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Monument Square

Monument Square
Jul 05, 2017

Monument Square has had many Irish-American connections over the years, least of which is the Soldiers’ & Sailors’ Monument, which still stands proud over the square. Dedicated in 1891, the monument was erected in remembrance of the brave soldiers and sailors from Portland who fought and died in the Civil War, many of whom were Irish immigrants or their children. So many noteworthy events have taken place at the square and so many Irish connections have been associated here, that we can only mention a few.

A fortified blockhouse stood near this spot as late as 1746 and in the 1750s a jail was constructed here. In 1769, a new jail was built and the town’s hay scales were installed nearby, hence the original name of the area: Haymarket Square. In 1825, the town erected a town house, known as Military Hall. The building became Portland’s City Hall in 1832, and was greatly renovated and gentrified by Charles Q. Clapp, a “gentleman architect.” In June 1855, the “June” or “Liquor” Riot broke out at the City Hall, when Mayor Neal Dow, who had stored $1600 in liquor in the basement, ordered the local militia to fire into the crowd which had been trying to storm the place, crying for the destruction of the booze and the arrest of Dow. The mob, composed of Irishmen and fishermen, charged that Dow had violated his own law, the so-called “Maine Law,” enacted in 1851 by Dow and his ilk as the first prohibition law in the country. A 22-year old native of Deer Isle, Maine, John Robbins, was killed, and seven others were wounded, including railroad magnate John A. Poor, who had a bullet rip through his hat. Robbins was set to marry an Irish girl, Jane Hudson, the next day at St. Dominic’s. Dow, the police, and the militia were absolved of any wrongdoing after an 18-day jury inquest.

The “Old” City Hall stood about where the Monument now stands. It was discontinued as a city hall about 1858 and was known as Market Hall for the next three decades. Many Irish-related events were held here. On March 19, 1866, a local branch of the Fenians (an Irish revolutionary group) held a meeting there that was in support of Colonel William Roberts and General Thomas Sweeny, American Fenian leaders. They formed a “circle” of 60 men and elected William McAleney as “center,” William H. Kalor as secretary, and Peter Wall, a merchant from Galway, as treasurer. James Sheridan, Edward Dolan, John Donovan, John Dunphy, Daniel O’Riley, John McCallum, and Pat Mahoney were chosen the “Committee on Safety.” The local Fenians, as elsewhere, had split on the issue of whether to invade Canada in hopes of disrupting the British government. There were several abortive “invasions” of Canada, including at Eastport, Maine. (See Gary W. Libby, “Maine and The Fenian Invasion of Canada,” They Change Their Sky: The Irish in Maine, The University of Maine Press, Orono, 2004).

In 1803, a three-story edifice was built for Dr. Nathaniel Coffin. It later became the Washington Hotel and in 1840 a fourth story was added and the name United States Hotel given to it. The hotel stood behind the “Old” City Hall, facing the square. President James K. Polk dined there on his 1846 visit to Portland. It went through many owners and was usually referred to informally as the “States.”

From the 1840s on, the hotel employed many a young Irish person. Moses Woodard was the “States” proprietor in 1850, when 18 Irish born workers resided there, including twenty-three old Margaret Gorman, a native of Ballinnaron, Parish of Rockhill, County Cork. In March 1851, she was anxious to learn the whereabouts of her sister Honora, who had left Liverpool and had landed in New Orleans the previous fall. Margaret advertised in The Boston Pilot, an Irish-American newspaper that ran a weekly column in which emigrants could inquire of friends and relatives that seemed swallowed up by the New World.

In 1880, with William W. McDonald as landlord, the “States” employed at least twelve Irish-born “servants,” most of whom were in their twenties, including Bridget, Mary, and Maggie Flaherty, Maggie and Mary Costello, Nicholas Feeney, Katie Kavanagh, Mary Dooley, Thomas Clarity, Hannah McCarthy, and Sarah Kelleher. Sixteen-year old John P. Bogan also worked and resided there. He was the son of Capt. James P. Bogan, originally from Donegal, and an uncle to literary critic and poet Louise Bogan (1897-1971).

From 1886 until 1900, it was owned by the Foss & O’Connor Company, under the proprietorship of Frank L. Foss, landlord of the Cape Cottage, and Peter O’Connor (1849-1926), an Irish-born liquor dealer, saloonkeeper, and City Liquor Agency clerk. The hotel was closed in 1900, and in 1902 Edwards & Walker Company gained complete control of the building, where they operated a hardware store until the 1960s. The entire complex was razed in April 1966 and replaced by a mini-skyscraper owned by Casco Bank; it remains a finance building today.

Peter O’Connor, a Limerick native, started out as a bellhop at the Preble House and later went on to operate hotels on Cliff and Peaks Islands. A son, Francis D., was a local attorney, and his daughter Mary was a teacher at Portland High School for many years.

Thomas F. Donahue (1847-1904), who “came to this country from Ireland when a mere boy,” was a prosperous clothing merchant who opened a store at 18 Market Square about 1885. He had previously operated an establishment at 480 Congress Street, between Center and Brown Streets. Donahue had been advertised as a merchant tailor since the late 1870s. In the early 1870s, he was employed by the clothing firm of Jacob T. Lewis & Company as a pressman and resided at the United States Hotel.

