Wednesday, May 16, 2018
Thursday, May 10, 2018
Sunday, April 8, 2018
The contest was open to fiddlers from around the world aged 60 or older. More than 340 fiddlers competed for the $1,000 prize and Gold Cup. Joining Skinner and Wiseman were other notable fiddlers, including Mellie Dunham, Chas E. McBride, 80 year old John Wilder of Vermont and uncle of President Calvin Coolidge, and local favorite "Uncle John" McKenney of Lewiston.
The contest was broken out into categories such as Irish Night, Scottish Night, American Night and Canadian Night, and all six of the New England states had representatives.
Wiseman became ill on the journey over and had to be hospitalized in Boston after he arrived. Despite medical advice, he journeyed to Maine in a car accompanied by two nurses, one of whom stood next to him on stage as he gamely played tunes. Right after the contest, Wiseman returned to the hospital in Boston until he recovered.
Skinner, considered one of the most prominent Scottish fiddlers and composers of his generation, told reporters that "I'm going to America to kill jazz" when he left from the Liverpool docks in March. When he arrived at the competition, he learned that stratsphys were not permitted to be played, and in addition, he had issues with the pianist accompanying him. He walked off the stage.
The eventual winner was 67 year old John Claffey of Boston, a professional musician who had played for the Boston Symphony Orchestra and was a member of the Boston Union of Musicians. After the contest, Maine fiddler John McKenney publicly challenged Claffey to a rematch, stating that although the judges "tried to be fair," he would travel to Boston for a rematch and "let the people decide."
Back in his hospital bed, Wiseman sent his congratulations to the winner, saying, "I'm glad than an Irishman won, even though he lives in Boston."
In the 1920s, Old-Time music and dancing were enthusiastically sponsored by automobile magnate Henry Ford as a way to highlight the traditional culture and values of his rural youth.
Researched and written by Michael Quinlin.
Thursday, March 22, 2018
Thursday, March 8, 2018
Find out more about Boston's Irish history by visiting Irishheritagetrail.com.
Sunday, March 4, 2018
Sunday, February 18, 2018
"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,
Find out more about Boston's Irish history by visiting IrishHeritageTrail.com.
Friday, January 5, 2018
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 IrishHeritageTrail.com; for information on ongoing cultural activities, visitIrishBoston.org.
(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
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 canmake merry tunes on these intricate instruments," Bright writes.
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.
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 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 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