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Sunday, February 7, 2016

Maud Gonne, Irish Rebel, Visits Lowell, Fall River and Boston to Protest British Role in Boer War


Maud Gonne, rebel, activist and poetic muse, came to the United States in February 1900, to tell Americans about the atrocities of the British in South Africa's Boer War.  Already renowned for her beauty and fiery disposition, she was described by The Boston Globe as "pictuesque in a black velvet gown with a silver girdle at the waist...her splendid voice extremely musical."

Gonne spoke in Lowell on Sunday, February 11, 1900 in Associate Hall, and later met with a group of German-Americans from Lawrence. 

Then on Monday, February 12, she addressed 2,500 people in Fall River, during which eight Irish societies of 500 men and women preceded her speech with a parade that included two brass bands and a drum corps.

Gonne arrived in Boston on Sunday, February 17, and was greeted at South Station by a delegation of 50 men and women from Irish societies, who escorted her to the Vendome Hotel on Commonwealth Avenue.  The following day Gonne spoke at Tremont Temple on Boston Common, before 2,000 cheering supporters.  There she uttered a phrase that bespoke the mindset of many Irish people.

"From an Irish point of view," she said, "it matters not whether it be right or wrong, the nation that is the enemy of England is a friend and ally of Ireland."   That proposition was later rephrased by Irish rebel James Connolly as "England's difficulty is Ireland's opportunity."

Gonne left from New York on March 7 to return to Ireland, just in time to protest Queen Victoria's first and only visit to Ireland in April 1900. 

Gonne's husband, Major John MacBride, led the Irish Transvaal Brigade on the side of the Boers during the war.  They were married in 1903 and divorced in 1905.

Maude was the longtime muse of Irish poet William Butler Yeats, who also came to Boston on several occasions to promote Irish theater.  In his famous poem, Easter 1916, Yeats referred to MacBride, who was executed by English soldiers in the wake of the 1916 Easter Rising

(Excerpts from Irish Boston: A Lively Look at Boston's Colorful Irish Past, published by Globe Pequot Press)

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Irish Genius George W.Russell (AE) Pays Boston a Visit on February 10

Photograph of George W. Russell (AE) at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts

Ireland's famous mystic, poet, painter, essayist, economist and agricultural reformist George W. Russell visited Massachusetts on February 10, 1928, part of a six week tour of America.

Born in Lurgan, County Armagh, Russell moved to Dublin as a child and played an important role in Ireland's evolution in the early 20th century, as a writer, activist and thinker. He wrote under the pen name AE.

Described by The Boston Globe as "the most brilliant and versatile genius (Ireland) has produced in this generation," Russell held court at Boston's Statler Hotel upon arriving, talking with reporters for half an hour and impressing them with "the flash of his wit and the power of his  intellect."

He then traveled across the river to Cambridge, where he "lectured at Harvard in the afternoon and dined with President Abbot Lawrence Lowell in the evening."

AE said that the Gaelic revival and the poets of Ireland "had a large influence in the Irish fight for freedom.  There has been no great movement in Ireland that has not had a poet at the roots of it. Padraic Pearse, Joseph Plunkett and Thomas MacDonagh, poets, were all executed for their part in the Easter Rebellion.

"In our ancient sagas nothing was prized save the essential human virtues.  The emphasis is on truth, chivalry, heroism."




Tuesday, January 26, 2016

General Henry Knox of Charitable Irish Society, War Hero of the Revolutionary War


General Henry Knox played a key role in the revolutionary War, and helped to end the British siege of Boston.  The 25 year old Bostonian hatched a plan to capture the cannons at Fort Ticonderoga in New York, wheel them 300 miles to Boston.  His plan was to position the cannons atop Dorchester Heights in South Boston and aim them at the British fleet in Boston Harbor.

General George Washington gave him the go-ahead, despite objections from his senior command, and Knox set off with a group of men and captured 59 canons in December, and dragged them across the frozen landscape of western Massachusetts, finally arriving in Cambridge on January 24.   On March 5, British General Howe saw the guns aiming down at his fleet, and by March 17, 1776, the British troops, along with their sympathizers, evacuated Boston.  George Washington later named Knox the first U.S. Secretary of War. 

Read the full story on Henry Knox in Mass Moments.

Knox’s father and uncles were original members of the Charitable Irish Society, formed in 1737 to help other Irish immigrants settle in Boston.  A bookseller by trade, Knox joined the Society in 1772, when he was 22 years old.  He also became a member of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick in Philadelphia.  Knox died in Thomaston, Maine in 1806, where today the Henry Knox Museum is located.

For more about Boston Irish history, visit IrishHeritageTrail.com

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

On January 5, 1885, Corkman Hugh O'Brien Becomes Boston's First Irish-Born Mayor


On Monday, January 5, 1885, Hugh O'Brien was sworn-in as the city of Boston's first Irish-born Mayor, launching an era of Irish-American dominance of Boston City Hall that continued through the 20th century.

