Irish History in Salem, MA

St. Patrick’s Day may be over, but there are still plenty of ways to learn about Irish history in Salem, Massachusetts. Take a tour of the Phillips House, where many Irish immigrants have been employed by the Phillips family, or visit The House of the Seven Gables this May for a new live performance based on the life of Irish Catholic indentured servant, Joan Sullivan.

The Phillips House
During the early 20th century, the Phillips family employed a number of Irish servants at their home on Chestnut Street. Like many servants at the time, most of the servants the Phillipses hired were young, white, single females who were either immigrants themselves or first generation Americans.

By 1919, the Phillips House servant quarters were home to three Irish women and a couple of Irish men. The women lived in the servants’ quarters, located on the third floor of the family’s home, while the men lived off the property often with their own wives and families.

The women often took on roles within the home, sometimes caring for children as was the case for Catherine Shaughnessy who was a nursemaid to Stephen Phillips. As Stephen eventually moved out of the home to attend boarding school, Catherine, or “Catty,” continued to work for the Phillips family for 52 years as an assistant and maid.

Men at the Phillips House performed roles outside the home, as was the case for Patrick O’Hara who served as the family’s chauffeur. Patrick was responsible for not only driving the Phillips’ family vehicle but also for its care and upkeep.

Guests may tour the Phillips House between 11:00 am and 4:00 pm on Saturdays and Sundays through May 27. June 1 through October 31 the Phillips House is open for tours Tuesday through Saturday. Tours begin every half hour with the last tour at 4:00 pm.

The House of the Seven Gables
The House of the Seven Gables will be introducing a theatrical tavern experience in May called: I Am Joan Sullivan. This experience will give visitors a chance to learn about Joan Sullivan, the Irish Catholic indentured servant of merchant John Turner, who built The House of the Seven Gables in 1668, and her new master, turbulent Quaker merchant Thomas Maule, as she sues for her freedom from his alleged abuse.

I am Joan Sullivan will explore the trials of a young immigrant woman with little to no agency in America where she was considered a second class citizen because of her ethnicity, gender, and faith, long before the immigrant struggle of the 19th and 20th centuries that inspired The Gables’ founder, Caroline Emmerton, in her original settlement mission. For tickets ($10-17) and information, visit