Boston and the Great Potato Famine

By Jordan Weinstein

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March 9, 2012

boston irish potato famine memorial

The Boston Irish Famine Memorial commemorates the period that irretrievably shaped the character of Eastern Massachusetts. (Scott Carpenter/Flickr)
michael higgins and tom menino
The Irish president meets with Boston mayor Thomas Menino on May 4. (Isabel Leon, Mayor's Office)

 
BOSTON — Each year Ireland chooses one American city to help commemorate the Great Potato Famine. This year, Boston received that honor … and President Michael Higgins of Ireland visited the weekend of May 4 to observe the event. WGBH's Jordan Weinstein talked with Higgins during his Boston trip.
 
The famine led to the emigration of millions of Irish — many of whom came to the Bay State. In 1850, the Irish made up a quarter of the city's population. "Boston is particularly important, of course, because such a very large wave of Irish came in different periods," Higgins said.

He noted that those different waves of emigration represented "different Irishnesses." The arrivals of 1848 were "poor Catholics that have nothing. They are in fact poor, ragged, they're carrying disease," Higgins said — and that caused some tensions.
 



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