Irish Boston: A Lively Look at Boston's Colorful Irish Past

Irish Boston: A Lively Look at Boston's Colorful Irish Past

by Michael P. Quinlin



Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780762729012
Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
Publication date: 08/01/2004
Edition description: First
Pages: 232
Product dimensions: 6.24(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.68(d)

About the Author

Michael P. Quinlin is the founder of the Boston Irish Tourism Association and creator of the Boston Irish Heritage Trail. He is the author of Guide to the New England Irish, and his many articles and op ed pieces have appeared in the Boston Globe, the Boston Herald, and the Irish Echo. He lives in Milton, Massachusetts.

Read an Excerpt

The very first day on her job as a live-in maid, Irish immigrant Catherine Murphy stole an expensive silk dress from her employer's wardrobe and disappeared into the night.

It was May 4, 1853. That morning Murphy, a fresh-faced, red-haired teenager from County Cork, had been hired to clean house in the Fort Hill neighborhood. Murphy worked a full day in the house, dusting the furniture and putting away clothes, then retired to her new room for the night. At some point she crept into the dressing room of her new mistress and ran off with a brand new silk dress.

The theft was discovered, and the aggrieved lady and her husband marched down the narrow streets of Boston, searching the Irish neighborhoods along the waterfront. They passed people begging on the streets or coming home from work, muddy and tired from digging trenches for the new water lines. They saw children running barefoot and someone playing bagpipe on a street corner for spare change. Eventually they found young Catherine in one of the notorious dance cellars on Wharf Street. There was the girl, wrote the Boston Herald, "with the striped silk on her back, dancing merrily with the boys—in a dark place, in which about one hundred boys and girls were dancing to the music of a single fiddle." She was arrested.

Catherine Murphy was a teenager who yearned for nice things she couldn't afford. In normal times, her crime would have been viewed as a petty misdemeanor. But the 1850s in Boston were not normal times. To Bostonians, the teenager's action appeared to verify what many believed: The Irish could not be trusted. They didn't belong in this country. They shouldn't be taking jobs away from real Americans. They should go back to Ireland.

The suspicious, unforgiving nature of Bostonians was not new. It stretched back to the city's Puritan founders, whose unique brand of self-righteousness excluded most others, particularly Catholics. But that suspicious nature reached an ugly nadir in the 1850s, as hundreds of thousands of immigrants streamed into their city, overwhelming the population. Discrimination and disdain, political opposition and occasionally mob violence rained upon the Irish. After enduring one of the most dismal decades in their history, the Irish were about to be confronted by a new brand of discrimination 2,000 miles away from their tiny villages and farmlands.
The five-year potato blight had ended in 1849, but people of Ireland were still reeling from its aftereffects. Boston continued to be a favored destination for the Irish. In 1850 46,000 Irish living in Boston comprised a third of the total population of 138,000; by 1860 a quarter of the city was Irish. It was not uncommon to see articles in local papers presenting grim news with headlines like "More Foreign Paupers":
One hundred and sixty-two foreign paupers arrived in Boston yesterday on the Worcester, Fall River and Boston and Maine Railroads. Of this number 71 were entirely destitute and 18 children from one poor house in Ireland were barefooted. A more miserable looking gang of human beings never were seen. They should be sent back at once to those who so unmercifully cast them away. In addition about 300 Irish immigrants arrived in vessels at Quarantine Wednesday.

Table of Contents

(1) BAY COLONY BLIGHT: The Plight of Irish Catholics in Early British Boston (1620-1760s); (2) POLITICIANS, PIRATES, AND PAINTERS: The Boston Irish and the Revolutionary War (1770-1790s); (3) WE'VE GOT A GRAVEYARD!: How the Irish Came to Southie (1800-1820s); (4) BRAWLS AND BURNINGS: Tension Mounts Between Yankees and Irish (1830-1840s); (5) "INVASION OF THE FRUITFUL BARBARIANS": The Famine Generation (1845-849); (6) NO IRISH NEED APPLY: Redefining the Stereotype (1850s); (7) THE IRISH COME MARCHING HOME AGAIN: The Civil War Era (1860s); (8) POETS AND PATRIOTS: The Irish Cultural and Nationalist Revival (1870s-1900); (9) SPORTING PADDY: Boston Irish Athletes (late 19th & early 20th centuries); (10) THE WORLD'S GREATEST IRISH CITY: The Boston Irish Century; (11) DANCING ON DUDLEY STREET: Forging an Irish-American Culture (1920s-1950s); (12) CAMELOT: The Kennedy Years (1960s); (13) THE GREENING OF THE SUBURBS: Irish Neighborhoods and Illegal Immigration (1970s-1980s); (14) IRISH RENAISSANCE: The Gaelic Roots Revival (1990s); (15) WHO'S IRISH: What It Means to Be Irish Today (21st Century) (16) DIRECTORY OF IRISH RESOURCES IN THE BOSTON AREA: Annual Events, Gift Shops, Genealogical Resources, Organizations, Academic Courses.

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