BOSTON – 38% of the state of Massachusetts is of Irish extraction, and every fourth face or so you see here reflects that ancestry.

On the plane from New York to Boston on Monday, I felt like I was on Aer Lingus. Across the aisle sat a red haired beauty straight out of The Quiet Man, and an elderly pair of ladies in front of me were ringers for every Irish nun I knew.

The Irish experience is overwhelming and heartening in Boston. The great Kennedy dynasty came out of here of course, but also generation after generation of Irish leaders in every possible field.

From church to education to business and politics, the Irish in Massachusetts often led the way nationally. It is a proud history that is being lived every day.

Not far from here is the town of Scituate, the most Irish town in America where, according to ancestry records, almost 50% are of Irish background.

The latest American Community Survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau shows 34 million Americans claim Irish heritage. If it seems like many of those live in Massachusetts then it may be because it is true.

All in all 16 communities within the South Shore neighborhoods of Boston have the highest percentage of people of Irish descent in the U.S.

In addition to Scituate, at least 44% of the population in Braintree, Hull, Marshfield, Avon, Pembroke and Milton claim Irish ancestry also, according to the Census Bureau.

Scituate, on Cape Cod Bay, is also close to Plymouth Rock where the Mayflower arrived. It has a population of a little over 17,000

The data shows that the South Shore's "Irish Riviera" hasn't significantly changed since the census of 1980, the first one where the ethic question was asked. Irish Americans continue to dominate the large majority of suburban Boston.

According to the 2005-2009 American Community Survey, 19 of the top 20 most Irish communities in Massachusetts are south of Boston. 

A decade ago there were similar results. These same towns were among the top Irish American communities in the state of Massachusetts, according to the 2000 census.

Richard Finnegan, professor of political science and director of Irish studies at Stonehill College, maintains that the South Shore has long been home to a large Irish community.

The migration of Irish families from Boston to the South Shore dates back to the end of World War II, and continued through the 1950s and ‘60s.

Finnegan says that many gravitated towards the South Shore because of geography.

"If you live in Dorchester or Hyde Park, you don’t think of moving to Swampscott,” he said.  “Where will I move if I can get ahead and move up the social ladder? Quincy, Weymouth, and down the South Shore.

“When you’re on the South Side (of the city) and looking to rent a beach house for a few weeks, you go to the South Shore.”

This same pattern continues today.

“Families move where their family and friends are,’’ said Finnegan.

He is right of course. The Irish are still a huge part of Boston and its surroundings, and long may it stay that way.