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Saturday, October 1, 2016

Galway ship the Brig St. John sinks off the coast of Cohasset, killing most of the passengers, in October 1849

On the morning of Sunday, October 7, 1849, the Brig St. John sank off the coast of Cohasset, pushed to the brink by a severe nor-easter that rocked the boat for hours before it sank.   

On board were 127 passengers from Ireland, along with sixteen sailors.  The majority of passengers were poor Irish immigrants fleeing the famine,

Writer Henry David Thoreau heard about the wreck and traveled from Concord to witness the aftermath. He wrote about it in his book, Cape Cod

"We found many Irish in the cars going to identify bodies and to sympathize with the survivors, and also to attend the funeral which was to take place in the afternoon," Thoreau wrote.  "When we arrived at Cohasset, it appeared that nearly all the passengers were bound for the beach, which was about a mile distant, and many other persons were flocking in from the neighboring country."

Only 9 crew members and 11 passengers survived, according to reports. Most of the others drowned at sea,except for 45 bodies that were washed ashore.   They were never identified and were buried in a mass grave.

On May 30, 1914 the Ancient Order of Hibernians erected a 19 foot Celtic Cross in the town's Central Cemetery to pay homage to the deceased. Governor David I. Walsh gave the oratory before several thousand onlookers.

"Love of the dead is one of the kindest traits of the Irish character; the memories of the dead are kept green and fragrant, and custom has been sanctified by religion," Walsh said.  "This memorial erected here upon the round-bound coast to those exiles cast upon the shore is evidence that the hearts of the American Irish are still true to the kindly and reverent traditions of the race."

For more details on Irish-American heritage, visit

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Sunday, September 25, 2016

Patrick S. Gilmore, Irish-born Bandleader, Dies on Tour in St. Louis on September 24, 1892

Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore (1829-1892), whose song When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again is considered one of America's iconic hymns, died on September 24, 1892 in St. Louis while on a national tour with his orchestra.

Born in Ballygar, County Galway, Gilmore emigrated to Boston in 1849 and quickly established himself as an excellent cornet player and a band organizer.  He led several prominent bands in the 1850s and finally established his own Gilmore's Band.

Gilmore and his band joined the Massachusetts 24th Regiment when the American Civil War broke out in 1861, and accompanied the soldiers to the battle front.  After the war ended Gilmore put together a giant Peace Jubilee in 1869 to celebrate peace.  The five-day music festival featured 1,000 musicians and 10,000 choral singers, and was attended by President Ulysses S. Grant.

Then in 1872, Gilmore staged an even larger World Peace Jubilee to celebrate the end of the Franco-Prussian War.  He invited national bands for over a dozen nations, and the feature artist was Austrian Waltz King Johann Strauss.

For the final two decades of his life, Gilmore and his band toured Europe and throughout North America.

The day after his death from a heart attack, the Chicago Tribute wrote that "America Lost one of its Most Picturesque Musical Leaders."

For more about Boston's Irish history, visit

Saturday, September 17, 2016

John Barry, Revolutionary War Hero from Ireland

Commodore John Barry (March 25, 1745 – September 13, 1803) was a naval hero of the American Revolutionary War.  Born in  Tacumshane, County Wexford in 1745, Barry emigrated to Philadelphia in 1760.  He joined the American forces at the outbreak of the war, and was the first Catholic appointed to command a vessel by the Continental Congress.  Barry's ship, Lexington, was the first to capture a British vessel under the American flag.

During much of the war, Barry commanded ships out of Boston Harbor, including the Delaware and the Alliance. After the war, President George Washington assigned Barry to help create the United States Navy.   Barry settled in Philadelphia and died there at age 59.  He is buried at St. Mary's Churchyard on S. Fourth Street.

In 1949, Boston Mayor James Michael Curley spoke at the Charitable Irish Society annual dinner on March 17, and  vowed to build a memorial to Barry in 60 days, saying Barry had been ignored for too long.  The project got underway immediately, and the bronze memorial was actually unveiled seven months later, on October 16, 1949.

