date published: March 9, 2009

Celebrating the Hub’s Celtic heritage
by Josh B. Wardrop

Short of a trip to Dublin this March, Boston is one of the best cities in the world for embracing Irish culture, food and drink. Whether your tastes run toward exploring Boston’s ample Irish history, taking in an evening of rollicking and raucous Irish music or simply sampling the brews at a festive pub, here are Panorama’s suggestions for indulging in a bit of Celtic pride here in the Hub.

The Green Mile
In Boston, everyone who’s ever known a Sullivan, O’Neill or Fitzpatrick claims to be Irish when March rolls around. However, precious few know their stuff when it comes to our city’s proud Irish-American heritage. Anyone looking to foster a better understanding of what it means to be Boston Irish should take a stroll along the Irish Heritage Trail, a three-mile self-guided walking tour through downtown Boston, the North End, Beacon Hill and Back Bay that showcases the Hub’s Hibernian history.

Looking to celebrate your Celtic heritage this month? Here’s some key events that will have Irish (and non-Irish) eyes smiling.

FOOD: Hoping to prove once and for all that Irish cuisine isn’t limited to corned beef and cabbage, acclaimed Boston chefs Rachel Klein and Barbara Lynch (pictured right) join forces with Galway standout Chef Gerard Reidy for a four-course Gaelic Gourmet Celebration at Aura Restaurant in the Seaport Hotel on March 14. Tickets are $125–500; call 617-385-5662 for information.

FUN: Since 1901, the traditionally Irish neighborhood of South Boston has been the epicenter of St. Patrick’s Day celebration in Boston, most notably demonstrated by the famous South Boston St. Patrick’s Day Parade (pictured middle right). Each year, more than 600,000 Bostonians and visitors pack the streets of “Southie” to experience this procession featuring colorful floats and marching and bagpipe bands from America and the Emerald Isle. The 108th annual parade kicks off at 1 p.m. on March 15 from the Broadway MBTA station on the Red Line. Refer to special events listing.  (photo courtesy of Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau)

Music: Lovers of Celtic music of all kinds are spoiled for choice this month, as Boston hosts shows by big names like The Chieftains (March 13 at Symphony Hall, pictured right), Celtic Woman (March 20–22 at the Wang Theatre) and the annual St. Patrick’s Day Celtic Sojourn with Brian O’Donovan (March 14 at Berklee Performance Center). And Boston’s House of Blues might as well call itself the “House of Greens,” as it welcomes Flogging Molly (March 10), a six-night residency by Boston’s own Dropkick Murphys (March 12–17) and The Pogues (March 20 & 21). Refer to music listings. (photo by Barry McCall)

The trail and its stops illustrate more than 300 years of key events, showcasing the politicians, artists and war heroes who personify the rebellious and triumphant nature of the Boston Irish. View a garden dedicated to the city’s most famous Irish-American matriarch, Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy; a flag waved by the entirely Irish 9th Regiment of Infantry during the Civil War; and a memorial remembering the tragic Great Famine that claimed 1 million lives and forced 2 million others to flee Ireland. Maps of the Trail are available at the Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau’s Boston Common Visitor Center or the Prudential Center Visitor Information Center. Refer to sightseeing listing.

Irish History on Exhibit
Many legendary Irish-Americans have come of age in Boston’s neighborhoods, but none more famous than President John F. Kennedy. JFK, the nation’s first Irish-Catholic president, exhibited enormous pride in his Irish heritage. During the politically and socially tumultuous 1960s, JFK toasted his homeland, stating, “It is that quality of the Irish—that remarkable combination of hope, confidence and imagination—that is needed more than ever today.” The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum (refer to museum listing) celebrates JFK’s Celtic heritage and pride in its many exhibits, including one that traces the history of the Kennedy clan all the way back to the Fitzgeralds’ and the Kennedys’ respective emigration to the U.S. from Ireland.

Boston College has long been a popular center of higher education for the Boston Irish, and the school’s John J. Burns Library offers one of the finest assemblages of Irish cultural artifacts in the city. This non-circulating reference library houses thousands of pieces, including newspapers, periodicals, land deeds and rare books and manuscripts by prominent Irish names like Brendan Behan, Samuel Beckett and William Butler Yeats; an extensive Irish music collection; and a digital database that includes a photographic retrospective of longtime Speaker of the House Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill.

