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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Blind Irish Harpist Matthew Wall Performs and Teaches in Boston in 1832

(Researched by Michael Quinlin)

One of the first Irish musicians cited in public records to perform and teach Irish music in early 19th century Boston was Matthew Wall, a blind harpist who emigrated to New Brunswick in 1830 before eventually making his way to Boston.   

The Boston Evening Transcript, October 6, 1832 issue, ran a notice announcing Wall would be performing at the State Museum, corner of Court and Howard Streets in Downtown Boston near Scollay Square. Wall was described as "a celebrated performer upon the Irish Harp. As this is the first instrument of its kind ever in this country, the lovers of Music will do well to avail themselves of this opportunity to witness the sweetness of its tones...This was the instrument used by the bards of olden times, and is well calculated to touch and arouse the feelings." The same notice ran on page one of the October 12, 1832 issue.

On October 17, 1832, in another notice published in the Transcript, Wall "tenders his services to the ladies and gentlemen of Boston, as an instructor on the Harp....His terms are moderate and no pains will be spared to advance his pupils."

On October 19, 1832, the Transcript runs an editorial endorsement, stating that Wall "is himself an admirable performer, and, being unfortunately deprived of sight, and having a family dependent upon him, presents claims of more than ordinary urgency on the benevolence of our citizens."

Microfilm of the Boston Evening Transcript is available at the Boston Public Library

According to a notice in the Belfast News Letter (June 22, 1830), Wall was a member of the Irish Harp Society, which urged him to accept "an offer made by Mr. M. Cannan, of St John’s, New Brunswick, to give him a free passage from Belfast to that place, and to settle him there as a Harper."

Wall was likely playing an Irish harp built by famed instrument maker John Egan of Dublin, who is hailed for creating the modern Irish folk harp, according to harp historian Simon Chadwick.  A copy of an Egan harp is in the musical instrument collection at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts.

For more about Boston's history and heritage, visit

For details about Irish culture in the Boston area, visit

Friday, October 19, 2012

Canadian American Club of Watertown Formed in Boston on May 19, 1937

On May 19, 1937, a group of Canadian expatriates living in Massachusetts came together to form the Canadian-American League.

 According to a story in The Boston Globe published on the following day, the group was "seeking 1,000 charter members....(and) more than 200 attended" the first meeting.

Attorney Joseph S. O'Neill, the organizer and first president of the Canadian-American League, was originally from Prince Edward Island, according to his obituary in The Boston Globe published on August 20, 1938.  He worked at the Dolan, O'Neill and Balch law firm in Boston.

Judging from the many Scottish and Irish names cited in the Globe story, the organizers were largely comprised of immigrants who had come to the Boston area from the Maritime provinces.

The Canadian-American League eventually became known as the Canadian American Club, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary in Watertown, Massachusetts the weekend of October 19-21, 2012.

- Researched by Michael Quinlin

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Boston Celtics and the Luck of the Irish

Many people wonder why the Boston Celtics wear shamrocks on their green uniforms and have a giant leprechaun smoking a cigar as their team logo. And why the team mascot is a guy named Lucky who looks like he stepped out of a box of Lucky Charms?

According to the Boston Celtic’s official web site, the name came about in 1946 when owner Walter Brown started the team. He and his public relations guy, Howie McHugh, were throwing out potential nicknames, including the Whirlwinds, Unicorns and Olympics.

It was Brown who had the epiphany, saying, “Wait, I’ve got it – the Celtics. The name has a great basketball tradition from the old Original Celtics in New York (1920s). And Boston is full of Irishman. We’ll put them in green uniforms and call them the Boston Celtics.”

Red Auerbach, the now legendary coach of the early Celtics, then commissioned his brother Zang, a graphic designer in the newspaper business, to come up with the famous Celtics logo in the early 1950s. The logo manages to include all of the iconic depictions of the Irish in America that were standard in the 1950s: a leprechaun covered in shamrock clothing and a bowler hat, smoking a pipe, holding a shillelagh and sporting a mischievous grin!

The logo is said to have brought the Celtics good luck, since they won their first championship in 1957, so it has remained.  

For more information on Irish-American history and heritage, visit

Find details on The Shamrock Foundation, a charitable organization run by the Boston Celtics. 

For more about the Boston Celtics, visit

Saturday, October 13, 2012

South Boston Historical Society Giving Tours of St. Augustine's Cemetery on Saturday, October 13

The South Boston Historical Society is giving a free tour of Boston's oldest Catholic graveyard, St. Augustine's Cemetery, on Saturday, October 13, 2012, from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

The cemetery is the oldest Catholic burial ground in New England.  It opened in 1819.  A majority of Irish buried in the cemetery came from Cork, Tipperary and Kilkenny, followed by Donegal, Longford, Waterford and Wexford, according to a survey by George F. Dwyer cited in Irish Boston.

Here is an interesting account of the cemetery's Irish connections by Lowell Irish.

St. Augustine's Cemetery is one of the stop on the Boston Irish Heritage Trail, which explores the Irish experience in greater Boston dating back to the 18th century.

Find more details on the Irish community in Massachusetts by visiting

Friday, October 12, 2012

Larry Reynolds and Boston's Tara Ceili Band, 1961

Tara Ceili Band (photo courtesy of Tom Garvey)
Click photo to enlarge

In memory of Larry Reynolds, who died on October 3, 2012 after a distinguished 60 year career as an Irish traditional musician.

Larry Reynolds arrived in Boston in 1953, and became involved in the Dudley Street Irish music scene in Boston's Roxbury neighborhood throughout the 1950s. 

Larry joined the Tara Ceili Band, a popular dance band that formed in 1958, according to pianist Tom Garvey.  The band played Saturday and Sunday nights at the Intercolonial Hall on Dudley Street.  

"The pay at Intercolonial was $8.00 per musician," Garvey recalls.  "I received $10, coming the furthest, from Andover."

The Tara Ceili Band went through some personnel changes and played in Jamaica Plain, Dorchester and Brighton, and around greater Boston.  The photo above was taken in 1961 at Metropolitan Hall at 4 Hyde Park Avenue in Jamaica Plain  Run by Metropolitan Caterers, Inc. the hall was mainly used for Irish weddings, banquets and parties.

 L-R, Larry Reynolds, fiddle; Brendan Tonra, fiddle; George Shanley, drums; Frank Neylon, flute; Mickey Connolly, accordion; Tom Garvey, piano; and Terry Landers, accordion.

"This was pre-air conditioning in the halls," Tom says, "and the reason why no jackets are being worn by the band."