Then on April 5, 1975, some local college students stole the bronze plaque as a prank, and a stone version of the plaque was put in its place. Contrition set in a few years later and the students anonymously returned the plaque to the Massachusetts Ancient Order of Hibernians, who returned it to the city.  The original was put in storage at the L Street Bathhouse in South Boston.  On Saturday, September 12, 1981, the Barry memorial was transferred from the Boston Arts Commission to the National Parks Service for permanent display at the Charlestown Navy Yard, where it remains today.

Visitors can see the Commodore John Barry Memorial on Boston Common, located along Tremont Street between Lafayette Mall and the Visitor Information Center.  The plaque is part of Boston's Irish Heritage Trail,  a sequence of public landmarks that tell the illustrious story of the Irish in Boston from the 1700s to the present time.

President John F. Kennedy was a great admirer of Commodore Barry.  He owned John Barry's sword and displayed it in office at the White House.  In addition to sharing a love of the sea and sailing, both men traced their lineage to County Wexford.   When he visited Ireland in June 1963, President Kennedy placed a wreath at the John Barry Memorial in Wexford.

To find out more about Boston Irish history, visit or read Irish Boston, available from Globe Pequot Press and from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other outlets.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Labor Day Profile of Maurice J. Tobin, US Secretary of Labor under President Truman

This Labor Day, the Boston Irish Tourism Association pays tribute to Boston native Maurice Tobin (1901-53), who served as mayor of Boston and governor of Massachusetts before being named US Secretary of Labor by President Harry S. Truman.

Born in Roxbury's Mission Hill,  he was the son of immigrants from Clogheen, Tipperary.

Tobin became Massachusetts' youngest state representative at age 25, and in 1937 made a surprise run for mayor against his mentor, James Michael Curley. Tobin defeated Curley in 1937 and again in 1941, serving through 1944.  He then won the race for Governor of Massachusetts, and served as Governor from 1944-46.  Governor Tobin advocated for the Fair Employment Practices Bill, and helped increase unemployment insurance and benefits for workers.

He helped campaign for President Truman, who appointed Tobin as US Secretary of Labor from 1948 to 1953, where he continued to advocate on behalf of America's working people.

Tobin died of a heart attack in July 1953 and is buried at Holyhood Cemetery in Brookline.

Sculptor Emilius R. Ciampa created the Tobin Memorial Sculptor in 1958, which is at the Boston Esplanade, next to the Hatchshell.  In 1967, Massachusetts named the Mystic River Bridge the Maurice J. Tobin Memorial bridge in his honor.

Visit the Maurice Tobin statue on the Boston Irish Heritage Trail.

For more about Boston's colorful Irish history, read  Irish Boston, available from Globe Pequot Press and from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other book stores.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

10,000 Attend the Boston Calendonian Festival in West Roxbury on August 5, 1916

Over 10,000 people attended the 63rd Scottish picnic hosted by the Boston Caledonian Club at the West Roxbury Grove on Saturday, August 5, 1916.

According to The Boston Globe, there were 39 athletic and cultural events, ranging from track and field and football (soccer) to Scottish dancing and Bagpipe competitions.

The Caledonian handicap road race of 13 ¼ miles started in front of the State House and finished at the Grove.  “The 16 starters were the crack local marathoners and Mayor Curley sent them off on their grind at 1:45,” wrote the Globe.

Mayor James M. Curley then traveled to the festival, where he addressed the crowd briefly and enjoyed the activities.  At one point, reported the Globe, Curley “was so pleased with the dance of one of the girls that he gave a personal prize.”

In addition to the sports and cultural competitions, three prizes were also awarded for “Best Dressed Highlander,” which was won by George A. Mitchell.

 According to writer Emily Ann Donaldson in her book, TheScottish Highland Games in America, the Boston Caledonian Club “sponsored Games for more than a century; the last one was held in September 1956 at Brookline Town Field.”

