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A Walk Through Irish-American History in Boston
Whether you are of Irish descent or you're passionate about history and want to better understand Boston's Irish roots, a tour of the 20 downtown Boston sites on the Irish Heritage Trail is an intriguing way to see the city. Like the Freedom Trail, which is many first-time visitors' introduction to Boston, the Irish Heritage Trail connects thematically related sights. However, unlike the Freedom Trail, which is designated by a red-bricked or -painted stripe, the Irish Heritage Trail is unmarked and a wee bit tricky to follow.
This map from the Boston Irish Tourism Association will help you plan a self-guided outing (guided tours are occasionally offered, too), and this photo tour has tips to help you locate the trail's landmarks. It'll take you the better part of a day if you'd like to see all 20 attractions, especially if you also pop into some of the Irish pubs along the way.Continue to 2 of 17 below.
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Rose Kennedy Garden
Stop #1: Rose Kennedy Garden
Location: Christopher Columbus Park, Atlantic Avenue & Richmond Street (along the rear side of the Marriott Long Wharf Hotel at 296 State Street)
Significance: Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy's grandparents, Thomas Fitzgerald and Rosanna Cox, were Irish immigrants who married in Boston in 1857. The family's political prominence began when their son—Rose's father John Francis Fitzgerald—was elected to serve on Boston's Common Council in 1891. In 1906, "Honey Fitz" became the first American-born Irish Catholic Mayor of Boston. In 1987, a rose garden in Christopher Columbus Park was planted with 104 rose bushes: one for each year in the life of Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, who was born nearby in Boston's North End and would become wife of ambassador to England Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. and mother of three famous U.S. statesmen: President John F. Kennedy, Senator Robert F. Kennedy and Senator Ted Kennedy. The Kennedy family matriarch was also honored when Boston's 15-acre linear park, the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, was officially unveiled in 2008.Continue to 3 of 17 below.
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Kevin White Statue
Tip: If you only have about an hour and a half to explore, start with Stop #2: the Kevin White Statue, and conclude your walk at Stop #13: the Colonel Thomas Cass Statue.
Stop #2: Kevin White Statue
Location: Faneuil Hall at Congress Street (about 0.3 miles from Stop #1). Locate the statue of Samuel Adams in front of Faneuil Hall, then turn to your left, and you will see Kevin White at ground level.
Significance: Irish-American politician Kevin Hagan White was elected Mayor of Boston in 1967 at the age of 38 and would remain in the post for four four-year terms. He's remembered for guiding the city peacefully through the process of school desegregation, as well as for talking the Rhode Island State Police into releasing the Rolling Stones into his custody, so they could play a scheduled concert at the Boston Garden in 1972, thus avoiding uproar from fans while Boston police attended to a more critical situation in the South End. Hagan left big shoes to fill, as this statue symbolizes. He went on to teach and to direct the Institute for Political Communication at Boston University. White died in 2012 at age 82.
Best Nearby Irish Pub: The Black Rose, 160 State StreetContinue to 4 of 17 below.
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James Michael Curley Statues
Stop #3: James Michael Curley Statues
Location: Curley Memorial Plaza at Congress and Union Streets. Walk one block north from the Kevin White Statue at Faneuil Hall.
Significance: They called him the Purple Shamrock and the Rascal King, and James Michael Curley won the hearts of Irish Bostonians, even though he ran afoul of the law a couple of times during the 49 years he held elected office. He was Mayor of Boston for four terms and also served one term as Governor of Massachusetts from 1935-1937. Curley also served two stints in the U.S. House of Representatives. When Curley died in 1958, more than a half million mourners lined the route of his funeral procession. A pair of statues by artist Lloyd Lillie honoring a true Boston icon was unveiled in 1980.
Best Nearby Irish Pub: Paddy O's, 33 Union StreetContinue to 5 of 17 below.
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Boston City Hall
Stop #4: Boston City Hall
Location: 1 City Hall Avenue, across Congress Street from Faneuil Hall. Walk one block south from Curley Memorial Plaza, and City Hall will be on your right. Climb the stairs to City Hall Plaza.
Significance: Boston's first Irish mayor took office in 1885. Hugh O'Brien was born in County Cork, Ireland, and emigrated to America in the 1830s as a child. O'Brien set the stage for a century of Irish political dominance in Boston. During the 1900s, Irish-Americans held the mayor's office for 85 of 100 years including the solid 63-year span fom 1930 to 1993. Look for the sculpture of Mayor John F. Collins (1960-1968) on the south wall of City Hall.
