New England and Saint Patrick’s Day go together like corned beef and cabbage. According to the New England Historical Society, one out of every five residents of Massachusetts and New Hampshire has Irish ancestry, along with roughly 18 percent of people living in Maine, Rhode Island, and Vermont. But with South Boston’s famous Saint Patrick’s Day parade canceled again this year and most bars remaining closed, many locals have been left to wonder if there’s anything they can do to safely celebrate the holiday. Luckily, the answer is yes. Read on to find out about some of New England’s lesser-known Irish attractions, all of them worthy of a Saint Patrick’s Day visit.
Located in Boston’s Back Bay and downtown neighborhoods, the Boston Irish Heritage Trail includes 20 sites that represent more than 300 years of Irish and Irish-American history in the city. Some of the trail’s highlights include the Rose Kennedy Greenway, the Boston Irish Famine Memorial, the Central Burying Grounds, Boston City Hall, and Fenway Park. To take a self-guided tour, visit the trail’s website where you’ll find a map and a list of included sites. Paper maps are available at the Boston Common Visitor Information Center on Tremont Street.
Located on the campus of Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut, Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum is home to the world’s largest collection of art relating to the Irish Famine, which held Ireland in its grip from 1845 until 1852. The museum interprets the famine and its impact on people, language, land, and culture through its permanent collection of historic and contemporary paintings, drawings, stained glass, sculpture, and photographs. A collection of written and printed materials pertaining to the famine is also available for viewing by appointment at Quinnipiac’s Mount Carmel campus. Traveling exhibitions feature the work of Irish and Irish-American artists. If you are unable to travel to the museum, view their collection virtually.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this Burlington, Vermont, neighborhood dates back to the late 18th century, making it one of the city’s oldest districts. By the 1840s, the Battery Street Historic District, located on the shore of Lake Champlain, was home to a large number of Irish immigrants, many of whom worked as laborers on the waterfront. In fact, so many Irish settled near the lakeshore that Champlain was at one time known the “Irish Lake.” By some estimates, more than 30 percent of Burlington’s population could claim Irish heritage by the mid-19th century.
Although the Burlington Irish Heritage Festival, which is held annually in the Battery Street Historic District during the month of March, has been canceled this year, you can still visit on your own and see some of the area’s historic sites. The steamboat wharf, Battery Park, and Rí Rá Irish Pub are among the neighborhood’s top Irish attractions.
Irish Cultural Centre
of New England
Located just south of Boston in Canton, Massachusetts, the Irish Cultural Centre of New England is a nonprofit dedicated to promoting and organizing “Irish cultural, educational, sporting, and social events.” Although the organization’s annual Boston Irish Festival isn’t happening this year, the center is still offering several in-person and virtual programs, including Irish cooking classes; tin whistle, fiddle, and accordion lessons; lectures; and Irish language and history workshops. The center also organizes an annual 5K road race, maintains a genealogy library, and serves as the home base of the Boston Irish Wolfhounds Rugby Club. The Irish Cultural Centre of New England is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., or you can visit online.
The Museum of Newport Irish History Interpretive Center
Newport, Rhode Island, best known for its Gilded Age mansions, has been home to Irish immigrants and Irish-Americans since the 17th century. Some of Newport’s most recognizable landmarks, such as Fort Adams—an active U.S. Army coastal fortification from 1799 to 1953—were built by Irish labor. The wealthy families that summered in Newport often employed Irish and Irish-Americans as domestic help.
The Museum of Newport Irish History Interpretive Center, located on Lower Thames Street, offers exhibits that include maps, photographs, videos, and artifacts that tell the stories of some of these hardworking people. Due to COVID-19, the museum is currently open to visitors by appointment only. Appointments can be requested via email or by calling. You can also watch the museum’s free video presentation online.