April 5, 2011

Irishtown: How Stats Tell a Story About Woburn, Massachusetts

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Woburn, Massachusetts was an English village, founded by a bunch of Englishmen in 1640, who named Woburn after the original Woburn village/abbey in Bedfordshire, England. 

For the first two centuries of its existence, Woburn -- like Boston -- was a predominantly English community, dominated -- for better or worse -- by English Protestantism, English politics and English accents. When waves of Irish immigrants began pouring in to the quiet, English town of Woburn during the 1850s, a cultural and civic transformation began. This transformation would contribute to Woburn attaining its "city" status in 1889. 

Today, Woburn is a stronghold for Irish-American culture and -- if you know where to look -- you can see and hear signs of it everywhere: green shamrocks painted on a home's window shutters; a flag of the Republic of Ireland rustling in the wind just beneath the Stars and Stripes; families singing Celtic songs together over the holidays; the Shamrock Elementary School, my Alma mater. In addition to the places and the people of Woburn, the population statistics -- both from the distant and recent past -- led me to labeling Woburn "Irishtown."


The Woburn Irish American Club on Main Street

In 1855,  986 Irish lived in Woburn.

They represented 18% of the total population.

In 1864-1865, 110 of the 181children born in Woburn had fathers who were born in Ireland. In comparison, 46 had fathers who were born elsewhere in the country, 16 had fathers who were born in Woburn and 7 had fathers born in foreign countries other than Ireland.

This means that during 1864-1865, just over 60% of the total number of children born in Woburn were born to Irish fathers.

Today, about 36% of Woburn residents claim Irish ancestry, making Irish-Americans the most dominant cultural group in the city. The next two highest ancestry percentages in Woburn are Italian, at 25.6% and English, at 10.0%.

In comparison, 24% of Massachusetts residents overall claim Irish ancestry. Based on ancestry percentage, Massachusetts is the "most Irish" state in the country.

14,440 was the approximate number of Irish-Americans living in Woburn in 2009.

In comparison, 350,000 is the approximate number of Irish-Americans living in Middlesex County, of which Woburn is a part. Based on ancestry percentage,  Middlesex is the "most Irish" county not only in the state, but in the entire country.

For more information on the Irish in Woburn, check out my post, Picking Up My R's: The End Of A Boston Accent?



Resources:


McElhiney, John D. Woburn: A Past Observed; Sonrel Press; Woburn, MA; 1999.
City-Data.com: Woburn, Massachusetts

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