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

canceled History of Women and Gender Seminar

On Fantasy

20Mar 5:30PM 2018
Location: Fay House, Radcliffe Institute

This program is canceled due to illness. This paper argues that fantasies of racial and gendered mastery—seen in law, racial performance, and sexual violence&mdash ...

Author Talk

People before Highways: Boston Activists, Urban Planners, & A New Movement for City Making

20Mar 6:00PM 2018
There will be a pre-talk reception at 5:30.

In 1948, inspired by changes to federal law, Massachusetts officials started to plan highways circling and cutting through the heart of Boston. But when officials began ...

Brown Bag

From Corporate Charter to Modern Constitution: Massachusetts Transformations

21Mar 12:00PM 2018

The U.S. Constitution is not a “social contract,” but a popularly issued corporate charter.  America’s constitutional innovations&mdash ...

From our Blog

This Week @ MHS

It is the middle of the month and it appears that the lion of March is not making way for the lamb. Below is the round-up of events in the week to come, just be sure to keep an eye on our website to ...

Welcome to Our 2018-2019 MHS-NEH Fellows!

The Massachusetts Historical Society’s Research Department is pleased to announce our two 2018-2019 MHS-NEH Long-Term Fellows, Mara Caden and Brent Sirota. Mara Caden will be researching the ...

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