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Thursday, January 24, 2019

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

Courtesy of New York Public Library Digital Collections

General Henry Knox (1750-1806) 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 and 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, 1776.

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

Friday, January 11, 2019

Irish Pipers Club of Boston Holds First Concert on January 11, 1910 in Boston's South End

Photo courtesy of Lives of the Pipers

The first concert of the newly-formed Irish Pipers' Club of Boston was held at Wells Memorial Hall on Tuesday, January 11, 1910, part of a cultural explosion of Irish music, dance, language and arts taking place in Boston in the early 20th century.   

The concert was significant for Irish music historians because it included notable uilleann pipers Michael and William Hanafin and John Nolan.  And guests in the audience were identified as Sergeant James Early of the Irish Music Club of Chicago and Patsy Touhey, who was born in Galway and grew up in South Boston. Touhey was considered by many to be the finest piper of his generation.

Other performers at the concert included singer Peter O'Neill, Irish step dancer James Cahill and the Irish Choral Society, led by director Charles F. Forrester, according to the Republic Newspaper, an Irish Catholic paper owned by John "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald, the grandfather of President John F. Kennedy.  

Wells Memorial Hall was located at 978 Washington Street in Boston's South End, then a heavily Irish neighborhood.  

For more about Irish music in Boston, see Irish Boston: A Lively Look at Boston's Colorful Irish Past

For details on Irish cultural activities in greater Boston, visit   

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Irish Gun Runners Erskine Childers and Molly Alden Marry at Trinity Church in Boston

Molly & Erskine Childers aboard the Asgard, a gift on their wedding day

English-born Irish rebel Robert Erskine Childers married Mary (Molly) Alden Osgood at Trinity Church in Boston on Tuesday, January 5, 1904.  They met at a state dinner hosted by the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company at Faneuil Hall and were married after a three-week courtship.

The Boston Globe called the wedding "One of the most interesting events of the social season in Boston....In the distinguished gathering which filled the auditorium of the church was quite a delegation of Londoners, all friends of Mr. Childers, who is clerk of the house of commons and a personal friend of Lord Denbigh."

Both were idealists from upper class families whose passions turned toward Ireland

Childers was a gifted writer whose book, Riddle of the Sands, published in 1903, is considered the first spy-novel thriller.  In 1911 Childers published his book, TheFramework of Home Rule, in which he decried British abuse of freedoms in Ireland and other colonies around the world.

In July 1914 Childers and Osgood carried out a daring gun running operation, shipping arms and ammunition from Germany to Howth aboard the yacht Asgard, which Molly's family had given the couple on their wedding day.  

A close ally of Eamon deValera, Childrens was secretary-general of the Irish delegation involved in negotiating the Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1921.   He rejected the final treaty and was involved in the subsequent Irish Civil War.  He was captured and executed on November 24, 1922, despite strong protests and appeals from around the world.

Irish leaders in Boston held a memorial for Childers at Faneuil Hall following his death.

Their son, Erskine Childers, became the fifth President of Ireland in 1973. 

Find out more about Boston's Irish history at

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Gaelic Scholar Dr. Douglas Hyde Speaks in Boston on December 3, 1905

Dr. Douglas Hyde, President of the Gaelic League of Ireland and later the first President of Ireland, spoke at the Boston Theatre on Sunday, December 3, 1905. It was part of a seven month literary tour across the United States that had been organized by New York Irish-American John Quinn.  Hyde appeared in Boston on three occasions as part of this tour, before heading off to Chicago and the Mid-West and finally to the West Coast.

Upon his arrival in Boston on December 2, Hyde talked about the Gaelic Revival Movement in Ireland and the purpose of his trip, according to a report in The Boston Globe

“My visit to America is to gain the moral sympathy and support of the Irish as well as the American people,” he said.  “Let the Irish people in America read Irish history, use the Irish language, even if it were only at the table; pay occasional visits to any school of the Gaelic language schools that have free classes, free textbooks and free tuition…By doing so we will greatly add to the success of the movement.”

