It is at times hard to follow Eleanor Dunfey-Frieburger’s engaging new book: “Counter Culture: Clams, Convents, and a Circle of Global Citizens.” The fact that she is writing about her immediate family is partly the cause for occasional confusion. When you are trying to follow the story of a family of 12 siblings, it’s best to keep a scorecard at hand.
Yes, that’s Dunfey as in THOSE Dunfeys, the ones who started with a clam shack at Hampton Beach and ended with a hotel chain, including the Parker House in Boston and the Wayfarer in Bedford. The ones who played a significant role in Democratic politics in New Hampshire and elsewhere. The ones who produced a state Superior Court judge (Richard). The ones who put themselves front and center in world social justice issues.
Eleanor is the youngest. Many of her older siblings have gone on to their eternal reward, no doubt to be checked up on by their parents, the hard-working Irish-American pair of LeRoy “Roy” Dunfey and Catherine “Kate” Manning Dunfey.
Eleanor and her siblings sometimes urged their mother to write the book that Eleanor eventually did. Kate Dunfey’s answer: “Oh, I don’t need a book to tell my life; I can write it in one sentence. I was engaged to your father on Labor Day and was in labor ever after.”
She wasn’t kidding. Only the last couple of babies were born in a hospital, which gave their mother the luxury of actually being able to rest for a few days. When one of the babies once fell ill, a Dr. Leahy came to the home and performed a tracheotomy – right on the kitchen table.
The Dunfeys were from Lowell, Mass., a mill town much like Manchester, and a place of neighborhoods of immigrant families. Theirs was known as the “Acre.” Kate Manning’s father, on a trip to Ireland, died at sea. Her older brother, barely a toddler himself, was kept by relatives in the old country until he was old enough to return to the States.
The Irish in Lowell were, of course, poor. Kate and Roy did not have a big wedding, except for the 24 other couples who were married at the same time in the rectory of St. Patrick parish in Lowell. They were all too poor to afford a “proper” church wedding.The priest blessed them all.
Roy Dunfey opened a sandwich and coffee shop and would teach all his children how to run the place. They dealt with the colorful characters who became regulars and had such names as “Soup Campbell” and “Banty Shanahan.”
“Here,’’ Eleanor writes, “you entered a colorful, politically incorrect atmosphere. Over that counter we met men and women from cultures different from our Irish roots. What was the common bond? Hands down, the universal language of humor, hard work, a hot cup of coffee, and stories that built trust in that Acre enclave.”
Several of the “kids” would later open a clam shack at Hampton Beach. A couple went to the University of New Hampshire in nearby Durham. Eleanor tells of her brothers learning about business on the job and in school and also beginning to immerse themselves in the politics of the day, which in the 1950s meant Sen. Joe McCarthy on one side and the threat of communism on the other.
Meanwhile, the hospitality business grew for the brothers. They purchased Lamies Tavern in Hampton, where an outside light served to let passing policemen know if they were to call headquarters.
Hampton was a “dry” town, no alcohol for residents. But the Dunfeys dealt with it. They passed out cards to patrons that read “I certify I am above the age of 21 and not a legal resident of the town of Hampton.”
Bigger hotels followed, one in Portland, Maine, and one in Manchester called the Carpenter Hotel (now an elderly housing center).
Another Irish-American, named John F. Kennedy, made his announcement for President at the Carpenter. Dunfeys would help run his New Hampshire Primary campaign and assisted his younger brothers as well. William “Bud’’ Dunfey was JFK’s New England campaign manager in the 1960 general election. He was instrumental in building a New Hampshire Democratic Party which had been all but dormant in the first half of the 20th century.
As such, he and his brothers had regular run-ins with William Loeb, longtime publisher of this newspaper and the Union Leader. But the book has it wrong about one matter involving the newspaper.
When Martin Luther King Jr. was killed, Walter Dunfey offered Corretta Scott King and her children a quiet refuge at his summer home on Lake Winnipesaukee. Years later, Walter’s son claimed that Loeb “wanted to out the fact that the Kings were somewhere in New Hampshire, and he knew my father had something to do with it.”
But why then would Mrs. King have written a personal letter to Loeb’s editor, B.J. McQuaid, thanking him for not reporting her and her family’s whereabouts?
For all their political animosity, the newspaper and the Dunfeys could find common ground. They co-hosted Presidential Primary socials for the national news media at the Wayfarer. Eleanor’s book notes that this writer’s interview with Walter Dunfey upon his return from a peace-keeping effort to Northern Ireland made it into print.
The Dunfey family extended their political involvement into social action, founding the Global Citizens Circle, GCC, which has worked for and been honored for its efforts for social justice around the world.
Three of the Dunfey brothers served in World War II. All four of the sisters would become nuns, and all would eventually leave their religious order. Eleanor writes of her own time with the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur (SND) and how Vatican II under Pope John XXIII raised hopes of young women in that and other orders.
Eleanor married James Freiburger and both taught for many years at Southern New Hampshire University.
Profits from the sale of “Counter Culture” will go to the SND order, which continues to serve immigrant communities. The book’s release date is March 1. It will be available from Peter E. Randall Publisher, www.perpublisher.com.
The author will be on hand to promote her book on Wednesday, April 10, at 6 p.m. at The Bookery, 844 Elm St., Manchester.