Best Nearby Irish Pub: The Kinsale Irish Pub & Restaurant, 2 Center Plaza (Cambridge Street)Continue to 6 of 17 below.
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Boston Irish Famine Memorial
Stop #5: Boston Irish Famine Memorial
Location: Washington and School Streets (in front of the Walgreens at 24 School Street). From City Hall, proceed South on Congress Street to a right on State Street, then turn left onto Washington Street. The memorial will be on your right.
Significance: The Great Famine of 1845-1852 in Ireland was a time of mass emigration. Between 1845 and 1849, 100,000 men, women and children fled Ireland for Boston to escape the starvation and disease precipitated by the failure of the nation's potato crop due to potato blight. More than a century and a half later, Boston remains America's most Irish city with 20.4% of the city's population claiming Irish ancestry. Boston businessman and philanthropist Thomas J. Flatley and others contributed $1 million for creation of a memorial, which was unveiled on June 28, 1998. Woburn-based sculptor Robert Shure's pair of moving statues represent the heartache and hope of Ireland's Famine generation.
Best Nearby Irish Pub: jm Curley, 21 Temple PlaceContinue to 7 of 17 below.
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Granary Burying Ground
Stop #6: Granary Burying Ground
Location: 117 Tremont Street. From the Boston Irish Famine Memorial, walk two blocks west on School Street, then turn left onto Tremont Street. The Granary Burying Ground is not quite 0.1 miles on the right.
Significance: The Granary Burying Ground was established in 1660 and is the place of eternal rest for luminaries like Paul Revere and three signers of the Declaration of Independence: Samuel Adams, Robert Treat Paine (descended from the O'Neills of Tyrone) and John Hancock (whose ancestors came from Newry in Northern Ireland). The victims of the 1770 Boston Massacre are also interred here, including Irishman Patrick Carr. Although Catholics could not be buried in the Granary Burying Ground, a number of Protestant Irish were including seventh Massachusetts Governor James Sullivan and William Hall, first president of the Charitable Irish Society,Continue to 8 of 17 below.
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Robert Gould Shaw Memorial
Stop #7: Robert Gould Shaw Memorial
Location: Northeast corner of Boston Common at Beacon Hill and Park Street, directly across from the Massachusetts State House. From the Granary Burying Ground, continue on Tremont Street and turn uphill on Park Street. The Shaw Memorial will be directly to your left as you face the State House at the top of Park Street.
Significance: Renowned sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1848 and moved to America at six months old with his French father and Irish mother. Remembered in New England for founding the Cornish Art Colony in New Hampshire, where his home is now a National Historic Site, Saint-Gaudens' attention to detail makes the Robert Gould Shaw Memorial, which he fine-tuned for 14 years, an extraordinary and moving tribute to Colonel Shaw and the Massachusetts 54th Regiment: the first African-American unit to fight for the Union in the Civil War.Continue to 9 of 17 below.
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Massachusetts State House
Stop #8: Massachusetts State House
Location: Beacon and Park Streets.
Significance: The enduring and iconic Massachusetts State House is an architectural treasure. Venture inside for a tour, and keep an eye out for works of art and artifacts related to the city's Irish history including:
- A display of Irish Flags in Memorial Hall that features historic flags used by Irish Regiments in the American Civil War;
- A plaque dedicated to Mary Kenney O'Sullivan, activist for women's and workers' rights, near Doric Hall;
- Portraits of Irish-American Massachusetts governors including James Sullivan, David I.Walsh, Maurice Tobin, Paul Dever and Edward King;
- A plaque honoring Jeremiah O'Brien, a captain in the Massachusetts State Navy who commanded a ship that won the first naval battle in America's War for Independence from Great Britain; and
- A statue of Massachusetts-born, Irish-American President John F. Kennedy by sculptor Isabel McIlvain, which is located on the State House front lawn on Beacon Street.
Best Nearby Irish Pub: Emmets Irish Pub and Restaurant, 6 Beacon StreetContinue to 10 of 17 below.
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Soldiers and Sailors Monument
Stop #9: Soldiers and Sailors Monument
Location: Boston Common atop Flagstaff Hill. From the Massachusetts State House, walk a diagonal path south and west through the park, and you will see the 126-foot monument standing tall near the Frog Pond.
Significance: Sculptor Martin Milmore arrived in Boston from Sligo, Ireland, at the age of 7. He and his brothers, James and Joseph, collaborated to create Boston Common's towering Soldiers and Sailors Monument, dedicated in 1877:
"To the men of Boston
Who died for their country
On land and sea in the war
Which kept the union whole
And Maintained the Constitution"
Martin Milmore died just six years later at the age of 38.Continue to 11 of 17 below.
