My three brothers and two sisters came to Boston for St. Patrick’s Day this year. We are 5th generation Irish-Americans, descending from Irish refugees who came to the United States in the mid-19th century during the Great Potato Famine. Kinsella is an Irish surname that dates back to the 12th century, originating in County Wexford. While most of my ancestors migrated through Ellis Island to Central New York, generations later three of the six of us made our way to the Boston area.
As a history buff, I had never tried to make sense of the story of the Boston Irish until this St. Patrick’s Day. I was fortunate however to find the Irish Heritage Trail and the HUB History podcast for inspiration. The luck of the Irish was on our side Saturday, since we managed to get a clear and warm sunny day for our mid-March walk. Below are the details of our walk. I provided a Google Map to make it easier to follow, including marks for all the historical stops (red markers) as well as nearby Irish pubs (green markers). I figured the green markers would make it easier to have a pint on the walk - especially useful if you are doing this on St. Patrick’s Day.
The walk is about four miles, almost all on level paved paths and streets. The walk through the Boston Common however will have some hills. It will take a little more than two hours to complete, not including any time spent at a pub.
Getting To the Starting Point
The walk starts in Beacon Hill at the intersection of Charles and Cambridge Streets, just across from the Charles / MGH subway stop (red line). To get to the first stop, walk across the Frances Appleton Bridge to the Charles River Esplanade. Go past the boathouse and the Hatch Shell, and you will find statues lining the half circle walkway.
I’ve divided the tour into sections, each based on a major location in Boston. Each location will have one or more stops. Within each location, I will tell the story of the Irish in Boston starting from the early founding of Boston and through the present day.
The Esplanade is one of several greenways in Boston that are part of the Emerald Necklace, a string of loosely connected parks and waterways across the city. All of the land around you was once a large bay at the mouth of the Charles River surrounded by marshes and mudflats. This land was all filled in during the 19th century to make more room for the expanding city. It is now a beautiful park with picturesque bridges, lagoons, walkways and lawns.
Boston was founded in 1630 during the Great Puritan Migration, a decade in which over 20,000 people left England out of dissatisfaction with the King and the Anglican Church. The village was located on a hilly peninsula connected to the mainland by a narrow isthmus. These early colonists shared a common religion, and put in place strict laws that legislated morality, enforcing with strict punishments. The early settlers would establish the first public park in America (1634), the first public school (1635), and the first college (1636). The village would grow over the subsequent decades into one of the major ports in the Thirteen Colonies. In the 1760s and 1770s, it would play a critical role in the resistance to British taxation. This resistance would result in the occuption of Boston (1768-1776), the Battles of Lexington and Concord (1775), the Battle of Bunker Hill (1775), the Siege of Boston (1775-1776), and the start of the American Revolution. Several of Boston's leaders would be recognized as Founding Fathers, and one would become the 2nd President of the United States.
From the founding of Boston in 1630 through the 1810s, a slow but steady stream of Irish came to Boston. These included both indentured servants and skilled workers, including both Protestants and Catholics. During this time, Boston had a mostly homogeneous population made up of English Protestants. There was a strong anti-Catholic sentiment across New England, driven by generations of wars and persecutions between Catholics and Protestants in the 15th and 16th centuries. In fact the driver behind the Great Puritan Migration to New England in the 1600s was the religious intolerance of the Anglican Church, which the Puritans felt too closely resembled Catholicism. Protestants believed Catholicism was an existential threat to their religious beliefs, liberties, and way of life, and codified their views into law by making it illegal for Catholics to practice their religion in Massachusetts. This would eventually be repealed in 1780 with the adoption of a new state constitution, but the prejudice and bigotry would remain. The Boston Protestants even had an annual anti-Catholic holiday called Pope’s Night, in which effigies of the Pope and the Devil were paraded around the town, reinforcing a generally held belief that the Pope was the antichrist.
Let’s take a look at our first two stops on our tour: statues of key Irish-American politicians in Boston.
#1: Maurice Tobin Statue
You should be standing in front of the statue of Maurice Tobin (1901-1953), who served as the mayor of Boston, the governor of Massachusetts, and was the Secretary of Labor for the United States. He was the son of a carpenter, with both his parents born in Ireland. He is one of the great examples of the early successful Irish-Americans in Boston politics.
