In August 1822, some 30 Irish laborers walked north from Charlestown on the promise of steady work. They settled in what would become Lowell and became central to the city’s creation, digging canals along the Merrimack River to power textile mills and the rise of a cloth-making capital.
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They lived in a shanty town and, as more of their countrymen joined them, built a wooden church beside their homes and named it St. Patrick. There, a rebuilt version of the 1831 church remains, its grounds all but untouched over the nearly two centuries since the settlement’s founding.
Now, archeologists are poised to excavate the church lawn in search of clues to the early Irish settlement and how its inhabitants lived day to day in their new country, from the food they ate to the hearths they cooked over and the pipes they smoked.
Starting next week, students at the University of Massachusetts Lowell will team up with researchers from Queen’s University in Belfast for a weeklong dig, part of a broader study of the Irish who immigrated to Lowell before and after the Great Famine and the role they played in 19th-century America.