Monday, January 5, 2009

Son of Ireland makes it big in Boston, 1885

One-hundred and twenty-three years ago today my great-great-grandparents were living in Boston, Massachusetts raising their young family when the city's first Irish mayor was sworn in to his first of four terms in office. It must have been a happy time for this young immigrant couple and other Boston Irish.

Hugh O'Brien, the city's new mayor in 1885, was the first of many Irish politicians to lead the Boston area in the coming years. It was a turning point for Boston, which had already seen Roman Catholic Irish outnumber native Boston Protestants for several decades by 1885. Mayor O'Brien, according to Mass Moments, was "a well-spoken, mild mannered, successful businessman... [who] defied all the Yankee stereotypes of Irishmen. During four terms as Mayor, he widened streets, planned the Emerald Necklace park system, and built the new Boston Public Library in Copley Square, all the while cutting taxes. Popular among both native- and Irish-born Bostonians, Hugh O'Brien paved the way for the better known Irish mayors who would follow him— 'HoneyFitz' Fitzgerald and James Michael Curley."

For more on this turning point in Boston's history and the coming of the Irish into local politics, visit the Mass Moments website or read Thomas O'Connor's The Boston Irish: A Political History.

Image of Mayor Hugh O'Brien from Celebrate Boston website.

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