#2: David Walsh Statue
David Walsh (1872-1947) was also a 2nd generation Irish-American, born to parents who were refugees of the Great Potato Famine. He was the first Irish Catholic to be elected governor of the state, and served as a US Senator and lieutenant governor. The Latin inscription above his head translates: “Not for himself but for his country.”
We will continue to walk along the path, keeping the Charles River and lagoon to our right and Storrow Drive to our left. Cross over the Dartmouth Street Footbridge, which takes you across Storrow Drive. Walk two blocks south on Dartmouth Street until you reach the intersection with Boylston Street. Across the street on your right is the Boston Public Library, which in addition to being the oldest public library in the United States (1848) has a great collection of Irish artifacts. To your left is Copley Square and the famous Trinity Church. Cross the street over to Copley Square and stop in front of the statue of John Singleton Copley.
Boston continued to grow in the first half of the 19th century, doubling in population in just over two decades. It was was ruled by a semi-aristocratic group of Protestants called the "Brahmins" - sometimes called "Yankees" - that tightly controlled the business and politics of the city. Industry developed rapidly, making Boston one of the largest manufacturing centers in the nation. In 1822, it was chartered as a city. In the 1830s, the city would become a leader in the abolitionist movement, seeking to eliminate slavery across the nation.
The first real wave of Irish immigration started in the 1820s, and included both skilled and unskilled immigrants. While this wave was small in comparison to later ones, it did exacerbate the already strong anti-Irish sentiment in the city. Numerous incidents were recorded in this era, including the vandalizing of homes, assaults, and even street brawls. These activities were often inflamed by newspaper articles and sermons by Protestant ministers. One of the more tragic incidents occurred in 1834, when a Catholic girls’ school called the Ursuline Convent was burned to the ground by a Protestant mob. The mob was incited by rumors that the convent was holding the nuns in slavery and abusing Protestant children. When the Protestant fire department showed up, instead of putting out the fire, they stood by and watched the convent burn. In 1837, a fight between a fireman and a mourner in an Irish funeral escalated into an 800 person brawl known as the Broad Street Riot. In both these incidents, arrests were made but all the Protestants were acquitted. In spite of all of the anti-Catholic sentiment in Boston, in 1837 the Irish immigrants of Boston would hold the first official St. Patrick’s Day celebration in the United States.
#3: John Singleton Copley Statue
John Singleton Copley (1738-1815) was the most famous American portrait painter of the 19th century. He painted portraits of many of the best known people in Colonial America, including George Washington, John Hancock, Samuel Adams and Paul Revere. There is a great exhibit of his works in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Copley’s parents were both Protestants who came to Boston from Ireland. He is a great example of how many Protestant Irish - unlike their Catholic countrymen - were often able to seamlessly blend into Boston society.
Commonwealth Avenue Mall
Walk east to Clarendon Street, cross the street and backtrack north two blocks until you reach a long narrow park known as the Commonwealth Avenue Mall. A short distance away to your left you will see a statue. This will be the next stop on our tour.
The entire area we have been walking in since leaving the Esplanade is known as Back Bay. These 500 acres of land were once in the water of a bay at the mouth of the Charles River. In the first half of the 19th century, a thin land bridge was created over the water to make a faster route to Watertown. This turned the area into a large pond, choking off the natural tidal flow. After years of dumping sewage and garbage in the pond, this area became a smelly and unsanitary mess. In the late 1850s, the city solved the problem by filling in the pond to make the new neighborhood of Back Bay. This would become one of the most fashionable places to live in the city, with its big Victorian brownstones arranged on straight European-inspired avenues.
You will likely have seen a few churches on our walk. In the building of Back Bay, the city only allowed a single Catholic Church to be built on the outskirts of this neighborhood, and only then to minimize the time Catholic housekeepers were absent from the homes of their employers for Sunday mass.
#4: Patrick Collins Memorial
Patrick Collins (1844-1905) was Boston’s second Irish mayor. He emigrated to Massachusetts as a child with his mother during the Great Potato Famine. He was one of the first generation of Irish-Americans to make a successful career in politics, and served in the state legislature, as a judge advocate, a US Congressman, and three terms as mayor of Boston.