The Boston Irish
A rundown of some of the most famous Irish-Americans to come out of the Boston area:
  • Mark and Donnie Wahlberg: Siblings from Dorchester (pictured right) who found fame in both music (Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch, New Kids on the Block, respectively) and acting.
  • Conan O’Brien: Comedian and soon-to-be new host of “The Tonight Show.”
  • Denis Leary: Emerson College grad; actor/ comedian currently starring in “Rescue Me.”
  • John F. Kennedy: 35th U.S. President; brothers Robert and Ted Kennedy also made their marks in American politics.
  • John Singleton Copley: Considered to be America’s first great portraitist, who immortalized such subjects as George Washington, Sam Adams and Paul Revere; Boston’s Copley Square was named for him.
  • Nancy Kerrigan: Olympic ice skater who was clubbed in the knee by an attacker a month before the 1994 Winter Olympics; she went on to win the silver medal anyway.
  • Maura Tierney: Actress and star of television’s “NewsRadio” and “ER”; father served as a Boston City Councilor for 15 years.
  • Connie Mack: Born Cornelius McGillicuddy in Brookfield, Mass.; holds record for most wins and games managed by a baseball manager, and won five World Series.
  • Dennis Lehane: Acclaimed novelist who wrote Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone.
  • Ben Affleck: Actor/screenwriter/director; won an Oscar for Good Will Hunting and directed Gone Baby Gone.

Pubs of the Hub
If you’re already up on the history and culture of the Boston Irish, you may choose to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day (or, indeed, any other day) by settling into an authentic Irish pub for a pint of Guinness, Murphy’s or Magner’s and enjoying a hearty shepherd’s pie or gloriously unhealthy Irish breakfast. However, choosing between the dozens and dozens of Celtic watering holes to be found throughout Boston is a task of Sisyphean proportions. So, consider these suggestions as a cheatsheet for enjoying the best pub life the Hub has to offer.

Southie  The working-class neighborhood of South Boston has been home to Irish immigrants and their fiercely proud descendants for what seems like forever, and as one would imagine, the neighborhood is chockfull of genuine Irish bars (in other words, ask for green beer here at your peril). Visit the L Street Tavern (195 L St., 617-268-4335), immortalized in the film Good Will Hunting, or if you like your experience a bit more gentrified, Amrhein’s (80 West Broadway, 617-268-6189) and the popular Boston Beer Garden (732 East Broadway, 617-269-0990) represent Southie’s move toward upscale pubbery.

Jamaica Plain If negotiating the parade seems like too much effort, another strong Irish neighborhood is Jamaica Plain, located just south of the Fenway. Popular local establishments include Doyle’s Café (3484 Washington St., 617-524-2345), a favorite of generations of Irish politicians; the Brendan Behan Pub (378 Centre St., 617-522-5386); and James’s Gate (5 McBride St., 617-983-2000), a pub named for the town in Ireland where Guinness originated.

A Pint for all Seasons Diversity is really the key to keeping so many Irish pubs in one metropolitan area surviving and thriving. For the artistically inclined, there’s The Druid (1357 Cambridge St., Cambridge, 617-497-0965), which is adorned with original Celtic oil paintings, wooden and metal sculptures and stained glass windows. The Green Dragon (11 Marshall St., 617-367-0055)—one of Boston’s oldest pubs, hailed as “The Headquarters of the American Revolution” because of its popularity with Paul Revere and the Sons of Liberty—appeals to history buffs. College students and young professionals looking to set off sparks with the opposite sex flock to The Purple Shamrock (1 Union St., 617-227-2060), Kitty O’Shea’s (refer to restaurant listing) or The Black Rose (160 State St., 617-742-2286) near Faneuil Hall. Sports fans have taken McGreevy’s (911 Boylston St., 617-262-0911) to their bosom—this re-interpretation of an 1894 watering hole popular with original Red Sox fans “The Royal Rooters” at the turn of the century is co-owned by Dropkick Murphys founder Ken Casey. For those who like a bit of nosh with their Guinness, The Kinsale and Elephant & Castle (refer to restaurant listings) boast delicious full menus, while Kennedy’s Midtown (44 Province Place, 617-426-3333) takes the Irish pub concept a bit more “upscale steakhouse,” with a more mature focus on high-end wines and liquors and its secluded location in Downtown Crossing. And if you’re the brave, high-stepping sort, get a true Irish experience at The Burren (247 Elm St., Somerville, 617-776-6896), where they offer Irish set dancing classes every Monday night at 8 p.m.

back to homepage