There is a tune called Boston Caledonian Club, which was published in Ryan’s Mammoth Collection in 1883.   

For information on today's Scottish celebrations in the USA, visit the Association of Scottish Games and Festivals.

Find more about Irish & Scottish activities in Massachusetts at

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Boston Parks Department Created Irish Floral Design in Public Garden to Welcome AOH Convention

Scene from the Boston Public Garden, ca. 1916 

In July, 1916, the Boston Parks & Recreation Department created a floral design of an Irish harp in Boston's Public Garden to welcome the national convention of the Ancient Order of Hibernians.  The convention took place on July 19-23 and attracted over 50,000 delegates, many from the mid-Atlantic and mid-Western states.

According to a Boston Globe story on July 2, 1916, a number of local residents complained about the Irish arrangement to John H. Dillon, chairman of the Parks Department and James M. Curley, mayor of Boston.

Dillon "explained that it has always been his policy to plant in the Public Garden an emblem of any large organization holding its convention in Boston, but up to the present instance of the harp no objection has ever been made.  He recalled that last year the emblem of the Zionists was planted in the Public Garden and that at other times the Masonic emblem, as well as the insignia of a large colored organization, had been laid out in flowers there.

"He added that he did not quite see how the emblem of the AOH Could offend anyone."

Later in the month, just as the AOH convention was ending, the harp floral arrangement was vandalized in the middle of the night and wrecked, according to the Globe. 

For more on Boston's Irish history, visit

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Irish Art Adorns the Boston Arts Festival in the Public Garden on June 6, 1954

The third annual Boston Arts Festival, which opened in the Public Garden in downtown Boston on June  6, 1954, featured a tent devoted to "works by contemporary Irish artists" chosen by Ireland's Cultural Relations Department.

The Irish tent contained "24 paintings and a tapestry by some of Ireland's top-notch contemporary artists.  Some work is in the abstract vein, some semi-abstract, and more romantic."

The Boston Globe story by Edgar J. Driscoll, Jr. called the festival "the largest and most comprehensive display of the arts in the city's history."   The festival was comprised of twelve tents, "housing hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of art," Driscoll wrote.

The Ireland tent included works by "a painting priest, Rev. Jack P. Hanlon, who is represented by a Madonna and Child and a landscape inspired in County Kerry.  Others whose work has been sent here through the courtesy of the government of Ireland include William J. Leech, Daniel O'Neill, Norah McGuiness, Gerald Dillon, George Campbell, Nano Reid and Patrick Collins."

The role of the Ireland's Cultural Relations Department in bringing art and culture to Boston was part of a new initiative the Irish government undertook in the wake of Ireland becoming an independent Republic on April 18, 1949, ushering in a new era of Irish pride.

As Sean MacBride, Ireland's minister of external affairs, told a gathering of Eire Society members in 1950, "Whether it be in the field of international politics, foreign trade, or tourism, one of the first tasks to be achieved is to make the people of other countries interested in our island and to make them feel kindly to us."

Cultural exports - including art, literature and theater, and later music and dance - proved a sure way to achieve this.  In 1950 the Cultural Relations Department sent an Irish photo exhibit to  Boston as part of Jordan Marsh's hundredth anniversary.  The following year an exhibit  of paintings by Jack Yeats opened at the Institute of Contemporary Art on Newbury Street.

Throughout the 1950s various Irish performers came to Boston, including the Dublin Players in 1951 and actress Siobhan McKenna in 1957.

For more about Boston's Irish community, visit

(Information in this blog taken from Chapter 11 of Irish Boston: A Lively Look at Boston's Colorful Irish Past by Michael Quinlin, published by Rowman & Littlefield.)

Monday, May 30, 2016

Cardinal O'Connell, Mayor Curley at St. Ambrose Church Dedication in Dorchester, May 28, 1916

Photo Courtesy of the Dorchester Atheneum

On Sunday, May 28, 1916, William Cardinal O'Connell "blessed the walls of the new Church of St. Ambrose in Dorchester," according to a report in the Republic Newspaper.

