Essays and Such

Irish Cultural Society

of San Antonio Texas


Promoting Awareness of Irish Culture

Boston Irish Cop
by PETER F. STEVENS Boston Irish Reporter
July 2004, pg.17

The Tradition of the Boston Irish Cop
Began in 1851
-But Not Without Trouble

Boston Irish Reporter
July 2004,  pg.17

Irish Cop and the Boston Police - the terms have become inextricably 
entwined over the years. Kathleen O'Toole now heads the department, 
and it is a sure bet that at the Democratic National Convention, 
many of the men and women wearing the shield of the department will 
not only sport names that are decidedly of the "old sod," but will 
also be second-, third-, or even fourth-generation officers from the 
same families.
	The hue of the Boston Police has long been tinged with "green,"
a tradition that unfolded in 1851. But for that first Irishman to 
wear the badge, the milestone came amid a firestorm of protest from 
"Proper Bostonians." 
	In the afternoon November 5 late 1851, a burly man burst 
through the door of the guard room of the Boston city police. He 
encountered raised eyebrows from the assembled force.  "Barney 
McGinniskin," he shouted, "from the bogs of Ireland!" Boston 
had its first Irish cop. And a political, social, and cultural 
furor soon erupted in the land of "Yankee icicles."
"This person woke up one morning and found himself famous," noted 
the Boston Pilot. "He is the first Irishman that ever carried the 
stick of a policeman, and meetings, even Faneuil Hall meetings, 
have been held to protest against the appointment."
	The very notion of an Irish policeman enraged Brahmins and 
Yankeetradesmen alike in the Boston of 1851. Of the city's 
population of nearly 140,000, 53,923 hailed from Ireland, but on 
Boston's eightman Board of Aldermen, no Irishmen represented the 
immigrants,and only one, Edward Hennessey, of the West End, on 
the 48-man Common Council. Alderman Abel B. Munroe summed up the 
sentiments of many Yankees with his contention that appointing 
any Irishman to the police force would create "a dangerous precedent" 
because, in his opinion, Irishmen committed most of the city's 
crimes and so would receive special consideration from any of 
their own wearing the blue.
	Many Irishmen did have their eyes on a slot with the police, 
for the job's salary - two dollars a day for the morning and 
afternoon beat, and $1.20 for the night watch - offered nearly 
twice the wages of the laborers' jobs that were the only work 
open to most immigrants. By 1851, City Marshall Francis Tukey, 
a transplanted Maine mechanic who had battled his way through 
Harvard Law School (1843) and seethed with political ambition, 
commanded a police force of 44 men, noted for their quick fists 
and controversial raids on North End red-light spots dubbed 
"The Black Sea' and the "Murder District." None of Tukey's men 
was Irish, and most of the locals wanted to keep it that way.
	On June 9,1851, Tukey sent to Mayor John Prescott Bigelow 
a letter breaking with the "No Irish Need Apply" credo of the 
boys in blue: 
"My dear Sir,
As you directed I have made inquiries in regard to Bernard 
McGinniskin,and find him to be a man of 42 years old, and has 
a family, has been in this country 22 years-has been employed 
in a grain store and as a cab driver, resides in the rear of 
275 Ann Street, has the reputation of being a temperate and 
quiet men.
Very respectfully
your obt. Servt,
Francis Tukey, City Marshall"

	On the rare occasions when a police office dismissed from 
his cherished sinecure, a horde of rough-and-tumble men applied 
for the vacancy. McGinniskin was the first local Irishman with 
the temerity to seek the job. And to buttress his application, 
he provided Tukey references from a "who's who" of Yankee 
merchants lauding McGinniskin's credentials for the police force. 
On September 19, 1851, Mayor Bigelow recommended the Irishman to 
the alderman, and all eight voted in his favor.
	A few days later, Alderman Abel B. Munroe did a "about-face" 
on McGinniskin's application. Claiming that he had not understood 
the mayor's espousal of an Irishman, Munroe switched his position 
and demanded that a new vote be taken.
	In an impassioned plea remarkable for its pitting a Yankee 
"champion" of an Irishman against entrenched New England prejudices,
Bigslow harangued the alderman: "What, then, stands in his way to 
be treated like other respectable applicants? The answer to him 
is this: You were born on the wrong side of the ocean.... We cannot 
forget that you cradled in the bower of the Shamrock. You cannot be 
	Mayor Bigelow refused to withdraw McGinniskin's application 
and proclaimed he would not act as a "consenting party to the 
spirit of such an answer."  When the tally was taken, only Munroe 
voted against the Irishman. McGinniskin received orders to report 
to Tukey for duty immediately.
	With one hurdle cleared for McGinniskin, a second 
materialized in the "dark, handsome" visage of his new boss, City 
Marshall Tukey. Miffed that he might be perceived as a mere lackey 
of the mayor in McGinniskin's appointment,Tukey unleashed a 
personal campaign to boot the Irishman from the force even before 
he reported for duty. Tukey, arrayed with anti-Irish Bostonians, 
decried McGinniskin's appointment at "the expense of an American.

