March 1866 – Abby Locke’s Diary continues
The first entry is for March 13
Tues. Went up in the afternoon to see the Gymnastics. They were very good. Mr. Bates came up with Mother and afterwards we went to ride. Took in Mattie Whitmarsh, Wallie Tucker, Mary Morton and Lizzie Tarleton. Had a splendid time. In the evening, Louise, Clara and I went downtown to Mrs. Marland’s. Mr. Sands was there and Mr. Frye. We played signals and had a very pleasant evening. Mr. Frye came home with us.
One flag carried by the Fenians in 1866
Sat. Uncle Joseph came and stayed over one train. Mrs. Kimball called this morning. St. Patrick’s Day. Very cold. Went to Lawrence to get our aprons braided. Saw the Lawrence and Lowell Fenians and the Fenian Sisterhood. They looked very pretty with green cloaks and white hats trimmed with green and ribbons of the same color. There was one in the center with a wreath of flowers on her head holding a harp trimmed with flowers. She looked almost frozen. The men had red, white and blue bows on their green scarves. The streets were lined with people, mostly mill hands. I suppose for blarney they think we will help them if they fight with England.
The Fenian Brotherhood was a society of Irish immigrants and Irish-Americans having for their aim the violent overthrow of English rule in Ireland. Their numbers swelled in the years immediately following the Civil War, as thousands of Irish veterans returned, armed and trained in military tactics, to homes in the Northern mill cities. A local branch of the organization, called a “circle” was organized in Ballardvale, but it was dwarfed by the Lawrence contingent, which publicly paraded 375 members on several occasions in 1865, and owned a “Fenian Hall” in Lawrence’s predominantly Irish neighborhood called “the Plains.” The national group had begun to break into several distinct factions by March 1866, and the Fenians in Lawrence were supporters of a plan to attack Canada and gain control of strategic locations along inland waterways in order to wrest concessions from the British government . The Fenians of Lawrence raised $7000 between St. Patrick’s Day and Easter Monday of 1866 to support this plan, and cheered volunteers who boarded a train in Lawrence to join the 800 troops massing in Buffalo, NY. The attack was launched on June 1, 1866 and had some initial success – driving back Canadian militia men at the Battle of Ridgeway – but was ultimately a failure as the British regulars came quickly in reinforcement.
a (not-completely accurate) illustration of the Battle of Ridgeway, June 2, 1866
The St. Patrick’s Day parade in 1866 was organized by the Lawrence Irish Benevolent Society , a considerably less controversial group, although there was a great deal of overlap in their membership and most people (like Abby) tended to lump them all together. The girls Abby describes as the “sisterhood,” were thirty two young ladies seated on the rostrum “with green dresses, black sacks, green ribbons, round straw hats trimmed with green and green veils”, representing the thirty-two counties of Ireland. Queening over them was Miss B.J. O’Connor, representing “The Maid of Erin,” attired also in green with a “harp beautifully decorated with flowers and evergreens.” Abby further notes the red, white and blue trimmings worn by the marchers, a detail that would have pleased the Fenian leadership who took pains to demonstrate that their devotion to Irish independence would not conflict with loyalty to the United States. Irish and American flags were always carried together in their demonstrations. Edward Devlin, the Benevolent Society’s president, remarked as part of his address to the crowd “the warm hearted and generous people of this country and the framers of their institutions and laws are entitled to the everlasting gratitude of the Irish people, who will yet fulfill their destiny and become more American than the Americans themselves.”