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Irish roads rise to greet you all over New Hampshire

The Cocheco mills complex in Dover NH attracted skilled Irish millworkers in 1830.
The Cocheco mills complex in Dover NH attracted skilled Irish millworkers in 1830.
Dover Chamber

Planning ahead for St. Patrick’s Day, the story of the Irish influences on New Hampshire are as hard-headed as granite and as soft as the mists of Galway Bay.

Some of the earliest settlements in New Hampshire were made by Scots-Irish from Ulster who brought their Presbyterian ministers from Antrim to settle Nuttfield – later Londonderry – just over the fluctuating border with Massachusetts. Families like the Rogers cleared the fields and fought to get crops and orchards out of the stone-filled land. Their conflicts with the First Nations employed lessons learned from being driven out of Scotland. Nor would they think much of a celebration of a saint’s day, though their traditions and heritage are part of that Yankee individualism that made New Hampshire a contentious place from the start. There’s a town of Antrim, New Hampshire, too – named for the home of its first (1741) landowner, Philip Riley -- and incorporated on March 22, 1788.

When the mills on New Hampshire’s rivers opened in the 1820s, they attracted girls age 12 to 25 from the farms. A group of around 50 skilled Irish mill workers settled in Dover in 1830, bringing their technical experience with the cotton mills to their new work in the Cocheco plants; but by 1850 new unskilled waves of millgirls, from French-Canada and Ireland replaced them as they did the staff in households including NH Governor Goodwin’s mansion, now part of Strawbery Banke Museum in Portsmouth. The Irish also congregated where there was work in Manchester. The annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade in this city is a reminder that by 1860 there were 3900 Irish – nearly a fifth of the population at the time – in Manchester.

Modern day Dover is home to an annual Irish Heritage Festival every September (“the biggest Irish festival in
the world”) – which means Irish pubs there are likely to be a cut above the rest. After all, the Makem Brothers settled in Dover, including the late Tommy Makem who sang with the Clancy Brothers, some of the most familiar Irish folksingers of the past half century.

Nearly every city in New Hampshire has an Irish pub or two, filled with authentic detail like the hand-carved oak bar from Dublin in Portsmouth’s RiRa, the mementoes in The Holy Grail in Epping and the hearty menu in Nashua’s Killarney Pub.

On St. Patrick’s Day, the pubs open early, the live music runs all day and the roads back through history rise to greet you, at every turn.

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