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Kim Bielenberg: How Boston became America’s most Irish city

Boston has maintained its reputation as “America’s most Irish city” with a steady stream of immigrants continuing to arrive until the present day.

The Boston marathon’s website said 108 Irish citizens participated in the run, but thousands more would have strong Irish roots.

It is estimated that 16 pc of Bostonians are of Irish extraction, making them the biggest ethnic group in the city.

In 1974, a Limerick man Neil Cusack, unexpectedly became the only Irish athlete to win the race.

The fortunes of the Irish immigrant population in Boston have fluctuated wildly.

In recent years, there has been an influx of well-qualified graduates working for multi-nationals.

The Irish International Immigrant Centre reported an increase in the number of university-educated Irish arriving to take up paid internships.

Their relatively affluent status is in stark contrast to the hundreds of thousands of impoverished immigrants who arrived in the decades after the Famine. They did not stray far from their port of arrival.

They settled along the waterfront in areas that became notorious slums, and were looked down upon by old Yankee families.

Boston job ads with the line “No Irish need apply” are part of Irish-American folklore, but some historians have claimed that discrimination against the Irish has been exaggerated.

Having started in menial jobs, the Irish community fought to establish itself in Boston, forming its own middle class and seizing political power with the rise of families such as the Kennedys and the Fitzgeralds.

Ultimately this was to the lead to the White House and the election of John F Kennedy as President in 1960. His maternal grandfather John “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald had been Mayor of Boston.

South Boston was traditionally the area with the highest Irish population, but it is now scattered across many suburbs.

There are hundreds of Irish pubs, lavish St Patrick’s Day parades, and the city boasts a Famine memorial. 

With much tighter visa restrictions, Irish immigrants are not arriving in such large numbers as they were in the last major recession of the 1980s.

However, the city is still attracting well-qualified graduates, most notably former President Mary McAleese, who will teach Irish studies at Boston College from next autumn.

With city’s thriving Irish heritage, it is little surprise that the Bostonian Irish like to boast that the city is the “next parish over from Galway”.

Online Editors