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Wednesday, June 20, 2018

The Irish Were Boston's First Refugees



History is replete with stories about refugees from around the world coming to Boston, Massachusetts, seeking help from tragedies of historic proportions that were too massive for them to face. Very often they were poorly received, as locals feared the burden these immigrants would have on society. 

One of the most compelling chapters in the city's history involves Irish immigrants who fled Ireland in the 1840s, fleeing starvation, disease and death.

Many of these refugees fled to Boston, where they arrived, traumatized and ill, having lost parents and children, neighbors and friends. 

News reports describe Irish families huddled in doorways in downtown Boston, begging for food.  A  group of 50 Irish refugees camped out on Boston Common because they had no where to stay.  Many never made it to the mainland, but were held at the quarantine station on Deer Island in Boston Harbor to see if they carried with them typhus or cholera, diseases that later turned up in the crowded tenement buildings along Broad Street and in the North End.

A large number of Irish who made it ashore were eventually sent to the lunatic asylum in South Boston, since they were unable to cope with the tragedy they had experienced.

In June 1998, Boston's Irish community joined with city officials to unveil an Irish Famine Memorial Park in downtown Boston, to commemorate the 150th anniversary of this tragic episode in the city's history.  The Memorial remains a stark reminder that many Bostonians today are the descendents of that Irish famine generation. 

The Famine is also a reminder that refugees are still leaving their homelands to escape certain death, and that humanitarian crises in our lifetime must be solved by those who can. 

For learn more about this episode in Boston's history, visit the Irish Famine Memorial, on the corner of School and Washington Street in Downtown Boston, a stop along Boston's IrishHeritageTrail.com

To read more about Boston's Irish history from the 17th century to the present, read Irish Boston: A Lively Look at Boston's Colorful Irish Past. 


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