Greetings, and a tip o' the hat to all of our Irish friends! St. Patrick's Day is nearly here and soon the distinct aromas of corned beef, potatoes and cabbage will be wafting through kitchens and neighborhood Irish pubs! As you probably know, Easton has a large Irish heritage due to the influx of Irish immigrants who came to work in many of the area factories, including the Ames Shovel Company.
Research done by Ed Hands for a story entitled The Yankees and the Irish: Early Shovelmakers to 1860 (Reminiscences Volume Four) shows the early arrival of a few Irish before 1830. The Ames Company boarding house, built in 1838, appears to have opened the doors to many more Irish immigrants, and by the mid-1840's the Irish were beginning to make their mark in North Easton. The 1850 census lists more than 60 Irish on the company payroll as shovel makers, and undoubtedly there were others who were casual laborers, carpenters, or working on the Ames family estates in other non-company related roles. By the time of the Civil War more than half of the Ames workers were of Irish heritage. Even with a high turnover rate, there was a steady supply of Irish who were willing and able to learn the shovel making trade.
Just how much of an impact the Irish had on North Easton is evident in their religious community. Early on, the dining hall of the Ames Company was used to hold Mass on the rare occasion that a priest was able to come to North Easton and hold services for about 35 families. (Prior to this, very occasional services were held in private homes.) As the Irish population grew, and a larger space for more frequent services became necessary, the Ames Company gave a plot of land on Pond Street, and a Chapel was erected there by the congregants. At the time of the building's dedication in 1851, there were some 50 families attending Mass every two weeks. Within a year's time there were 100 families attending Mass. You can see from this how quickly the Irish population grew. Members of the Ames family would sometimes attend Mass with their workers, and indication of how much they supported them. The Irish population continued to grow, and so did the church with the erection of a new church on Main Street in 1865 (later St. Mary's Hall), followed by the current Immaculate Conception Church building erected in 1904.
A few years ago, we received a number of books on early New England history and families. Among them was a two-volume set called The Ministry of Taunton, etc. by Samuel Hopkins Emery. I suspected that there could be some information on the early Easton churches, and I was right. In the second volume, published in 1853, there is a short list of the several Easton churches. The section concludes with the following remarks: "Roman Catholic Church - This is situated in North Easton, and has been in existence about one year. They have preaching, one service, every other Sabbath, and the largest congregation of worshippers in town" (emphasis mine). It was clear that the Irish had arrived, and many of Easton's Irish families can trace their ancestry to these early shovel makers.
As you celebrate St. Patrick's Day this week, give our Irish ancestors a nod. They deserve it!