West End Museum Revs up Irish Heritage Celebration

Of the 23 ethnic groups that lived harmoniously in the old West End of Boston, Irish immigrants and their descendants represented one of the three largest (the others being Jewish and Italian). 

As it has since 2016, The West End Museum is hosting a special event to commemorate Irish Heritage Month. On Thursday, March 28 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., this year’s Irish Heritage Night will feature a dramatic reading, a new exhibit, an honoree ceremony, and Irish music. Light refreshments will be served. The event is free and open to the public; registration required at thewestendmuseum.org/whats_on/event-registration. 

Honoree Patricia Trainor O’Malley, Ph.D. is an author, professor, and historian who has focused much of her scholarship on Irish immigrants. Born in Haverhill, Mass., Dr. O’Malley’s ancestors emigrated from the village of Leap, in Ballinlough, Cork County, Ireland in the late 19th century. She holds a Master’s degree in Medieval Culture and a doctorate in Modern English History, both from Boston College. A full professor at Bradford College, she became Division Chair of Humanities and was awarded Teacher of the Year and First Chair for distinguished teaching. Dr. O’Malley’s meticulous work with letters to and from young women who worked as domestics for wealthy families around Boston help to document the lives of Irish immigrants that resided in neighborhoods like the West End. 

The struggles and triumphs of those immigrants, and the relatives who remained in the old country, will come to life through a dramatic reading of select letters by actress and theater educator Brittany Daley. The performance is being directed by Stephen Haley with Theater in the Open, who is also a former student of Dr. O’Malley. After the reading, a brief ceremony will honor Dr. O’Malley, and she will speak and answer questions about her work. Tony Keegan and Sean Connor will perform Irish music on bodhran and fiddle.

West End Museum Program Director and Board member Lois Ascher has curated the letters, artifacts, and photographs from Dr. O’Malley’s family into a small exhibit. Memories: Crossing the Water depicts the passage of lives between the old world and the new, and officially opens on Irish Heritage Night. The letters will become part of the archives of the John J. Burns Library at Boston College. Christian Dupont, Burns Librarian and Associate University Librarian for Special Collections, will be on hand to formally accept them.

Dr. O’Malley has published several books in the “Images of America” paperback series by Arcadia Books, including: “The Irish in Haverhill, Massachusetts,” volumes 1 & 2 and “Haverhill’s Immigrants at the Turn of the Century,” plus the hardcover “Haverhill, Massachusetts: A New England City.”  In addition to family members, her 95-year-old fourth-grade teacher, Sister Gervasi—who grew up in the West End as Jo DiGregorio—will attend this event.

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