The Public Garden
Walk east on the Comm Ave Mall toward the Boston Public Garden. Cross over Arlington Street and enter the first public botanical garden in the United States (1837). This was one of the earliest areas of the bay at the mouth of the Charles River to be filled. Stop at the statue of George Washington riding a horse.
Boston in the first half of the 19th century was a city that still clung closely to the high minded ideals of its Puritan roots. The city had driven a temperance movement, working hard to eliminate alcohol from the community. They formed a board of health that set sanitation standards to reduce disease, and lowered crime and illicit activities across the city. Boston also became the epicenter of the abolitionist movement in the United States, working to eliminate slavery and grant rights to African Americans. This would result in Massachusetts leading the nation in the abolition of slavery (1783) and public school integration (1855). By the 1840s, all the hard work of Bostonians was paying off, as their city had become one of the cleanest, healthiest, safest and most progressive in the country. But unfortunately this would all be unraveled due to an unexpected and far off event: the Great Potato Famine (1845-1852). We will talk about this more in our next location.
#4: George Washington Statue
George Washington was sent to Boston in 1775 by the Continental Congress to take control of the militias that had surrounded Boston after the Battle of Bunker Hill. This was known as the Siege of Boston, in which Colonial militias trapped British troops on the small peninsula of Boston. After a ten month siege, the Patriots were able to mount cannons carried from the capture of Fort Ticonderoga on Dorchester Heights, forcing the British to evacuate. Boston still celebrates the holiday known as Evacuation Day, which due to a historical coincidence, falls on St. Patrick’s Day. While George Washington was not Irish, he is the person credited with ending the anti-Catholic holiday called Pope’s Night in Boston. He forbade his troops to participate in the holiday, and openly called it a “ridiculous and childish custom.”
#5: Thomas Cass Statue
Walk to the right of the pond to the southern edge of the Public Garden. As you walk east toward Charles Street, you will see a series of statues along the pathway. Thomas Cass (1821-1862) came to Boston from Ireland as an infant in the first wave of immigration in the 1820s. He lived in the North End, which was an Irish neighborhood at the time, and became a successful businessman. When the Civil War started, there was a large and growing population of Irish-Americans in Massachusetts. The governor asked Cass to help recruit a regiment of Irish-Americans to join the war effort. He would found and command the 9th Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, known as the “Fighting Ninth”, which would serve in the Army of the Potomac and fight in several important battles.
The Boston Common
Exit the Public Garden, cross over Charles Street, and enter the Boston Common. This open green space is the Boston Common, the oldest city park in the United States (1634). For years the Common was a rural area on the outskirts of Boston used primarily for grazing cattle. But during the British occupation of Boston, the Common was used as a military camp, and was the staging area for marshaling British troops for the Battle of Bunker Hill.
In 1845, Ireland was hit with a potato blight. While Ireland had some of the most fertile agricultural land in the world, the poor and uneducated people in the country relied heavily on the potato for their sustenance. Over the next seven years, over one million people would die of starvation and disease, and over two million would be forced to emigrate abroad. The loss of life was made substantially worse by an indifferent English government, which ignored the plight of the Irish and continued shipping agricultural crops abroad that could have saved the starving populace.
The scale of migration in the Great Potato Famine set off a population bomb in Protestant-Yankee Boston. The masses of Irish refugees that arrived in Boston during this time were generally unskilled, poor, and unhealthy. They had traveled to the United States packed into “coffin ships”, on which diseases like cholera often ran rampant. Many died on the journey and were buried in mass graves upon arrival. The survivors settled into the slums of Boston and looked for any work they could find. The men often took hard labor jobs that no one else wanted, and the women usually went into domestic service. A common slang of the day was to refer to all Boston maids as “Bridgets.”
Life for these immigrants was very difficult. They faced hostility from the people around them, and lived in overcrowded and unsanitary tenements where poverty and disease were rampant. They struggled to make ends meet, taking low paying jobs that barely sustained them. Crime and illicit behavior was common in the North End, South Bay (Bay Village), and Fort Hill (the Financial District), the three primary Irish slums of the day.
