The first Irish cop in the USA - Written by Mark Nichols

In Boston recently they had a reception at the Mt. Washington Bank in Southie in honor of Boston Police officer Barney McGinniskin, just in time for Saint Patrick's Day. According to an article by Kevin Cullen in the Boston Globe, Barney couldn't make it. He did have a good excuse for not showing up at his own party though. Barney's been dead for 143 years. Barney McGinniskin was an Irish cop. These days that's like saying "a tall NBA basketball player." But Barney was numero uno-the very first Irish cop-not just in Boston, but the whole country.

Of course when Barney came on the job in 1851, the country consisted of 31 states. Barney was a big guy. He stood well over 6 feet with a massive frame. He emigrated to the U.S. from Galway, Ireland during the great Irish potato famine. Legend has it that Barney's first words off the ship loudly and proudly proclaimed he was from the bogs of Ireland.

If you saw the Scorcese film "The Gangs of New York," you know that this was probably a bad idea.

This was back when the Irish were looked at in the way that many Americans look at Mexicans and other newer immigrant groups of today. If you go to an Irish pub in Boston these days, odds are you can still see one of the placards Barney saw everywhere he went to look for work. "Irish need not apply."

The Protestant majority in Boston despised the new Irish minority as dirty, diseased, uneducated, and fond of the drink. Worst of all, from the perspective of the Protestant power structure, they were Catholic. Like many of the famine Irish, Barney moved into the tenements of the North End.

He worked in a grain store, using his physical strength to lift more than his share heavy sacks, and drove a horse-drawn cab. At some point, someone had the brilliant idea that it would make sense to have at least one Irish cop on the force in a city where the Irish now comprised a third of the population.

But Barney had been on the job for only three years when the anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic, Know Nothing Party made huge inroads in Boston municipal elections. And so, in 1854, a year before the Know-Nothings extended their control to the Massachusetts Legislature and governor's office, Barney was fired.

He wasn't fired for anything he did. He was just Irish.

From Kevin Cullen's article, one gets the impression that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

"Barney McGinniskin, the first Irish cop in America, was the victim of sheer, unadulterated bigotry: people being judged as a group, not as individuals, based on the actions of a minority of individuals in that group; national loyalty being questioned on the same basis; nativists spewing anti-immigrant invective; people believing God favored one group over another. Whew. Good thing nothing like that ever happens in the good ol' US of A anymore," Cullen quips in his article.

Sean McCarthy, a West Roxbury cop and president of the Emerald Society, and Bob Anthony, the East Boston cop who serves as the department's chronologist says the group plans on putting up a proper memorial at his grave in St. Augustine's Cemetery in Southie to honor his memory.

It's only fair as the department did the same thing in the City of Brighton last year at the grave of Sergeant Horatio Homer, its first African-American officer.

Nine Famous Irishmen

In Ireland, nine men were captured, tried, and convicted of treason against Her Majesty, the Queen, during what has been referred to as the "Young Irish Disorders," in 1848 or thereabouts. The nine, who were sentenced to death, were Pat Donahue, Charles Duffy, Michael Ireland, Morris Lyene, Thomas McGee, Terrence McManus, Thomas Meagher, John Mitchel, and Richard O'Gorman. 

The judge asked if there was anything any of them wished to say before being sentenced. Meagher, whose response summed up the attitude of them all, replied, "My Lord, this is our first offence, but not our last. If you will be easy with us this once, we promise, on our word as gentlemen, to do better next time--sure we won't be fools to get caught." 

The judge, outraged rather than amused at Meagher's remarks, indignantly decreed that the defendants should be hanged until dead, and then drawn and quartered. Passionate protests, however, influenced Queen Victoria  to commute the sentence to banishment for life and transportation to far wild Australia. 

In 1874, an astounded Queen Victoria received word that the Sir Charles Duffy who had been elected Prime Minister of Australia was the very same Charles Duffy who had been transported there some twenty-five years before. Curious about the fate of the other eight, the Queen demanded that the records of those transported in the 1848 incidents be researched and revealed. This is what was found:

Thomas Meagher: Governor of Montana 
Terrence McManus: Brigadier General, U.S. Army 
Patrick Donahue: Brigadier General, U.S. Army 
Richard O'Gorman: Governor of Newfoundland 
Morris Lyene: Attorney General of Australia 
Michael Ireland: Attorney General of Australia, after the term of Morris Lyene 
Thomas McGee: Member of Parliment, Montreal 
Minister of Agriculture and President of Council Dominion of Canada
John Mitchel: Writer and prominent New York politician. His son became Mayor of New York City


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