Committee Mission

The mission of the Deer Island Irish Memorial - Boston Harbor committee is to acknowledge, honor, and remember the 850 Irish men, women, and children who dies and were buried on Deer Island between 1847 and 1850 during the time of "An Gorta Mor" - "The Great Hunger".


For some time now, the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) has committed to the construction of a memorial to be built on Deer Island in Boston Harbor to tell the story of the Irish immigrants who were quarantined on Deer Island during "An Gorta Mor" -- The Great Hunger, primarily during 1847.

When Deer Island was sold to the MWRA by the City of Boston to build the water treatment plant, they had to excavate certain areas of the Island, which for many years had been used to house the unwanted of the City. It had been used as an orphanage, a prison, a hospital, a quarantine station, and an internment camp for Native Americans during the King Phillip War in the 1600's.

Among those buried on the island were approximately 850 of the more than 1,000 Irish people who died and were buried in unmarked graves during this terrible time. In the terrible year of 1847 - the worst year of the "Famine" of 1845-1851 - the failure of the potato crop in Ireland created a devastation so horrific that people died by the thousands from starvation and disease. This led to the emigration of tens and hundreds of thousands more to North America, many of whom came to Boston. During that fateful period, of the 25,000 Irish who came to Boston, about 5,000 were quarantined on Deer Island, many in makeshift tents. Fully one-fifth of those quarantined died.

The story of Deer Island is not generally known. The objective of the Irish Memorial is to educate, not only the general public, but especially those of Irish descent as to what their ancestors had to endure during those dark years. The Deer Island Irish Memorial will bestow dignity and reverence to the memory of those Irish - the "An Gorta Mor refugees - who died on Deer Island so many years ago.



There was a long process to select the perfect site on Deer Island for this Memorial. The selected site is at the very tip of the island where all ships and boats must pass in order to enter or leave Boston Harbor. In addition, the site is visible from virtually the entire harbor, except where another island obscures the view. This site also has an historical impact as it is close to the area where the ships from Ireland anchored to drop off their human cargo into the quarantine station. There is a walking path that has been built around the entire island, which passes through the Irish Memorial site. The selected site is approximately 1/4 mile from the wharf where the ferry drops passengers who wish to visit the island and is adjacent to the path at the most scenic point on the island. The views from the site of the City of Boston and the Harbor Islands are positively stunning.

The island is also accessible by automobile via Winthrop.


In conjunction with the UrbanArts Institute of the Massachusetts College of Art, a committee reviewed the work of almost 70 artists prior to paring the list down to four finalists. Proposals were requested from the four finalists, each of whom submitted drawings and/or marquettes of their concept of an appropriate design. The four designs were shown at numerous Irish organizations and events throughout the area and people were given an opportunity to vote for their favorite design.


The committee voted unanimously to select the design of Ted Clausen, whose design, coincidentally, was the one preferred by a large majority of those who had a chance to view all of the designs. Mr. Clausen is a nationally known artist, specializing in memorials, who has designed and constructed a number of memorials in and around Boston, most notably the Vendome Firefighters' Memorial. He is an experienced and gifted artist who is vompletely committed to telling this important story in an important way.


Mr. Clausen's design consists of a 28-foot high twin-faced Celtic cross of granite, outlined in stainless steel, with a Celtic interlace design comprising the name, age, and year of death, for each Irish man, woman, and child who died and were buried on Deer Island. In addition, there will be a series of 32 standing stones (one representing each of the counties of Ireland) leadung up to, surrounding, and going away from the central Celtic cross. These stones will be engraved with information that will impart the story we are trying to tell. The stainless steel portion of the cross will reflect the ambient light.