By 1850, this mass migration of refugees made the Irish the single greatest ethnic group in Boston, making up almost half the population. Protestant Boston was not happy with this change, and it inflamed the anti-Irish sentiment. This would eventually give rise to a national movement known as the Know Nothings, which gained popularity in the late 1840s. By 1854, the Know Nothings had taken control of the Massachusetts legislature and started enacting their nativist changes. These included the reading of the Protestant bible in public schools, an anti-Catholic school curriculum, prison sentences for serving beer, and replacing Irish civil servants with Protestants. They also tried unsuccessfully to require citizens to reside in Massachusetts for 21 years in order to vote. While the Know Nothings would eventually fade into history driven by deep divisions over slavery, their anti-Irish prejudices would remain.
#6: Central Burying Ground
This was Boston’s fourth cemetery, which was founded in 1756 due to overcrowding in other burial sites. It is where many “strangers” were buried, including British soldiers who died in the American Revolution and Irish Catholics. This is also the only location in the city of Boston in which you will find Celtic crosses carved into headstones.
#7: The Soldiers and Sailor Monument
This beautiful 1877 monument commemorates the soldiers and sailors who died in the Civil War. Unlike many of the other Civil War monuments, this was built to celebrate everyday people, not famous generals or admirals. It was created by Irish-American Martin Millmore and his two brothers, who emigrated to Boston as children during the Great Potato Famine.
#8: The Great Elm
While the Great Elm tree no longer stands in the Boston Common, a marker remains on the ground. This was the location of corporal punishment in early Puritan Boston, where criminals or apostates were hung. In 1688, this tree was the location of the last person to be hanged as a witch. Goody Ann Glover was an Irish immigrant who served as a housekeeper for a wealthy couple. She was accused by her employers of being a witch. During her imprisonment, she spontaneously lost the ability to speak English, and what was initially thought to be her speaking the language of the devil actually turned out to be Gaelic. While this brought to a close the witch trials in Boston, four years later would see the start of the Salem Witch Trials.
#9: Boston Massacre Memorial
In 1770, Boston was under occupation of British soldiers due to its defiance of taxations levied upon the Colonies by the Parliament. The troops were resented by the people of Boston, and tensions were high. On a cold March night in 1770, a mob formed around a British sentry near the location of the Old State House. The sentry was joined by seven more soldiers. As the crowd pressed on the soldiers pelting them with snowballs, they taunted them by yelling “Fire!”. At some point in the conflict a soldier fired his musket, which was followed by a full volley of musket fire. When the smoke had cleared, five men lay dead in the snow. This would be known as the Boston Massacre, and while all but one of the British soldiers would be acquitted, this event would serve to unite the Colonies against the British. One of the five dead was Patrick Carr, an immigrant from Ireland.
#10: The Embrace
The Embrace is one of Boston’s newest memorials, commemorating Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement. We will talk about the Civil Rights movement later in our walk, but this is a good place to dispel a long held myth in American culture: that of the Irish slave. The myth tries to equate the lot of the Irish-Americans to that of the enslaved Black people. Another common related myth is that of the “No Irish Need Apply” signs, which were said to have hung at businesses around Boston in the 19th century. While there was undoubtedly job discrimination against the Irish, there is no actual evidence these signs were used with any prevalence. During the 1960s, some Irish-Americans would justify their prejudices against African Americans based on a false equivalency between the Irish-American experience and that of the descendents of enslaved people. While the Irish Catholics who came to the United States faced immense hostility, prejudice and even violence, it is important to know that their place in society was never close to that of enslaved people, who were treated as property, inhumanely punished, and forced to work in systematized labor camps.
#11: Commodore John Barry Memorial
John Barry (1745-1803) was born in County Wexford, Ireland and emigrated to Philadelphia in 1760. He is known as the “Father of the American Navy,” and won both the first and last naval engagements in the American Revolution. He started his life as a cabin boy, and was able to rise above the anti-Catholic sentiment of the day to attain the rank of commodore. While Barry did not live in Boston, this memorial was put here due to the deep ties the city has to the American Revolution and the US Navy.
