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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 IrishBoston.org.

(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 IrishHeritageTrail.com.





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 IrishHeritageTrail.org.



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 IrishHeritageTrail.com or visit IrishMassachusetts.com.

For tourist information, visit MassVacation and BostonUSA.com.

Friday, March 25, 2016

In History: Dan Sullivan & Shamrock Band Perform at Shepard's Department Store in Downtown Boston on March 23


The famous Boston Irish traditional ensemble, Dan Sullivan and the Shamrock Recording Band, performed at Shepard's Department Store in downtown Boston on March 23, 1929, according to this ad in the Boston Globe.

The juxtaposition of band and the venue were significant, since Sullivan was one of the first Irish musicians to record extensively out of Boston, on Columbia, Victor and Decca labels, according to the Irish Traditional Music Archives in Dublin. 

The Shepard Stores, located on Tremont Street right across from Park Street Station, actually built its own fully-equipped radio broadcasting station, WNAC, on the third floor of its building,with a 65 foot signal tower atop the roof, according to the blog site, Shopping Days in Retro Boston

The band had a regular radio slot on WNAC, starting in 1928, usually on Monday's at 8:00 p.m.  An ad on April 9 of that year listed the band, along with special guests: Michael C. Hanafin, violinist; Thomas Quinn, tenor; and Shaun Nolan, well known as a singer of Irish songs." 

Sullivan was the son of Dan Sullivan the fiddler, originally from Mill Street, Cork and Tralee, Kerry.  Famed music collector Captain Francis O'Neill visited the elder Sullivan in Boston in 1905, describing him as "a teacher and maker of violins."

(For more on Boston's Irish music history, read Irish Boston: A Lively Look at Boston's Colorful Irish Past. )

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.