Matthew Jude Barker

Matthew Jude Barker

History preserved: Maine Masonic Civil War Library delves into state's role in Civil War

Maine and the nation recently celebrated the 150th commemoration of the Civil War (1861-1865), and books continue to come out weekly on all aspects of that terrible time in the nation's history. People continue to study and explore the ramifications of the conflict on a daily basis. For those interested in the role Maine and Mainers played in the war, a must is a visit to a little-known resource, the Maine Masonic Civil War Library and Museum at 415 Congress St. in Portland.

Located in the historic and beautiful Masonic building, The Masonic Temple, near City Hall, the museum and library was officially opened on Oct. 5, 2013 and was the brainchild of its director, James E. Dufresne and other local Masons.

“We were in the middle of celebrating the Civil War,” said Dufresne. The Masonic library’s space became available when the Mason’s Grand Lodge of Maine offices relocated to Holden, outside Bangor. He had been the Grand Librarian for the Grand Lodge for over 25 years.

As a pamphlet on the museum states, “The Maine Masonic Civil War Library and Museum was begun as a reminder to Mainers of the part that many Masons played in the Civil War. Mainers also played an important part in the nation’s recovery after the Civil War. Maine Masons were not the only Mainers who served in the Civil War; we must also recognize all Mainers, men and women, who participated in that great conflict.”

Dufresne, a Portland native, PHS Class of 1967, has always been interested in history and was particularly intrigued by the American Revolution which eventually led to an interest in the American Civil War. He was asked by the Masons to take on the Civil War library project in 2011 and has collected an amazing amount of books, literature, artifacts and other items relating to the war.

Dufresne is quite knowledgeable about the war; he becomes animated when he discusses the part the Masons and Mainers played in it. I am personally intrigued with the library and museum because my great-grandfather George J. Barker was a 32nd degree Mason in Portland and his grandfather George J. Barker of Rockland joined the Union Army at 49 and was discharged disabled 11 months later.

The library is located on the third floor of the Masonic building and is accessible by an antique elevator, the original elevator. The building itself was built in 1910-1911, and although the Masons’ offices removed to the Bangor area, it is still “quite busy,” according to Dufresne. Blue Elephant Events & Catering of Saco is the exclusive caterer at the building which is used for everything from local high school proms to wedding receptions. Many couples get married at the nearby First Parish Congregational Church and then go next door to the Masonic building for their reception. Blue Elephant business is largely helping to preserve the temple. According to Dufresne, a scene from the History Channel’s documentary on the Titanic was filmed in the building as the building has changed very little since 1911.

The role Maine and Mainers played in the Civil War is still being explored by historians and other interested individuals. Most have heard about General Joshua L. Chamberlain of Maine who led the 20th Maine which helped win the Battle of Gettysburg for the Union; and many have heard that Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote part of her seminal book Uncle Tom’s Cabin in Brunswick, a book that helped precipitate the Civil War according to many; still others know that President Lincoln’s first Vice-President during the war was Hannibal Hamlin of Maine. But there are other aspects to the war that have a Maine connection.

The Maine Masonic Civil War Library and Museum is a great place to learn about them; visitors can get acquainted by studying the Joshua Chamberlain exhibit at the front door of the library that was created by Dufresne. Chamberlain himself was a Mason.

 

The Library & Museum is open Wednesday through Saturday; Wednesday through Friday from noon to 4:00pm; Saturday, 1-4:00pm | FMI, contact James Dufresne, 207.294.1152, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. | FMI on the Masons, see Portlandmasonic.com | The entrance to the library is at the side door at 15 Chestnut St. off Congress.

