Just in time for St. Patrick's Day, an article in the Irish Emigrant Online describes efforts in August 2010 by six students at UMass Lowell. The students took part in a week-long dig with archeological experts Dr. Colm Donnelly and Dr. Harry Welsh of Queen’s University, Belfast as part of an ongoing study of the Irish who found their way to Lowell, Massachusetts before and after Ireland’s Great Famine.
The findings of the dig, undertaken on the lawn in front of St. Patrick’s Church on Suffolk St. in Lowell, were displayed at the local UMass campus on Thursday evening. Amazingly, the dig unearthed some 1350 artifacts; a huge historical find for just two trenches in one churchyard.
A personal note: I lived for 17 years a few miles from St. Patrick’s Church in “The Acre” section of Lowell and drove by it many times, never imagining the historical collection "stored" in the lawn.
The recovered artifacts included children’s marbles, rosary beads, clay tobacco pipes, shards of window glass, fruit jar remnants, iron nails and oyster shells, shedding light on the recreational, dietary and cooking habits of the early settlers.
One item that confused me is the discovery of oyster shells. The article claims that oysters were at the time a staple of the urban working poor. Being plentiful, they were bought by the barrel and stored by families to get them through the harsh winters. I always thought that oysters were difficult to keep fresh and had to be consumed quickly. Yet this article refers to storing them all winter. Were the oysters preserved in some manner, as perhaps salted? I know this was far too early for freezing and canning was a brand-new technology in the 1830s, not yet in popular use. Can anyone explain this?
Considering the price of oysters today, it is also interesting to note that oysters at the time were a staple of the urban working poor.
Some day I will write about lobsters, the "trash fish" of the 1800s.
If you are interested in Lowell's "Irish dig," you can read the article at http://www.irishemigrant.com/ie/go.asp?p=story&storyID=8587. You will note that the article includes several pictures.