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Sunday, February 18, 2018

City Leaders Meet at Faneuil Hall to Discuss Famine Crisis in Ireland, February 18, 1847

"When the full extent of Ireland's potato crop failure became known in Boston, both the Irish and the Yankee Community spring into action.  On February 7, 1847 Bishop John Fitzpatrick gave an emotionally-charged sermon from the pulpit of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Parish priests followed suit.  By the end of the month the Boston Archdiocese had raised $20,000 for Ireland.  Workmen were sending in $5 bills and school children were giving over their paltry savings for this urgent desperate cause.

"On February 18, 1847, Boston's city officials and business leaders held a meeting at Faneuil Hall to discuss the growing crisis of the famine in Ireland.  Over 4,000 people attended.

"Harvard President Edward Everett and Boston Mayor JosiahQuincy, Jr., along with the city's leading merchants, made a passionate appeal to aid the starving people of Ireland.  They formedd the New England Relief Committee, which raised more than $150,000 in three weeks to purchase supplies. 

"Four days later, Robert Bennett Forbes, a wealthy China trade merchant from Milton petitioned Congress for the loan of a naval ship to bring supplies to the people of Ireland.  Permission was granted and the USS Jamestownthan anchored at the Charlestown Navy Yard,  was designated to Boston while the USS methadone Ian was given over to Captain George Takei for a similar Enterprise in New York."

Find out more about Boston's Irish history by visiting

Friday, January 5, 2018

January 5, 1885, Hugh O'Brien becomes first Irish-born Mayor of Boston

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 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; for information on ongoing cultural activities,

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

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Scottish Bagpipers and Irish Uilleann Pipers in Boston, 1954

Piper Patsy Brown

A Boston Globe feature story called "Mystery of the Bagpipes" by Virginia Bright, published on January 3, 1954, gives insight into greater Boston's Irish and Scottish musical environment during that decade.

The first part of the story focuses on the challenge of organizing Scottish pipe bands in the region, finding the right instruments and practice sets, not to mention the bass drums and kilts.   Frederick Colvin of Burlington, formerly of Belfast, conveyed his efforts to start a band.  It took him a year to find an instructor, Archibald MacLeod of Malden, pipe major for the Caledonian Band. 

Scottish-American activities were on the decline in 1950s Boston.  The Boston Caledonian Club, in existence since the 1850s, held its last Highland Games Festival in 1956, according to writer Emily Ann Donaldson in her book, The Scottish Highland Games in America.  

The Globe story then turns to what it calls 'the Irish bagpipes, or 'Uilleann' pipes, formerly known as Union pipes.' 

"Uilleann pipe playing is all but a lost art today.  Only three local people are still living who can make merry tunes on these intricate instruments," Bright writes.

"One of these pipers, Patrick Brown of Dorchester, is 80.  He was an outstanding player and noted for making the highly complicated, delicate reed pipes.  Because of failing health, he has not been devoting too much time to the Irish pipes."

A native of Killorglin, County Kerry, Brown was also a noted uilleann pipes maker, crafting sets of pipes in his Dorchester basement, according to a story in a June 1993 issue of An Piobaire.  

“Another top master," writes Ms. Bright, "is Daniel J. Murphy, 74 of 41 Mt. Bowdoin Street, Dorchester.  For years he has pursued the hobby and has provided dance music for Irish charitable benefits.  But he too, has given up playing the instrument in public about 10 years ago."

Murphy, also from County Kerry, was the uilleann piper in the famous Dan Sullivan's Shamrock Band, which was popular in Boston in the 1920s and 1930s.   

The third uilleann piper interviewed, Joseph Walsh of Jamaica Plain, noted that “Irish pipers in New York and Canada are fairly well organized and stage numerous competitions.  But in Boston, he said, the hobby is fast dying."

The reporter also interviewed an Irish dancer in the story.  “Keen to promulgate the Uilleann pipes is James McCarthy of Somerville, a member of the Eire Society, which is so actively interested in Irish culture and lore.  Although Mr. McCarthy does not play these pipes he teaches Irish dances and would like to see the traditional instrument played at Irish get-togethers." 

