The town of Hopkinton experienced a population boom in the middle of the 19th century as shoe factories multiplied and several thousand Irish immigrants arrived looking for employment and security. The first Irish in the United states (and Hopkinton) actually pre-date American Revolution but like the British colonial settlers they tended to be more prosperous as well as Protestant. However, the Irish famine changed all that when nearly half the country’s Catholics were starved out of their homeland and arrived on American shores meeting a new nation booming with mills and factories desperate for workers.
Irish contributions to Hopkinton’s history are many and varied and definitely worth a much longer exploration, but for now in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day we examine the life of Richard M. Fahey.
Born in Ireland about 1840, Fahey arrived in town as a young man and lived the remainder of his life working for the greater good of his native country and his adopted town.
The first time Richard appears in Hopkinton records is on the 1865 state census, he is single and living with the Connor family. His occupation is listed as “bootmaker.” On the 1870 federal census Richard is still with the Connor family and employed in the same position. So far, a fairly common experience for male Irish immigrants during this time. What isn’t as common was Richard’s emergence as a leader of his fellow Irish in the factories but also holding a variety of town offices, some appointed and some elected.
The Hopkinton Fenian Brotherhood
One of the earliest Irish fraternal organizations in Hopkinton, the Fenian Brotherhood were known as the American counterpart to the Irish Republican Brotherhood. At the root of both groups was a desire to see the British out of Ireland and the will to make it happen. The Fenians were a national organization and their most famous chapter in American history are the organized attacks on Canada in the late 1860s. If you have never heard of these events, I recommend When the Irish Invaded Canada: The Incredible True Story of the Civil War Veterans Who Fought for Ireland’s Freedom by Christopher Klein. Richard Fahey was head of Hopkinton’s Corcoran Circle of the Fenian Brotherhood. No evidence so far that he ever attacked Canada but many from Milford and surrounding areas were involved.
As a bootmaker in Hopkinton during and after the Civil War, Fahey was also very active in the Knights of St. Crispin, an American labor union named for the patron saint of cobblers. The Crispins started as a secret organization of Irish immigrant workers in Milwaukee in 1867 but soon spread to other centers of the shoe industry throughout the Northeast. Fahey was not only president of the local lodge, but he also served as state president for a year. The Crispins did not remain secret for long as they embarked on a number of strikes including several here in town. Some were successful, others were not.
In March, 1871 Crispins engaged in a protracted and bitter fight for better pay at local boot factories but found themselves at a stalemate when the companies would not negotiate. When a few strikers tried to return to work they were denied entry and in a show of force “the boss” sent out three men with guns to subdue the melee on the street. Three Crispins were shot and badly wounded and the town constable sent to Boston for help from the State Police. The strike ended soon after with little gained by the workers.
It was not all turmoil for the Irish in Hopkinton as other benevolent organizations emerged, including the Ancient Order of the Hibernians. This order was fond of parading and picnics and did much to help the Irish Catholic community. Richard Fahey and his new bride Margaret Horan of County Kerry were active from the beginning of the Hopkinton chapter’s founding with Fahey serving multiple terms as president.
It was not only the Irish immigrant community who benefited from Fahey’s generosity of spirit in terms of voluntarism. In addition to all his organizing among his fellow Irish, he was elected to the board of selectmen several times as well as the school board. He also served as tax collector and town meeting moderator more than any other person during his time. For last 14 years of Fahey’s life, he was a member of the Hopkinton board of assessors.
Richard and Margaret did not have children though they were surrounded by Horan nieces and nephews. John Horan, Margaret’s brother, also lived in town on Cedar St. and worked as a bootmaker. The Horan ties to Hopkinton are strong as several of Margaret’s great-nieces and nephews paid a visit to town a few years ago. The Historical Society was privileged to host them and accompanied them to their ancestor’s grave in St. John’s cemetery.
When Richard Fahey died in 1899, the headline on his obituary in the Boston Globe read “Hopkinton Honored Him.” And so we should, give a tip of the hat to one of the many Irish immigrants who made Hopkinton the place it is today!
Stop by the Hopkinton Historical Society, Mondays from 2 to 5 pm, to learn more about the town’s history. We are located at 168 Hayden Rowe. New members always welcome! See hopkhistsoc.org for more details.
Anne Mattina is a Board Member and Vice President at the Hopkinton Historical Society