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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Irish Bandleader Patrick S. Gilmore Started the New Year's Eve Countdown in New York City, in 1888

Patrick S. Gilmore, the famous 19th century musician and bandleader, started the annual tradition of the New Year's Eve countdown in New York City on December 31, 1888.  

In those days, what is now Times Square was simply known as the Long Acre, and was changed to Times Square in 1904 when the New York Times opened its offices there.

In the late 19th century, the Gilmore Band - part of New York's 22nd Regiment -- was one of the nation's  most popular bands, performing indoor and outdoor concerts throughout the year.  Gilmore conducted many of the concerts nearby at Gilmore's Garden, which later became Madison Square Garden

On this particular New Year's eve in 1888, the  Gilmore Band performed for the large audience that gathered up and down Broadway, and then Gilmore led the crowd in a countdown, firing two pistols at the stroke of midnight. 

According to Gilmore scholar, the late Michael Cummings, Gilmore was born in Ballygar, County Galway in 1829, and emigrated to Boston in 1849, where he lived for over twenty years. During that time he established himself as a great cornet player and bandleader.  He was active during the Civil War and wrote the popular tune, When Johnny Comes Marching Home.  He also created two massive peace jubilees in Boston's Back Bay in 1869 and 1872, before moving to New York, where he lived until his death in 1892.

For more information on Irish-American history, visit

Saturday, December 28, 2013

On December 30, 1870, Irish sculptor Martin Milmore was commissioned to build Soldiers and Sailors Memorial on Boston Common

"On December 30, 1870, sculptor Martin Milmore was awarded the commission to build the Soldiers and Sailors War Memorial on Flagstaff Hill on Boston Common, winning over fifteen other proposals.  The cost was not to exceed $75,000.

"Milmore and his brothers Joseph, Charles and James emigrated from Killmorgan, County Sligo to Boston with their widowed mother in 1851.  They apprenticed with local sculptor Thomas Ball and before long their artistic talents were recognized. Martin’s first major piece was the Roxbury Soldiers Memorial (1868) in Forrest Hills Cemetery, followed by the Charlestown Soldiers Memorial (1872) in Winthrop Square.

"But Milmore’s masterpiece was the Soldiers and Sailors monument on the Common.  City officials laid the cornerstone in September 1871, and a few months later Milmore moved to Rome, Italy, where he spent the next five years modeling his designs. The shaft of the monument was made of white Maine granite, with pedestals at each of the four corners, upon which stand four bronze figures, representing Peace, History, the Army, and the Navy. At the apex of the monument stood the statue representing America, a woman 'majestically proportioned, clad in a flowing robe, with a crown of thirteen stars upon her head.'

"When it was unveiled in September 1877, 25,000 Civil War veterans marched on a six mile promenade through the city up to Flagstaff Hill on Boston Common. 

"The Milmore brothers were part of a robust generation of post-famine Irish immigrants who created some of America's most important Civil War memorials and statues." 

For more about Boston's Irish history, read Irish Boston: A Lively Look at Boston's Colorful Irish Past, by Michael Quinlin, published by Globe Pequot Press.  

Sunday, December 8, 2013

1913: Massachusetts Governor Elect David I Walsh Plans Big Inaugural Reception Due to Public Enthusiasm

David I. Walsh, the first Irish Catholic elected as Governor of Massachusetts, had to plan a larger inaugural reception than originally envisioned because of public enthusiasm for his election, according to The Boston Globe.

"So great is the demand for invitations to his inaugural that Gov-elect Walsh has evolved a new plan, which he believes will reduce disappointments," the Globe wrote in a story on December 10, 1913. "A reception will be held in the Hall of Flags immediately after the delivery in the House chamber of his inaugural address....Mr. Walsh intends to enter the Hall of Flags and shake hands with as many persons as care to meet him."

Walsh served as Governor of Massachusetts from 1914-16, according to, and later became the state's first Irish Catholic US Senator, serving in Congress for over 20 years, starting in 1918.

A statue to Walsh is featured as one of the stops along the Boston Irish Heritage Trail, created by the Boston Irish Tourism Association to present local history in public places.

For more about Boston's Irish history, read Irish Boston: A Lively Look at Boston's Colorful Irish Past, published by Globe Pequot Press. 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

On December 5, 1770, Two British Soldiers Found Guilty of Manslaughter in the Boston Massacre Shootings

"On December 5, 1770, nine months to the day after the Boston Massacre, only Matthew Kilroy and Hugh Montgomery were found guilty of manslaughter for the killing of Crispus Attucks; the other seven soldiers were exonerated. At their sentencing on December 14, both men invoked a medieval English plea for mercy called “the benefit of clergy,” originally offered to clergy and later extended to felons facing a first conviction. The plea involved showing their God-fearing ways by reciting Psalm 51; both Kilroy and Montgomery did so and thus had their execution commuted. They were branded with an M for murder on their thumbs and were released back into their regiment. Years later, when Governor Thomas Hutchinson’s diaries became public, it turned out that Hugh Montgomery had admitted to his lawyers that it was he who yelled out the fatal call to "fire" that helped start the American Revolution."

Excerpt from Irish Boston, 2nd edition, by Michael Quinlin
Publisher: Globe Pequot Press / Publication Date: October, 2013