Librarian, professor come together to write about Irish history
PROSPECT — A local Irish historian and a college professor have teamed up to write a book documenting Waterbury’s Irish history.
Prospect Library Director John Wiehn and Loyola University Professor of Art Janet Maher are collaborating on a book that will document the journey and population of Irish immigrants in Waterbury.
The book, “Waterbury Irish: From the Emerald Isle to the Brass City,” will also document the origins of Catholicism in Waterbury and the construction of its first churches.
According to Wiehn, the book will span over a 100 years of Irish history starting in the early 1800s to the present day.
The book, published by History Press, will be predominantly text based, but will also feature pictures Wiehn and Maher collected and scanned from Connecticut Irish families and citizens from Ireland.
Wiehn organized “scanning sessions” where a large scanner was used to capture 12 pictures at a time.
“It was so large that we needed two people just to carry it,” Wiehn said.
Some pictures will feature famous Waterbury Irish residents like Joseph MacDonald, a silent film actor from the early 1900s.
Maher is set to visit and interview Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary, for additional Waterbury information and learn more about his personal family Irish history.
Maher, author of “From the Old Sod to the Naugatuck Valley,” used the research from her previous book as a stepping stone for the upcoming book.
“In 2006 I first started looking into family history for myself,” Maher said. “It turned into a much bigger project.”
Maher met Wiehn when she was working on her first book at the Whittemore Library in Naugatuck. Wiehn was working at the library at the time and helped Maher use microfilm from old Waterbury newspapers for her research.
Maher, who grew up in Waterbury, took her third trip to Ireland while on sabbatical this year.
“I was learning words I didn’t know. I was learning of places I couldn’t pronounce,” Maher said. “The trip was helping solidify what I had started to do research on.”
The more Maher learned on her trip, the more she started to learn about Waterbury.
“I was delving into very deep the history of my old town,” she said.
Maher’s first book focused more on Naugatuck Irish history, but Maher’s and Wiehn’s upcoming book will be completely dedicated to Waterbury.
Wiehn, the author of “Waterbury 1890-1930 (CT) (Postcard Series),” says their book will be nothing like his previous project. Wiehn’s first book featured old Waterbury postcards and small descriptions of each card.
Wiehn, the president of Connecticut’s Ancient Order of Hibernians, has always had a passion for Irish and Waterbury history.
“I have always loved Waterbury and Irish history,” Wiehn said. “I grew up in Waterbury. My background is Irish.”
While Maher has done a majority of Irish history writing, Wiehn has been assisting Maher with organizing the Waterbury history portion of the book.
According to Maher, the finished text portion of the book will be submitted to History Press by December for editing.
Wiehn and Maher are hoping the book will be released during the spring next year — just in time for an Irish celebration.
“The goal is to release the book on St. Patrick’s Day,” Maher said.