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How Irish is Boston?

For Americans, and much of the western world, Boston and the Irish go hand in hand. For over a century now the initial outsiders from the Emerald Isle and the east coast city have been intrinsically linked. 

Over the last 150+ years the sons and daughters of Irish immigrants have interwoven Irish culture, history and heritage so that it’s now hard to imagine Boston without a Celtic twist.

All that being said, just how Irish is Boston really?

We decided to take a look.

Irish Arriving in Boston

Despite approximately 33 million Americans classifying themselves as Irish, or of Irish descent, in the most recent USA public census, men, women and children coming from the Emerald Isle weren’t always welcomed onto American shores with open arms. 

So much has changed since those days but it’s reported that the first Irish, mostly of Presbyterian origin, arrived in Boston in 1654 and were largely put into indentured slavery or work. Those who arrived, but avoided indentured work, lived in areas surrounding Boston including settlements like Belfast, Derry and Londonderry. 

During these first 100+ years the Irish, for the most part, had to fend for themselves and this culminated in the founding of the Charitable Irish Society on March 17th 1737. Interestingly, this is the first recorded observance of Saint Patrick’s Day in Boston.

Irish Influx to Boston

Boston Memorial

Despite small groups of Irish arriving in Boston, and various pocket settlements springing up, it’s clear with hindsight that all of this was simply a preamble before the huge influx of Irish immigrants from the 1840s onwards. 

Irish-Americans, Bostonians, Irish and history aficionados will know that the primary cause for this was the Irish Famine, also known as The Great Hunger, of 1845 to 1849.

Thousands of Irish, seeking refuge, respite and hope of a better future, crossed the Atlantic in the infamous, “Coffin Ships” and arrived in their droves. The majority of arrivals were unskilled and thus used for low paid, manual labour and unwanted jobs throughout the city.

The influx was met with anger, distain and sometimes violence as “Paddys”, “Micks” and “Bridgets” were targeted and claimed to be of a lower class and not truly American. This anger grew into a movement known as the “Know Nothings” who preached against Boston’s new citizens during the 1840s and 1850s.

Thankfully, largely thanks to Irish participation in the Civil War fighting for the Union, as well as second and third generations entering local politics, the Irish were eventually accepted and integrated into the newer, more liberal, version of Boston we all know and love today. 

Boston Today

Incredibly, despite new waves of immigration from all around the world, the last USA census revealed that almost 23% of the metropolitan Boston area classify themselves as Irish or of Irish descent. 

This huge figure means that, based on percentage alone, Boston is the most Irish city in America, beating off stiff competition from the likes of Chicago and New York!

This Irish influence can be felt in almost every facet of modern Boston life today.

From the Boston Celtics, and the founding of Boston College, to the long-lasting legacy of the Kennedy family (Joseph Kennedy, JFK’s father, was the grandson of Irish immigrants), the Irish have played an important role in the city over the last two centuries and this looks set to continue during the 21st century as well.


This is just a brief look at just how Irish Boston really is but if you’re interested in finding out more, please contact us by clicking here, and we’ll be happy to direct you to credible resources.

Are you an Irish-American or Bostonian? We’d love to hear your family story so say hello

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