New Haven's Irish History Projects Gain Momentum

May 13, 2013 - Jim Shelton, New Haven Register - From downtown to Dublin, the Connecticut Irish-American Historical Society has goings-on galore. There's no post-St.Patrick's day lull for these lads and lasses. They're working on a trio of projects that thrust their proud heritage into the public square.

First up, they're gathering first hand accounts of Irish immigrants who found jobs as domestic, live-in workers in Connecticut. Maids, nannies, drivers, cooks -- they're all potential stars of an upcoming exhibit that tells the powerful story of young men and women who came over from Ireland.

"We're developing the list now," said George Waldron, president of the group. "The Irish were unique, in the sense that more women than men were coming in. Most came over as single women and worked as domestic help."

Part of the project will be to transcribe the diary of Mary McKeon, a native of County Leitrim who worked as a maid for several New Haven families in the late 1870s. The diary is at the Knights of Columbus Museum in New Haven, and students from Sacred Heart University will help with the transcription

SHU students also will help conduct oral histories of former domestics from Ireland.

Among them will be Waldron's mother, 102-year-old Mary Waldron. She made the journey to America when she was 17.

Ironically enough, another project has the local history group sending a few things back to Ireland.

Those would be the stories and photos of Irish immigrants who made good once they got to Connecticut. Neil Hogan and others from the society are compiling them for "The Huddled Masses," an exhibit in the works at The Little Museum in Dublin.

Among the stuff they're sending are items relating to playwright Eugene O'Neill, the Connecticut Ninth Regiment (known as the Irish Regiment) that fought in the Civil War, Knights of Columbus founder Father Michael McGivney and an assortment of notable baseball players, politicians, factory workers and others.

Finally, there is the continuing work to create a Connecticut Irish Heritage Trail. Thanks to a state grant, the society recently signed a contract with Heritage Resources, an historic preservation consulting firm, to research and verify sites around Connecticut that will be included in the trail.

The local group already has suggested about 60 sites, from the Farmington Canal to Ireland's Great Hunger Museum at Quinnipiac University in Hamden.

Stacey Vairo of the state Department of Economic and Community Development said that since the Irish history group began work on its heritage trail, other state groups have started exploring trails to celebrate Italian, Polish and Lithuanian heritage. They'll all be looking at the Irish for inspiration.

That should be no problem, according to Tod Bryant of Heritage Resources, who met with the Connecticut Irish American Historical Society last week.

"If you can't make the history of the Irish fun, then there's no hope for any of us," Bryant said.

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