As you meander your way along Commercial Street, it would be a good place to stop and ponder the rich maritime history of Portland, a written history of which is sorely needed. A large segment of Portland’s Irish history is connected to the waterfront and harbor. Irish and Irish-Americans loaded and unloaded ships, captained vessels, participated in rowing regattas, operated boardinghouses for sailors, ran waterfront saloons and restaurants, and sold fish, oysters, and lobsters everywhere in Portland.
As early as the 1780s we find many mariners with Irish surnames who frequented the port of Portland. Captain Jeremiah Haggerty was a mariner who died insolvent in Falmouth in 1789. Captain Thomas Fitzgerald, who died here in 1804, called this port home. Between 1796-1806, we find Michael McLaughton, William Gallagher, Timothy Connell, Robert Dan Sullivan, Timothy Mahoney, John Brady, Daniel Dunn, and Jeremiah Sullivan incarcerated in the local jail, all mariners.
During the 19th Century, we find many colorful Irish sea captains who resided in Portland. Capt. Richard Donavan (1819-1890) commanded steamers on the Boston and Bangor, and Boston and Kennebec and Boston and Portland lines. He was captain of the steamers Montreal, Forest City, and the Tremont. According to his obituary in the Eastern Argus of October 12, 1890, “He was one of the most experienced navigators on the Atlantic coast.” Donavan’s funeral was held at St. Dominic’s, and the pallbearers included many of his old seafaring friends, including John B. Coyle, George H. Coyle (sons of Capt. J. B. Coyle, a native of Enniskillen, County Fermanagh), and J. F. Liscomb. His daughter Mary Ellen married Daniel O’Connell O’Donoghue, U. S. chief clerk of engineers on Exchange Street, veteran of the Civil War, local Fenian leader, and a descendant of the Daniel O’Connell.
Other master mariners included the brothers Daniel L. and James P. Bogan (mentioned earlier), Capt. William O’Freill, James H. Kelley, and Capt. Daniel O’Neill, who briefly disappeared from his home in 1891, stating to Capt. Bogan that he was going to Boston “to do away with the rum sellers.” Capt. Dennis Dolan, a native of Galway, died onboard ship on his way to Philadelphia in 1865, at the age of only 27, leaving behind a wife and several small children. Capt. William J. Dunphy (1841-1923) and his wife Julia Bradley (1845-1887) had several children born at sea, including Gracie in 1870, and Frank in 1877. There is a beautiful stained glass window in their memory at St. Dominic’s Church .
Timothy Anglin (1818-1870), a native of Cork City, was the skipper of a sailboat named the Gypsy. In July 1870, the boat capsized in Portland harbor and Anglin’s body washed ashore near Martin’s Point Bridge a few weeks later, in an advanced state of decomposition, fish having “eaten away part of the face and one hand.” Timothy was the father of John Anglin, the Civil War sailor mentioned earlier, William Anglin, another Civil War vet, Daniel F. Anglin, a noted oarsman, Mary Goode, and Sister Mary Scholastica. John Anglin was captain of a pleasure yacht between Boston and New York.
Galway native James Quinn (1817-1905) operated a successful boilermaker outfit, known as Quinn & Company, with George H. Coyle and Thomas B. Merrill as partners. His firm did nearly all the repairs for the Boston, New York, and St. John steamers, as well as much of the business, household, and factory boilers around the state. He was “a fine type of the industrious, robust Irishman” and didn’t retire until the age of 85. An ad in the 1871 Portland City Directory stated that Quinn’s firm were manufacturers of “Steamboat, Locomotive Tubular & Upright Tubular, Flue & Cylinder Boilers, and Ships’ Water Tanks.” In the 1890s, Michael E. Conley was the firm’s foreman.
Many of the boardinghouses that catered to sailors were Irish-operated. Perhaps the most popular and well known was that of Mrs. Margaret A. Barry Musgrave (1821-1893), a native of Cork. She came to Portland in the 1840s and became a domestic. In 1852, she married William Musgrave, a trader and boardinghouse keeper. Both Margaret and her husband were often arrested for bootlegging. William died in 1860, aged 37, and Margaret continued the boardinghouse, which became a Seaman’s Home. It was located on Fore Street for thirty years. In 1871, Margaret was only one of two Irish women who paid more than $100 in taxes (she paid $244). Her son John W. Musgrave became a successful ship owner. A huge monument in Calvary Cemetery attests to the success of this Irish family.
From the 1860s until the early 1900s at least, many an Irish boy became a popular oarsman or sculler. They formed numerous boating clubs, including the Emerald Boat Club, the Cumberland Rowing Association, the Union Rowing Company, the Dirigo Boat Club, and the Argonaut Association. Many of these Irish boys and young men received countless accolades and became objects of hero worship at a time when rowing was a sport more popular even than baseball.
Mike Davis, a son of Galway emigrants, was perhaps the best-known oarsman of his day. He invented oarlocks and other boating apparel, and taught boating at Harvard. His brother Patrick C. Davis was likewise a talented oarsman, but died young. In 1872, with an oarsman named McShane, Pat won the double scull race at the regatta of the Maine Boating Association.
Other noted oarsmen included John P. Buckley, Billy O’Connell, Dawson J. McGlinchy, Matthew O’Brien, D. J. Murphy, Mike Hanlon, George O’Donnell, Daniel E. Bowen, Dan Anglin, John C. Haverty, and Pete Conley. Anthony A. “Tony” Frates was “one of the outstanding single scull oarsmen in New England,” according to his obituary in September 1942. In 1890, “he stroked the Cumberland senior four to victory in Portland Harbor and three years later defeated Al Dowling of Boston, then New England single scull champion.” Tony’s brother John was another prominent oarsman. They were the sons of Antoine Frates, a Portuguese emigrant, and Bridget, a native of Ireland.
Portland became a major Atlantic port in the mid-19th Century, when it was linked to Montreal by railroad and by steamer to Europe. Irish emigrants replaced mostly African-American dockworkers, stevedores, and longshoremen in the 1840s. In 1880, the Portland Longshoremen’s Benevolent Society was formed, with a membership made up of mostly Irish and Irish-Americans. One of the charter members was Connemara native Coleman Connolly, whose grandson Michael C. Connolly, a professor at St. Joseph’s College, Standish, Maine, did a graduate thesis on the society and Portland’s Irish longshoremen. Connolly estimated that in 1900, when this port had 250 longshoremen, 46% had been born in Ireland, and 24% were the sons of Irish natives.
Many Irish were employed as fish dealers in Portland, including Patrick Feeney and Mary Feeney McLain, brother and sister to the famed Hollywood director John Ford. Michael J. Flaherty (1875-1953) went to work at the age of ten, “pitching fish for the Henry Sargent Company on Commercial Wharf.” From 1908 until 1950, he was a fish dealer, establishing the M.J. Flaherty Company at 40 Portland Pier in 1910. According to his obituary, he was “widely known as Maine’s oldest fish dealer.” Mike’s son John H. took over the business. Today, in Portland, we find Peter L. McAleney and his son Matthew as operators of New Meadows Lobster, 60 Portland Pier. They are descendants of William McAleney, a noted Irish harness maker and local Fenian leader, and also of Lawrence and Catherine Devine Mullen and William Deehan, early prominent Portland Irish Catholics.