The Boston Globe printed Dr. Hyde's Greeting to Irish Speakers in greater Boston 

At the Boston Theatre event, Fred Norris Robinson, Chair of CelticLanguages at Harvard University, presided as the moderator and introduced Dr. Hyde.  Admission was fifty cents, with reserved seats going for seventy-five cents and one dollar.  All proceeds went to the Gaelic Fund.

Hyde’s speech at the Theatre put the Irish language issue into a context having to do with politics, history and national self-identity.

“I am here to explain to you the life and death struggle upon which we are engaged. I see it said here by the more sympathetic of the papers that Ireland is engaged upon the last grand battle of the race for the preservation of its language.  O, gentlemen, gentlemen, it is more than that, ten times, one hundred times more than that. It is the last possible life and death struggle of the Irish race to preserve not their own language but their national identity.”

Ireland, Hyde said, “has lost all that they had - language, traditions, music, genius, and ideas.  Just when we should be starting to build up anew the Irish race to take its place among the nations of the world – we find ourselves as despoiled of the bricks of nationality.  The old bricks that lasted 1800 years are destroyed; we must now set to bake new ones.”

Part of the solution, Hyde believed, was to end British rule in Ireland. “To say that Ireland has not prospered under English rule is simply a truism; all the world admits it, England does not deny it. But the English retort is ready.  You have not prospered, they say, because you would not settle down contentedly, like the Scotch, and form part of the empire.” Despite this argument, Hyde continued, “We have now a great mass of public opinion in Ireland behind us….In one word, we mean to deanglicize Ireland.”

One of the sponsors of the visit was the Philo-Celtic Society of Boston, considered at that time to be the oldest Gaelic school in the world.  The Society was formed in 1873 by Irish speakers living in Boston and held free Irish language classes every Saturday afternoon in Boston and Roxbury Crossing. 

Read more about Dr. Hyde's visits to America in an essay by Ireland's Ambassador to the United States Daniel Mulhall

For a biography, read Douglas Hyde: A Maker of Modern Ireland by Janet Egleson Dunleavy and Gareth W. Dunleavy. 

For information about studying Irish language in greater Boston today, visit Cumann na Gaeilge i mBoston.  

Friday, November 16, 2018

Boston Massacre Memorial was unveiled on Boston Common on November 14, 1888

One hundred and thirty years ago, on November 14, 1888, state and city officials unveiled the Boston Massacre Memorial on Tremont Street on Boston Common.  Among the guest speakers were Governor Oliver Ames, Mayor Hugh O'Brien and State Representative Julius Caesar Chappelle, an African-American leader who advocated for civil rights, voter registration and political participation.

The sculptor was Robert Kraus, a German immigrant who attended the ceremony. The monument is made of Concord granite, 24 feet 4 inches high.

Mayor O'Brien said, " I am aware that the monument to Crispus Attucks and his martyr associates has been the subject of more or less adverse criticism, and that by some they are looked upon as rioters, who deserved their fate.  I look upon it from a entirely different standpoint.  The Boston massacre was one of the most important and exciting events that preceded our revolution."

One of the highlights of the ceremony was a poem written by Irish immigrant John Boyle O'Reilly, entitled Crispus Attucks, an African-American who was the first of the five martyrs killed by British soldiers on March 5, 1770, along with Irish sailor Patrick Carr and Boston residents Samuel Gray, James Caldwell and Sam Maverick.

O'Reilly's poem read in part:

And honor to Crispus Attucks, who was leader and voice that day;
The first to defy, and the first to die, with Maverick. Carr, and Gray.
Call it riot or revolution, his hand first clenched at the crown;
His feet were the first in perilous place to pull the king’s flag down;
His breast was the first one rent apart that liberty’s stream might flow;
For our freedom now and forever, his head was the first bid low.
Attucks was from Framingham; his father was an African slave and his mother was a native American Indian. 

