They yearned for a better way of life for their families when they arrived in America by the boatloads – sickened and starving after weeks of journeying across the Atlantic Ocean from Ireland.
But while quarantined on a spit of land jutting into Boston Harbor, many of them died from typhus, dysentery and malnourishment. For 170 years, the skeletal remains of an estimated 850 immigrants were buried on Deer Island in unmarked graves. No coffins. No headstones.
They were forgotten victims of a human catastrophe known in Irish history as the Great Hunger, when a years-long potato blight in the mid-19th century contributed to a famine that took the lives of more than 1 million people and prompted an estimated 2 million others to emigrate to the United States, Canada, Australia and England.
Now, local Irish Americans, working with public officials in Boston, have created what they say will be a permanent memorial to those immigrants who came so close to reaching their destination.
The cross, donated by Rob Flynn, owner of Flynn Stone in Lakewood, Pennsylvania, was put into place on the south side of Deer Island by crews working for Boston area contractors who donated labor, materials and heavy equipment.
Standing at the wind-swept site, a visitor can gaze over Boston Harbor toward city neighborhoods where Irish immigrants who survived the famine and the rigorous ocean journey flocked to Charlestown, Dorchester and South Boston, for example.