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More Irish Heritage Trail Sites on Boston Common
Stop #10: Commodore John Barry Memorial
Location: Boston Common, Tremont Street side near the Visitors Center and across the street from 141 Tremont Street.
Significance: The "Father of the American Navy" was born in Ireland. John Barry's heroism during the American Revolution has been overshadowed by legends surrounding some of his contemporaries, but this son of an Irish farmer ascended from cabin boy to Commodore of the entire U.S. fleet. His exploits—including winning the first and last battles with Britain on the seas—are worth reading about if you're interested in naval history.
Stop #11: Boston Massacre Memorial
Location: Boston Common, Tremont Street side, south of the Commodore John Barry Memorial and just inside the park.
Significance: When British soldiers opened fire on an unruly crowd of civilians in 1770, the incident was seized upon by patriots as a call to action. Three died on the scene of the Boston Massacre, and two others—including Irishman Patrick Carr—also succumbed to wounds they sustained. The scene of this pivotal confrontation is on State Street near the Old State House, but on Boston Common, you'll find the Boston Massacre Memorial, sculpted by Robert Kraus and dedicated in 1888 to the men who died.
Best Nearby Irish Pub: M.J. O'Connor's, 27 Columbus AvenueContinue to 12 of 17 below.
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Central Burying Ground and Thomas Cass
Stop #12: Central Burying Ground
Location: Boston Common, Boylston Street side. From the Boston Massacre Memorial, continue south on Tremont Street to a right on Boylston, and you will see the cemetery gate on your right.
Significance: Poke among the graves in this historic burial ground, and see if you can find a headstone with a Celtic cross. Established in 1756, Boston Common's cemetery was a place where "strangers" were buried in colonial days, including Irish Catholics and Freemasons, as well as British Redcoats who perished during the Battle of Bunker Hill. One of several notables laid to rest here: Portrait artist extraordinaire Gilbert Stuart, who worked in London, England, and Dublin, Ireland, from 1775 to 1793 before returning to America intent on painting a portrait of the fledgling nation's first president. Stuart's image of George Washington is on the U.S. one dollar bill.
Stop #13: Colonel Thomas Cass Statue
Location: Boylston Street at the Boston Public Garden. From Central Burying Ground, continue walking west on Boylston Street, and you will see the statue on your right.
Significance: Thomas Cass was born in Ireland in 1821 and moved to Boston with his parents. In 1861, he was tapped by abolitionist Governor John Albion Andrew to recruit and command regiment of predominantly Irish immigrants: the 9th Massachusetts Volunteers. Cass would give the ultimate sacrifice for his adopted country. In 1862, at the Battle of Malvern Hill in Virginia, about 166 men—half of the regiment—were injured or killed, and Cass was mortally wounded.Continue to 13 of 17 below.
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David I. Walsh and Maurice Tobin Statues
Tip: It's a little over a 1.10-mile walk from the Colonel Thomas Cass Statue to the next site on the Boston Irish Heritage Trail. We opted to take a cab to stops 14 and 15.
Stop #14: David I. Walsh Statue
Location: Charles River Esplanade near the Hatch Shell, 21 David G Mugar Way. If you walk the Arthur Fiedler Footbridge over Storrow Drive, it is the first statue you will encounter.
Significance: David I. Walsh was Massachusetts' first Irish Catholic governor and first Irish Catholic U.S. senator. After a single term as governor from 1914-1916, he spent more than 20 years representing the state in Washington, DC. This statue by Joseph A. Coletti was installed at the Charles River Esplanade in 1954. The inscription, Non Sibi Sed Patriae, means: Not for self, but for country.
Stop #15: Maurice Tobin Statue
Location: Continue to walk toward the Charles River and the Hatch Shell, where the Boston Pops famously performs on the 4th of July, and you will see the stately statue of Maurice Tobin.
Significance: The son of immigrants from Clogheen, Ireland, Maurice Tobin captured a seat in the state legislator in 1927 at the age of 25, and he remains the youngest person to have ever won elected office in Massachusetts. Considered a protégé of James Michael Curley, he swiped the mayorship from his mentor in 1937. He defeated Curley a second time in 1941. In 1944, Tobin was elected governor of Massachusetts, and after leaving office in 1947, he served as Secretary of Labor under U.S. President Harry S. Truman. Tobin died in 1953 at the age of 52.Continue to 14 of 17 below.
