The Irish Exception:

IRA POSTERI grew up in inner city Irish neighborhoods where outside of us Irish we had a smattering of Polish, Lithuanians, other Eastern Europeans and Italians. No blacks, Asians or Jews hung around with us and if there were any Protestants they kept that to themselves. It wasn’t that we had any problems with other kids of those alien denominations or races it was just that we did not know of them in our relatively homogenous group whose main interest was competing in sports. We were always either leaning against lamp or sign posts or playing some inner city street games as such as half-ball or when we were younger “off-the-steps.”

The groups usually associated by age or grades in school. We were almost all Catholic. Some attended the Catholic schools at the lower levels and others stayed in the public schools although some who had attended the Catholic schools but were too unruly ended up in the public schools. The school in our neighborhood at the time I am writing about was the John Lothrop Motley School that had a nice back yard we used for playing stick ball but since it was so near the park and other open areas at the beach we did not use it that often.

We were always being bothered by the cops. There was a big Irish cop who like to walk up to our group and tell us to “break it up” even if we were doing nothing and then give a back hander to one of two of the guys who were slow in moving. Jimmy Clifford, an Irish neighbor and good friend, used to say the reason the cop did it was he did not like Irish kids.

Not that we liked the cops very much because they were sort of brutish to us preferring to slap us around rather than spending time booking us for some minor offenses like drinking in public. Those, of course, were before the days of overtime so there was no monetary incentive to arrest young guys committing misdemeanors. Often when we saw the cops coming we would take off even if we were not doing anything.

One day a case went to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC). It seemed one night down near St. William’s Church on Belfort Street a burglary had occurred. The cops learned that the guys who did it were three white guys unknown to the victims but two were wearing white T-shirts and jeans. The fled off toward Saxon Street but no one saw which way they went when they reached there. The cops decided to scour the neighborhood to see what they could see. They drove down Playstead Street and turning into the lot saw a couple of guys dressed in the same way as the suspects up at the shelter who immediately started running. The cops gave pursuit and arrested one who had a switch blade knife in his pocket.

The SJC wrote the cops should never have given chase saying that the known fact that cops like to beat up Irish kids: “suggests a reason for flight totally unrelated to consciousness of guilt. Such an individual, when approached by the police, might just as easily be motivated by a desire to avoid the recurring indignity” of being beat up “as by the desire to hide criminal activity. Given this reality for [Irish] males in the city of Boston, a judge should” weigh this in his calculation of reasonable suspicion.

Could you imagine such a case?



26 thoughts on “The Irish Exception:

  1. “Nearly 50 percent of Scituate residents are of Irish descent. The Fieldston neighborhood of Marshfield is the most Irish-American section of the second-most Irish American town in the United States. At least 44 percent of the population in Marshfield, Braintree, Hull, Avon, Pembroke and Milton have Irish ancestry.

    According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2005-2009 American Community Survey, 19 of the top-20 most Irish communities in Massachusetts are south of Boston. Here they are by the numbers:

    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”

    -New England Historical Society

    1. Rather:

      The Irish flocked to the South Shore because they came from Southern Ireland and did not in anyway wanted to be associated with the North.

    1. Rather:

      An interrsting story – I never heard of the Irish mossers. The one correction I would make was to not that Nantasket was hardly a place for the well off Irish — we all went there on our day time trips through Quincy over the Fore River Bridge into hostile Hingham and finally the amusement part with the great roller coaster.

  2. Of course, there were “untouchables,” but, they, usually, confined their hi-jinks to the Irish Riviera (Grand Beach, Michigan). The Daleys had a summer home that loomed over the GB golf-course like Herman Munster’s mansion. No humble Bridgeport bungalow, that.
    Back in the neighborhood, you’d never see a black guy, unless, he was riding a garbage truck. Certain streets were border-lines. Unscrupulous realtors used to block bust by getting a black family onto an all white block. Neighbors would panic at the thought of falling RE prices, and, put their houses up for sale. There’d be a stampede to the suburbs. The realtors would have a picnic. Economic fear led to great prejudice against blacks. It wasn’t competition for jobs, as much as, the thought that you could lose the investment you had made in your home that fueled the hatred. When it came down to dollars and cents, the neighborhood was all edges and elbows. African Americans didn’t get much play.

    1. Khalid:

      Nothing is local — we had the same thing happen here. I went into the service and returned three years later and a neighborhood that was white when I left had become black. Sadly whites seem to always be running from blacks. It is one of the shames of America that it is still happening.

    1. Ed:

      MAssachusetts was wonderful ground for the Know Nothings. They took control of the legislature and the citizens elected Henry Gardner as the 23rd governor a Know Nothing which was nothing more than an anti-Irish Catholic party.

  3. Oh! Familial adjudication, usually, involved fresh lumps for someone. Have you ever had the truth pounded out of you? Some guys would rather go to Cook County than take the standard beating, but, alas, generally, that was not an option.

