On Saturday, May 22, 2022, the South Shore Irish Heritage Trail made its grand debut. Winding through nine South Shore communities, including Hull, it celebrates the contributions of Irish immigrants and Irish-Americans who lived, worked and played on the South Shore, contributing to the cultural richness of the region. Hull is represented on the official trail by four locations.
Hull Public Library
John Boyle O’Reilly’s story has been well-documented, including from his own inkwell. The prolific writer was a champion of the strenuous life before Theodore Roosevelt popularized the phrase, and a proponent of the manly arts that produced fellow countrymen like bareknuckles boxing champion John L. Sullivan. But he also had the soul of a poet, and a belief in cosmopolitanism. He wanted us all to get along. He built the building that is now the Hull Public Library just before he died, leaving behind wonderful design elements it’s more than worth asking the librarians about.
The HoneyFitz Home
John Fitzgerald, once Mayor of Boston, did not build the multi-gabled house associated with him at 940 Nantasket Ave. on Allerton Hill, but he certainly made it famous. Happy to stick his nose into Hull politics, he made both friends and enemies in town when the community was ruled by a political machine, but he probably had fond memories of the days when his daughter Rose roamed the halls of the mansion, prior to her marriage to Joseph P. Kennedy. Young Kennedy once played in an exhibition baseball game in town as well.
The trail winds along Nantasket Beach and all the smaller beach areas, capturing the notion of how so many working class Irish-Americans from Boston followed John Boyle O’Reilly to this South Shore summer paradise.
The Pemberton neighborhood holds special memories for legendary Boston television Peter Mehegan, whose ancestors summered here.
But there is much, much more to celebrate in Hull. Here are a few more places associated with some of the most important Boston Irish families and individuals, and at least one that stands for every Irishman.
St. Mary’s Church, Green Hill
It’s been redeveloped, adapted and changed into dwelling spaces, but the former St. Mary’s of the Assumption Church on Green Hill is inextricably tied to the legendary John L. Sullivan. When those Irish summer residents flooded the South Shore in the late nineteenth century, they went to the champ and asked him if he could help them build a church in Hull. He brought the idea up the chain to the Archdiocese of Boston, where he was rebuffed (by a fellow Irishman, no less). The church would not be built on money earned by the shedding of the blood of somebody beaten up by the bareknuckles champ. It took five more years, but the church was built in 1890.
From boxing to wrestling we go. Steve “Crusher” Casey was a twentieth century phenomenon, but no less thrilling to behold in his prime than the Great John L. A resident of Cohasset, Casey owned a bar in Hull, generally where the Dunkin’ Donuts parking lot is today at the southern end of town. He was known far and wide as the second Irish professional wrestler to hold the world’s championship, a feat he accomplished six times between 1936 and 1947. In 1936 he and his brothers also won the All England Rowing Championship with his brothers Paddy, Mick, and Tom.
Sunset Point Camp
The Catholic Charities Bureau of the Archdiocese of Boston grew out of a desire to care for indigent children in Boston in 1903. By 1920, as Americans came to understand the need to move children out of the city – away from the belching smog of factories and other insalubrious elements – to healthier places, like Hull. In that year, driven by the heavily Irish Catholic population of Boston, the camp opened on 10th Street to care for the children of Catholic parents from the city. More than a century later, it’s still going strong, having expanded to welcome any and all in need of the special experiences that can only be gained at a summer camp.
St. Ann’s Church
St. Ann’s holds a secret that connects it to the Kennedy family. Joseph P. Kennedy and Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy were living in Hull at the time of the birth of their son Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr., on Beach Avenue. HoneyFitz, throwing a football on the beach with some local kids, declared that his grandson would someday be president of the United States; he was off by only one grandson. Joe, Jr., was christened at St. Ann’s shortly after it opened. He would later die on a dangerous, experimental air mission in World War II.
James Michael Curley
He loved to watch the fireworks from the beach, and he loved spending his summers in Hull, until the death of his dear beloved wife. James Michael Curley was a contemporary and a longtime rival of HoneyFitz, a controversial mayor of Boston who was known to just “get stuff done.” For years, though, no one could imagine a Hull Village summer without Curley holding court at his Spring Street summer home.
Sir Thomas Lipton
While he didn’t stay long, he visited Hull. Sir Thomas Lipton sported an odd combination of heritage. He was a “Scotsman of Irish parentage,” and he had a particular love of yachting. When you pass by the Fitzgerald house on Allerton Hill, imagine Sir Thomas Lipton in an upper window, enjoying the offshore races with his friend HoneyFitz. Better yet, buy into the legend that Lipton used to chase Rose through the halls shouting “I’m going to marry this girl!”
Such stories could go on and on about the best and the brightest the Irish people have had to offer, but we must pause as well to remember the everyday Irish citizens of Hull, year-round and summer, who made the community great, from organizing leading the first Old Home Days celebrations to serving and dying in World War II. Nantasket Avenue runs up the alphabet streets and fades to the left up Allerton Hill. The main road that continues to the left along the base of the hill is the former railroad corridor that just prior to World War II was converted to a roadway. That road is Fitzpatrick Way, named for Charles F. Fitzpatrick, one of 12 Hull men who died in World War II.
If you should take the South Shore Irish Heritage Trail this summer, take an extended run through Hull. There’s more here than you might think.