irish Catholic priests is a point of manifest first-rate importance. But other auxiliary measures, in which they cannot take so prominent a part, might effect great good. For instance, the establishment of affiliated emigrant societies, scattered throughout the country,--not for the purpose common to some of the social clubs, of keeping alive exclusive sentiments not in harmony with those of the inhabitants at large,--but for obtaining interesting statistical details and correct information as to the best means of obtaining employment for new comers, and for distributing this information among them so as to prevent their congregating, as they are so much in the habit of doing, in cities, where they obtain only a precarious subsistence, and to encourage their spreading themselves into the interior, with the assurance of permanent occupation and ultimate independence.

The "Freeman's Journal" urged the adoption of this plan in several articles of great force, to the effect of the following extract:

"There is no possible enterprise that could promote the happiness of the emigrant so much as the establishment of such a society. We are thoroughly persuaded of this from personal knowledge, as well as from the information of others. We have seen our fellow-countrymen thriving and happy in settlements in the interior of the country, where the industrious man would always be sure to draw from the earth the reward of his labour, and might feel assured that, unless some extraordinary affliction should befall him, his children would never want at least the necessaries of life. This might be the condition of even the very poorest emigrant, who possesses industry, if he only knew where to go upon his arrival in this country; and we have often felt pained by the contrast which the destitute condition of many of our countrymen in this city presented, especially in the winter season. Again we call upon our benevolent fellow-countrymen to unite in this great work of philanthropy, and prevent or remove a vast amount of moral, intellectual, and physical degradation."