Skerritt’s of Portland, Maine

In June of 1891, she was fifteen, and headed for a new home with her Aunt and Uncle. She was leaving the only home she knew in Anbally, County Galway , the oldest of her 9 siblings. Two of her brothers were born after she left and she did not meet them until later in life. Anbally is situated halfway between Tuam ,Galway   on N17. She would be traveling to Boston aboard the S.S.Nestorian; one of the ships, which took many as the second mass exodus of immigrants from Ireland, began. Her name was Mary Anne Dolly, the daughter of William and Bridget Skerrittt Dolly. Her father was from Manchester,England and her mother was from one of the original fourteen tribes of Galway. Her father was born to Matthew and Mary Nolan Dolly. Her mother was the daughter of Michael and Mary Cunningham Skerritt. I believe she was named for both grandmothers. Mary would be one less burden for her family and perhaps would seek a great opportunity in this unknown world she was traveling to. I am the Gr. Granddaughter of her and I used to ask many questions of the older relatives. I was told that there may have been a couple of uncles here that they would meet. Upon researching many documents in the Portland, Maine area, I have found 2 Skerritt men who were here in the 1880’s. I believe they were brothers named William and Thomas Skerritt. These men could have been her mother’s brothers as they are the approximate age or perhaps her mother’s uncles. Irene Greaney, who was the daughter of Martin and Mary Skerritt Greaney whom Mary traveled with that month to America, relayed this information to me. Irene Greaney also told me that her parents were very close cousins. Another cousin in Holyoke, Marie Martin, told me that she heard from her mother that the Greaneys were in fact very close cousins and maybe left because they did not have their families’ blessing. I only know of one story relayed by Mary Dolly to her family as a child growing up in Ireland. I was told she remembered hiding in a field by a rock wall most of the day after she stole a yellow ribbon until her father came looking for her. I was in these fields when I visited Ireland and I remembered her story .I thought that these fields have not changed in a hundred or so years as some of these rock walls had trees growing out of them.

                The ship arrived in Boston and soon after Mary, with her Aunt and Uncle, traveled to Portland. She went to work in her Aunt and Uncle’s home as a domestic. Martin worked as a kiln setter according to the census of 1900. I am not sure she worked there very long as she was not too close to her Aunt. I have heard she was not too fond of her Aunt. Soon afterward Mary went to work at the Portland Star Match Factory on Commercial Street. It was here that she got sulfur poisoning in her jaw and had surgery to remove a part of her jaw. The surgery left her mouth with a twisted appearance. I am told she remembers maggots on her jaw, which were used to eat the poison. You must remember that it was not that long ago that ether was being used in surgical procedures. She worked here along with many other immigrants. Commercial Street was filled with much industry including the Hat factory; The Gas Works where the Skerritt brothers worked who came before Mary. There was Rufus Deering Lumber where she met her future husband Howard Elisha Fowler who came here from Havelock, NB, Canada and was seven years younger than her. Commercial Street was a bustling area crisscrossing with railroad tracks and horses and wagons. I have found Skerritt’s in the city directories who worked in the factories as molders, bunchers and straighteners. Portland was once again a cosmopolitan city as it had been before the Great Fire of July 4, 1866.Prior to the Civil War, Portland recorded some 4000 ships entering the harbor in the year 1863-64.

Soon thereafter, her 4 sisters began their journey to America. After 100 years some of the families have remained in contact. I found Mary and her sister Maggie (who came in 1895 according to the census) worked as domestics in Portland at 12 Arsenal St., Portland together. Maggie ended up marrying the son of the family she boarded with as a domestic, eventually becoming Mrs. Carr. The head of the household where Maggie worked was a bottler by trade. The 1901 census of Ireland showed that all Dolly family members except the 3 sisters who had already left for America. Before 1901, Kate (Mrs. Kerrigan), came to join her sisters, Mary and Maggie. I am told that Nora came around 1905. She would have been about 19 yrs. Only one sister Bridget (Delia) stayed in Ireland along with the 4 Dolly brothers. (Martin, Matthew, William and Michael) Later(1914) another sister Helen came to America. She married Martin Murphy (also from Ireland)and settled in the Lynn/ Dorchester area of Mass. and never had children. I am told that other neighbors from Ireland also settled in and around the same Mass. area named Lawless and Griffin. Mary visited some of them  by train throughout the years. Of the 4 Dolly brothers, Martin came to the states and spent money foolishly along with never writing to his parents according to a letter dated 1911 written by his Father to Mary.  I think he went back to Ireland and I do not think he married. Another brother William came to the America but also went back as he did not like it here. It was a huge disgrace to the family when someone came home I was told by an Irish relative. He was forced to marry in an arranged marriage and had 2 children with mental disabilities, one who is still alive in his late sixties. (As of 2002) This cousin in Ireland is the granddaughter of the late Bridget (Delia) Skerritt

