Robert Shure's 1998 Boston Irish Famine Memorial

Boston Globe art critic slams Irish Famine memorial as “mocked and reviled”


Robert Shure's 1998 Boston Irish Famine Memorial

Boston Globe art critic Sebastian Smee, a Pulitzer Prize winner, has slammed the Irish Famine memorial in Boston calling it the worst public art imaginable.

Smee, an Australian native, wrote that  the Holocaust memorial had problems but that “This memorial is followed closely by what is, according to my own informal poll, the most mocked and reviled public sculpture in Boston: Robert Shure’s 1998 Boston Irish Famine Memorial on the plaza where Washington Street meets School Street. It shows two groups of Irish families, one emaciated and despairing, the other, having found prosperity in the new world, hale and hearty. To some whose history this is, it may have resonance. But as art? It’s pure kitsch.”

It is not the first time the memorial has been attacked. Irish Times writer Fintan O’Toole said it represented “pious cliches and dead conventions” when he wrote about it back in 1998.

The sculpture was erected after many years of fundraising by the Irish American community.

To commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Irish Famine, Boston's Irish community unveiled the $1 million memorial park on June 28, 1998. Located in downtown Boston, the park is sited along the city's Freedom Trail, and is visited annually by over three million people.

The late businessman Thomas Flatley was the major guiding light behind the project. At the time of  its opening it was widely praised.

The Boston Globe wrote "Two sculptures by Robert Shure show one Irish family in agony from the Great Hunger stalking the land and another hopeful as they arrive on America's shore. They're meant to depict the odyssey of the Irish immigrant from tragedy to triumph over the past 150 years. They're also meant to remind those who stop and look to remember that we must never be indifferent to the suffering of others."

"Beyond its particularly Irish dimension, the memorial marks the beginning of the waves of 19th and 20th century immigration that have made Boston the variegated place it is today. Thousands more would come: Italians, Jews, Greeks, Lithuanians, Chinese, Haitians, Dominicans, blacks from the American South, and other ethnic groups, all seeking in Boston a refuge from poverty and oppression. The triumph of the Irish is a parable of America." (Boston Globe editorial, March 9, 1998)

The Quincy Patriot Ledger editorial stated "There are religious and secular monuments to the influence of the Irish all around Boston, but nothing that marks the Gaelic contribution to the city and to this state the way the Irish Famine Memorial will."

Now however there appears to be growing criticism of the memorial as a public art vehicle.


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