From the last stop, make your way up the hill toward the gold dome of the Massachusetts State House in the Beacon Hill neighborhood of Boston. Up until the late-1700s, this area was a mostly uninhabited hilly area called Trimountain for the three peaks that were here. The highest of the three peaks was called Beacon Hill for a signal beacon that was erected on it to warn outlying towns of danger. The peak of this hill once extended 60 feet higher than it does today, and was so steep that it required the use of both hands and feet to climb. In the 1790s, the state of Massachusetts decided to build a new State House here, setting off a building boom that leveled the hills to transform this into a new neighborhood of Boston.
The Irish formed tight knit communities in their neighborhoods that revolved around their two most important institutions: the Church and the pub. The local priest was central to family life, and almost everyone in the community attended church. The poverty and discrimination faced by the Irish served to pull them closer together, lending a sense to many that it was “us” (the Irish) against “them” (everyone else). Among the foes of this first generation were the Boston Yankees, the wealthy Protestants that maintained a tight control over business and politics in the city, and were often behind the hostilities against the Irish.
But it’s impossible to tell the history of the Irish in Boston without confronting a darker truth: the racism and bigotry many Boston Irish-Americans would inflict on other groups. Some of this likely can be attributed to their terrible treatment within Protestant-Yankee Boston. As the first major wave of immigrants to the United States, they desperately tried to maintain their low and tenuous rung on the societal ladder. The Irish would clash with African Americans, who they viewed as competition for low paying jobs. These tensions would be substantially exacerbated by the Civil War draft, which conscripted many Irish-Americans while exempting African Americans due to the unwillingness of the Union to draft Black soldiers. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, a second major wave of immigration hit the United States, caused by the displacement of jobs due to the Industrial Age. This wave mostly brought immigrants from Eastern Europe, Italy and China to our shores. The Irish almost instantly clashed with these new immigrants, viewing them as a threat to their livelihoods. These prejudices would become deeply ingrained in the American-Irish culture of Boston, mostly simmering just below the surface, but occasionally exploding in public view.
The local pub was the community gathering place for Irish-Americans in Boston. It was where neighbors gathered to socialize, entertain and discuss important issues. It would also help foster the early Irish engagement in the politics of Boston. Due to the Great Potato Famine, the Irish had become the single greatest ethnic group in the city, and they began to organize their political power. By the 1870s, each of the Irish neighborhoods was run by a powerful ward boss that operated as sort of a corrupt political mob boss over the Irish slums. One of the earliest and most powerful ward bosses was John F. Fitzgerald, also known as “Honey Fitz”, who ruled over the North End. He was the son of Great Potato Famine immigrants, and would one day become mayor. One of their most important early political successes was the election of Hugh O’Brien in 1884, the first Irish mayor of Boston. His election would mark the rise of the Irish-American in Boston politics, which they would dominate for much of the next hundred years.
In 1872, a fire would burn 65 acres of land in what is today downtown Boston. This would displace many Irish families. As the Financial District was rebuilt, many of the laborers came from the Boston Irish neighborhoods. It is said the widespread existence of Irish pubs in this area owes its heritage to this original Irish workforce.
#12: John Hancock House
On the metal fence you will find a plaque commemorating the former location of John Hancock’s house. The Hancock Manor was built by Thomas Hancock in 1737, and was inherited by his wife’s favorite nephew John Hancock. John would become a wealthy merchant, Founding Father, and signer of the Declaration of Independence. If you look at the Declaration of Independence, you will see Hancock’s signature is the largest and clearest - from which we get the phrase “sign your John Hancock.” While John Hancock was not a Catholic (he was a Congregationalist), his ancestors came to New England from Ireland in the 1630s.
#13: John F. Kennedy Statue
Through the fence you will be able to see the statue of John F. Kennedy (1917-1963), the 35th President of the United States. He was the son of Joe Kennedy and Rose Fitzgerald. Joe Kennedy was a successful businessman and one of the wealthiest people in America. Rose was the daughter of the former Boston mayor and North End ward boss, John F. Fitzgerald (“Honey Fitz”).