Broderick. The Broderick’s were from Belclare, Co. Galway. She told me that her mother used to wash the laundry for the Dolly men. I heard from a Dolly on the Internet that Dolly means colorful warrior.

She married Howard Fowler on March 2, 1903 (according to INS records) after she had given birth to her first daughter Dorothy in Dec. 1902. Dorothy proved to be a big help to her mother in later years when Howard passed away from Spinal Meningitis at the Maine Eye and Ear Infirmary on March 25, 1909. His death certificate did not mention any children or his wife, but his obituary did. He left 3 daughters behind and a wife who would never remarry and worked as a domestic. Mary’s husband’s wake was in her home on Brackett Street. After the funeral, his body was taken to Havelock, NB to be buried in the Fowler lot. Dorothy remembered seeing her father in the casket as she was the oldest of her siblings, seven at the time. Dorothy was allowed to stay home while her mother worked. I am told the daughter Gladys ,who was 3 years younger than Dorothy, lived at St. Elizabeth’s orphanage for a short while along with my grandmother, Lyllian, who age one at the time of her father’s death in 1909.Gladys was 4 years old. St. Elizabeth’s was operated by the Diocese. Lyllian stayed at St.Elizabeth’s until she was old enough to attend St.Domenic’s Grammar School at the age of 8. Lyllian remembers her mother bringing food and visiting daily at the orphanage. It was always curious to me how my grandmother knew all her cousins and placed such importance on family, I think more so than her siblings. Since her life began at the orphanage, it is amazing how she placed so much importance on family. I remember being young and interested in family history.  I have but one baby picture of my grandmother. My grandmother and Gladys were very close. Dorothy and Lyllian raised their families in the same neighborhood around Brackett, and Tate Streets. 

I connected with descendants of the first William Skerritt who came to Portland. He came here in 1886 at the age of 21. He eventually became an American Citizen. The census of 1900 shows he married in 1888. According to his descendants, he sent for his sweetheart, Mary Burke, in Ireland. He and his wife had many children and also suffered many tragedies. Most of his family is buried in    Calvary Cemetery in South Portland ,Maine with some of the bodies being sent back from CT and VT. Mary worked as a live in maid at one of Portland’s home shortly after she arrived. Their first child was Mary, who died young of Typhoid fever on Mar., 22, 1905 in Bridgeport, CT.

  Their other children were Martin, Harry, William, Johnny, and Joe. When Martin was but 5 years old he was rolling his hoop and it fell into Portland Harbor or commonly referred to as Casco Bay. He went in after it and drowned. Shortly afterwards they moved to Boston where they had 2 more children, Jimmy and Helen. Helen died in Bridgeport CT on Feb. 20, 1923 of TB. After a few more years the family moved to Montpelier VT. In VT 4 other children followed, Francis, Arthur, Alice Mary and Cecilia. Francis died in Bridgeport on Sept. 9, 1918. Cecelia was the baby and she was born in 1909. Shortly thereafter, the family moved to Barre VT. William still worked for the Gas Company. Some of the older brothers went to CT to seek work. The house was getting quieter. On Oct 23, 1916, little Cecelia ran to meet her sister Alice who was coming home from school. She was struck and killed by the only car in Barre ,VT. After the death of her baby, Mary wanted to leave VT and be with her other sons in CT. William left the Gasworks after 30 years and moved his family to CT.

Marie Martin(87) from Holyoke was another cousin I met in 2003. Her grandparents were Martin and Honora Gardiner Skerritt. Martin was a sister to Mrs. Wm. Dolly of Anbally (mother to Mary Dolly Fowler) She has entertained Irish relatives her whole life and is a wealth of family knowledge. I was very lucky to connect with her after another distant cousin in Ireland gave me her address.Her mother Delia Skerritt left her employment in Indianapolis with Mrs. Benjamin Harrison (widow of US President) in 1922. She saved her money for a long time so that she could go back to Ireland to spend a year with her beloved family. During this time her parents spent one week at a resort in Salt Hill ,Galway with their daughter and had a photo taken. It was perhaps the only professional portrait that was taken of the both of them. Upon returning to Indianapolis she went to work for the Grover’s who also owned a summer cottage on Beach End, Eastern Point, Gloucester Ma. From here she left to marry a man named Patrick J. Ward on Oct. 1, 1924 in St. Anne’s Church. Their farms adjoined in Carrouruane, Claregalway, Co. Galway.