The celebration that day began with a procession from the Massachusetts State House to the monument, then to Faneuil Hall for further speeches.  Later there was a banquet at the Parker House.

For more about  John Boyle O'Reilly and Boston's Irish history, visit

To learn about Black history in Boston, visit the

Saturday, October 20, 2018


 Photo (l-r) Front Row: Timothy Hurley, Patrick Houlihan, Timothy Driscoll.  Back Row: John J. O’Neill, Patrick Wallace, Patrick J. Gordan.

The Gaelic Athletic Association's Boston chapter held its 3rd annual ball and concert at Hibernian Hall in Roxbury on October 26, 1926.  Players on the hurling and football clubs were present. 

Among the teams that were presented awards were the Wolf Tones Hurling Club of South Boston and Erin’s Own Hurling Club of Brighton.

Two orchestras provided the music for both “modern and Gaelic dancing,” and an American-Irish vaudeville show was presented at intermission, according to The Boston Globe.

For more about Boston's Irish community, visit

Friday, October 19, 2018

Aer Lingus Began its Boston-Ireland Direct Flight in October 1958

Sixty years ago this month, Ireland's airlines, Aer Lingus, launched its Boston to Shannon air service on Sunday, October 5, 1958, ushering in a new era of travel between New England and Ireland.

A 2003 story in the Boston Business Journal by Michael Quinlin reports the following:

"Aer Lingus' entry into the Boston market carried a symbolic significance. TWA and Pan Am were already flying the Boston-Ireland route, but the arrival of Ireland's national airlines captured the imagination of the city's large Irish-American population, which accounted for nearly a third of all residents. Most had never been to Ireland, and Aer Lingus, with its distinctive green shamrock logo on every plane, inspired them to make the journey, which took about 12 hours, twice as long as today's flights.

"Four days after leaving Boston, St. Brendan (the airplane, not the monk) returned in tow with Irish dignitaries such as Dublin mayor Robert Briscoe and Sean Lemass, Ireland's commerce minister. The Irish got a chance to observe local tourist campaigns, which touted autumn leaves, seaside towns and historical sites.

"Lemass saw the potential bonanza of tapping into a vast Irish-American diaspora and developing a tourism infrastructure like New England's. He promised the Irish government that if it could provide "well-equipped hotels, properly developed holiday resorts, well-built tourist roads and easily accessible shrines of historic and religious significance, (tourism) would continue to grow.""

Ireland's tourism industry did continue to grow, and set new records for American visitors in recent years.   Ireland's Minister for Tourism Paschal Donohoe was in Boston in September and told audiences that, "In 2013, alone, one million US visitors spent $1 billion in the Irish economy.  This demonstrates the importance of further developing Irish market share of the US tourism market, which is a central policy agenda of the government."

For more information about traveling to Ireland, visit

For more about the Irish community in Massachusetts, visit

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

New England Council presents New Englander of the Year Awards on October 11

The New England Council’s Annual Dinner is taking place on Thursday, October 11 at the Seaport Boston Hotel.  President & CEO James Brett will present “New Englander of the Year” awards to four prestigious recipients for their commitment and contributions in their fields of work, as well as their leadership and impact on the New England region’s quality of life and economy. 

  • General Joseph F. Dunford Jr., Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
  • Jeffrey Leiden, M.D., Ph.D., Chairman, President and CEO, Vertex Pharmaceuticals
  • Staff Sergeant (ret) Travis Mills, Army Veteran and Founder, Travis Mills Foundation
  • The Honorable Niki Tsongas, U.S. House of Representatives
 In addition, the popular Boston Police Gaelic Column of Pipes & Drums will perform.

Monday, October 8, 2018

William B. Yeats Visits Boston in 1911 to Promote Ireland's National Theatre

Irish poet William Butler Yeats was feted at a luncheon in Boston on October 6, 1911 by local literary and Irish leaders.  The luncheon hosted by the John Boyle O’Reilly Club and covered by The Boston Globe.   