In his 1913 book, Irish Minstrels and Musicians, Francis O'Neill recounts several pipers of note with Boston ties, starting with Ned "The Dandy Piper" White, who lived in Roxbury in the mid-19th century, made pipes, performed and ran a dance hall during the Civil War period.  He also mentions Patsy Touhey, whose family emigrated from Galway to South Boston in 1868; William Hanafin, who came to Boston in 1889;  Eddie "Kid" Joyce, born in Boston in 1861 and the son of Galway piper James Joyce; and John Murphy, born in Boston in 1865 and the son of Bartley Murphy, a gifted piper who taught his son to play the pipes as well as Touhey and Joyce.

In 1910, the newly-formed Boston Pipers Club held its first concert January 11 at Wells Memorial Hall in the South End featuring William Hanafin and his brother Michael on fiddle.  In the audience were uilleann pipers Patsy Touhey and Sergeant James Early from Chicago.

Today you can find uilleann piping through the Boston Uilleann Pipers Club or the Boston chapter of Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann.  Last month, there was an International Uilleann Piping Day celebration at the Canadian American Club in Watertown, MA on November 4.

In Ireland, visit the Na Piobairi Uilleann (NPU), the Society of Uilleann Pipers founded in 1968 when "there were less than 100 uilleann pipers remaining," according to the web site.  It is located at 15 Henrietta Street in Dublin.

- Written by Michael Quinlin 

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Eamon DeValera's Christmas Greeting to the Irish in 1937

 Eighty years ago, Eamon DeValera, President of the Irish Free State, gave a special radio broadcast on Christmas Eve, according to an item in The Boston Globe

The five minute speech, which ended in a Gaelic blessing, came at a time when a new Constitution of Ireland was officially enacted on December 29, five days after DeValera’s address.  It had been approved in a vote of the Irish people on July 1, 1937.

“We are in a position to shape our Nation’s destiny. We will establish a new order, make life here more noble and happy," DeValera said to his listeners.  "However we need to plan wisely.  Our new life cannot be the work of a day; we must build from the right foundation."

DeValera saw the new Constitution as a forward-looking document that future generations would value.  “Children and youth of Ireland you are on the threshold of a new era.  Opportunities now are yours.  The tradition of a free Ireland has been handed down to you.  You must give it life through fidelity and devotion.”

The 1937 Constitution replaced the 1922 Irish Constitution that DeValera and others felt was imposed by the British Government.  An important element, according to Dr. Ronan Fanning’s book, Eamon DeValera: A Will to Power, was “taking the king out of the constitution” thereby strengthening Ireland sovereignty.  It was also a bi-lingual document in English and Irish, and aspired to a united Ireland.  

While the Constitution recognized "the special position of the Holy Catholic Apostolic and Roman Church," Dr. Fanning notes the document also recognized other denominations, including the "Church of Ireland, Presbyterian Church in Ireland, the Methodist Church in Ireland, the Religious Society of Friends in Ireland, as well as the Jewish congregations and the other religions denominations existing in Ireland."

In his broadcast, DeValera also addressed the “scattered children of Erie.”  He asked Irish-American youth to help Ireland take its place as a nation of “culture and learning.”

He asked that “friends of Ireland in America enjoy a homely and happy Christmas and rejoice with us in our new found success.”  He described Ireland as being free of “national captivity after centuries of sacrifice.”

When the new Constitution became law on December 29, 1937, the nation was officially known as Ireland or Eire, and not the Irish Free State.  The Constitution set up a two-chambered legislation, a Prime Minister (Taoiseach) and a President.

Read Irish Times article by Diarmaid Ferriter regarding the Constitution's "robustness and adaptability and the sophisticated legal thinking of its drafters." 

Monday, December 18, 2017

Maude Gonne, Ireland's Joan of Arc, Lectured in Massachusetts in December 1897

One hundred and twenty years ago this week, Maude Gonne, known in the media as "Ireland's Joan of Arc," passed through Boston on December 18, 1897 on her way to Lynn, Massachusetts, where she spoke before an overflow audience of Irish supporters at Lynn Theatre.

