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Trail of the Irish expands from Portland to South Portland, Cape Elizabeth, Westbrook

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Trail of the Irish expands from Portland to South Portland, Cape Elizabeth, Westbrook

PORTLAND — A project that began a couple of years ago with the goal of mapping out sites of significant Irish history in the city is expanding to the suburbs.

The Maine Irish Heritage Trail includes 58 Portland sites – ranging from cemeteries to the boyhood homes of some of the city's prominent Irish figures – all listed and described at the  maineirishheritagetrail.org Web site.

Now, creator Matthew Jude Barker says he will begin adding sites of significance from South Portland, Cape Elizabeth and Westbrook.

Barker was hired by the online travel and tourism marketing company Acro Global to complete an Irish Heritage Trail for the entire state. As a volunteer at the Maine Irish Heritage Center genealogy library in Portland, Barker has also researched and written about Maine Irish history for local publications. He contributed to "They Change Their Sky, The Irish In Maine," which is a collection of stories published in 2004.

"I can do a lot of the history of sites here in Portland, and using the (genealogy) library," Barker said. He uses historic images from the Maine Historical Society and takes his own current images of sites for the trail.

A 1992 graduate of South Portland High School, Barker is also working on a history of the Irish in Portland, 1662 to 1901.

The Portland sites featured on the heritage trail include the Asylum night club at the corner of Free and Center streets, which used to be a popular Irish restaurant and pub called Donahue's. The Donahues were busted more than once for selling liquor during prohibition, according to Barker's history of the place.

The Workingman's Club, now a credit union on Commercial Street, was a gathering place for longshoremen and railroad workers.

A full list of sites and descriptions can be found at maineirishheritagetrail.org. Barker hopes to offer tours of some of the sites in the future, including cemetery tours.

Barker is also looking for information for his book, and said he would be interested in hearing from people with stories about Portland's early Irish history. He can be contacted at mattjude9@hotmail.com or by writing to: Matthew Jude Barker, P.O. Box 8421, Portland Maine 04104.

Kate Bucklin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or kbucklin@theforecaster.net