O'Brien was born in County Cork, Ireland on July 13, 1827, and emigrated with his family to Boston in 1832 when he was five years old.  He was educated in a public school in the Fort Hill neighborhood, and when he was 12 he joined the Boston Courier newspaper as an apprentice.  By the age of 15 he had become foreman of a printing office, before starting his own publication, the Shipping and Commercial List.  He had a successful career as a businessman and gained the respect of city leaders as well as the Irish immigrant community that struggled to gain a foothold in Boston. 

O'Brien launched his political career in 1875 on the Board of Alderman, and in 1884 ran against and defeated incumbent Boston Mayor Augustus Martin.  At that time, the term of office was one year, so O'Brien ran and won again in 1885, 1886, 1887 and 1888 before narrowly losing in December 1888 to Republican banker Thomas N. Hart. 


When he won the election in December, 1884, The Boston Globe reported that O'Brien was hailed by Irish and non-Irish alike.  One man interviewed said, "See here boys.  The fact that he's Irish made but little difference.  it is the first time for a long while when the race issue has been kept in the background.  People are beginning to know that we are all American citizens, and that the best best claim to popular favor is a good, clean record."

The Globe continued, "All over the city the Irish felt a natural pride that one of their countrymen should stand so high in the esteem of the people."

While in office, O'Brien presided over the creation of the city's Emerald Necklace park system, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, and he laid the cornerstone for the new Boston Public Library at Copley Square.  He was also an advocate for education, and in 1887, a new school named the Hugh O'Brien Schoolhouse was opened at the corner of Dudley and Langdon Streets in Boston's Roxbury neighborhood, one of the city's most Irish neighborhoods at the time, 


One of his most cherished causes was helping the city's orphans throughout his life.  He died on August 1, 1895, and at his funeral at Holy Cross Cathedral, the Republic Newspaper reported, "The largest and most conspicuous delegation was that from the St. Vincent's Orphan Asylum, 200 little children dressed alike, who sat immediately behind the family."

O'Brien died suddenly on August 1, 1895, and received universal praise and tributes from public officials, clergy, business leaders and ordinary citizens.  He is buried at Holyhood Cemetery in Brookline MA.  

A bust of Hugh O'Brien, made by sculptor John Donoghue, is on display in the Abbey Room of the Boston Public Library.   

For more about Boston's Irish history, visit IrishHeritageTrail.com; for information on ongoing cultural activities, visit IrishBoston.org


(Information on Hugh O'Brien taken from Irish Boston, 2nd edition, by Michael Quinlin, published in 2013 by Globe Pequot Press.)

Monday, September 21, 2015

Soldiers & Sailors Monument on Boston Common, Cornerstone Placed on September 18th


The City of Boston laid the cornerstone for the Civil War Sailors and Soldiers Monument at Flagstaff Hill on Boston Common on Monday, September 18,1871.

"The event was celebrated by an imposing public display.  Business was generally suspended, the streets were thronged with people drawn together from all parts of the State to honor the occasion."

Among the attendees were Martin Milmore, the Irish-born sculptor who had won the commission to create the monument; Patrick A. Collins, state senator from South Boston; General P.R. Guiney of the Massachusetts 9th Irish Regiment, and Gilmore's Band, led by Patrick S. Gilmore.

The following year Milmore went to Rome, Italy, where he spent the next five years working on the monument.  It was shipped back to Boston and officially unveiled on September 17, 1877.

For more information, see Irish Boston: A Lively Look at Boston's Colorful Irish Past

For more on Boston's Irish history, visit IrishHeritageTrail.com.

For year round cultural activities in greater Boston, visit IrishBoston.org. 

Sunday, May 3, 2015

JFK Statue at Massachusetts State House Now Open to the Public


Tourists, school children and local residents are once again able to stand next to the beloved statue of President John F. Kennedy which stands alongside other famous Bostonians on the front lawn of the MassachusettsState House.

The 8 foot 2 inch tall bronze depiction of President John F. Kennedy, purposeful and confident in full stride, was created by sculptor Isabel McIlvain of Sherborn,  and unveiled on May 30, 1990.   Nearby are statues of Daniel Webster, Horace Mann and Anne Hutchinson.   

This area of the statehouse was closed off on September 11, 2001, and stayed closed due to security reasons.  But recently, government officials agreed to open access to the front law from April through October, from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m..

The Massachusetts State House has self-guided tour information about State House the building and grounds, which includes numerous statues and plaques that tell the story of the state’s illustrious political history.

Read more about President Kennedy by visiting the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum.


For more about Boston’s Irish history, visit IrishHeritageTrail.com

Friday, April 24, 2015

Irish Rebels Seize Dublin Post Office in Easter Uprising, 1916

Flag of the Irish Citizens Army

On Easter Monday, April 24, 1916, an insurrection against British rule in Ireland took place in the capitol city of Dublin.  Led by a collection of volunteer organizations including the Irish Republican Brotherhood, Sinn Fein, the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizens Army, the armed uprising was planned for months in advance.  But the capture of the German ship, the Aud, bringing guns for the rebels meant that “any chance of a successful uprising disappeared,” wrote Irish historian Michael Kenny in The Road to Freedom, published by the National Museum of Ireland.