  4. Back on the old South-side of Chi, Cops were never a problem to the kids from Tommy Moore, Little Flower, Martyrs, CK, Barnabas, St. Denny, or, Cajetans, because, they were our fathers, uncles, and cousins. Tribalism was rampant. We’d never get busted. There were police families on every other block. Having to officially call on the cops was thought to be a shame on the family. Everything was taken care of on a more familial basis. Our distinctive sport was sixteen ounce soft-ball played with no glove.

    The worst high-school delinquents in the neighborhood, usually, ended up studying at the old police academy by Maxwell St. it was all about clout, back in those days.

    1. Khalid:

      We had our tribalism but it did not stop us from being arrested. Maybe the Irish cops in Boston wee different. We did have a strike in 1919 and all of them were replaced. Perhaps they were still under the control of the strangers who demanded the Irish kids not be given an inch. I have a found memory of being ousted from a pizza shop and riding in the back of the wagon to Station Eleven. When we got there the cop who had been standing at the back door was quite besides himself complaining that the kids had thrown pizzza crusts at him.

      1. “Maybe the Irish cops in Boston wee different. We did have a strike in 1919 and all of them were replaced.”

        The “all of them were replaced” were the 72% of the BPD who went on strike. Those who did not strike, stayed on. Until permanent replacement officers were trained, the BPD was supplemented by Massachusetts State Guard troops (not to be confused with Massachusetts National Guard troops) and other citizen volunteers, such as Harvard students.

  5. In East Boston,half ball was played In every corner of that neighborhood.Sadly, there are few if any pick up games played in any sport today.We had the same meat handed cops in our neighborhood too.Thankfully law enforcement has vastly improved.
    Those departing members of the SJC did a disservice to those neighborhoods they claim to seek to protect with the latest decision you referenced.And on another matter
    of interest read Alex Beams column in the Globe and the continuing effort to wipe out
    over 300 years of excellence in education at Latin School.Im surprised he was allowed to write it.

    1. P.F.

      All we had were pick up games. Who ever saw a parent at a game in the neighborhood? It seems everything we did revolved around playing sports. We did get back at teh cops in the winter when we’d wait for a cruiser to come down the street and ambush it with snow balls. First from behind and then in front and then from the side when they got out to give chase.

      Thanks for the Alex Beam note. I’ll do a post on it on Monday.

    1. CNN’s John King was caught on a hot mic Monday mocking the Black Lives Matter movement suggesting that in the 1840s, there should have been the “Irish Lives Matter movement.”

      Speaking at the Democratic National Convention, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said, “Today, today, however, I want to share a Philadelphia story you probably don’t know. In 1844, an early version of the Know Nothing political party held a rally here to protest the threat that Irish Catholic immigrants posed to the American way of life. They claimed these immigrants, these people like my family, were more like likely to commit crimes than native born citizens.”

      “That’s the Irish Lives Matter movement,” King commented over Kenney’s speech.

      “Does that sound familiar? This rhetoric led to riots, St. Michael and St. Augustine churches were burned to the ground,” Kenney continued.

      1. The 1844 Philadelphia riots were rabble roused by America’s first Jewish congress critter, Lewis C. Levin. He was virulently anti-Catholic. A self described “agitator” the former jailbird provoked the burning of Catholic churches. He served three terms in the House of Representatives. He was into drugs and died insane.

        Long after his death his wife and son converted to Catholicism.

        1. Tadzio:

          Wikipedia reads Levin: “was an American politician, Know Nothing, and anti-Catholic social activist of the 1840s and 1850s. Reading that article it seems his Jewish background is questionable and his anti-Irish speeches did not estend over to his personal relations. He was apparently a brilliant orator but haunted by demons dying at age 52 in a lunatic asylum.

      2. Henryt:

        What do you expect from a guy who grew up in Dorchester! Waht’s that expression: you can take a guy out of Dorchester but can’t take Dorchester out of the guy. King even coverted to Judaism to try to suppress all those evil instincts that lived in him from his youth. To the Know Nothings the only good Irish Catholic was a dead Irish Catholic. There were no Irish Lives Matter marches because back in the 1840s few figured that they did. Massachusetts had a Know Nothing governor and legislature. Although like the blacks we did get one president; the others claimed that office all the other times and will again this year. Recently reading about the Knights of Labor a 19th Century labor union I was surprised to learn that one of the reasons for its demise was the Protestant members distrusted the Catholic leaders and called them tools of the pope.

  6. Doug,

    Alot of people don’t know what “half-ball” is.
    I had the somewhat unique experience of growing up in the city and then moving to the suburbs during my high-school years…..and I can tell you that my new suburban friends had never heard of it. I remember the day in the late 70’s that I went and bought a gray “pimple-ball” and cut it into two halfs and grabbed one of Mom’s broomsticks and showed up down the park.
    Instant acceptance for the “new kid from the city.”
    Maybe because of “half-ball,” I made a whole second set of lifelong friends.

    True story.

    1. Doug:

      I know that is the case because half-ball is clearly an inner city sport. I often wonder how widespread it was. I also think that we played it mainly with two types of balls. There was what we called the pimple ball that was beige and there was the pink ball that was called the Jew ball. The pimple was lighter and could be hit longer distances; the pink ball kept the game more manageable.

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