#14: 54th Regiment Memorial
This is one of the most beautiful sculptures in the city, commemorating the Massachusetts 54th, one of the first Black regiments in the Civil War. It was created by Augustus Saint- Gaudens (1848-1907), who was born in Dublin to French-Irish parents and emigrated to the United States. The story of the 54th was retold in the 1989 film Glory. This regiment marched down Beacon Street on their way to war, right past the current location of the sculpture. Saint-Gaudens labored over this bronze bas-relief for 14 years.
From the State House we will walk down Park Street, take a left on Tremont Street, and stop the Granary Burying Ground. We are entering the neighborhood known as Downtown, which is the primary tourist area of the city. We will pass several Boston Freedom Trail sites that are not related to its Irish history, including King’s Chapel, Old Corner Bookstore, and the Old South Church.
As the next wave of immigrants from eastern Europe, China and Italy began to arrive in Boston, the Irish gradually resettled to the neighborhoods of South Boston and Charlestown, which would remain dominated by the Irish into the late 20th century. Over time the North End would become the home of Italian immigrants, and the Fort Point area by the railroad tracks would become Chinatown.
In the early 20th century, the Irish continued to make strides economically and politically. They started to take on middle class jobs that were critical to the community - e.g. policemen, firemen, school teachers, librarians. They also began to dominate Democratic politics in Boston, using their political machine to make jobs for their constituents. John F. Fitzgerald, the future grandfather of President Kennedy, would serve two terms as mayor (1906-1908, 1910-1914). He was the first American-born Irish Catholic to serve as mayor. He would be succeeded by another charismatic Irish-American, James Michael Curley. These early Irish-American politicians were often corrupt but beloved by the Boston Irish, since they frequently used any means possible to advance the needs of their people.
#15: Granary Burying Grounds
This was the second cemetery of Boston, first used in 1660. It was once located on the outskirts of the city near a building used to store grain. Inside are the graves of several important Irish immigrants, including John Hancock and Robert Paine, both Founding Fathers and signers of the Declaration of Independence, and Patrick Carr, who was killed in the Boston Massacre.
#16: Old Boston City Hall
On your left as you walk down School Street you will see a majestic stone building. This is Old City Hall, the location of city government from 1865 to 1969. This was where Boston’s first Irish-American mayor, Hugh O’Brien, would serve, and where many subsequent Irish mayors would follow, including John F. Fitzgerald and James Michael Curley. The Ben Franklin statue outside marks the location of the first public school in America, Boston Latin (1635).
#17: The Boston Irish Famine Memorial
These two statues were unveiled in 1998 as a memorial to the Irish refugees from the Great Potato Famine. One statue represents the refugees in Ireland, where they were destitute and starving; the other represents the Irish after arriving in the United States, who are fit and well fed. The circle in between represents the Atlantic Ocean. This memorial has received mixed reviews since its unveiling.
More Historic Boston
We will turn left on Washington Street, walk to the Old State House, and turn left to Congress Street. Ahead of us to the right is Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market. This the epicenter of tourist Boston, and the location of the final stops on our tour.
When war came to the United States after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Boston became a critical shipyard for the US Navy. Many Irish of Boston would work at the dockyards, and many others would join the military. For some who served their country, this was their first time outside the neighborhood. These grandchildren of the famine generation would serve side by side with people of different cultures, religions and ethnicities. When they returned, they were often changed people, seeing for the first time beyond the narrow world of neighborhoods. Many Irish-Americans would leave Boston for the suburbs after the war, where they would begin to fully integrate into the melting pot of America.
One of the great prides of the Boston Irish after the war was the rise of John F. Kennedy. Kennedy started his political career after returning a hero from World War II. In 1946, he ran for the United States House of Representatives, a seat vacated when Boston mayor James Michael Curley was elected to be governor. John Kennedy's father, Joe, had spent a lifetime trying unsuccessfully to be fully accepted into New England Yankees society, and was driven to see his sons fulfill his dream. Kennedy’s father would say after this election: “With the money I spent, I could have elected my chauffeur.” John F. Kennedy served in the House of Representatives (1947-1953), the US Senate (1953-1960), and then as President (1960-1963). He was the first Catholic to be elected President of the United States. While many of the Boston Irish did not consider Kennedy fully one of them due to his family’s wealth and residence in the suburbs, he still represented an ideal to which all Irish-Americans aspired. His election also brought to a close the long era of anti-Catholicism in the United States.