In 1889, T. F. Donahue advertised his store in the Portland City Directory with a sketch of his ten-year old son Freddie on top of their two-year old St. Bernard “Prince V.” The drawing was a facsimile of a photograph that was used in the directory the following year (see image). “Prince” was a said to have been a lineal descendant of the famous St. Bernard “Barry,” who lived at a monastery in the Swiss Alps from 1800-1814 and reputedly saved between 40-100 lives. The little boy Fred became a clerk in his father’s store and moved to New York City in 1908.

Donahue, who was said to have been the only retail clothier who owned his own building, died in 1904. According to fire insurance records, Donahue and James P. Baxter owned 18-20 Monument Square. William J. Boland operated a restaurant at 18 Monument briefly and for many years the address held various clothing stores. It is now “Shay’s Grill Bar.”

T. F. Donahue, who also was an oarsman in his youth and helped to found the Grattan Literary Society, married Bessie A. Hayes, a dressmaker, and they raised an impressive family. Their son Frank W. became a physician; two sons were lawyers, Paul E., and Charles L. (a probate judge), and youngest son Louis Aloysius Donahue (1891-1974) was an insurance man and employed at Augusta as an IRS field division chief. A daughter, Bessie W., was a longtime teacher at nearby Staples (Center Street) School.

Louis A. Donahue operated an insurance company at 22 Monument Square from 1920 until the late 1930s, first with Daniel Mannix Rowe, and then with James E. Cummiskey (1887-1973), an Irish-American from Rhode Island. The latter was the manager of the insurance firm from the 1930s until the 1950s. His wife, the former Ruby I. Nason (1889-1965), became the president in the early 1950s, while James stayed on as treasurer. The coupled retired about 1962, when the company still went under the name Donahue & Cummiskey. James Cummiskey was “One of the founders of the American Legion at the St. Louis Caucus in 1919, he established the first American Legion Post in Rhode Island” (obituary, Portland Press Herald, 21 Mar 1973).

In the 1910s, Irish emigrant Michael J. Leyden had previously owned an insurance firm at 22 Monument. The address has continued to serve innumerable businesses and is presently “David’s Restaurant.”

Christopher D. Cunningham, a brother to James and Francis, the contractors, owned a clothing store at 28 and later 20 Monument Square throughout the 1890s. His partner was Thomas H. Flaherty, whose sister Emily W. Flaherty (1860-1897) was a noted Maine singer and music teacher. John J. Connery and Joseph M. McGowan, former clerks at Donahue’s, continued a clothing firm at 20 Monument from 1902-1918.

As early as 1873, a Portland Monument Association was formed to raise support and funds for a Civil War monument in the city. The site of the “Old” City Hall, Market Hall, was chosen as the site of the monument and the hall was demolished in 1888. The firm of Mannix Brothers was engaged in the stonecutting of the pedestal of the monument. The Mannix brothers were Daniel Morris Mannix and Cornelius A. Mannix, sons of an Irish stonecutter. Dan was a member of the city council (1880) and a prominent member of many Portland organizations, including the AOH, Irish American Relief Association, the Elks, Foresters, and Catholic Knights of America. He died after a brief illness on April 24, 1892, aged 37, just six months after the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument was dedicated October 28, 1891. It is sometimes known as “Our Lady of Victories.”

The monument was dedicated in memory of the 4000 Portland men who fought in the Union and the 300 who made the ultimate sacrifice. Among the former were Irish-Americans Colonel Patrick R. Guiney (1835-1877), a Tipperary boy who grew up in Gorham’s Corner and helped form Boston’s Irish 9th, John E. Anglin (1850-1905), who also grow up in Gorham’s Corner and was the second-youngest Medal of Honor recipient ever (fought at the Battle of Fort Fisher), and John P. Callan (1843-1918), another vet of Fort Fisher, ferry boat engineer, and the janitor-engineer of the Maine Historical Society (1912-1918).

Of the Irish from Portland who fought and died for the Union, more than 60 are listed in the City Directory of Portland for 1866-67. Some of these local Irish included Michael C. Boyce, Patrick Brennan, Barney Boyle, Cornelius Cashman, Philip Clancy, Francis Conroy, John E. Downey, Edward J. Farrell, Michael Gillen, Patrick Gleason, James Flannagan, William Gulliver, Peter Lee, James Madden, Michael J. Murphy, Thomas McGovern, Patrick McNally, Barney O’Donnell, Michael Riley, Timothy Sullivan, Dennis Sexton, and John Wilkinson. Two of these men, John E. Downey, age 21, and First Lt. Michael C. Boyce, age 26, were killed at Gettysburg. The latter had an impressive military funeral at St. Dominic’s. Downey’s brother Michael died in Virginia in August 1864, age 16. They were the sons of Daniel and Mary O’Brien Downey, natives of Innishannon, County Cork.

RELATED SITES: Staples School, Center Street, City Hall

Author Matt Barker
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