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Portland's Irish, longshoremen subject of new book

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Portland's Irish, longshoremen subject of new book

PORTLAND — A local author has published a book that explores the heyday of Irish longshoremen on the city's waterfront.

In "Seated By the Sea," published by University Press of Florida, Munjoy Hill native Michael Connolly explores eight decades of Irish immigrants and the unions they created and belonged to as longshoremen.

"I've been working on this for 30 years," Connolly said during a recent interview. The book began as a graduate school project at Boston University and eventually became his dissertation.

Connolly interviewed scores of Portland's Irish immigrants and their descendants, gaining much of his initial information for the book in the early 1980s from residents Vinny O'Malley and Jack Humeniuk, both of whom were active in the local chapter of the International Longshoremen's Association. Humeniuk is now business agent for the local ILA.

While many academic maritime history books focus on sailors and ships, Connolly chose to focus on the history of Portland's longshoremen from 1880-1923, when Portland Harbor was a commercial hub and the leading port for exporting wheat to Canada.

The book covers the beginning of the union, and the eventual merger of the local union with the ILA in 1914, following an unsuccessful strike.  Around the time of World War I, Portland hit a boom and membership in the ILA, which was predominantly Irish, was 1,366. Today, there are about 20 local members.

Connolly covers the link between the union and the Roman Catholic Church, the establishment of the Workmen's Club (to keep the Irish from going to bars) and the decline of the port beginning in 1923.

"Containerization is referred to as 'the longshoremen's coffin,'" said Connolly, of the birth of container shipping in the 1950s.

Connolly is also editor of "They Change Their Sky: The Irish in Maine." He is a professor of history at St. Joseph's College in Standish and is working on a compilation of interviews he conducted with Portland's Irish immigrants over the years, which he hopes to publish next year.

The Maine Historical Society is hosting a book launch and discussion with Connolly on Thursday, May 13, at 7 p.m. at the society's 489 Congress St. headquarters.

The book will be available through the society and at Longfellow Books.

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