The Irish-Americans who didn’t leave the neighborhoods after the war maintained tight communities in “Southie” (South Boston) and Charlestown. While Massachusetts was one of the first states to mandate the integration of public schools (1855), years of racial tensions resulted in the neighborhoods being arranged primarily by race. By the 20th century, Boston public schools were desegregated in theory only, with white schools receiving substantially more funding than Black schools. After Black activists tried and failed to get action from the Boston School Committee, the NAACP filed a lawsuit in 1972 based on segregation. The chairwoman of the Boston School Committee, the child of poor Irish immigrants, refused to acknowledge segregation. A victory for the plaintiff brought about the court mandated desegregation of the Boston public school system (1974-1988). For the next 14 years, thousands of students were bused to schools in different neighborhoods in an attempt to racially integrate schools. Many Irish-American residents fought back against this ruling, resulting in protests, fights and violence. In one tragic incident, three white teenagers shot and paralyzed a 15-year-old Black student playing in a football game in Charlestown. Attendance at public schools declined substantially during busing, as “white flight” saw many residents move to the suburbs to avoid the racial integration of their schools and neighborhoods. In 1988, a judge declared the integration of public schools complete, and busing was stopped. This ended a deeply conflicting period of Boston’s history, and would bring about the demise of the Irish-American neighborhoods of Boston.
#18: Boston City Hall
Across from Faneuil Hall is the current Boston City Hall, which was the office of several Irish-American Boston mayors, including Kevin White, Ray Flynn and Marty Walsh. It was designed in the 1960s in an architectural style known as brutalism. When it was first unveiled in 1968, it was viewed as an architectural masterpiece by many across the globe. Its construction also heralded the start of the downtown revival of old dirty Boston to the city you see today. Boston City Hall is considered by many today to be the ugliest building in Boston. I find it best to see it from a distance by staying on the east side of Congress Street.
#19: Kevin White Statue
Near the Samuel Adams statue in front of Faneuil Hall is a statue of Kevin White (1929-2012), the 45th mayor of Boston (1968-1983). White presided over a renewal of downtown and the tumultuous Boston busing crisis.
#20: James Michael Curley Statues
Across the street you will find two statues of James Michael Curley (1874-1958). He served three terms in Congress, four terms as mayor, one term as governor, and one term in the Charles Street Jail (currently the Liberty Hotel). He was beloved by the Irish-Americans of Boston for always putting their needs first, and always being willing to fight against the Yankee establishment. He was also known to be deeply corrupt, and served five months in jail for war profiteering before his sentence was commuted.
#21: Rose Kennedy Greenway
From here we will walk down Union Street, passing the New England Holocaust Memorial on the left, and turn down the picturesque Marshall Street. We will take a right on Hanover, and cross the street to the greenway in the middle of two main roads. This is the start of an urban park that goes through the heart of Boston called the Rose Kennedy Greenway. Rose was the daughter of John F. Fitzgerald, the Irish-American ward boss and mayor of Boston. She was also the mother of President John F. Kennedy. As you look across the greenway north on Hanover Street, you will see the North End, which was one of the three original neighborhoods in which refugees from the Great Potato Famine settled.
This brings to an end our Boston St. Patrick’s Day walking tour. As the 20th century came to a close, so too did the long story of the fight for acceptance of the Irish-Americans in Boston. While Irish ancestry remains the greatest ethnic group in Boston, the tight-knit working-class Irish-American neighborhoods have mostly disappeared, with both Charlestown and "Southie" becoming gentrified and multicultural. Some former old time residents remain wistful about this change, realizing that the full assimilation of Irish-Americans into society also came with a loss of the tight knit communities of their childhood. But the story of the Irish in Boston is ultimately one of triumph. They came to Boston as destitute refugees, hungry, without skills, and just looking to survive. Their descendents would become part of the fabric of Boston, serving as Presidents, mayors, war heroes, Congressmen, and more. They would transform Boston into what it is today: one of the greatest cities in the world.