Business and Labor

New England’s Irish History

New England has a rich Irish history, and it isn’t all about the Great Hunger and the Kennedys.


Today, New England is the most Irish region in the country. One in five New Englanders claims Irish ancestry, and Boston is the most Irish city in the country.

The New England Historical Society has published quite  a few stories about Irish history, some of them quite unexpected.

Several surprising landmarks, for example, involved historic figures of Irish descent (not Kennedy). One landmark tells the story of working-class Irish women. Another describes a town that was 98 percent Irish (not Boston). Click here.

You might think New England’s Irish-Catholic history begins with the potato famine. However, you’d be wrong. Eight of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence, for example, had Irish birth or ancestry. Find out more about how the Irish made their mark on early New England here.

Henry Knox, successful Scots-Irishman

The Scots-Irish arrived in Boston in 1718 at the invitation of the Massachusetts Puritans. Nevertheless, the Puritans viewed the newcomers with distrust. Find out what happened to those early Irish settlers here.

In 1630, Massachusetts governor Jonathan Belcher tried to annex New Hampshire. The Londonderry Scots-Irish made sure it didn’t happen. Find out how here.

Boston Irish History

Boston, of course, now ranks as the most Irish city in the country. The Boston Irish who arrived in the 1840s suffered tremendously–but survived to build Boston into a modern city. Here are seven fun facts about Irish history in Boston. Click here.

The world’s largest Irish flag at Rowe’s Wharf in Boston.

The famine ships were death traps for many Irish emigrants who sailed them. A Boston priest wrote a survival guide for those who dared make the journey. Find out more here.

Visit the South Shore of Massachusetts and you won’t have much doubt about why people call it the Irish Riviera. Orange-and-green flags fly from many a home, and the region is filled with Roman Catholic churches and schools, Irish dance schools and Irish pubs, restaurants and bakeries. How the South Shore got so Irish might surprise you. Click here.

Irish History in Vermont

Boston wasn’t the only place in New England that attracted Irish immigrants. Lake Champlain could be called the Irish Lake from 1840-1860. Many Irish immigrants took two boats — to Canada, then to Vermont — to make a new life in America. Find out how many Irish immigrants came to Vermont in the mid-19th century here.

Irish famine victims, Bridget O’Donnell and her children, 1849.

In May of 1870, a fanatical Irish-American army decided to conquer Canada to win Irish freedom. Their base: A Vermont farm. The result: A comedy of errors. Read more here.

No Irish Need Apply

The Irish suffered terrible discrimination in the United States. Annie Sullivan, for example, could escape the stigma of being blind, but not of being Irish. That’s why the man who rescued her from the poorhouse wasn’t pleased when she became famous as Helen Keller’s teacher. Read about her here.

Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan.

In Rhode Island, a man named John Gordon was hanged for the murder of a prominent industrialist. His real crime was being Irish. Find out more here.

Neal Dow, the mayor of Portland, Maine, waged a war against booze in 1855. The city’s Irish community thought he was waging war against them. They had a point. When a riot over rum broke out, Dow called out the militia. It didn’t end well. Read more.

A Virtual Tour

Take an armchair tour of six more places that reflect New England’s Irish history here.


The James Michael Curley house.

Largest Irish flag By John Hoey from Framingham, MA, United States – World’s Largest Irish Flag (1), CC BY 2.0,

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