Overview

The Irish have long been an important presence in Boston. They began arriving in Boston during the 18th century, mostly Presbyterians fleeing the harsh economic realities of the north of Ireland. By the early 19th century descendants of Boston’s Irish Protestants had become an important part of the fabric of the town, even managing to elect one of their own, James Sullivan, as governor of the Commonwealth.

 By the end of 1846 news of the severity of the Potato Famine arrived in Boston; the old ties to Ireland—and a deep sense of charity—inspired Bostonians, led by Robert Bennet Forbes, to organize a relief mission to Ireland. Aboard the Jamestown, Forbes and others carried food to a starving Ireland.

 Fleeing the famine, thousands of Irish came to Boston. In 1845 the city of Boston had a population of 114,366 people, about 8,000 of whom had been born in Ireland. In the following ten years the city’s Irish-born population soared to 46,237, constituting almost the entire increase in Boston’s population over that decade. Over the next six decades the population and geographic boundaries of Boston continued to grow; however, the Irish remained the dominant immigrant group. By 1885 Irish immigrants and their native born children totaled 154,861, more than the entire population of the city in 1845.

 At first despised and discriminated against, these immigrants built a strong community centered on family, church, schools, business, charitable institutions, and political organizations. As the 20th century approached the tide of immigration slowed, but the impact of generations of Irish had left indelible marks on Boston.

 We welcome all interested in the history of the Irish in Massachusetts to visit our exhibition and encourage people who are interested in delving deeper into the story to explore the additional interviews and more in depth timeline available here.  

Upcoming Events

Modern American Society and Culture Seminar

Interreligious Responses to the Settlement House Movement, 1880-1924

25Apr 5:15PM 2017

By 1913, over 400 settlement houses catered to immigrants and laborers across the United States. This paper analyzes how Catholic and Jewish immigrant communities in New ...

Author Talk

John Quincy Adams and the Politics of Slavery: Selections from the Diary

26Apr 6:00PM 2017
There will be a pre-talk reception at 5:30pm.

In the final years of his political career, President John Quincy Adams was known for his objections to slavery. As a young statesman, however, he supported slavery. What ...

Cooking Boston

Cooking Boston: Eating Other People's Food

27Apr 6:00PM 2017
There will be a pre-talk reception at 5:30pm.

Program 2: Eating Other People's FoodIn the second half of the 20th century, Americans were re-introduced to the food of the world. Most famously, Julia Child in ...

From our Blog

This Week @ MHS

PLEASE NOTE THAT THE LIBRARY IS CLOSED ON WEDNESDAY, 26 APRIL, FOR A STAFF EVENT.  This week's program schedule is heavy in the middle, with a seminar and a pair of public programs. Here are the ...

“All things are in common now”

Today is the 242nd anniversary of the battles of Lexington and Concord, the first battles of the American Revolution. The MHS holds some terrific letters and diaries containing first-hand accounts of ...

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