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MVCU, Community, Irish
Home / News & Financial Education / Irish History in the Merrimack Valley
Irish History in the Merrimack Valley on 3/2/2021

Irish History in the Merrimack Valley

In celebration of Irish-American Heritage Month, we’d like to pay respect to the Irish immigrants who paved the way for the growth of the Merrimack Valley.

The struggles and work of the Irish built so much of the Merrimack Valley and Boston area! From digging railroad lines to working tirelessly in textile and wood factories, to building bridges and roadways, Irish immigrants contributed greatly to New England’s industrial landscape. Their tireless efforts to achieve rights for workers in the US allowed future generations the opportunities for education and career achievement that we have come to expect.

The Immigrant City

The home of our headquarters, Lawrence, MA, is known as ‘The Immigrant City’ due to the high percentage of its population of foreign-born immigrants throughout history. Beginning in 1845, immigrants arrived from Germany, Canada, Italy, and many Eastern European countries. After the Great Potato Famine of the 1840s, Irish immigrants began arriving by the thousands, lured by the promise of work in the riverfront mills.

Sadly, immigrant workers in the United States, especially in the New England and New York factories, worked under horrific conditions, often for very low pay. They endured extremely long hours for 6 or 7 days a week, with limited, if any, breaks throughout the day. The conditions of the factories were not only intolerable, they were also often unsafe. Children were employed to work alongside their parents as child laborers in these horrid conditions. Jobs were not protected in any way; workers could be laid off or fired at a moments’ notice, with no recourse and no unemployment or disability pay or benefits.

Creating Positive Changes

After decades of enduring these conditions, the immigrants began to organize into labor unions, striking against the factory owners for improved working conditions, livable wages, and protection. Their efforts paid off in the form of what we have come to expect in the 21st century: 40-hour workweeks, overtime pay, mandatory breaks after specified minimum working hours, unemployment and disability insurance protection, OSHA and related workplace safety regulations, and child labor laws.

The immigrants who worked tirelessly to put food on their own families’ tables also logged tremendous off-work hours fighting for these protections and regulations, to create a better work environment for themselves, their children, and future generations. The Merrimack Valley, and especially the city of Lawrence, MA, where our headquarters is based in a renovated factory mill building, is a testament to the work of these immigrants.

Still Standing

Today, many of those original factories remain standing, and over the past decade, they have been refashioned into the offices, medical facilities, retail shops, living spaces, restaurants, and entertainment complexes that we can now fully appreciate. This next generation of the mill buildings is beginning to show signs of transforming communities which have not experienced economic growth in decades, and we’re proud to be a part of the next phase of growth for the cities of the Merrimack Valley. 

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