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Performer at Temple Bar, Dublin, Ireland ©2011 Janet Maher

Last week during our wonderful visit in Nantucket, my cousin lent me her copy of a book given to her as a present from a longtime friend. The story is well-known among the Irish of Naugatuck, Connecticut. Such Is The Kingdom, by Thomas Sugrue, published in 1940, is a revery about growing up in the Irish neighborhoods of that town in the early twentieth century. I’ve been told that when it came out the townsfolk eagerly bought copies to see if they appeared overtly or in lightly disguised versions amid the story’s characters. Similarly, I inhaled this book while trying to compare Sugrue’s descriptions with my understanding of the Cherry and Carroll Street enclaves and the community about whom I wrote in my own book, From the Old Sod to the Naugatuck Valley: Early Irish Catholics in New Haven County, Connecticut.

Who were the O’Mahaney’s based upon, I still wonder? Might they have been the Learys, the Martins, or even the Mahers? Dead by the turn of the century, the original Auntie Kelly would likely have been Julia Butler Kelly Robinson, wife of John Kelly, after whom Kelly Hill was nicknamed. Apparently loved by the community, she couldn’t have been the model for the one that “Meadowlegs Fahy” thumbed his nose at while walking home one night! Might the Katy St. Martin character have been a tip of the hat to the memory of Katy Maher Martin, the “St.” underscoring the devoutness of her family and herself, the first Catholic child born in Naugatuck? Meadowlegs, who had such a beautiful tenor voice, was, unfortunately, one among the community afflicted with “the Irish curse.” Might he have been partly based upon an ancestor of mine who had been an under-age drinker?

The map in the front and back flyleaves of this book was altered by the author such that it did not exactly reflect the layout of the neighborhoods, yet the Maher’s homes on Cherry Street (labeled “Hill Street”) by the brook, could be easily spotted as “O’Boyle” and “stable.” The curve of Arch Street was also recognizable, labeled “Dublin Road,” intersecting with Scott Street, which was labled “Oak”—actually another Maher-related street in an area on the opposite side of town. These liberties likewise merged and altered aspects of the place into a fiction, but it is a rich fiction for those intrigued with this actual place and its early Irish identity.

In Ireland, the only country whose national symbol is a musical instrument, history is still contained in its music, and the Irish love of music and of the spoken, sung and written word remains. Aunts of mine played the organ in the first incarnation of Naugatuck’s Saint Francis Church, and one of them, principal Josephine A. Maher, established the first music program at her beloved Salem School. Uncles of mine were known to have been great singers and my grandparents, James and Alice, participated in amateur theatre productions (most likely with music) in Naugatuck. These thoughts inspired me to put together a collection of Irish music here, selected in part by the images that accompanied them on You Tube. Enjoy!

Street musicians, Temple Bar neighborhood, Dublin, Ireland ©2011 Janet Maher

©2012 Janet Maher/Sinéad Ní Mheachair

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