She arrived in Boston at Park Square Station from New York City, and was met by local Irish leaders, according to The Boston Globe, which described her as "a tall and stately beauty, and about the last person in the world one would pick out for a martyr to a cause which has produced in the past so many martyrs."

When asked by local reporters if she expected to accomplish much on the visit, Gonne replied, "Yes, indeed.  It has stimulated me.  I find that Irishmen succeed in every land except their own, and the reason they don't succeed there is that England's tyranny will not permit it."

Asked if she believed in absolute freedom for Ireland, she replied, "Absolute.  Ireland can take care of herself without any aid from England, as Irishmen do all over the world."

In addition to her passion for Irish freedom, Maude Gonne also advocated against the British during the Boer War, and was involved in the women's movement and in occultism.  She was the longtime muse of Irish poet William Butler Yeats, who also visited Boston on several occasions.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

A Christmas Celtic Sojourn - See Shows for Free in Worcester & Boston

Natalie Haas

A Christmas Celtic Sojourn with Brian O’Donovan sparkles with masterful music, spellbinding stories and dazzling dancing. It evokes emotions of Christmas memories that stretch back generations. It inspires audiences throughout New England to embrace tradition, spirituality and community.

The Boston Irish Tourism Association is a free pair of tickets for the Hanover Theatre show in Worcester on Monday, December 18, and for the Cutler Majestic Theatre show in Boston on Thursday, December 21, 2017.

Enter to Win Tickets here and follow the directions. 

Or, you can purchase tickets online now to these or other shows, to ensure you get to see one of the magical shows this Christmas holiday.

Read profile of Brian O'Donovan here.

Find year round details on Irish cultural activities in New England by visiting

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Timothy Deacy, Irish Patriot and Leading Citizen of Lawrence, MA

Timothy Deacy (1839-1880) , Civil War soldier, Irish rebel and politician, died on December 10, 1880 in Lawrence, MA

Deacy emigrated with his family from Clontakilty, County Cork to Massachusetts in 1847 to escape the Irish Famine.  The family settled in Lawrence 35 miles north of Boston, the nation's first planned industrial city where immigrants and Yankees worked long hours in mills and factories.

The Deacy family had long been involved in Irish political insurrections, starting with the United Irishmen Uprising of 1798. In Lawrence, Timothy and his younger brother Cornelius joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood, formed in 1858 as a physical force movement to oust Britain from Ireland.  When the Civil War started, they enlisted in the 9th  Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry in 1861.  Both brothers were wounded in May 1864, but continued to fight with their unit.

After the war, Deacy and 300 veterans went to Ireland in 1865 to train Irish soldiers for a planned insurrection. They returned to the States in 1866 and led an unsuccessful Fenian invasion of Canada, hoping to persuade the British Empire to free Ireland.  In January 1867 Deacy returned to England and raided Chester Castle, securing weapons and explosives for the Fenian Uprising in Ireland, which also failed.  Deacy and Civil War veteran Colonel Thomas Kelly were arrested and imprisoned in ManchesterEngland.  In a daring plot to free them, a Manchester police officer was killed.  While Deacy and Kelly escaped, three of the rescuers were captured, tried for murder and hanged in public.  They became known as the Manchester Martyrs.

Deacy returned to Lawrence and turned his energy toward politics.  In 1872 he won a seat on the Lawrence City Council and won re-election in 1874.  In 1876 he was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives. He retired after one term due to failing health and ran a pub in Lawrence with his brother.  In 1880 he helped raise over $1,000 during Charles Stewart Parnell's visit to Lawrence on behalf of the Irish Land League. 

Deacy died on December 10, 1880 and received a massive funeral ceremony, attended by the Ninth Massachusetts Regiment band and an Irish pipe band.  Hundreds marched in the funeral cortege and thousands lined the street to bid their hero goodbye.

In 1990 the Irish National Graves Association designated Deacy's grave a national grave.  

In November 1992, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, Division 8, placed a memorial tombstone on Deacy's grave at St. Mary's Immaculate Conception Cemetery in Lawrence/Andover.   Read more about Timothy Deacy at the AOH page on Lawrence History and from author Robert J. Bateman.  