 

Memorial Day events in the Greater Portland area include:

• Monday, May 30 at 2:00pm | Friends of Evergreen (Evergreen Cemetery) annual program "to honor fallen veterans and raise awareness of the original traditions of Memorial Day. The Friends of Evergreen have created a dignified event with participants such as our local veterans, the Woodfords VFW Color Guard, a symbolic black riderless horse, Girl Scouts, neighborhood girls as flower girls, Claddagh Mohr bagpipers, City Councilors, and local historian Herb Adams. The crowds along the route (Stevens Avenue from Deering High School to the chapel in Evergreen) increase from year to year as community involvement and appreciation continues to grow." |

Portland parade | Parade begins at 10:15am at Longfellow Square and continues down Congress Street to Monument Square for ceremonies. |

Biddeford/Saco Memorial Day Parade | Parade starts with a ceremony at Biddeford's Veteran's Park at 9:3am | The parade starts at 10:00am and proceeds to Saco | It is followed by a noontime meal at the AmVets on Birch Street | For more info phone Gene Foster at 207.282.9461 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Portland well versed in Irish history: Easter Uprising, Luttrell's poetic efforts underscore 100th anniversary

Irish people around the world will be celebrating this spring the 100th anniversary of the Easter Uprising in Ireland that eventually led to the creation of the Republic of Ireland (1949), and the Irish in Portland will be no exception. Many local Irish groups will be leading the way for three days of commemorations this weekend.

The Irish American Club of Maine, the Maine Irish Heritage Center and the local Ancient Order of Hibernians will commemorate this momentous day in Irish history on Friday, April 22; Saturday, April 23; and Sunday, April 24. The Claddagh Mhor Pipe Band will provide music at many of the events.

The weekend kicks off with a lecture by Michael C. Connolly, a professor at St. Joseph’s College, at the Maine Irish Heritage Center on Friday, April 22, at 7 p.m. His lecture, titled, “Irish Labour and the Easter 1916 Rebellion and Its Aftermath,” will cover the founding of the Irish Labour Party and the famous collaboration between Irish labor leaders James Connolly and James Larkin. Connolly will also speak about the Dublin Lockout of 1913, the creation of the Irish Citizen Army, the 1917 Anti-Conscription movement and the fate of the Irish Trade Union Congress in the tragic aftermath of the Easter Uprising. A brief Q & A will follow the talk, as well as a presentation of the documentary series, “1916 Seachtar Na Casca,” which focuses on the role of James Connolly in the Uprising.

On Saturday, April 23, an Irish theater group called Fibin will present, “Pearse in Pictures,” which is written and performed by Harry McGee and Dara McGee, at the MIHC at 4 p.m. This is “a striking reimagining of Ireland’s 1916 Easter Rising,” according to the MIHC’s website, which also noted, “The insurrection, led by a small group of idealists, resulted in a heavy defeat with all the leaders executed. However, it was the spark that lit the bonfire that culminated in an independent Ireland.” Fibin is a theater group from Inverin, County Galway, Ireland, which will be in Massachusetts the previous week. The performance will focus on five major figures of the Uprising. Inverin is the ancestral home to many Portland Irish families.

Two events will be held on Sunday, April 24. The first one will be the “Reading of the Proclamation,” on the steps of Portland City Hall at noon. The Proclamation of the Irish Republic, also known as the Easter Proclamation, was a document issued by the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army. The reading of said document “signaled the start of the Easter Rising in Dublin in 1916, and set in motion a chain of events that would eventually lead to Irish independence in 1922. April 24 is the actual 100th anniversary of those watershed events. Two local Irish-Americans will read the proclamation from the steps of Portland City Hall at noon, both in the English and Irish languages. Fran Seeley, whose father Patrick McDowell was a member of the Irish Volunteers and fought in the Uprising, will recite in English, while Belfast-born Brendan McVeigh, former president of the Irish American Club of Maine and teacher of the Irish language class held at the MIHC, will proclaim it in Irish Gaelic. The Claddagh Mhor Pipe Band will be present to play old Irish national airs and rebel songs.

