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How They Ran Boston

June 2024
1min read

The Boston Irish: A Political

by Thomas H. O’Connor, Northeastern University Press, 363 pages .

In 1993 Boston’s Mayor Ray Flynn declined a run for a fourth term in favor of a higher position—representative to the Vatican in Rome. With that the city lost its eleventh Irish mayor since 1885, making way for an Italian-American, Tom Menino.

This book proudly asserts that the Boston Irish are different from their counterparts in New York or Chicago or Baltimore. To survive in and eventually conquer such a hostile, Anglo-Saxon Protestant town required a special tenacity and bred a peculiarly resilient political culture, the author claims. In 1834 the city had only two hundred registered Irish voters; in 1885 it elected the first of its procession of Irish mayors, beginning with Hugh O’Brien and Patrick Collins, who were born in the old country and came to America in the exodus that brought a third of the country’s population to America. Their generation was succeeded by Boston-born Irishmen like John “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald, father of Rose Kennedy, and James Michael Curley, who served four terms as mayor and one as governor between 1914 and 1949, inspiring the novel The Last Hurrah, and Kevin White, whose career followed the national arrival of Boston-Irish leadership in the sixties. The 1983 election to succeed White would have surprised many past bosses for its high tenor and for its pairing: MeI King, an African-American South End resident, against Ray Flynn, an Irishman from the South End. Flynn won.

O’Connor’s history of Boston-Irish politics is knowledgable and picturesque.

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