SCITUATE - A trail meandering through several South Shore towns and highlighting sites of interest to Irish Americans and visitors from Ireland and elsewhere could increase awareness of the significance of the Irish in these communities. Visitors might also take more time to discover or rediscover these towns, thus increasing traffic to area restaurants, shops and businesses.
A proposal to create that trail will be unveiled by the Scituate/West Cork Sister City Committee during a May 20 meeting in Scituate, to which political and civic leaders from eight South Shore towns have been invited.
The goal is three-fold, according to Brenda O’Connor, former chairwoman of the Scituate/West Cork Sister City Committee: to celebrate, educate and anticipate.
“We want to celebrate the achievements of those who emigrated from Ireland and established themselves along the Atlantic coast,” she said. “We want to educate the generations who have come after the initial settlers to instill pride in their ancestors’ accomplishments, and their Irish heritage. And we want to educate the non-Irish about the Irish contributions, and tourists from Ireland who may not know the challenges Irish immigrants faced and overcame in the land of hope. Finally, we anticipate continued contributions and achievements of South Shore Irish – many of whom have an impact far beyond our town limits.”
The model for this project is the successful Wild Atlantic Way in Ireland, said Siobhan Hunter, chairman of the Scituate/West Cork Sister City Committee.
“We hope to do something similar here showcasing sites with connections to Ireland and the immigrants who flocked here in pursuit of better lives," Hunter said.
The Freedom Trail and the Irish Heritage Trail, both in Boston, were also looked at when outlining the South Shore trail.
Trip through history
Points along the trail that have already been discussed include the former Hull summer home of celebrated Irish American poet, journalist and civil rights activist John Boyle O’Reilly. The family of President John F. Kennedy also had links to the town.
In Cohasset, the memorial to the 1849 shipwreck of the brig St. John, in which nearly 100 Irish immigrants perished, would be a stop.
The Scituate Maritime and Irish Mossing Museum, which chronicles a local industry begun by Irish immigrants in which many generations of Scituate young people participated, would also be highlighted, as would Marshfield’s proposed Irish Path, which may incorporate bronze sculptures inspired by events in Irish history.
“Everyone loves a good story and the markers along the trail will tell many stories, from joy-filled to heart-wrenching,” O’Connor said. “The tragedy of the brig St. John has many aspects that will amaze visitors, from the people fleeing the famine in Ireland to the awful loss of life to the heroism and compassion of Cohasset residents. And then there are the visionary Irish who created the mossing industry in Scituate, contrasting with some stereotypes of immigrants held then, and even today.”
Current plans have the trail starting in Weymouth and ending in Plymouth, with a consideration of connecting to the Boston Irish Heritage Trail through Milton and Quincy once the South Shore trail is established.
“The possibilities of expansion are enormous,” O’Connor said, mentioning the trail extending to Cape Cod, and maybe eventually starting in Maine and ending in Washington, D.C., where the White House was designed by an Irishman.
The plan is to have the trail encourage one-day or multiple-day trips to several towns. Recreational activities, photographic or art-inspiring vistas, and food spots will be listed in each town along the trail.
Backed by $1,250 in seed money from the Irish government, the hope is to win participation in a South Shore Irish Heritage Trail from communities that boast the highest concentration of residents with Irish roots in the entire United States.
One lure is possible funding from the Irish government through its Emigrant Support Program. The committee has applied for a $75,000 grant to fund planning and development of the trail, including an interactive web page to guide visitors to Irish-themed sites in the South Shore towns.
“Participating communities will be asked for a modest amount, perhaps $3,000, to help get the trail up and running,” Hunter said. “Not only would this be an asset to all those who live here, regardless of ethnicity, but the side benefits for tourism could benefit each community in a substantial way.”
Early estimates are that upwards of 700 people could visit the South Shore Irish Heritage Trail annually, a number based on 1 percent of the roughly 70,000 residents with Irish roots. That number could grow significantly, according to Hunter and O’Connor.
“I think the project is very interesting,” O’Connor said. “Knowing how Irish the South Shore is, it was not too much of a stretch consider a trail here.”
Ruth Thompson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.