Irish Cultural Center hosts book launch party for The Irish Legacy
Story and photos by Carolee McGrath
CHICOPEE – Dozens gathered at the Irish Cultural Center at Elms College, here, for a Dec. 9 book launch party for The Irish Legacy, A History of the Irish in Western Massachusetts.
The book was published by the Springfield-based Republican newspaper and was co-edited by Sister of St. Joseph Judith Kappenman and Anne-Gerard Flynn, the lifestyle editor for The Republican.
“We invited differed writers. We found writers for the subjects of the police, fire (departments), the nuns and the history of the Elms College. They all came in on deadline,” Sister Kappenman said.
The book documents the arrival of the first Irish immigrants in western Massachusetts, the history of the local Catholic Church and the peace process in Ireland. It also has anecdotes about various Irish organizations, including the John Boyle O’Reilly Club in Springfield, the St. Patrick’s Parade Committee in Holyoke and reflections from local families.
“It’s meant to engage readers in different aspects of the immigrant experience and hopefully invite them to read more about the different areas they’re interested in,” said Flynn.
“One reason to start with the Irish is that we can document them coming here during the famine, and what they faced. But then in 1998, we had the peace accord that Congressman Richie Neal worked on. Both sides of the border, they voted for peace and for a government in Northern Ireland,” explained Flynn. “So there’s a kind of completion. It’s not perfect. The peace process is still being implemented, but the reason for many people coming was the oppression, being evicted from their land and now that violence is being put to rest.”
Sister Kappenman, director of the Irish Cultural Center, described how the church was a very important part of the Irish experience.
“When the first Irish immigrants came, many were Catholic and their most important thing to cling to was their faith. So Tom Moriarty writes about the Irish in Chicopee who built the Chicopee Canal, and then Holy Name Church was built, the first church in western Mass.,” she said. “The church was their gathering place, where they saw one another. A little later they formed Irish organizations, that became the social part, but the first part was their faith.”
Ninety-two-year-old Michael Carney also is featured in the book. He came from Blasket Island, and raised four children in the Hungry Hill section of Springfield. “I worked in Dublin for 11 years, came to this country in 1948, got involved in Gaelic activities and never lost my heritage, my ideals, or my culture,” he told iobserve.
The book is part of a series to be released by The Republican about the history of different ethnic groups in western Massachusetts. Wayne Phaneuf is the executive editor of The Republican.
“Early next year we have a book called Struggle for Freedom, which is on the African American community in Springfield,” Phaneuf said. “After that, we’ll have a book on the Civil War, then on the Jewish Community in western Massachusetts.”
The Republican will also release books on the Latino, Italian, Polish and French Canadian communities of western Massachusetts.
The book can be purchased at The Republican office, 1860 Main St. in Springfield, or online at www.barnesandnoble.com.
Watch for more on this story on an upcoming edition of the Springfield Diocese’s weekly newsmagazine program, “Real Reel,” which airs Saturday evening at 7 on WWLP-22NEWS.