The fourth and final event of the weekend will be held at the MIHC after the events at City Hall, at 2 p.m. Titled, “Stories from The Easter Rising,” this event will focus on the seven signatories of the Proclamation, all of whom were executed by the British after the Rising. It will include music, poetry, and images, and also focus on such Irish rebel leaders as Countess Markievicz and Sir Roger Casement who are little remembered today.

Amid the commemorations of Irish history, a former Portland poet laureate will launch a summer edition of a poetry journal while honoring thr work of Irish poets.

“It is a gathering of Irish voices that represents all ages, styles and genders,” former Portland poet laureate Steve Luttrell said of his upcoming event at the Maine Irish Heritage Center on Wednesday, April 27, at 7 p.m. The summer edition of his poetry and review journal, The Café Review, full of poems by Irish poets, will be officially launched that night.

The event, titled “An Evening Celebrating Irish Culture Through Poetry & Music,” is being held in an anticipation of Luttrell’s trip to Ireland in May in which he will visit the cities of Galway, Limerick, Dublin and Cork and have many of the Irish poets featured in his journal read from their own works; Luttrell will also read from his own book of poetry, Plumbline, which was published in May 2015. This is the first time since 1997 that the journal, which he founded in 1989, will feature all Irish poets.

This trip to Ireland, his first, is highly significant to Luttrell, who calls himself a “rebel poet.” His grandmother Annie Skerritt was the daughter of Irish immigrants Michael and Delia Curran Skerritt from County Galway. Thus Luttrell is a part of that strong connection between Portland and County Galway that has existed since the 1820s. It is a kind of homecoming for the noted poet, who hopes to visit the birthplace of the Skerritts and perhaps meet a distant cousin or two; he has recently connected with a distant cousin, Paul Greaney, in Galway.

The Café Review was founded in 1989 by Luttrell and grew out of poetry readings that he and others did at the old Woodford’s Café in Portland. The journal, published four times a year, also has artwork by local artists and the summer edition also includes artwork by Irish artists Liam O’Neill and Nonie O’Neill.  

Many of the Irish poets have connections to Portland, including Theo Dorgan, who taught at the University of Southern Maine in 1996-1997. Luttrell, who grew up in South Portland, has remained in contact with many of the Irish poets who appeared in his journal in 1997. Many appear in the current edition, which he says will “give a real feel for contemporary poetry in Ireland.” The poets include such well known Irish poets as Paula Meehan, Afric McGlinchey, Macdara Woods and thirty-one other poets.

The event, which will include music by local musicians, is also being held to celebrate National Poetry Month (April). “It is an evening to celebrate contemporary Irish poetry, music, and art, and my own Irish roots,” said Luttrell. The poet, who was Portland’s first poet laureate, is thrilled to be connecting with his Irish ancestry and stated that this event and his trip to Ireland are significant on many levels. He will spend three weeks in the ould country. “It is an all Irish tribute,” Luttrell said of the event at the MIHC.

There is no cost for the Luttrell event. Light refreshments will be provided. FMI, call the MIHC at 207.780.0118 or visit their website at maineirish.com. Also interested readers can go to www.cafereview.com.

All of the Irish history events are free and open to the public. Donations are accepted. FMI, call 207.780.0118 or go to the MIHC’s website, maineirish.com.

 

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Maine Irish Heritage Center brings Makem & Spain for concert series

One of the most popular bands of Irish and folk music in New England and elsewhere, Makem & Spain, are making an appearance at the Maine Irish Heritage Center this Saturday, March 19. They appeared at the center many years ago and are happy to be returning.

“This will be a great event,” Robert M. “Sam” Kelley said. Kelley is the event coordinator. “This will be our second concert in our new concert series at the center.”

The first one was in November when the celebrated Maine folk band Schooner Fare appeared. That show sold out; a record number of people attended, and it turned out to be one of the biggest events in years at the MIHC.

