Ireland, currently the senior associate justice on the high court, would replace the retiring Chief Justice Margaret Marshall if he's confirmed by the Governor's Council, a process that could take as little as a month.
"We are making history again today," Patrick said, noting Marshall had been the court's first female chief justice.
Nonetheless, the governor insisted race was a "secondary or tertiary" consideration.
"The most important thing was to get a nominee who was going to be absolutely committed to the fair administration of justice, who could understand the issues that come before the court are issues that involve human beings, trying to sort out their problems and resolve their disputes, and that there are faces behind those concepts," Patrick said during a Statehouse news conference.
Ireland, a native of Springfield's racially mixed Hill neighborhood, said, "My nomination says that anything is possible no matter where you come from or what your background is."
Frederick Hurst, a black attorney and newspaper publisher who has been Ireland's friend since childhood, beamed as he watched, saying afterward he was proud of the high achievement by someone from "the 'hood." He described Ireland as both smart and funny.
Ireland was appointed to the SJC in 1997 by then-Republican Gov. William F. Weld, making him the first black justice in the 318-year history of the oldest appellate court in continuous operation in the Western Hemisphere. He previously served on the Massachusetts Appeals Court for seven years and the Boston Juvenile Court for almost 13 years.