Explore the South Shore Irish Heritage Trail


March 9, 2023

Beginning in the 17th century, Irish immigrants began settling in towns along the southern coast of Massachusetts. Today around 40% of their descendants still live in these towns. The South Shore Irish Heritage Trail takes its influence from the Boston Irish Heritage Trail and the Wild Atlantic Trail in Ireland, and it runs through nine beautiful towns starting in Weymouth and ending in Plymouth. 

Spend a day in one town, spend a weekend in two or three, or spend a week going from one end to the other. There is so much to explore in the most Irish area in America. 

St. Paul’s Cemetery (Hingham, MA)

The land for the cemetery was acquired by St. Paul’s Parish in 1877. For more than two hundred years, the cemetery has been the final resting place for many Irish emigrant families. Over the last five years The Hingham Catholic Collaborative has been in the process of expanding sections of the cemetery. Most of the changes, thankfully, are merely cosmetic. 

The character and spirit of the original elements of the cemetery remain as they were. Namely the pillars that mark the formal entrance to the cemetery. They were built in 1898 by John Moriarty, who was a stonemason and emigrated to the United States in 1875. At the time of the 1900 census, John and his wife Mary, along with her brother Daniel, all lived on Elm St. in Hingham. 

The story of the Moriarity family is similar to that of many of the immigrant families who called the South Shore home. Visit the South Shore Irish Heritage Trail for more information.

Celtic Cross Monument (Cohasset, MA)

In 1849 the St. John left port at Galway, Ireland and began making its way to North America. It was one of many ships known as “famine ships;” she was carrying 143 people across the Atlantic as they fled Ireland during the potato famine. Under Capt. Martin Oliver, the ship and all of her passengers and crew were hit with a major storm as they made their way to Boston on October 7, 1849. Upon realizing the ship would wreck along Nantasket Beach, Capt. Oliver tried to steer her towards Scituate Harbor.  

The ship never made it. Out of sheer desperation, the crew dropped anchor and not a moment later did the chains snap. A low-lying rock formation held the St. John in place as harsh winds and devastating waves battered the ship to splinters. By this point, townsfolk were already on the beach and launched a series of small boats to rescue as many people as possible. Sadly this effort failed due to increasingly harsh storm conditions. 

16 crew members and only 11 passengers survived the wreckage. In 1914 the Celtic Cross Monument was erected to remember the 99 people who were lost in the disaster. The 45 bodies that were discovered afterwards are buried beneath the cross. Please refer to the Cohasset Central Cemetery website for further reading. Scituate, MA

Maritime and Irish Mossing Museum

Everyone has used Irish moss before, whether they realize it or not. There is a chemical compound in it called carrageenan, and it helps provide smoothness and suspension to everyday products like yogurt and toothpaste. The mossing industry began in Scituate over 150 years ago when in 1847 a sailor called Daniel Ward noticed this plant growing on rocks off the coast. Nowadays, most Irish moss comes from China and southeast Asia, but the history of Irish mossing and its origin story are celebrated and remembered at the Maritime and Irish Mossing Museum in Scituate.

Lawson Tower

Thomas W. Lawson was an investment magnate at the turn of the century when the stock market was still in its infancy. He became enormously wealthy, and in 1900 purchased 1,000 acres overlooking the ocean in Scituate, where he and his wife would vacation during the summer. In 1901, his wife Jeannie, became upset that Scituate Water Co. built a 276,000 gallon 153ft high still water tank in the middle of town. Because she was aggrieved by the site of it, she pressed her husband to fix it somehow. 

In 1902 Lawson’s tower was built to enclose the water tank and was funded entirely by Lawson himself. Based on the design of a 15th century watchtower, ten bells were placed at the top and they continue to ring at the right time, thanks to a staff member of the Scituate Historical Society whose task once every week is to climb all 123 steps and wind the clock. 

Daniel Webster Estate (Marshfield, MA)

During the disastrous Potato Famine of the middle 19th century, U.S. Senator Daniel Webster helped to provide food aid to Ireland. He was Marshfield’s leading citizen and lived in his original home for the final 20 years of his life. In 1878, the house burnt down. Two years later, Webster’s daughter-in-law built the Queen Anne-style home that still stands today. It’s included as part of the Daniel Webster estate, some of which is owned by the Audubon Foundation. Audubon himself visited the house frequently and was good friends with Webster. The farm and homesite are open to the public. Information can be found on The Daniel Webster Estate website. 

Civil War Memorial (Kingston, MA)

Formally dedicated in 1883, the Civil War Memorial in Kingston, MA stands approximately 16ft high and consists of a granite pedestal and a six foot bronze statue of an infantry man. It was commissioned by Mrs. Abigail H. Adams, who was the widow of Samuel Adams. She was deeply involved in civil and church affairs in town, and she was once referred to as “The Home Missionary.” The monument features a plaque honoring the men and one woman (an army nurse) who lost their lives during the war. 

That one woman was Martha Server and she left Kingston in 1861 to serve as a nurse. The mention of her name makes this monument unique and separates it from other monuments like it around the country. 

Hull Lifesaving Museum (Hull, MA)

Throughout the 19th Century Hull was a community bound together by its relationship to the ocean. Almost all major businesses in the area relied on some kind of maritime activity. The iconic hotels hosted travelers who would come by boat or steam engine when they would visit in the summer. The mouth of Boston’s Inner Harbor was a major shipping channel. Because of this, shipwrecks and disasters out at sea were a common occurrence, especially during the winter. The Hull Lifesavers were a vital part of this ecosystem. 

The Hull Lifesaving Museum was founded in 1978 to celebrate and honor the ideals of the Hull Lifesavers, Skills, Courage and Caring. To this day, the museum still runs programs for young people and adults alike that both change and save lives. The museum offers a range of educational opportunities including mindfulness study, photography workshops and lectures on maritime and the history of the lifesavers. 

The history of the Irish community in Massachusetts runs deep through the South Shore.