January 5, 1852 | Irish Police in Boston

 Boston Police at Roll Call, 1855 National Law Enforcement Museum, 2006.224.1

“Mr. McGinniskin was discharged from the Boston Police for no other reason than he was a Catholic and born in Ireland.”

Boston Pilot, January 1852

Two months was all it took for Boston’s first Irish police officer, Barney McGinniskin, to get kicked off the force. McGinniskin’s appointment followed all the customary channels of the time—local businessmen signed petitions on his behalf and Francis Tukey, Boston’s “lynx-eyed marshal,” found McGinniskin to be a temperate taxpayer and a 22-year resident of the US.

Marshal Tukey soon changed his mind. He fired McGinniskin in January of 1852 citing a 10-year-old arrest of McGinniskin for rioting as his reason. It is more likely that McGinniskin was just too Irish for Tukey and the rest of the Boston police force at the time.

According to the Boston Herald, when McGinniskin first reported to the night force he announced himself as “Barney McGinniskin, fresh from the bogs of Ireland!” Tukey’s police force was more comfortable arresting the Irish than working alongside them. The Irish population in Boston rose dramatically in the 1850s and the vast majority of arrests in the city were of Irish immigrants. 24,000 Irish lived in the city in 1846, while 60,000 were residing there just ten years later—most of them in poverty.

Marshal Tukey and his police force voted en masse in the November 1851 election, pushing a new mayor, Benjamin Seaver, into office. When Mayor Seaver took office, Tukey promptly fired McGinniskin. The combination of McGinniskin’s firing and the overt political activity of the police force was roundly criticized. The new Mayor was not pleased. Seaver reinstated McGinniskin and completely disbanded the night shift of the police (which had prominently marched together to the polls) leaving the safety of the nighttime city solely in the hands of the old nightwatch.
McGinniskin lasted a couple more years on the force until 1854. The anti-immigrant American Party, called the Know Nothings, took office and he was ousted once again for being Irish. McGinniskin’s one consolation might have been that he outlasted Marshal Tukey who was pushed out of office for his overt political activity before 1852 came to an end.