Makem & Spain was formed in 1989 by three sons of legendary Irish musician Tommy Makem and two brothers from New Hampshire of Irish descent named Spain. Rory, Conor and Shane Makem joined up with Liam and Mickey Spain to create a band that played traditional Irish music as well as “folk classics, songs of the worker, songs of the sea. ...” The band currently consists of Liam and Mickey Spain of Manchester, New Hampshire; and Rory Makem, who is a native of Drogheda, County Louth, Ireland.

“Folk songs are engrained in both families,” according to their website (see www.makem.com). All the brothers learned Irish songs from relatives when they were quite young. Tommy Makem, whose own mother had a great store of traditional Irish songs, was known as the Bard of Armagh and making his home in New Hampshire in later years, traveled the world with the Clancy Brothers performing Irish music.

Makem & Spain “have played before millions of people from Canada to Texas, from California to the Caribbean and over to Ireland, highlighting national PBS specials and popular Irish talk shows along the way,” according to their website. Just this month, they have performed in North Andover and Boston, Mass. and Dallas, Texas. After they appear at the MIHC, they will next perform in Calais, Presque Isle and Farmington, Maine in early April.

According to their website, “Not in the past 30 years has a group taken the international stage with such vocal power and stage presence, capturing the essence of their genre, while standing out as something truly unique. A host of various instruments and three male vocals, using precise three-part harmonies blend perfectly for what many have described as a wall of sound. Makem and Spain are at their best onstage where their talent and enthusiasm draw in fans who have never experienced the joy of folk music.”

Kelley said that the concert is also being held to introduce people to the MIHC who have never visited before and to make them aware of the center’s great library, genealogy program, DNA study and extensive collections, not to mention the beautiful sanctuary upstairs where at least 10 weddings are performed every year.

The concert begins at 7:30 p.m. and the doors open at 6:30. Kelley recommends people come early to get a seat as the Schooner Fare concert was sold out. SoPo Catering will operate a cash bar. The concert is being held in the function room in the basement of the center. The State Street and Danforth Street doors will be open.

Tickets are $20 in advance, $25 at the door. They can be purchased online at the center’s website: www.maineirish.com. FMI, call Sam Kelley at 207.883.5182 or 207.650.1814. Tickets can also be purchased at Bull Moose.

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St. Patrick's sign-up: Maine Gaelic Sports Alliance welcomes young people

With a significant footprint on local sports, the Maine Gaelic Sports Alliance plans registration on Thursday, March 17, St. Patrick’s Day. The alliance, formed in 2010 by local Irish sports enthusiasts, has continued to grow in popularity, especially in the last few years, organizers noted.

James E. Tierney, a Portland native who helped form the sports group and is its chair person, discussed the growing popularity of Irish sports and how it is helping children of all ages, including underprivileged kids.  

“Kids from South Portland, Cape Elizabeth, Standish, Saco and Windham have joined the group,” Tierney said. “We hope to add more students from more local schools every year.”

He explained that the Maine Gaelic Sports Alliance promotes the Irish sports of hurling and Gaelic football for Maine children from ages 4 to 16. Some girls also play camogie, another Irish sport that is currently underdeveloped in Maine. The alliance, Tierney said, offers these sports to interested children regardless of whether they can pay for equipment and fees.

“We want kids to be able to play,” no matter what. In the opinion of Tierney, no other sport in this country offers the cultural aspects of hurling and Gaelic football. League organizers want children to realize they are a part of “something bigger than themselves” when they play these sports. Many of them go on to play Irish sports in high school or college or in mens’ leagues.

The MGSA, a business member of the Maine Recreation & Park Association, holds practices and games at the Wainwright Sports Complex in South Portland from May through August, where last year they hosted a tournament where 250 children participated in five consecutive games. Players from all over New England and even Canada attended the games. The MGSA hosts a tournament every two years. They also attend tournaments throughout New England, such as at the Irish Cultural Centre in Canton, Mass.

The group’s motto is: “Dedicated to promoting, teaching, and growing Gaelic sports in Maine.”

