Boston Irish Famine Memorial
Corner of Washington and School Streets, near Downtown Crossing
Artist: Robert Shure
Commissioned by: Boston Irish Famine Memorial Committee and City of Boston
(Monument 1) Arriving in Boston
In 1847 alone, 37,000 Irish refugees / landed in Boston, on the edge of / death and despair, impoverished / and sick. “Native Bostonians might / have been willing to send money / and food to aid the starving Irish / as long as they remained in / Ireland,” wrote historian Thomas H. / O’Connor, “but they certainly didn’t / want them coming to America.” The / newcomers moved in along Boston’s / waterfront, packed together in damp / cellars and overcrowded hovels. / “Children in the Irish district.” / wrote Bostonian Lemuel Shattuck, / “seemed literally born to die.”
(Monument 2) Crossing the bowl of tears
In a frantic attempt to outwit death, / nearly two million people fled / Ireland. “Many thousands of peas- / ants who could still scrape up the / means fled to the sea, as if pursued / by wild beasts, and betook them- / selves to America.” wrote Irish / patriot John Mitchel. The emigrants / boarded vessels so unseaworthy / they were called Coffin Ships. So / many passengers died at sea that / poet John Boyle O’Reilly called the / Atlantic Ocean upon which they / journeyed “a bowl of tears.”
(Monument 3) The American dream
Despite hostility from some Boston- / ians and signs of NO IRISH NEED / APPLY, the Famine Irish eventually / transformed themselves from im- / poverished refugees to hard-working, / successful Americans. The leader- / ship of Boston Irish like John Boyle / O’Reilly, Patrick Collins and Richard / Cardinal Cushing culminated in a / descendent of the famine gener- / ation, John F. Kennedy, becoming the / nation’s first Irish Catholic President / in 1960. Today 44 million Americans / claim Irish ancestry, leading the / nation in Medal of Honor winners, / and excelling in literature, sports, / business, medicine, medicine and entertainment.
(Monument 4) An Gorta Mor
The great famine which ravaged Ireland / between 1845-50 was the major catastrophe / of the 19th century. It brought horrific suf- / fering and loss to Ireland’s 8.5 million / people. Over one million died of starvation / and disease. Another two million emigrated, / seeking sanctuary in Boston and other / North American cities. Those remaining in / Ireland suffered poverty, eviction, and the / decimation of their culture. This memorial / remembers the famine, known in Irish as An Gorta Mór (The Great Hunger). It depicts / the Irish exodus from their homeland, their / arrival in Boston and ultimate triumph over / adversity in America. It was dedicated on / June 28, 1998, as part of the 150th anni- / versary of The Great Hunger.
(Side of monument): Irish Famine Memorial / To commemorate the tragedy of / An Gorta Mór and the triumph of / those immigrants who came to Boston / Dedicated / June 28 1998 / Thomas J. Flatley / Chairman / Thomas M. Menino / Mayor of Boston / A. Paul Cellucci / Governor of Massachusetts / Seamus Brennan T. D. / Minister of State / Government of Ireland / H.E. Sean O’Huiginn / Ambassador of Ireland / to the United States / Thomas O’Brien / Boston Redevelopment Authority
(Monument 5) Lest We Forget
The commemoration of the Great / Hunger allows people everywhere / to reflect upon a terrible episode / that forever changed Ireland. The / conditions that produced the Irish / famine – crop failure, absentee / landlordism, colonialism and weak / political leadership – still exist / around the world today. Famines / continue to decimate suffering popu- / lations. The lessons of the Irish / famine need to be constantly learned / and applied until history finally / ceases to repeat itself.
(Monument 6) Boston Sends Help
Citizens of Boston, of all faiths, / responded to the desperate plight / of the starving Irish. On March 27, / 1847, the U.S.S. Jamestown, commanded by Captain Robert Bennet / Forbes, sailed from Boston Harbor / with 800 tons of food, supplies and / clothing. Fifteen days later it put / into Cork Harbor, Ireland. “Deeply are we indebted to the good citizens / of Massachusetts.” Robert Hare of Cork told the ship’s crew. “We will ever cherish their generous solici-/ tude for Ireland in her hour of trial / and suffering.”
(Side of monument): Designers / Robert Shure / Sculptor / Casendino & Company / The Cecil Group, Inc. / Landscape Architecture / John Fish / Suffolk
(Monument 7) Dying of Hunger
Starting in 1845, a virulent fungus / devestated the potato crop, depriv- / ing poor Irish families of their main / source of food and subsistence. / Ironically, as thousands of Irish / starved to death, the British govern- / ment then ruling Ireland callously / allowed tons of grain to be exported / from Ireland to pay absentee land- / lords their rents. “The stranger reaps / our harvest, the alien owns our soil,” / wrote Irish poet lady Jane Wilde.
BankBoston / The Boston Globe / The Edward Ingersoll Browne Fund / Jim & Barbara Cleary / Mr. & Mrs. William F. Connell & Family / Joe & Rose Corcoran / Tom & Charlotte Flatley & Family / Fleet Bank / Mr. & Mrs. John A. Kaneb / Carolyn & Peter Lynch / Bud & Eileen Roche / The Sheridan Foundation / The Yawkey Family
The American Ireland Fund / The Ancient Order of Hibernians / Boston College / The Charitable Irish Society, Est. 1737 / The Eire Society / Gaelic athletic Association / The Irish American Partnership / The Irish Cultural Centre / National University of Ireland, Galway / Stonehill College
(Monument 8) The People / Were Gaunt
Starvation and disease spread across / the Irish landscape, claiming one / million lives. Half a million people / were ruthlessly evicted from their / homes. Many died on the side of the / road, their mouths stained by grass / in a desperate attempt to survive. / “The features of the people were / gaunt, their eyes wild and hollow, and their gait feeble and tottering. / Pass through the fields, and you / were met by little groups bearing / home on their shoulders a coffin,” / wrote Irish novelist William Carleton
William F. Connolly, Jr / Michael J. Cummings / M. Mildred Farrell / Edward W. Forry / Philip C. Haughey / Rev. Bartley MacPhaidin /Paul C. O’Brien / Thomas H. O’Connor / Orla O’Hanrahan / Robert O’Neill / Patrick J. Purcell / Michael P. Quinlin / Jarleth M. Quinn / Mary M. Woods