The centuries-long intellectual discourse operating between the Boston Irish community and Ireland reveals a tumultuous historical progression. As the historical record affirms, the myriad events, personalities and perspectives shaping Boston Irish history and its transatlantic reach over time encompass rich political veins. Within that purview, 19th century nationalist expression and support served as a primary crucible of connection between the Boston Irish and the native home. By the outbreak of the 1916 Rising, the city’s Irish could reflect on a long tradition of investment in Ireland’s struggle for independence, while the aftermath of 1916 saw Boston‚’ Irish sustain a broad spectrum of commitment to Ireland’s freedom.
This paper examines nationalist activism in the city post-1916 to 1921, with particular emphasis on 1919-1920. It argues for the significance of these years from three perspectives: the city’s nationalist tradition, Ireland’s political struggle at this point, and characterization of Boston-Irish identity. The paper addresses influences from Sinn Féin leader Éamon de Valera’s speech at Fenway Park on June 29, 1919 to Friends of Irish Freedom activism. The reception granted the Protestant Friends of Ireland within overwhelmingly-Catholic Irish Boston and the role of the Boston Pilot newspaper as a prototypical transatlantic conduit will also feature. Collectively, these focuses reveal a Boston Irish nationalist theater poised at a pivotal juncture in its history—suffused in traditional immigrant Irish approaches to the native home, yet guardedly open to “tearing away” from some of them.