	On November 5, 1851, McGinniskin strode into police 
headquarters and handed Tukey a letter from the mayor, who had 
ordered the marshal to place the Irishman an the night force. 
At Tukey's command, McGinniskin introduced himself to his 
comrades in blue and headed out into the "mean streets" of the 
waterfront that night for the first time.
	Tukey's vendetta against the city's first Irish cop 
escalated over the next few weeks as the marshal declared that 
McGinniskin "is not a fit or suitable person" for a policeman.  
Tukey claimed that he had launched his own investigation of the 
immigrant, and had uncovered evidence that he was a noisey,
quarrelsome, meddlesome" cab driver and a ruffian who, in 1842, 
had been "indicted, tried, convicted, and sentenced, for being 
engaged in a riot on the Lord's Day, in a church." In a diatribe 
against McGinniskin, the marshal alleged that when the Irishman 
had introduced himself to his comrades as "from the bogs of 
By the century's turn Hibernians like this Irish beat cop 
were commonplace in the Hub. Not so when Barney McGinniskin 
first broke into the ranks in 1851.
Ireland," he had proven himself a belligerent Irishman looking 
for a fight.
	Of all the vitriol Tukey tossed against McGinnisken, the 
allegation that the marshal had never recommended him to the 
mayor goaded a response from the immigrant. He fought back in 
a public, notarized statement chronicling his interview in 
June 1851 with Tukey and also released the letter in which the 
marshal had described him as a peaceable, not a quarrelsome, 
man. Most tellingly, the Irishman proved that although he had 
been convicted in the riot, he had actually tried to break up 
a fracas at St. Mary's Church in the North End between a pair 
of factions brawling over two local priests' disparate views.

	The Pilot declared that the furor over McGinniskin 
was a clash between the mayor and the marshal. For the moment, 
Bigelow won out,and McGinniskin remained on the force.

But on Jan. 5, 1852, scant hours befare auctioneer Benjamin 
Seaver, whose victory had come partly because of Tukey's support, 
took office as the new mayor, Tukey fired McGinniskin with out 
giving any reason.  The press, though divided in its opinion of 
the Irish, assailed Tukey as a power-drunk official "getting 
too big to be contained by Boston." Reporters and editors "do 
not care a fig ... so far as McGinniskin ... is concerned," but 
regarding the papers' and the general public's growing ire at 
Tukey, Seaver got the message. He reinstated the Irishman.
Barney McGinniskin proved his mettle for nearly three years on 
the police force, showing as little favoritism toward Irish 
miscreants as toward Yankee ones. But in 1854, a ground swell 
of anti-Irish rancor espoused by the "Know-Nothing" American 
Party shook Boston politics and bounced McGinniskin from the 
police ranks for good.  The Pilot would record: "Mr. McG was 
discharged from the Boston Police for no other reason than he 
was a Catholic and born in Ireland."
	Mr. Ginniskin was unbowed by the prejudice. He supported 
his family by working as a cooper (a barrel-maker) and by 
eventually rising above Yankee bias to become a United States 
Inspector at the Custom House. At his home, which was at 29 
Clark Street, close to St. Stephen's Church, at police 
headquarters, and at the Custom House, his life proved a 
fitting tribute to the tenacity of the Boston Irish, scrapping 
for their owm piece of the American Dream.
McGinniskin died of rheumatism on March 2, 1868, his name soon 
forgotten by history. But in the decades following his death, 
every time an Irishman donned the blue of the Boston Police, 
the legacy of Barney McGinniskin - the city's first Irish cop
 - loomed large. That legacy still helps to fill the ranks of 
the Boston Police Department with men and women whose uniforms 
are blue and whose bloodlines are green.