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How Boston Became Irish

by Jason Rabin

Boston is an Irish town. As Boston Celtics basketball fans will tell you “we bleed green,” from the Emerald Necklace to the Green Monster—from Logan airport, to the Tobin Bridge, to Copley Square.

‘Twas not ever thus. The first several waves of Irish immigrants were not warmly embraced by the puritan-descended “Boston Brahmins.” Mocked and mistrusted, they were forced into miserable tenement slums. Searching for jobs, they found signs reading No Irish Need Apply. The press tarred them as aliens with a dangerous allegiance to the Pope and stereotyped them as pugnacious alcoholics.

Apparently, the word didn’t quite make it back to Ireland. When the Great Potato Famine hit the Emerald Isle between 1845 and 1852, over 100,000 new Irish immigrants fled to Boston. A memorial of the famine stands just a few blocks from the Paramount. These new immigrants fared no better than their predecessors at first. It wasn’t until after the Civil War, in which thousands of Irish proved their loyalty in battle, that they discovered politics was their key to the city. In the wake of the war, Boston’s political parties, struggling to realign themselves finally courted the vote of the Irish, who represented 1/3 of the population.  The city elected Hugh O’Brien, their first Irish mayor, in 1885.

 Once the long-suffering Irish achieved political power, they seized the day, joyously packing their staffs with “famine descendants.” At the start of his first term in 1914, Mayor James M. Curly pandered, “The day of the Puritan has passed; the Anglo-Saxon is a joke; a new and better America is here.” Curly largely dominated the political scene for the next forty years and from the start of his fourth (non-consecutive) term in 1930, Boston mayors remained Irish through 1993, when Menino took the reins.

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