An official British communication, published in The Boston Globe, read:

“At noon yesterday serious disturbances broke out in Dublin.  A large party of men identified with the SF party, mostly armed, occupied Stephen’s Green and took possession forcibly of the Postoffice, where they cut the telegraph and telephonic wires.  Houses were also occupied in Stephen’s Green, Sackville Street, Abbey Street and along the quays. In the course of the day soldiers arrived from the Curragh and the situation is now well in hand.”

But on April 28, the Globe reported that the revolt was spreading outside of Dublin and that martial law had been declared across the island. Subsequent reports referred to the rebels as “traitors to Ireland,” but that sentiment quickly changed when British General Maxwell executed the captured Irish leaders on May 3, 1916.

In Boston, the Irish community had already rallied against the British and saw the rebels as heroes.  In a speech in Pittsfield, MA on May 1, 1916, Joseph O’Connell, ex-US Congressman from Boston, told a rally organized by the Friends of Irish Freedom,  "I glory in the brave spirits who defied the tyrant England, and I am very proud that there are yet Irish in Ireland with the spirit of Wolfe Tone, Emmett, Meagher, John Boyle O’Reilly and O’Connell...who dare to oppose the despotic rule of England in Ireland.”

Later that summer, Nora Connolly, the daughter of Irish rebel James Connolly, one of the executed leaders, came to Boston to “tell the true story of the Irish uprising.”  The 23 year old woman made a great impression on the Boston media and on the area’s large Irish community. 

While in Boston Nora Connolly was the guest of Mayor James M. Curley, who gave orders that “every courtesy possible is extended to her while in Boston,” wrote The Boston Globe.  As she was leaving City Hall, “the mayor handed her a substantial purse of money, the gift of a few Friends of Irish Freedom, as the mayor put it.”


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Boston College Arts Festival Features Gaelic Roots Performers on April 23

Seamus Connolly

The 17th annual Boston College Arts Festival, which runs April 23-25, 2015,  kicks off this year with a performance by BC's Gaelic Roots program, run by master fiddler Seamus Connolly.  The performance of Irish music with dancing takes place at O'Neill Plaza on campus, from noon to 12:45 on Thursday, April 23.

The three-day festival includes dozens of performances, ranging from music and dance to theater and art exhibits to literary readings and film showings.  Here is a complete 2015 schedule.

The Gaelic Roots program was first introduced to Boston College by Seamus Connolly in 1990, and since then it has become one of the most important academic programs for the study of Gaelic music and dance.

You can follow Gaelic Roots on Facebook.

Find year round information on Irish cultural activities in greater Boston at IrishBoston.org.





Sunday, April 19, 2015

Johnny Kelley - One of the Boston Marathon Greats

Photo Courtesy of Boston Public Library

The 119th annual Boston Marathon takes place on Monday, April 20, 2015, a good time to reflect on John Adelbert  Kelley, considered by many to be the quintessential amateur runner who exemplifies the spirit of the Boston Marathon.  

Kelley ran his first marathons in 1928 and 1932 but did not finish either race.  He ran again in 1933 and then 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. 

Kelley was born in 1907 in Medford, MA, 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 fiftieth race.  "The boat stopped in Boston and they never left."
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 IrishHeritageTrail.com or visitIrishMassachusetts.com.


Saturday, April 18, 2015

April 18, 1949: 26 Counties of Ireland Officially became the Republic of Ireland, Despite deValera Objection


Eamon deValera in Boston in March 1948
√Čamon de Valera, who served as Ireland’s prime minister from 1933 through 1948, had remained forceful in calling for the unification of Ireland and for breaking away from the British Commonwealth. De Valera toured the US in March 1948, rallying Americans to help Ireland get rid of partition.  In Boston he said, "If people around the world would make it clear that partition cannot be, it would disappear." 

In December 1948  the Irish Parliament passed the Republic of Ireland Act, in tandem with the British Nationality Act, declaring that “People born in Eire in the future will be Eire subjects and not British subjects.”  

On Monday, April 18, 1949, Ireland officially became the Republic of Ireland and severed its ties to the British Commonwealth.  But the six counties known as Northern Ireland opted to remain part of Great Britain. 

In Dublin, 200,000 people jammed onto O'Connell Street to celebrate the new Republic, noted The Boston Globe, writing, "The choice of Easter Monday for Independence Day and the O'Connell Bridge to glorify it were tied up in the little state's colorful past." 

The Globe added that "The celebration was marred only by the opposition of Eamon deValera's Fianna Fail Party, which holds that there can be no republic as long as the partition of north and south Ireland continues." 

In Boston, over 500 Irish people and their families celebrated at Intercolonial Hall in Roxbury, waving the Irish tricolor and dancing.  At the celebration, Thomas Dorgan, clerk of the Suffolk Superior Civil Court, read a statement from US Congressman John W. McCormack of South Boston, which stated: "I shall do everything in my power to see that partition is abolished. I strongly hope that by next year we will be celebrating a real republic of Ireland consisting of all the counties of Ireland into one government." 

Some excerpts from Irish Boston: A Lively Look at Boston's Colorful Irish History, published by Globe Pequot Press.