While most deaths were in Rhode Island, nearly 100 died in Massachusetts. The Merrimack River at Lowell suffered one of its worst floods in history - worse than 2006 or 2007. The storm passed over on September 21st, with the Merrimack cresting on the 23rd. At the time however, something protected the center of the city (where I live) from the flooding: The Francis Gate.
According to http://www.nps.gov/lowe/historyculture/upload/JB%20Francis_%20Lowell%20Notes.pdf
Eighty-four years after the gate first plunged it was dropped again in the year 1936. The gate remained down in the canal for fourteen years before being raised again in 1950. During this time the gate protected the city during the flood of 1936 and the hurricane of 1938.The gate is currently not down.
To be fair however, the '38 Hurricane was a Category 3 whereas Irene is supposed to be a 2. This is sounding a bit more like Hurricane Bob, which didn't even make the top 58 flood events for Lowell.