The redbrick edifice known as the Daly Block was constructed in 1900, built on the site of an earlier building which had been erected in 1866, after the Great Fire of 1866. It was named after an early successful Irish contractor named Bernard “Barney” Daly.
Barney Daly and his wife Bridget Haley, natives of County Galway, arrived here in the early 1840s after a brief stay in England. Daly was a common laborer who eventually branched out to form his own labor contracting business. By the late 1850s, he had also become one of the first known Catholic undertakers and coroners in this area and also operated a grocery store on Cumberland Avenue.
Barney was “small in size, strong, feisty and ambitious, a product of the hidden hedge schools of Ireland,” according to his descendant Francis M. O’Brien, a prominent antiquarian book dealer in Maine. O’Brien wrote that Daly operated a mail-packet between Portland and St. John, New Brunswick, which was manned by a Capt. Hamilton of Chebeague Island. He “could sail (the ship) himself if necessary.” (see Francis M. O’Brien, A Backward Look: 50 Years of Maine Books and Bookmen, Anthoensen Press Lecture Series, Portland, 1986).
Daly was the sexton and a sidesman of the Cathedral and prominent in many local Irish organizations, especially the Irish-American Relief Association. He died in October 1878 at the age of 69 and was survived by his wife and four children. A faded, but still legible marble gravestone stands in Calvary Cemetery (see photo).
Barney’s son Michael Bernard Daly was employed by his father for many years and was also an engineer in New York and Florida. An army and navy veteran of the Civil War, Michael married Harriet L. Goodale of New York City. Barney’s son Pete was “the champion light weight of this city” (17 Jan 1878, Eastern Argus) and a Democratic ward heeler who “directed the faithful how to vote and where to drink” (Baxter Manuscripts, Maine Historical Society). Barney’s daughter Julia was married to the successful undertaker Brian E. McDonough, a fellow Galwegian. And his daughter Ellen married James F. O’Brien, the son of immigrants from Parkstown, County Tipperary; they were the grandparents of Francis M. O’Brien of Portland.
Barney Daly was the first known of a long line of Irish contractors in Portland who organized labor. Between the 1850s and the 1920s, Daly, Michael Lynch, James Cunningham, Francis W. Cunningham, John Gulliver, Florence McCarthy, Thomas Shannahan, Richard D. Shannahan, Martin Flannigan, Patrick O’Neil, Jeremiah F. Flaherty, John Feeney, James A. O’Rourke, John W. Gulliver, and many others added greatly to the infrastructure of Portland and Maine. Daly and his men had been instrumental in the building of the Portland & Ogdensburg Railroad, according to Francis O’Brien.
Related sites: Francis W. Cunningham House, Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception