The Irish Riviera

I grew up on Duxbury Beach, an isolated neighborhood on a peninsula stretching out into Cape Cod Bay.

Duxbury Beach, a cottage neighborhood in the 1970s, was very much unlike Duxbury Proper. As is the case with any isolated kids (during the height of the Baby Boom, my neighborhood had 3 other kids in an area of about a square mile), I was different than the kids in town.

Many people who I went to high school with thought that I was from Marshfield. Others thought that I was “spiritually” from Marshfield, as Vegas villages like Green Harbor and Brant Rock were effectively closer to my home than any Duxbury neighborhood.

People closer to the truth (myself included, for a while) thought instead of a run of “Beach People” stretching from about Quincy to the end of the Cape.

In reality, I was just a citizen of Duxbury’s very small chunk of the Irish Riviera.

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Hull, courtesy of Nathan McKelvey

We’ll be talking Irish Riviera today, to get your mind all proper-like as St. Patrick’s Day draws near. We shall explore what a Riviera is, why we have so many Irish, how so many of them ended up on the South Shore and whatever else comes into my head as I bang away at Ol’ Momma Keyboard here.

Let’s start by discussing what a Riviera is. The famous one is the French Riviera/Cote d’Azur, which is France’s coastline on the Mediterranean Sea.

The Cote d’Azur is a resort area. You know how they say that the French all take August off? This is where they go. British, continental and even Russian tourists also started arriving in droves. A 1763 British author wrote of the benefits of oceanfront vacations, and by the end of the 19th century, it was the thing to do.

Originally an aristocracy thing, this newfound (coastal people were generally thought of as a sort of salty hillbilly for much of history) love of seaside resort life soon spread down to the proles.

In the United Kingdom, factories would often close for a week or two in the summer to service and repair the machines. This would loose the workers upon whatever resort areas they could afford to get to. They frequently chose the seaside… maybe get a cottage on the Isle of Wight, if it’s not too dear.

This love of seaside resorts definitely bled down to the Irish. Pale and hard-drinking, they were the perfect candidates for the brief two-month-summers of Massachusetts beach life. They just didn’t figure it out until they got to America.

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Marshfield, thanks to Annaliese Sviokla!

The Irish love America, and the 33 million of them here today equal about 10.5% of the US population. There are more Irish in America than there are Irish in Ireland.

As you probably guessed, most of America’s Irish live in California, followed by places like Texas, Florida and Ohio. However, those are just population numbers. When you get to the leaders by % of Population as Irish, your leaders are New York, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts.

Massachusetts takes the title via a robust 21.2% hit of Irish in their population. That’s about double the US average. Six of the top ten Irish towns in America are in Massachusetts, and we dominate the top 20, top 30 and top 100 as well.

Milton, MA 38%
Pearl River, NY 38%
Braintree, MA 36%
Collingdale, PA 35%
Marshfield, MA 35%
Scituate, MA 35%
Gloucester City, NJ 34%
Drexel Hill, PA 34%
Pembroke, MA 34%
Weymouth, MA 33%

The numbers are sometimes in dispute, and it depends on who you ask and what your terms are.

47.5 Scituate
46.5 Braintree
45.8 Hull
45.6 Marshfield
44.9 Avon
44.9 Pembroke
44.6 Milton
44.5 Abington
44.3 Whitman
44.2 Hanover
43.4 Weymouth
43.0 Walpole
42.2 Holbrook
41.4 Duxbury
41.2 Norwell
40.8 Hanson
17.4 Boston
23.7 Massachusetts

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I’m pretty sure that she’s English, but she’s posed well

Fieldston (Marshfield) and Squantum (Quincy) sort of trade the title back and forth for Most Irish Neighborhood. Squantum is about 65% Irish, but the difference between Squantum and Fieldston is small enough that the birth of a set of twins or a multiple casualty incident on a road outside of a pub may tip the balance one way or the other.

Most of these Irish started off in Boston. Catholicism was prohibited by the Puritans in Massachusetts, so the Irish were either not coming or pretending to be Scots for a lot of our history.

In the 1820s, various projects like canals, roads and railroads needed cheap labor. Irish immigration skyrocketed. The Great Hunger, where a blight killed off the potatoes which the Irish had come to depend on disproportionately, scattered the Irish like a sort of Mick Pinata.

Two million Irish arrived between 1820 and the US Civil War. They were attracted to cities, where Irish communities were springing up. They were also popular (at least as labor) in any town with a mill. The influx was only slowed by the Great Depression.

More Irish numbers:

Period
Number of immigrants from Ireland

1820-1830 54,338       1911-1920 146,181
1831-1840 207,381     1921-1930 211,234
1841-1850 780,719     1931-1940 10,973
1851-1860 914,119     1941-1950 19,789
1861-1870 435,778     1951-1960 48,362
1871-1880 436,871     1961-1970 32,996
1881-1890 655,482     1971-1980 11,940
1891-1900 388,416     1981-1990 31,969
1901-1910 399,065     1991-2004 62,447

My favorite anti-Irish quote, used completely out of context here… “You will scarcely ever find an Irishman dabbling in counterfeit money, or breaking into houses, or swindling; but if there is any fighting to be done, he is very apt to have a hand in it.”

Boston had 35,000 Irish (about 25% of her total population) by 1850. They have banged out 3-7 kids per family ever since. They also got scattered around, as the Irish tend to do.

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How did the South Shore get so Irish? Were there mills all over Marshfield and Pembroke? When did the Eyes start arriving?

Yes, we did have some mills. There were even fringe industries that attracted Irish, like Irish Mossing in Scituate. Those features brought a lot of Green to SE Massachusetts. You’d also have Irish workers who had earned enough to get out of the city, looking for a more pastoral lifestyle. This was especially true of retiring Boston cops.

After WWII, and with the prosperity following it, many Irish returning from war took the opportunity to head for the sticks. The highway system (especially Route 3, which should probably have an Irish nickname like Mick Street or Paddy Road) provided access to what was already being called the Irish Riviera.

There was yet another Irish Diaspora that grew from the busing era. Any moneyed Mick got the heck out of Dodge when the city started getting ugly. Every town on the South Shore saw their population just about double.

Think I’m lying? Here are the population figures for both 1960 and 1980 for a few South Shore towns, and I could have drawn names from a hat in this region without screwing up my statistical model that much:

Plymouth, 14K to 35K

Duxbury, 4K to 11 K

Marshfield, 6K to 21K

Scituate, 11K to 17K (Scituate reached their Paddy allotment earlier, with the Irish Moss industry)

I’m not saying that the onus of busing involved poor Irish neighborhoods, but you didn’t see a lot of people fleeing Wellesley. The South Shore filled with Irish-Am families from Dorchester, South Boston, Charlestown, Hyde Park and so forth. I spent at least one summer as a Dorchester kid living on Duxbury Beach, dating a Boston Latin girl from West Roxbury who summered in Green Harbor. That’s straight-up Irish Riviera living, player.

With many South Shore immigrants from Boston, it was just a case where buying and building up a South Shore cottage was cheaper than sending your Irish brood (save the venom, your author is as Irish as a puddle of Guinness vomit outside of Triple O’s pub) of 5 kids to private schools from K-12.

Throw in a cycle or two of reproduction, and we are where we stand today.

sci

There is some dispute as to the borders of the Irish Riviera.

New York (Rockaway Beach), Indiana, Michigan and New Jersey all have areas known as the Irish Riviera. However, once you start counting Paddys, Massachusetts can tell all of the other states to start thinking of a new nickname.

The Irish Riviera is generally considered to be the coastal South Shore. Many use a sort of river/tributary system based on Route 3 or especially Route 3A.

Some people include the whole South Shore, as interior towns like Whitman and Pembroke also sport large Mick populations.

Some go the other way, using a Scituate/Marshfield definition. Other people stretch it on to the Cape, to the Kennedy Compound. You still have heavy Irish numbers on Cape Cod, but you should also notice that those % of Irish in a town charts I put up earlier don’t have Sandwich, Orleans or Hyannis in them.

I’d personally run the Irish Riviera from Quincy to Sagamore, after which the Cape starts importing tourists and summer people of every stripe to f*ck up the numericals. Bourne is the first town in a long run of coastal Massachusetts towns that doesn’t make it onto those % of Irish in population charts, although they are most likely in the 25-35% (Editor’s Note: 27%) range.

Besides, the Cape Cod Canal makes for an excellent natural border.

saggy

Will the Irish Riviera ever lose her unique, Irish domination of the population base?

There is some gentrification going on. Those cottages that were owned by Irish families for so long get sold now and then. Many of these people are Yuppies, looking to flip a cottage into a coastal McMansion. The Irish make for poor Yuppies.

Many of the Branns and Egans and Carrolls (and even the also-Catholic Italian families like the Leones and Palmieris) from my old neighborhood are still holding out, although the veteran Brann that I spoke to tells me that the neighborhood just ain’t the same. The Kerrigans scattered across the world, from Plymouth to Florida to Arizona to San Diego to Australia. Even that Bowden kid is shacked up with a French girl on Cape Cod.

However, it would take some Third World birth rates from other nationalities to knock, say, Scituate down from 35-45% Irish. Since the Catholics frown on birth control, they may even crank out 5 kid families for generations to come. People will still flee Boston. Irish families that grew up summering on the Riviera will move there full-time.

Other Irish families buy up neighboring Riviera houses as the kids marry off, and build little compounds. There is one corner of my old Duxbury Beach neighborhood where you could knock on 3 different doors and still get a Deehan, and tiny Ocean Road North once, in 1999, had 6 houses owned by descendants of the same branch of the Flaherty family.

In the end, we’ll end up with a thinned-out-but-still-vital Irish Riviera. You won’t beat the Mick out of this area for several generations, if ever.

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