The study of a single community over a forty year period offers an historian a multitude of opportunities to delve into the economic, social, cultural, religious and political aspects of a particular group. Brian C. Mitchell’s account of the Irish paddy camps in Lowell, Massachusetts fails to give the reader this in-depth depiction, offering instead a choppy, muddled and incomplete analysis. While there is value to be found in the richly detailed accounts of family employment patterns and parish rivalries, the book falls short of revealing a comprehensive study of life within the Irish immigrant community of Lowell. Though this book lacks a thorough study of the social, cultural, and political issues it would serve as a good companion piece to the study of immigrant Irish labor systems in other cities, as it offers a unique, contradictive view of both the Boston and New York Irish immigrant histories. Mitchell, an historian of labor history, would have been better served to give the book a less broad title, which leads a reader to believe that the book will cover all aspects of Irish immigrant life in Lowell. Instead, he offers a history of Irish immigrant labor patterns and local parish rivalries, littered sporadically with social and political references.
Readers will find themselves constantly striving, unsuccessfully, to create a portrait of Lowell through the eyes of an Irish resident. Unfortunately, Mitchell fails to successfully illustrate this portrait of the Irish living conditions. While he presents accurate, detailed descriptions of where new streets, churches, schools, work sites and communities developed he seldom offers any depiction of them. Mitchell frequently begins a paragraph discussing one topic and abruptly changes course, leaving the reader confused. He jumps around and does not seem to follow any clear direction. His references to social condition are sparse and scattered, leaving readers unable to conceptualize life for these early Irish immigrants.
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While he often discusses the relationship between prominent Irish settlers, such as Hugh Cummiskey and local Yankee leaders, he rarely mentions the daily interactions between the Irish and Yankees on a personal level. Early on he mentions that in order to complete the development of Lowell’s mill village quickly and efficiently, it became necessary to hire a large number of unskilled laborers. This meant hiring both itinerant Yankees and Irish immigrants. He goes on to discuss in detail, the role that Hugh Cummiskey played in the development of work gangs. He details how the construction boom led to an increase in the Irish population in Lowell as word spread of employment opportunities for unskilled laborers. He fails to mention the relationship between Yankees and Irish during this time, with the exception of Cummiskey and a select number of prominent Irish foremen, and the payment policy of these work gangs is not described until much further into the book. The real value of this book lies in Mitchell’s detailed account of the development of the Catholic Church in Lowell and its impact on the Irish community.
He begins with Bishop Fenwick’s close relationship with Lowell town officials and the subsequent decision to send a permanent priest to Lowell to serve the ever-growing Irish population. He discusses how the Lowell town officials initially favored the development of the Catholic Church in an effort to help maintain order and stability in the paddy camps, and how Protestant charities even donated money to help poor Catholics. He described the building of St. Patrick’s, the first Catholic Church in Lowell, and the riotous reaction of.