Holyoke's Irish Heart
The tenements and row houses provided were often small and crowded. According to one 1875 report by the state’s Bureau of Statistics of Labor: “Holyoke has more and worse large tenement houses than any manufacturing town of textile fabrics in the state. One large block, four stories high, has 18 tenements with 90 rooms, occupied by nearly two hundred people; and yet there are only two, three-foot doorways on the front, and none on the back. Our agents visited some tenements having bedrooms into which neither air nor light could penetrate, as there were no windows and no means of ventilation.”
Not only were the living conditions harsh, but the wages were poor – many families were in such dire straits that young children were forced into the workforce. The census of 1880 shows “only” 700 minors between the ages of 10 and 16 years employed in the mills. The following year that figure rose to 1,501.
In 1875, work began on a new building, a huge complex at Maple and Hampden streets, and when it was completed many of the Irish moved there. Built by two brothers from Ballyduff, Co. Kerry, “Dillon’s Block” was often referred to as “Dillon’s Baby Factory” because so many of Holyoke’s new citizens were born there.
One of those citizens was Joseph Loughrey, the eldest of Margaret and Constantine’s twelve children. “My father and two of his sisters were born in Dillon’s Block, and then the family moved to a house. He was one of twelve, one died in infancy and two died with flu when they were three and four,” Bob says.
He tells me that his father, Joseph, had wanted to go to college but the family situation didn’t allow for it. “He was very good at mathematics and he wanted to complete his schooling but his mother asked him to get a job so that he could help out. He agreed, but made her promise that with his help his four sisters would get an education and she kept that promise.”
Joseph became a successful businessman and made sure that his own children went to college. Bob became a schoolteacher, another brother became a college professor, and another had a successful career as a salesman. His sisters also had careers.
The belief in education and also some of the grit and determination of Margaret Friel carried down to her great-grandson, also called Joe, who received this year’s J.F.K. Award. The oldest of eight children, Joe (one of Irish America’s Business 100) recently retired as Vice Chairman of Cummins, the world’s largest independent diesel engine manufacturer, after a 35-year career.
Church & School
It was hard not to think of Margaret Friel and that generation of immigrants as we assembled in St. Jerome’s Church for the Bishop’s Mass on the eve of the parade. St. Jerome’s was the rock on which the future of those young Irish pioneers was built.