The Boston Irish Famine Memorial was unveiled on Sunday, June 28, 1998, before 7,000 people, including the governor of Massachusetts, mayor of Boston and government officials from Ireland. A Vietnamese and Rwandan were among the speakers of the day, an acknowledgment of modern day refugees who continue to seek solace in Boston.
The Memorial by artist Robert Shure juxtaposes an Irish family starving in Ireland with another Irish family striving for success in America. Eight narrative plaques encircling the statues tell the story of the famine and the Irish triumph in America.
The $1 million memorial park commemorates the 150th anniversary of the Irish Famine (1845-49), during which one million people died of starvation or disease and nearly two million fled Ireland to avoid death. Over 100,000 Irish refugees arrived in Boston during this time, transforming the city.
Their arrival revealed deep-seeded hostility among some Bostonians, prompting an anti-immigrant nativist movement in the 1850s known as the Know Nothing Party. "No Irish Need Apply" signs were regularly posted in newspapers and in store windows. There were reports of Irish families sleeping in the bushes on Boston Common, or dying of typhus in basement apartments along Broad Street.
Unjust political reigns and economic instability in Ireland prompted a steady stream of Irish emigrants to Boston and other parts of North America. The tribulations of the Famine generation were ultimately vindicated by the success of Irish-Americans, culminating in the election of President John F. Kennedy in 1960, whose eight great grandparents all left Ireland during the Famine years to find a better life in Boston.