THE BOSTON IRISH by Thomas H. O’Connor


A Political History
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 A solid, if narrow, exploration of the rich intertwining of the Irish and municipal politics in Boston. O'Connor (History/Boston College; Building a New Boston, not reviewed) proceeds from, and backs up, an intriguing premise: The curious history of Boston--dominated by staunch Yankees who disdained the Irish and hated Catholics--politically and socially molded that city's Irish in a way that was distinct from their countrymen who settled elsewhere. It created a sincerely religious, politically suspect, romantic, and secretive community. By the 1880s, according to O'Connor, the Boston Irish had matured as a community, finding new jobs in the growing public utility companies and spreading beyond the traditional waterfront districts. In 1884 publisher Patrick Maguire helped elect Hugh O'Brien, the first Irish-born mayor (who actually governed like a prudent Yankee). As the century turned, the Boston Irish had the numbers to eschew Brahmin alliances. The administration of John (Honey Fitz) Fitzgerald (JFK's grandfather) was marked by cronyism; he was succeeded by the colorful populist James Michael Curley, who, resisting the Yankees, doled out favors in all ethnic neighborhoods and later was singed by scandal. After WW II, a more progressive generation, less wedded to immigrant solidarity, took over. Boston's downtown was rebuilt, but neighborhoods resisted urban renewal, and school busing disputes split the city--a clash, the author notes, between the Irish political strains of ``rebel'' and ``organization man.'' O'Connor suggests that the Irish tradition of compassionate local politics could help multicultural Boston redefine urbanism. He could have done more however, to engage broader questions of the Irish role in cultural institutions, such as the press and sports, and in state and national politics. For Bostonians, urban history buffs, and those wearing the green. (photos, not seen)

Pub Date: May 31st, 1995
ISBN: 1-55553-220-9
Page count: 288pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1995


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