Irish First, Stereotypes and Know-Nothings

In this week when we celebrate St. Patrick and all things Irish, it’s natural to think back on the history of the Irish in Massachusetts – the firsts, the lasting contributions and then the prejudice. In his Boston Globe column today, Kevin Cullen tells the story of  Barney McGinniskin – “the first Irish cop, not just in Boston, but the whole country, which, when he joined the force in 1851, consisted of 31 states.” While it seemed to make sense to some to have an Irish policeman on patrol – a hue and cry went up among the Brahmin and Yankee population. Ed Forry writes in his account for MassCops:

“The very notion of an Irish policeman enraged Brahmin and Yankee tradesmen alike in the Boston of 1851,” Stevens wrote. “Of the city’s population of nearly 140,000, 53,923 hailed from Ireland but on Boston’s eight-man Board of Aldermen, no Irishman represented the immigrants, and only one, Edward Hennessey of the West End, served on the 48-man Carmen Council. Alderman Able B. Monroe summed up the sentiments of many native-born Americans with his contention that appointing any Irishman to the police force would create “a dangerous precedent” because, in his opinion. “Irishmen commit most of the city’s crime and would receive special consideration from any of their own wearing the blue.”

With the anti-Irish sentiment further fanned by the harsh ignorance of the Know-Nothings – Barney lasted less than three years on the job. The man from Galway died in 1868 and is buried in an unremarkable grave in a Dorcester Avenue cemetery. There’s a stong movement afoot to restore the gravesite and place a new momument befitting to the role Barney McGinniskin played in Boston’s history.

Read the full Cullen Globe column here and the Ed Forry account here.

Thanks to regular commenter John Quealey for the lead to his story. I wonder in relation to Dick’s post on “Mr. Cummiskey, a constable, who was laudably engaged in endeavoring to quell the disturbances…” – that took place in 1833 – what was the difference if any between a constable in Lowell and  “cop” in Boston. Comments and/or research welcome!

One Response to Irish First, Stereotypes and Know-Nothings

  1. John Quealey says:

    At St.Patrick Church in the ” Holy Acre Mass will be celebratedat 9; A.M. in memory of the patron saint of Ireland after Mass coffee and food will be served. The bloggers Grandmother loved her native parish and adopted parish Sacred Heart.In Ireland St. Patricks Day is a “holyday of obligation”.