Monthly Archives: January 2015

First Irish Policeman in Boston was from Leitrim

Below is a very interesting story sent to the Leitrim Society of Boston from Manorhamilton native Rory Flynn. He describes his research on Bernard “Barney” McGinniskin, born in Glenfarne in 1808, who went on to become Boston’s first Irish Policeman.bmcgI would like to share some information that I accidentally stumbled upon, It was all new to me and thought I should share it with you, maybe some of your members are already aware to this story.
I was born and reared in Manorhamilton I left home in 1968 and moved to Dublin then in 1970 I moved to Co. Tipperary where I settled down and now reside.

Last year when trying to trace ancestors, with my sister Noreen, we found a man in the Boston Police who we thought might be a relative of ours. As a result I sent an e-mail to the Boston Police looking for details of this individual. I explained that the man in question was born in Manorhamilton. It turned out that we were chasing down the wrong road and that this man was not in fact any relation of ours.

But it is here that I think my story may be of interest to The Boston Leitrim Society.

In replying to my initial query Margaret Sullivan, Records Center and Archives of the Boston Police gave me details that eliminated my man as being my ancestor but in her reply she stated that she had reason to look up Manorhamilton in relation to origin of one Bernard “Barney” McGinniskin. Margaret told me some of the history of Bernard “Barney” McGinniskin.

Barney McGinniskin was in the Boston Police from 1851 until 1854, what is unique about Barney is that he was the first Irish man to be admitted to the Boston Police Force and most likely the first Irish man to join any Police Force in the United States, it is believed that Boston had the very first properly organised Police Force in the United States.

At that time, in Boston, the Irish were deemed “unacceptable” for various posts including the police but Barney McGinniskin succeeded in being admitted into the local police force. According to Margaret Sullivan he left the force in 1854 after 3 years having being dismissed for political/nativist reasons, McGinniskin was highly respected and eventually ended up as a federal employee.

Margaret Sullivan has carried out research of the history of Bernard McGinniskin and found that he was born 28th May 1808 in Sranagross, Glenfarne, County Leitrim and his wife was Sarah McGowan from Manorhamilton.

Unfortunately all census records in Ireland pre 1901 were destroyed in the Four Courts In Dublin when the building was bombarded and demolished. The earliest records before that are Griffith’s Valuation of 1857, it records Charles and Laurence McGinniskin tenants on 25 acres at Sranagross, Glenfarne, their landlord was Anne Tottenham.

The next record for Sranagross, Glenfarne is the National Census of 1901 it lists a Bryan McGriskin, his wife Rose, son Charles and daughter Mary.

It is possible that the name McGinniskin evolved in some way through wrong records, misspelling or some other means into the name McGriskin. I am aware that there are McGriskin families in the Kiltyclogher and Glenfarne areas.

Barney McGinniskin is a celebrated figure in the Boston Police Department, an award in his name is presented each year and his grave is marked highlighting his role in Boston Police.

According to the profile created of him within the Boston Police it has him originating from “Co. Galway”. I feel that this fact should be corrected and on finding the Boston Leitrim Society I felt that maybe some of your members might be interested in taking a look at Bernard McGinninskin’s records and having them amended

His grave is in St. Augustine Cemetery in South Boston.

There is a Facebook page dedicated to Boston’s First Irish Policeman Bernard “Barney” McGinniskin. It is worth looking at just to see how much he is celebrated. It features photographs of his grave and it can be seen that he had erected a headstone for his wife Sarah (who died before him) daughter of William McGowan, Manorhamilton, Co. Leitrim.

As I explained I stumbled across this story thanks to Margaret R. Sullivan Record Manager and Archivist of the Boston Police Dept. Margaret has taken a great interest in Bernard McGinniskin and has much more details about him that she is more than willing to share with anyone interested. She says that there is a great deal of inaccurate stories in relation to him including one that on his first day in the Police he marched into the Boston Police Station and announced “I am Barney McGinniskin from the bogs of Ireland”. In her research she found that he was an able, intelligent and astute man far removed from how some depicted him.

I have further details on Bernard, mostly from Margaret Sullivan, and if anyone in your Society is interested I will gladly pass them on.

I just do hope that Bernard McGinniskin’s Leitrim origins can be highlighted.

Thanking You,
Rory Flynn.

(If anyone would like to get in touch with Rory, let us know and we will set that up.)