This was part of an American tour in fall 2011 to promote the Abbey Theatre, Ireland’s new national theatre.  The Boston visit included presentations of J.M. Synge’s plays, including the controversial Playboy of the Western World.

During Yeats’ remarks, he paid special tribute to O’Reilly, saying in part:

“I never met Boyle O’Reilly, but, as far as I can remember, the first poem of mine that was ever paid for appeared in the Boston Pilot under is editorship.  I don’t remember how I came to send my poems to him, but rumor used to come back to Ireland of his romantic and gallant personality and we all knew of his adventurous life.  Probably it was old John O’Leary, the Fenian, who got me to send them, for he had told me much of O’Reilly.”

Regarding Ireland’s cultural and political movements, Yeats said “the present intellectual movement in Ireland came immediately after the death of Parnell. When Parnell died there came political discouragement.  For nine years the disputes of the Irish part took the romance from public life.  Everything became individual.  There were no longer any generals; everybody had to do the best he could.”

Yeats said that now, “we are beginning to see the true lineaments of the national character again.  How harsh it can be, how gracious it can be.  The spirit of Goldsmith, the spirit of Swift has come back to us.”

Here is information about the W.B. Yeats collection at John J. Burns Library at Boston College.

In 1988, the W.B. Yeats Foundation was formed by Professor James Flannery at Emory University in Atlanta.

For details on cultural activities in greater Boston, visit  For information on Boston's Irish heritage, visit

Monday, September 17, 2018

Boston's Patrick Collins - US Congressman, Boston Mayor, US Ambassador

 Patrick  A. Collins (1844-1905), the city's second Irish-born Mayor, died suddenly while on vacation at Hot Springs, VA, at 10:15 on September 14, 1905. The cause of death was acute gastritis, an ailment he had endured for some time.  His son Paul was at the bedside with him when he died.

His sudden death shocked Boston's political establishment and its residents, as well as the Irish-American community, because Collins was considered one of the city's great statesmen.

Born in 1844 in Ballinafauna, a townland outside of Fermoy, Cork, Collins came to Boston in March 1848, with his widowed mother, part of the mass exodus from Ireland due to the Irish Famine.  They settled in Chelsea, where the anti-Irish Know Nothing movement was fully blown in the 1850s.  Patrick got a job as an office boy with Robert Morris, an African-American lawyer, and later become a lawyer himself.  He entered into an upholstery apprenticeship, where he eventually became foreman.  All the while he was attending classes at Harvard University while studying at the Boston Public Library evenings. 

Collins made his first foray into American politics when he became a state representative from South Boston in 1868-69,and a state senator in 1870-71.  He became the first Irish Catholic elected as a US Congressman (1883-85).  He campaigned for President Grover Cleveland and was appointed as Consul General in London from 1893-97. 

As Mayor, Collins was praised for mastering the business of the city, and noted for his protection of historical Bostonspaces such as Boston Common, Faneuil Hall, Old South Meeting House, and Old Granary and Copps Hill burying grounds.

Funds for a memorial were collected by public donations within a week of Collins' death, and the memorial was created by noted sculptors Henry and Theo Kitson.  The bronze memorial was unveiled in 1908, and contained a bust of Collins along with twin statues on each side depicting Erin and Columbia, representing Collins' native and adopted lands. 

The Boston Irish Heritage Trail includes the Memorial to Patrick Andrew Collins. It was originally sited at Charlesgate West, and in 1968 was moved to its present location  on Commonwealth Avenue Mall, between Clarendon and Dartmouth Streets. 

Patrick Collins is buried at Holyhood Cemetery in West Roxbury.

Here is a list of Boston mayors of Irish descent

For more on Boston Irish history, visit, or read Irish Boston, published by Globe Pequot Press.   

For year round activities on the Boston Irish, visit