Many local groups and people have contributed to the success of the MGSA over the years, especially Irish native Ciaran F. Lynch, chairman and CEO of Tex Tech Industries Inc., which has an office at 1 City Center and is the world’s largest manufacturer of tennis ball felt. Lynch wanted to be sure he covered the yearly operating costs of the alliance. The alliance also has received monetary assistance from the Irish American Club of Maine and the Maine Irish Heritage Center, two affiliates.

The alliance is invited every year to cultural days at local schools, where members give 15- to 20-minute classes on hurling and Gaelic football. Leaders go to 10 schools and rec clinics a year, where Tierney said they stress that if “any kid wants to play, they can play. We never turn away a kid because he can’t pay.”

The MGSA is a member of the Gaelic Athletic Association, Northeast Minor Board, part of the North American Gaelic Athletic Association, which is itself part of the Gaelic Athletic Association of Ireland. They have a direct conduit to sports in Ireland, especially in the Irish province of Munster, where they have had assistance from Pat O’Shea, a Gaelic football coordinator of the Munster Council (of the Irish GAA) and other Irish sportsmen. The Maine group has one Irish-born member.

Tierney, who himself has played hurling for many years, again stressed in an interview that members really want children to play these sports, no matter the cost. They work closely with local recreation departments and schools and are always trying to let people know of their existence. And as with many groups, you do not need to be of Irish heritage to join. The players, while some are of Irish ancestry, represent many different ethnic backgrounds. They all enjoy being members of the MGSA not because they have to, but because they want to, organizers noted.

Summer registration begins on Thursday. FMI, contact the organization at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Also go to http://gaelicsportsme.com.

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St. Patrick's Parade returns to Commercial Street

The annual St. Patrick’s Parade, organized and sponsored by the Irish American Club of Maine, will be held on Sunday, March 13 at noon. Another parade, smaller and sponsored by the Maine Irish Heritage Center, will be held on Thursday, March 17, St. Patrick’s Day itself. The Irish American Club holds the big parade on the Sunday before the holiday so that more people can attend and participate.

The Irish American Club’s parade gets bigger and bigger every year and now hundreds march in it, including local dignitaries; representatives of the local police and fire departments and the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office; local businesses and restaurants, including RiRa and Bull Feeney’s, who are also sponsors; the Kora Shriners Highlanders Band and other bands; unions; beer distributors; sports groups; neighborhood organizations; and the many Irish organizations in southern Maine, which include the IAC, the MIHC, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, the Portland Hurling Club, the Claddagh Mhor Pipe Band, the Stillson School of Irish Dance, the Maine Gaelic Sports Alliance, the Maine Emerald Police Society and the Burns Ceili Group. Such local characters as Slugger of the Portland Sea Dogs, Salty Pete of the Portland Pirates, Ernie the Starfish, and Oakie the Oakhurst Acorn, always make an appearance, pleasantly entertaining the little ones. Other parade participants include the US Coast Guard, the Girl Scouts, Maine Roller Derby, Guns & Hoses, Ghostbusters, the Curling Club and the L.L. Bean Boot.

The parade, now in its 14th year, begins at noon at the Portland Fish Pier, on Commercial Street near Becky’s Diner, and meanders its way to Bell Buoy Park between Ri Ra Irish Pub and the Maine State Pier, where a rally will be held. The parade will go on rain or shine. The Irish American Club will also host a St. Patrick’s Day Dinner at the MIHC on Saturday, March 12, the evening before the parade. Participants of the parade should arrive at 11 a.m. FMI, go to www.irishofmaine.org. An “After the Parade Celebration” will be held at the center from 1 p.m. until 4 p.m., where there will be music, food, beverages, dancing and good cheer. FMI, contact the center at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

The MIHC will hold their neighborhood parade on St. Patrick’s Day itself, where people will meet on the front steps of the center at 8:30am and walk through the old Irish neighborhood to raise the Irish flag at Harbor View Memorial Park in the West End. Coffee, tea and Irish soda bread will be served at the center from 9am to noon.