(Editor's Note: Deacy's name has also been spelled Deasy and Dacey in various media accounts).

- Text Courtesy of Boston Irish Heritage Trail. 

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Irish Land League Advocate Michael Davitt Speaks in Boston on December 5, 1886

Irish republican and agrarian activist Michael Davitt spoke at the Boston Theatre on December 5, 1886 before a sold-out standing-room-only audience.

The son of parents who were evicted from their home, Davitt was introduced by Boston Irish leader and U.S. Congressman Patrick Collins, who praised Davitt creator of the Land League, for "turning his own misfortune into glory."

Davitt described his efforts “to band together tenant farmers of Ireland in the Land League to defend their homes and earnings from the rapacity of an idle and non-producing landlord class.

 “A few years ago the Irish question was involved in obscurity: today the whole world is discussing its merits.  A few years ago most civilized nations, not excepting America, sympathized as much, if not more, with England, for having a turbulent people on her hands with the Irish.  Today the position is reversed and Ireland has the symphony and good will, I believe, of most civilized nations in her righteous struggle.”

 The following day, David met at Parker’s Hotel with 25 members of the Philo-Celtic Society, where he was joined by Congressman Collins, Boston Mayor Hugh O’Brien and Irish leader John Boyle O’Reilly.  

Prior to visiting Boston,  Davitt had addressed enthusiastic audiences in Providence and Newport RI.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

1917 Sinn Fein Convention - Delegates United on Independence

"Those who looked for a lot of verbal fireworks" at the recent Sinn Fein convention in Dublin "must have been disappointed," according to a Boston Globe story by James T. Sullivan on November 18, 1917.

"Moderation prevailed, but the delegates insisted on letting the world know they were firm upon the platform of independence," wrote the Globe.

Eamon deValera was elected President of Sinn Fein, and gave the principle address:

"We are asserting to the world that Ireland is a Nation, and Ireland has never yet agreed to become a subject Nation or part of the British Empire.  The people of Ireland were kept from expressing that view simply by the naked sword of England, but England pretended that it was not by the sword, but by the goodwill of the people of Ireland that she was there, which was false.  Ireland’s aim was freedom.

“Those men (who fought for Ireland) felt they were morally justified in doing that.  They said what the people of Ireland aimed at was freedom, and that they represented the solid sensible opinion of Irishmen, and they said if they were to win that freedom the first step in the battle would be to get the Irish people themselves determined to win it; and they said that, even thought the first battle in that political fight might be a military defeat, it would lead to final success.”

Sinn Fein's plan, wrote the Globe, "is to place candidates in opposition wherever there is a contest, particularly in the County Councils, and in this way, if they win such places, it will later on give Sinn Fein control of the government boards.  And contests will be made for Parliament and whatever other offices become vacant."

Sunday, November 12, 2017

James Michael Curley Died on November 12, 1958

James Michael Curley, the larger-than-life political figure who dominated Boston and Massachusetts politics for half a century, died on November 12, 1958, fifty-nine years ago today.  

Over 100,000 people passed by his coffin at the Hall of Flags in the Massachusetts State House, according to a story in The Boston Globe

“The rich and the humble, Democrats and Republicans, bared the depth of their tribune in whispered prayers and unrestrained tears,” wrote the Globe.

Then a final process drove Curley's body through the streets of Boston and then to Holy Cross Cathedral in the South End, where his son, Reverend Francis S. Curley, S.J., celebrated mass along with Richard Cardinal Cushing of South Boston.  

Curley is buried the Old Calvary Cemetery in Boston

Born on November 20, 1874 on Northampton Street in Roxbury, Curley's political career was unparalleled.  Curley served four four-year terms as mayor of Boston, in 1914, 1922, 1930 and 1946.  He was Governor of Massachusetts from 1935-37, and also served as  US Congressman from 1911-14.

Ray Flynn, former mayor of Boston and US Ambassador to the Vatican, praised Curley for "helping the poor and needy of Boston."

Mayor Marty Walsh now uses the original desk of Mayor Curley in his office on the 5th floor of Boston City Hall.  "It's about history," Walsh told the Globe.

Find out more about Boston's Irish history at