December 9, 2011

Boston Irish by the Numbers: Some Insight into the Early Days of the Irish in Boston

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In 1847, the first big wave of Irish emigrants escaping the Irish Famine (also known as the Great Famine, the Great Potato Famine and An Gorta Mor) made their way to Boston.

During this year, 37,000 Irish landed in the Hub.

Prior to the arrival of these Irish immigrants, Boston was a primarily Anglo-Saxon community with approximately 115,000 residents.

Many of these residents were descendants of English Puritans and could trace their lineage back to 1620, when the Mayflower landed in Plymouth.

Needless to say, when Irish Catholics came pouring into Boston some 230 years later, the English Protestants were none too happy.

'Emigrant arrival at Constitution Wharf, Boston' by Winslow Homer
These English Bostonians mocked and laughed at the Irish immigrants, due to the fact that their clothes were "out of fashion" by 20 years.

Landlords in Boston would charge Irish families $1.50 per week to live in single rooms, which lacked ventilation, sanitation, water and -- in some instances -- windows.

A typical room rented to an Irish family in Boston had dimensions of 9 ft by 11 ft.

By dividing up a three-story house room-by-room, a Boston landlord could accommodate 100 Irish, which made for a tidy profit.

Due to the unsanitary living conditions that the Irish were faced with, 60% of Irish children born in Boston during the mid-19th century died before the age of 6.

Approximately 1,500 Irish children roamed the streets of Boston begging and stirring up mischief during this time. 

On average, Irish adults lived just 6 more years after arriving in Boston.

In Boston, an Irish worker could earn up to $1 per day, which was considerably more than the per day an Irish worker might earn back in Ireland. Unfortunately, English Bostonians were largely unwilling to hire the Irish and hung up signs reading "No Irish Need Apply" on the oustides of workshops, factories and stores.


For more information on Boston Irish history, as well as Irish American history in general, check out The History Place, which was where I found the info for this post.

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