It was the 11th Catholic Church in Dorchester, wrote the Republic. The parish had been formed on December 4, 1914,and founding Father John P. Harrigan broke ground for a lower church in March 1915.  According to The Boston Globe, church services were initially held at the Dorchester Theatre and in the old Dorchester Post Office prior to the church being completed.

On this day, Cardinal O'Connell, assisted by Father Harrigan, confirmed over 200 children from Dorchester at the service.  Nearly 100 members of the Knights of Columbus escorted the Cardinal and his  entourage to and from the ceremony.  The St. Vincent's Boys Cadets of South Boston were also present, the media reported.

Among the guests were Mayor James M. Curley and his wife Mary.

"The church was crowded to its capacity during the services, hundreds outside being unable to gain admission," wrote The Boston Globe.  "Two women fainted in the church, but revived on reaching the open air."

In his sermon, Cardinal O'Connell said, "See what the Catholic Church means and signifies at the present day.  Think of the great wealth of benediction which the Catholic Church gives...which protects the laborer and in the poor; which guides the learned and the rich and the ruler invariably and infallibly; which signifies the conditions under which we ought to live, and brings happiness; which sanctifies the family and keeps it pure and holy, and the fire of love and veneration really always aflame; which brings up the little children in the law of Christ, in the reverence, obedience and respect which is due to the parents; and which is but the beginning of a great and larger reverence to society, the State and the world which every one placed therein must learn sooner or later."

Read this editorial by Ed Forry of the Dorchester Reporter entitled St. Ambrose Has Kept the Faith, published in 2014.

The Dorchester Atheneum has more information on the history of St. Ambrose Church, compiled by historian Anthony Sammarco.  Here is information about Fields Corner in Dorchester.

For information on Boston's Irish history, visit

Monday, April 18, 2016

Rare Photos of Boston Legend James Michael Curley Now Online

James Michael Curley, the legendary Irish-American politician who dominated Boston and Massachusetts politics for half a century, was also one of the most photographed politicians of his time.

Last year, the Jamaica Plain Historical Society purchased nearly 1,300 photographs of Mr. Curley from 1934-58, and has made that collection available online, thanks to a collaboration with the Boston Public Library and the  UMass/Amherst Libraries.

Here is the James Michael Curley Negatives Collection.

For more about Boston's Irish-American history, visit the

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Legendary Johnny Kelly finished 58 Boston Marathons over Illustrious Running Career

For the 120th running of the Boston Marathon taking place on Monday, April 18, 2016, we pay tribute to the amazing John Adelbert  Kelley, who holds the record for running more Boston Marathons than any other athlete. 

Kelley was born in 1907 in West Medford, outside of Boston, and traces his ancestry to County Wexford.  "My father's people left to go to Australia," he told The Boston Globe in 1981, when he was preparing for his 50th race.  "The boat stopped in Boston and they never left." 

Kelley ran his first marathons in 1928 and 1932 but did not finish either race.  He ran again in 1933 and has competed in every single race through 1992!  He finished in the top 10 eighteen times, taking first place in 1935 and again in 1945.  He owns the record for the most races started (61) and the most finished (58).  His best time was two hours and thirty minutes, posted in 1943.  He was 84 when he ran his last race in 1992, posting a time of Five hours and fifty-eight minutes.

He was christened Johnny "The Elder" Kelley, when John J. Kelley (no relation) emerged as a champion in the 1950s, winning the race in 1957. 

In 1993 the Boston Athletic Association erected a statue honoring Johnny Kelley on Heartbreak Hill in Newton.  The twin statues depict Kelley in 1935 and again in 1995, holding hands as they cross the proverbial finish line.

 For more on Boston Irish history and heritage, visit or visit

For tourist information, visit MassVacation and