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Multi-tasking : Has all this technology allowed us to accomplish any more in a day?

As we ring in the New Year, we are all thinking of certain goals we would like to reach. I believe multi-tasking and enjoying it, are the key to achieving your goals. A few examples come to mind, especially being a woman in my forties, I am trying to become more health conscious. My job consists of sitting at a desk on a switchboard.  I have often thought a stairmaster would be a great way to keep in shape as I took calls from customers, but that might be a little silly.  So I bought a giant Swiss therapeutic ball and I sit on it at work. I move from side to side, working on my waste, and I also do small crunches as I take phone calls. Then when I need more activity, I stand up and lean into the ball with one leg at a time, to stretch my legs and work the backs of my legs. I felt a little silly but everyone is quite accustomed to it now. Another woman brought hers to work also. We feel much better. A small change but I am doing a sort of multi-tasking. More water is also one of my little goals.

            Last evening I had a brainstorm. Our son uses an electric wheelchair, and this has taught us to find solutions. Prioritizing, and coordinating doctor appointments, and generally giving him the best possible care I can and also taking time for me and my husband…..well just lets say that many things get compromised because the day is still 24 hours long. Physical therapy is very important but I have not much time left for anyone near the end of the day. Someone comes to your home and trains you to do PT for your loved one. You will love this idea and I stumbled upon it quite by accident. I was whipping up dinner when I put on a Bruce Springsteen CD on my boom-box in the kitchen. I get a little wacky and start dancing. Well my son is annoyed with the music to begin with but I see him and decide to dance with him. He cannot lift his arms or legs so I grab his arms and then his legs and move to the music. I am getting exercise and he is getting his PT … and Dinner is getting cooked , but the best part is we are having fun… not like work. Of course he wouldn’t even look at me because he thinks I am a wack- job anyhow. That’s what I call Creative Problem Solving on a Daily Basis. We all do it from time to time.

            Now about all this multi-tasking, my advice is this: I don’t like to see folks brushing their teeth when they are driving or putting on make-up or even shaving. Get in the car and drive, and focus on being the best driver you can. A cousin of mine lost his life after living in a rehab hospital for a year with a serious brain injury as a result of someone changing a music CD when they were driving. All this technology is a huge distraction in our lives. Never ever would our ancestors have imagined that we would become part of the Machine. Each day we interact with machines, whether it involves a call to the bank, the operator, or ordering something online. The Industrial Revolution changed the world forever with the introduction of machinery replacing labor. I am amazed at the instant connections with people globally. I love to get mail 40x per day versus waiting for the mailman. I still love the handwritten letter though. Imagine how technology has changed our lives. Are our lives 100% better because of technology? Do we get any more done today than we did say 125 years ago?  I think we still work equally as hard to make ends meet as our ancestors did. The big difference was that the weather played a significant role in their livelihoods. They couldn’t get the hay ready until it was completely dry. Crops were bad some years because of the weather. I read a lifetime of diaries written by an ancestor dating 1867-1913. Each day, he wrote exactly what the temperature was and the even the type of snowfall. They had difficult lives filled with hard work as there was no wood fairy to chop their wood to keep their houses warm.  A trip to Raymond from Westbrook took 4 hours by wagon one way. The visit lasted 4 hours and then it was another 4 hours to get home. These trips were done on Sundays. Either a person stayed home on Sunday waiting for visitors or they visited relatives and sometimes friends. Survival depended on those connections to kinfolk. The wagon would leave with a cord of wood and come home with a barrel of apples, some barrels of flour or whatever supplies were needed at home. It was the same as today, no wasted trips but today it is because of gas prices. An empty wagon lost money. I think the quality of life was better in some ways. People are getting lazier with all this technology and we are for the most part not doing much physical work like our ancestors did, for the same reasons. We are all a product of out times. Still I love the distraction of writing this blog. Just a little food for thought… Best wishes on your New Year goals!

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