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Sunday, July 12, 2020

Boston's First Irish Mayor, Hugh O'Brien, Born on July 13, 1827 in County Cork


Hugh O'Brien, Boston's first Irish-born mayor, was born in County Cork, Ireland on July 13, 1827.  He  emigrated with his family to Boston in 1832 when he was five years old.  

O’Brien attended a public school in Boston’s Fort Hill neighborhood, and at age 12 joined the Boston Courier newspaper as an apprentice.  By the age of 15 he had become foreman of a printing office, before starting his own publication, the Shipping and Commercial List.  He had a successful career as a businessman and gained the respect of city leaders as well as the Irish immigrant community that struggled to gain a foothold in Boston.

O'Brien launched his political career in 1875 on the Board of Alderman, and in 1884 ran against and defeated incumbent Boston Mayor Augustus Martin.  On Monday, January 5, 1885, O'Brien was sworn-in as the city of Boston's first Irish-born Mayor.  At that time, the term of office was one year, so O'Brien ran and won again in 1885, 1886, 1887 and 1888 before narrowly losing in December 1888 to Republican banker Thomas N. Hart. 


When he won the election in December 1884, The Boston Globe reported that O'Brien was hailed by Irish and non-Irish alike.  One man interviewed said, "See here boys.  The fact that he's Irish made but little difference.  It is the first time for a long while when the race issue has been kept in the background.  People are beginning to know that we are all American citizens, and that the best claim to popular favor is a good, clean record."


The Globe continued, "All over the city the Irish felt a natural pride that one of their countrymen should stand so high in the esteem of the people."


Read more about O'Brien's historic inauguration on January 5, 1885 at MassMoments.

While in office, O'Brien presided over the creation of the city's Emerald Necklace park system, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, and he laid the cornerstone for the new Boston Public Library at Copley Square.  
In 1887, the Hugh O'Brien Schoolhouse was opened at the corner of Dudley and Langdon Streets in Boston's Roxbury neighborhood, one of the city's most Irish neighborhoods at the time.

During O’Brien’s time in office, the Boston Massacre Memorial was unveiled on Boston Common in November 1888.  Mayor O'Brien said, " I am aware that the monument to Crispus Attucks and his martyr associates has been the subject of more or less adverse criticism, and that by some they are looked upon as rioters, who deserved their fate.  I look upon it from a entirely different standpoint.  The Boston massacre was one of the most important and exciting events that preceded our revolution."

One of O’Brien’s most cherished causes was helping the city's orphans throughout his life.  He died on August 1, 1895, and at his funeral at Holy Cross Cathedral, the Republic Newspaper reported, "The largest and most conspicuous delegation was that from the St. Vincent's Orphan Asylum, 200 little children dressed alike, who sat immediately behind the family."

O'Brien is buried at Holyhood Cemetery in Brookline MA. 

A bust of Hugh O'Brien, made by sculptor John Donoghue, is on display in the Abbey Room of the Boston Public Library, which is along Boston's Irish Heritage Trail. 


Here is a list of Boston mayors claiming Irish ancestry from 1885 to the resent.

For information on ongoing cultural activities in Boston and throughout New England, visit IrishBoston.org


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