March is famous in Boston for St. Patrick’s Day and the celebration of all things Irish. The history of the Irish in Boston can be traced, in part, through public art on Boston Common, the Public Garden, and Commonwealth Avenue Mall.
Patrick Collins Memorial
Commonwealth Avenue Mall (Between Clarendon and Dartmouth Streets)
Patrick Collins was the second Irish-born mayor of Boston (1902-05). Born in County Cork, his family moved to South Boston when he was a child. He started in the trades as an upholsterer, became active in the trade union movement, entered politics and during his time in the state legislature he studied law at Harvard Law School. Mayor Collins took office after a distinguished public career of four years in the State Legislature, six years as Congressman, and four years as United States Consul General in London appointed by President Grover Cleveland.
In his first inaugural address, he said: “The chief trouble with commercial Boston is that it seeks to do all its best business in one square mile of land. The result is congestion, very high rents within that area, and somewhat ragged prospects beyond. More business centers of the first class…will make Boston a better and a greater city. For this purpose, I may be counted an expansionist of the most extreme type.”
He died suddenly while in office, and he was so popular that funds for his memorial were raised in just six days from thousands of small contributions given by the residents of Boston.
Boston Massacre Memorial
Boston Common (near Tremont Street between Avery St. and West St.)
The Boston Massacre Memorial on Boston Common has a strong Irish connection. The incident occurred on March 5, 1770, when British Army soldiers shot and killed Colonists while under attack by a mob.
In a very tense atmosphere, a mob formed around a British sentry, harassing him. Eight additional soldiers came to his aid, and they were set upon by the Boston crowd. The soldiers fired into the crowd without orders, instantly killing three people and wounding others. Two people died later of their wounds. It is interesting in these times to note the race and status of two of the first casualties in America’s fight for freedom. Crispus Attucks, of African and Wampanoag descent, is widely considered to be the first American casualty of the American Revolution. Thomas Carr, an Irish immigrant who died two days later of his wounds, provided crucial testimony about the event to lawyer John Quincy Adams who successfully defended the British soldiers in court.
Commodore John Barry Memorial
Boston Common, along Tremont Street (Next to Visitors Information Center)
Born in Ireland, in County Wexford, he went to sea as a young man, rising in the ranks, eventually making the maritime center of Philadelphia his home. As the young captain of The Black Prince, Barry set the record for the fastest day of sailing ever recorded in the 18th century. He presented an imposing figure on the deck at 6’4″ known as “Big John” Barry.
He had a life-long enmity of oppression and the British, and when war with England seemed imminent, Barry immediately offered his services to the fledgling congress. At the outset of the Revolution, Barry was given the singularly important task of outfitting the first Continental Navy ships. Barry won the first and the last naval battles of the Revolutionary War. He received Commission Number One in the new American Navy from President Washington in 1794. Barry outfitted and supervised the construction of the first frigates built under the Naval Act that same year. He is widely considered to be the Father of the American Navy.
Thomas Cass Memorial
Boston Public Garden, Boylston Street Mall
Thomas Cass was born in Queen’s County Ireland in 1821. He came to Boston with his family as a young man and became a successful businessman. When the Civil War broke out, Cass was given permission from the Governor of Massachusetts to raise a regiment of volunteer infantry, the 9th Massachusetts, consisting primarily of Irish immigrants. Initial funding for the regiment came from Patrick Donahoe, publisher of the Boston Pilot, the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Boston.
The regiment fought bravely under the command of Colonel Cass in numerous engagements including the Battle of Mechanicsville, and the Battle of Malvern Hill as part of the Union Army Peninsular Campaign to capture the city of Richmond, Virginia. In 1862, Colonel Cass was mortally wounded at Malvern Hill and died shortly after in Boston. He was buried with military honors at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge. The first memorial statue erected in the Public Garden for Colonel Cass was so criticized for its lack of artistic merit that the Society of the Ninth Regiment commissioned a new bronze statue that is there today.