The Boston Irish Famine Memorial is a tribute to an entire generation of Irish men, women and children whose lives were disrupted by a series of events that took place 150 years ago. The Irish Famine, which lasted from 1845-1850, began as a succession of potato crop failures in Ireland. But an inadequate response by the English government then ruling Ireland, and the spread of contagious diseases wrought by starvation and poverty, quickly turned the Famine into the greatest catastrophe of the 19th century. Nearly one million Irish died of starvation and disease, and another two million fled the country, emigrating largely to North America. The remaining population was left to contend with death, dislocation, poverty, and the near ruination of a culture that had flourished for centuries.
Some 100,000 Irish refugees headed to Boston, taking a perilous voyage across the Atlantic Ocean, which poet John Boyle O'Reilly called a 'bowl of tears.' Settling into overcrowded, unsanitary tenement housing along Boston's waterfront and in the North End, this generation of Irish endured great hardship and humiliation, plagued by poverty and disease. The average l ife span of an Irish immigrant in Boston was 14 years. 'No Irish Need Apply' signs in newspaper ads and storefront windows were common, as nativist Americans, strenuously opposed to foreigners, continued to harass the struggling Irish.
Comforted by their faith and culture, the people of Ireland eventually recovered. In Boston, inspired by the American principles of democracy and freedom, the Famine generation continued to move forward, eventually defining their place in society. As the 'first great minority' in the United States, the Irish helped pave the way for other ethnic groups coming to America in the late 19th and 20th centuries.
Around the world, Irish communities are commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Irish Famine. Boston, which many consider the capital of Irish-America, holds a special place in these activities. This memorial is being built in tribute to the Famine Irish generation who endured Ireland's greatest tragedy. It is fitting that the Memorial is being placed along the city's Freedom Trail, as a reminder of what the Irish, and other immigrant groups, seek when they journey across oceans and continents to reach these shores.
I really need to go to Ireland and see my ancestors roots but in the meantime I'll settle for being happy with my friends here in Nashville, and celebrate the way that those ancestors would've wanted me to- in style.