Monday, October 12, 2015

Why a bucket?

When did Pawtucket become THE BUCKET in local slang? Frankly, I don't know but I do recall the first time I heard my native city invoked by that nickname. Of all places--it happened in Ardboe, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland. It was part of a refrain repeated for the benefit of me and my mother in 1973 when we made our first trip together to try to find our close relatives that had stayed behind in the old country. When we found my mother's first cousin and told him what city we were from in the US he suddenly recited: "bad cess to the day that I came to Pawtucket To work for John Campbell Hauling stones in a bucket." He knew Pawtucket and the US first hand--he was one of the few Irish emigrants who made it to New York and didn't like it (he told us that he had been a conductor in NYC and crashed the trolley) He somehow managed to save the money to come back home. He told us that he missed the Old Cross at Ardboe and the beauties of Lough Neagh and the eel fishing that was their livelihood. And so he came back when he was 25 and fifty years later we walked into a pub and asked if there were any Colemans living nearby and were brought to Johnny Devlin whose mother was a Coleman and the sister to my mother's father Joe Coleman--so we had a reunion of first cousins. So that was my Bucket experience. It seems that the popular use of the term started more in the 80s and what some of us see as an affectionate nickname is often taken and intended as a derogatory term by others. I have often thought of Pawtucket as a small important city. So much greatness like the mighty Blackstone has passed through here--the first foundry built by Joseph Jenks in the 1600s. The Slater Mill that launched the industrial development of the colonies in the 1700s. The first strike of textile workers soon after that showed the courage and sense of labor justice in Pawtucket. The Pawtucket boys who joined the GAR in the 1860s to fight for the end of slavery. See their graves in the Mineral Spring Avenue Cemetery and Oak Grove on Central Avenue. Remember the the waves of immigrants that came here during and after the famine in Ireland of the 1850s. The incredible fact that Pawtucket at the Old Saint Mary's actually hold a Fenian grave--a sacred symbol and promise of Ireland's nationhood. I was amazed when I learned this from Professor Al McAloon, and he told me as we stood in the old grave yard that he had witnessed as a school boy the burial of James Wilson, the Fenian rescued from imprisonment in Australia by the CATALPA who lived out his life in Central Falls and Pawtucket. Patrick Pearse in his famous oration at the grave of Fenian O'Donovan Rossa inspires his listeners with the significance of this Grave to the history of Ireland: "Life springs from death; and from the graves of patriot men and women spring living nations. The Defenders of this Realm have worked well in secret and in the open. They think that they have pacified Ireland. They think that they have purchased half of us and intimidated the other half. They think that they have foreseen everything, think that they have provided against everything; but the fools, the fools, the fools! — they have left us our Fenian dead, and while Ireland holds these graves, Ireland unfree shall never be at peace" So it is a city with a great history,and it still may be called a bucket--but there is no disgrace in that--when you need a bucket, there is no substitute. So polish that bucket, patch that Bucket, raise that Bucket high. It's part of the paradox of Pawtucket a place we may love to laugh at but still a place to love and live with dignity and pride.

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