Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Good Samaritans across the Atlantic: February 1847

It was one-hundred and sixty-one years ago that America rallied to send aid to a suffering Ireland. Word had come across the Atlantic of the devastating famine that had hit Ireland, and Americans responded with kindness and generosity.

According to Mass Moments and its sources (Thomas O'Connor's books The Boston Irish: A Political History and Fitzpatrick's Boston, 1846-1866: John Bernard Fitzpatrick, 3rd Bishop of Boston) the city of Boston was among the first to respond to the crisis. The Irish Catholic community eventually sent $150,000 to its brothers and sisters in Ireland. On February 7, 1847, the city's new Bishop John Bernard Fitzpatrick had made the needy Irish the focus of his first pastoral letter, stating:

"A voice comes to us from across the ocean, the loud cry of her anguish has gone through the world. . . . Apathy and indifference, on an occasion like this, are inseparable from crime!"

On February 18, 1847 leading citizens of Boston (both Catholic and Protestant) met in Fanueil Hall to sort out plans for aid to the Irish. The committee eventually sent 800 tons of food and clothing to Ireland by way of the United States Navy's U.S.S. Jamestown.

Little did those that aided the Irish in the year 1847 know of the severity of the famine or its eventual length over a period of years. They could not have known the almost complete devastation of the Irish people that would be the result of the potato blight. And they could not have foreseen the role that their own city would play in the coming years as the newfound home for many of the suffering Irish that they had sought to aid.

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