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Patrick Collins Memorial
Stop #16: Patrick Collins Memorial
Location: Commonwealth Avenue between Clarendon and Dartmouth Streets. From the Charles River Esplanade, cross back over Storrow Drive via the Arthur Fiedler Footbridge, then walk two blocks west on Beacon Street, turn left onto Clarendon Street and walk two blocks to Commonwealth Avenue. You'll find the memorial on the Commonwealth Avenue Mall, the wide green that runs through the center of Commonwealth Avenue, as you continue west toward Dartmouth Street.
Significance: Born in Fermoy, Ireland, Boston's second Irish mayor was so popular, he was the first to win every ward in a city election. Patrick Collins' life of public service began when he was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives, where he held office from 1868-1869. From 1883 to 1889, Massachusetts sent Collins to Congress for three consecutive terms. He was elected Mayor in 1901, and when he died in office in 1905, an outpouring of small donations from constituents raised $26,000 in just a few days for this memorial statue by husband and wife artists Henry and Theo Kitson.Continue to 15 of 17 below.
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Two Irish Trail Highlights in Copley Square
Stop #17: John Singleton Copley Statue
Location: Copley Square Park at Boylston and Dartmouth Streets. Continue past the Patrick Collins Memorial to a left on Dartmouth Street. At Boylston Street, turn left, and you will see the statue in Copley Square.
Significance: The man who gave his name to Boston's famed Copley Square was born in Boston in 1737 to Irish parents Richard Copley and Mary Singleton, who hailed from County Clare. After his father's death, John learned to paint from his mother's second husband, engraver Peter Pelham. He painted his first portrait at the age of 14 and went on to depict the most prominent colonial Bostonians including Samuel Adams, Paul Revere and John Hancock. Copley Square Park was named after America's first and foremost portrait artist in 1883, and in 2002, this statue by sculptor Lewis Cohen paid permanent tribute to Copley's talents.
Stop #18: Boston Public Library
Location: 700 Boylston Street. Turn back toward Dartmouth Street, and on the west side of Copley Square, you will see the looming architectural masterpiece that is the Boston Public Library.
Significance: Built in 1848, the Boston Public Library was the first publicly supported free municipal library in the world and the first library to allow patrons to check out books and materials. Architect extraordinaire Charles Follen McKim designed this "Palace for the People," which is a repository for myriad archival and photographic resources related to the city's Irish history: everything from documents related to the Irish Rebellion of 1798 to an extensive collection of Irish sheet music. The library's spectacular facade is equaled by its ornate interior. Inside, seek out busts of Hugh O'Brien, Boston's first Irish mayor, and Irish-born poet John Boyle O'Reilly by sculptor John O'Donoghue. Dublin-born sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens contributed heraldic seals above the McKim building entrance, and his brother, Louis, carved the impressive twin marble lions in the foyer.
Best Nearby Irish Pub: Solas, 710 Boylston StreetContinue to 16 of 17 below.
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John Boyle O'Reilly Memorial
Stop #19: John Boyle O'Reilly Memorial
Location: Across from the Massachusetts Historical Society (1154 Boylston Street) near the intersection of Boylston Street and Fenway.
Significance: John Boyle O'Reilly was the poetic and passionate voice of Boston's Irish populace in the second half of the 19th century. As a young man, the Ireland-born writer was sent to prison in West Australia for his involvement with the Irish Republican Brotherhood. In 1869, O'Reilly made a dramatic escape to the United States, and after settling in Boston's predominantly Irish Charlestown neighborhood, he began work at The Pilot: America's oldest Catholic newspaper. He went on to be the paper's editor and to pen volumes of popular poetry. Completed in 1896, Boston's Memorial to John Boyle O'Reilly features two sculptures by Daniel Chester French. On the opposite side of the bust of the poet, three figures represent Erin (Ireland) flanked by Patriotism and Poetry.
Best Nearby Irish Pub: Dillon's, 955 Boylston StreetContinue to 17 of 17 below.
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Stop #20: Fenway Park
Location: Yawkey Way at Brookline Avenue. From the John Boyle O'Reilly Memorial, continue to walk southwest on Boylston Street about half a mile to a right on Yawkey Way.
Significance: Fenway Park, home of Major League Baseball's Boston Red Sox, was constructed during the winter of 1911-1912 by Irish immigrant Charles E. Logue's building company. The iconic stadium is the oldest surviving ballpark in America: an enduring testament to Irish craftsmanship. Tours of Fenway Park are an option year-round, but if you can: Get tickets to a Red Sox game!
Best Nearby Irish Pub: The Lansdowne Pub, 9 Lansdowne Street