Irish Potatoes

Had it not been for the Irish potato famine in the mid-1800s, I would have grown up in an entirely different town. As a little girl, I didn’t know the connection between Hubbardston and the potato blight that drove millions of Irish to Canada and the United States. I did know a lot of people in my town were named O’Connell, O’Conner, O’Brien and O’Grady.

Truth was, except for a few neighborhood children, we did not mix with the Irish very much. They were Catholic and we were Methodists, and the creek cutting through the center of our little town created a physical boundary that literally separated two distinct centers of activity: St. John the Baptist Catholic church and school on one side of Fish Creek, and the Methodist church and public school on the opposite side.

I left Hubbardston many years ago, and I don’t claim to be an expert on its history, but I understand a man named John Cowman was the first Irishman to settle in this part of central Michigan. By 1870, seventy Irish families had come to the area and settled west of the village of Hubbardston. Most residents of “Little Ireland” as it was called, were farmers, and the land was perfect for growing potatoes.

Today Hubbardston has no Methodist church or schools, public or parochial. While the Catholic congregation is not what it was during my childhood days, it is still active, as is the Hubbardston Area Historical Society. I’m happy that my Methodist mother and sister are actively involved in that organization with many of their Irish Catholic friends.

At this time of year everyone in Hubbardston claims to be Irish at heart if not by blood line. Even though I doubt there’s a drop of Irish blood running through my veins, whenever I turn a calendar page to March, I think of that unique little village I call my hometown. It seems like a good place to resurrect this blog after many months of neglect while I worked full-time on another project. So begins my March 2015 Flavor of the Month: Potatoes.

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