A self-proclaimed “Dorchester girl,” Judith “Judy” Kirwan Kelley, recounts her memories of growing up Irish Catholic in Dorchester during the 1960s in a memoir she published this summer. The stories in her book, understandably titled “Dorchester Girl,” are based on her experiences in Fields Corner as one of seven siblings in a working-class home.
Kirwan Kelley was born in St. Margaret’s Hospital in 1954. Her family moved to South Weymouth in 1969 and she now lives in Duxbury with her husband, Richard J. Kelley. She holds a PhD in Sociology from Brown University and is the mother of three adult daughters, and grandmother of six.
The text is heavy with stories about her large family, attending parochial school, and later, the Girls Latin School, then housed in the former Dorchester High School for Girls in Codman Square on Talbot Ave., and about life along a bustling Dorchester Avenue—with emphasis on the “heavenly” smells wafting northward from the Baker Chocolate factory in Lower Mills.
“Being a Dorchester girl means a lot to me,” Kirwan Kelley told the Reporter this week. “I consider it a part of my identity. When I was growing up, we were very independent, we had a lot of responsibilities — it was just a fact of life,” she said. “In my whole circle we were all lower middle class and the goal — no matter what your heritage — was improving on what your parents did and upward mobility.”
Kirwan Kelley said with a laugh that she thinks of herself and her family as “tough, Dorchester Irish.” She often writes about her Irish identity and Catholic heritage, she said, while pointing out that for older generations “assimilation was the goal,” adding:
“It was really very different then than it is now where many of us hang onto our ethnic identity and roots,” she explained. “Everybody was supposed to be a part of the ‘patchwork quilt’ and fit in together. They weren’t hanging onto the Irish identity as much, but I always did and as I grew up people started celebrating it more.”
Kirwan Kelley talked about the immigrant communities in Dorchester that have continued to flourish.
“People had hoped that Dorchester would become more and more integrated, never expecting that it would become very integrated with people from many different nations, including Cape Verde, Haiti, Vietnam and more” she said.
A book that’s written with humor, honesty, and a passionate love for the neighborhood, Kirwan Kelley’s memoir is a must read for OFDers and beyond.
“Dorchester Girl” is available for purchase at SDP Publishing Solutions, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble.