An Irishman in Kennebunkport

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to you of all nationalities.

I was surprised to learn about Thomas Casey, the eventually revered “Patriarch” of Kennebunkport. The Irish Catholic lobsterman was not originally welcomed here with open arms, but he won the love and respect of his neighbors in Kennebunkport by speaking his mind with wit and passion.

In an article written by Father Charles W. Collins, Priest of St Martha’s Catholic Church in Kennebunk, shortly before Thomas Casey’s death in 1910,

“Everybody knows the Patriarch. He is as much a landmark as the steeple of the Congregational Meeting House. He came from Ireland more years ago than one cares to number, when one of his race and creed was as welcome in the village as a Borneo headhunter at a sewing circle. He was straight and strong in those days, ever ready to fight for Ireland, or the Pope, or both. And fight he did with tongue and arms, as if he were the sole representative of his people in a hostile land and their honor depended on the quality of his courage.” His motto was “Here I am and Here I stay.”

Eighteen-year-old Thomas Casey and his wife Elizabeth arrived in Boston from County Cork on January 7, 1855. There were very few Catholics in Kennebunkport when he arrived. After the Civil War ended, the Casey’s purchased a little white house on Ocean Avenue. Thomas fished the Kennebunk River in a dory for over forty years. When the tourists arrived at Cape Arundel in the 1870s and 1880s they bought his seafood and brought along their Irish Catholic maids who attended Catholic Services in the Casey house on the river. Business was booming by the 1890s and the Caseys built a fish house on the float behind their house in 1895. Tom became so well known that Boston and Kennebunkport artist Abbott Graves used him as a model for several of his famous Chase & Sanborn Coffee Advertisements. His house and fish house still stand.

The transplanted Irish Philosopher often said, “There are three times in a person’s history when he is equal with all mankind: when he is born, when he is at the polls, and when he is dead.”

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