A Brief History of Harrigans

Harrigans relocated to Bangor in the 1850s when it was a boom town fueled by the lumber and ice industries, ship building, and commerce. In 1831, before the Great Famine in Ireland, my great-great-grandfather Michael left Schull, County Cork with his parents and siblings and sailed to New Brunswick. They first went to Miramichi where a relative had settled. As time passed, some of them headed west, some stayed in Canada, and Michael headed south to Bangor.

The Bangor Directory of 1859, lists Michael as a farmer who lived on Six Mile Falls Road. The falls are now a major challenge to paddlers during the annual spring canoe race. From the banks of the Kenduskeag, I watched some take a spill back in 1984.

Michael and his wife Elizabeth had nine children including my great-grandfather George W., who was born in Bangor. According to the May 4, 1871 Bangor Daily Whig and Courier, George owned the Queen City Dye House at 35 Central Street. His brother Martin, also born in Bangor, had his own business selling antique furniture.

George married Mary (Dwyer) and they had eight children, one of whom was my grandfather George W. Jr.. He and his siblings spent some of their time working in the Dye House. 1911 was an unfortunate year. Mary died in March and was buried out at Mount Pleasant Catholic Cemetery, then in April, the Great Fire burned the city including the building at 35 Central Street.

George Sr. and some of the family relocated to Portland, and he became the proprietor of Boston City Dye House. The 1912 Portland City Directory lists the address as 21 Preble Street. George Sr. died in 1914 and joined Mary in Bangor at Mt. Plesant. George W. Jr., my grandfather, and some of his siblings worked for their father until his death.

George W. Jr. married Susan (Leahy). My father, one of their four children, was born in Portland. Dad said there was a time when his father was a telegraph operator for the railroads and he’d sometimes visit him down at Union Station on St. John Street. The Station, a grand building, was torn down in 1961 to make way for a strip mall.

In the 1920’s, George W. Jr., Susan, and their children relocated to Dorchester in Boston, a neighborhood filled with Irish Catholics. Susan died in 1932 when my father was 17 followed 25 years later by George W. Jr. in 1959. Dad recalls his father working in a dry cleaning business. Dye houses were a thing of the past. Both grandparents bodies were transported to Bangor and joined the ancestors in the family plot out at Mt. Pleasant Catholic Cemetery. Rest in Peace.

So my dad, John, graduated from Dorchester High School for Boys. I guess the family could no longer afford Catholic schools like he had attended in Portland. When he graduated, he got a job in Cambridge at the Necco factory on Confectioners Row. The initials stood for New England Confectionary Company. I loved Necco wafers as a kid. Not too long after he became a factory worker, his friend, Bill Helman, who called him Jackie, strongly encouraged hime to try and attend college. Dad was a good tennis player, honed his game on the public courts in Dorchester, and obtained a sports scholarship to Tufts University. He graduated with an engineering degree.

I was born in DC and grew up in Ohio. And I have to say that I still find it odd that in my 30s, I ended up moving from Boston to Bangor where I lived for a few years before relocating to Portland. I can’t be sure, but as far as I know, I didn’t run into any relatives during my time in Maine and Massachusetts. And I steered clear of Mt. Pleasant.

Note: For more about my experience in Bangor, see my piece in the Saranac Review https://saranacreview.org/issue-18/adaharrigan.

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