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Irish pilgrimage: Portland’s Claddagh Mhor Pipe Band invited to perform in Ireland for St. Patrick’s Day

For the first time, and just in time for St. Paddy’s, the Claddagh Mhor Pipe Band — the only pipe band in Portland — is getting ready to perform in the ould country.

“We’ll be in Galway on St. Patrick’s Day,” local musician Tom Ryan said.

Ryan, the leader of the Claddagh Mhor Pipe Band, said band members were asked to participate in the St. Patrick’s Day parade this year; the request came back in August from Lucas Lanigan of the Galway District Promotions in County Galway, Ireland. The members of the band are beyond elated to be performing in Ireland — an endeavor supported through matching contributions by the Irish American Club of Maine and the Maine Irish Heritage Center and other donations.

Ryan said that 18 out of the 28 members of the band are going over for this St. Patrick’s Day. They will visit the Cliffs of Moher, stunning 800-foot cliffs in western County Clare, Ireland; and Connemara, that rugged, romantic region west of Galway City, where many Portland Irish families originated; and participate in the parade in Galway City itself.

The band’s name roughly translates to “Great Love, Loyalty and Friendship,” according to Ryan, who started playing the bagpipes when he was only 7 years old (he was greatly encouraged by his father to take up the instrument in Long Island, N.Y.). The band’s title originated with the Claddagh symbol, an ancient Irish and well recognized symbol of love, loyalty and friendship. Mhor is the Irish Gaelic word for “big” or “great.”

The Claddagh Mhor Pipe Band, which has held a number of fundraisers for their trip to Ireland, was formed in 2009 as primarily a competition band.

“There are highland games throughout the U.S. and we’ve competed in all of the ones in New England. We like going to the Maine Highland Games in Topsham in August,” Ryan wrote in an email. “Our members hail from as far away as Texas, but most are local to New England. I grew up on Long Island in New York where there was and is a huge bagpipe scene.” Many of Ryan’s relatives, including brothers and cousins, have played the pipes or snare drum.

Ryan said, “Most of our players started learning as adults, but have a few younger folks taking it up and progressing.” The band consists of three sections that are led by a Drum Major. There are bagpipes, a midsection and snare drums, according to Ryan. They can be found practicing most Monday nights at the Maine Irish Heritage Center, the old St. Dominic Catholic Church, on the corner of Gray and State streets in Portland.

And you don’t have to be Irish or Scottish to join the band. “Not knowing for sure, I’d say most are of Celtic descent. It doesn’t really matter to us, as long as people put in the time and effort and can be an asset to the band — that’s what matters. It’s all about the music and the camaraderie,” Ryan stated.

Ryan also wrote, “On top of the parades and events we play at throughout the year, we had a Pub Crawl in October, which was such a blast, we may make it an annual event. We also had An Evening With the Aters. John and Max Ater are a tremendously talented pair who put together a unique show of music and comedy. Aside from those two official fundraisers, we have an ongoing GoFundMe effort at www.gofundme.com/claddaghmhor.”

The Claddagh Mhor Pipe Band will perform in Portland for the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade on Commercial Street on March 13, sponsored by the Irish American Club of Maine, and then will be in Ireland on the actual day of St. Patrick’s, March 17. The theme of this year’s Galway parade “will be to Celebrate and Reflect the Energy of the European Capital of Culture 2020 bid,” according to the Galway District Promotions Facebook page.

The band can then be found in parades throughout southern Maine in the summer and will play at various firefighter events in the area, as well as at the Maine Marathon.

The band’s mission, according to its website, “is to bring bagpiping and drumming to the community and to create presence whose ensemble sound is the result of each member striving towards their personal best and continuing to improve.” For more information, see www.claddaghmhor.com.

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