"By examining the shortcomings and weaknesses of the Boston.
Irish, their strengths and achievements, their ability to adapt and .
to survive, their religious fidelity and their propensity for political .
chicanery, we may better understand the fascinating contradictions.
so apparent in their character as they have made their way through .
the long tortuous maze of Boston politics." .
-Thomas H. O"Connor, The Boston Irish, p. xix.
The way in which the Irish transformed Boston is perhaps the most remarkable story of immigration changing America. Though commonly associated with the Great Potato Famine of the 1850's, Irish immigrates began to voyage across the Atlantic as early as the seventeenth century. However, following the Famine in Ireland, an unprecedented flood of starving Irish arrived in New England seeking opportunity, political freedom, religious toleration, but above all, a meal. "The one hundred and fifty thousand Irish who sailed for America in 1848 were pursuing the glimmer of hope contained in the words often heard around the peat fire: "the States."" Many of these optimistic Irish landed in Boston, a fairly important port of entry. Because it is one of the closest ports to Europe, passage was relatively inexpensive. Pallid and impoverished, they were forced to stay where they landed.
Sadly, they were met with bitterness and oppression similar to the bleak situation they had left in Ireland. The Yankee dominated city of Boston was, "positively ancient in terms of American cities, with a reputation that was as awesome and a civic identity that was truly intimidating." The clash between the Irish Catholics and the native Protestants was much more violent and vivid in Boston than other nineteenth-century American cities. "By the late nineteenth century, Boston was a city that had been geographically and socially transformed from it's colonial past. Vastly expanded through the creation of new land and the annexation of neighboring communities, it was a city geographically divided into distinct neighborhood enclaves separated by the social barriers of both class and ethnicity.