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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

New Year's Eve Countdown in New York City Started by Patrick S. Gilmore 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.

During this era 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, 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 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 Boston's Irish-American history, visit

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Mayor Curley and 20,000 People attend Roxbury's Christmas Carnival, December 1914

Mayor James M. Curley
Photo courtesy of Leslie Jones Collection, BPL

"The opening night of Roxbury's first Christmas Carnival brought 20,000 people to the business district of that section of the city," reported The Boston Globe on December 15, 1914.

Holly was stretched on tall flagpoles along Washington Street and Warren Street and on Dudley Street near the elevated stations.  Ferdinand's Store was covered with blue and white decorations and the Houghton & Dutton Store on Ruggles Street was transformed into a Yuletide picture illuminated with hundreds of lights, the story reported.

The parade was the highlight of the event, in which Santa Claus "substituted a motor truck for his reindeer sleigh and a honking horn for his jingling bells," followed by a line of 90 automobiles.   Among the dignitaries behind Santa were Mayor James Michael Curley, City Councilor Alexander McGregor and Frank Ferdinand, president of the Board of Trade.

A big part of Roxbury's business stagnation, according to officials, was due to poor transportation to and from the neighborhood.

Mayor Curley declared that "after witnessing this celebration I would have no hesitation in advocating for the establishment of a Union Station in the territory bounded by Dorchester Avenue, Albany Street, Dover Street and Southampton Street" as a way of connecting Roxbury to downtown Boston.

Councilor McGregor said, “Everything comes to him who waits is philosophy of other days, not any more in harmony with our times than are the customs of those days.  These restless times demand action, movement, aggressiveness.  A waiting policy is not as a rule a popular one and our generation rather believes that nothing comes to him who waits.  If you want something go after it; no other way is possible."

The carnival continued through Christmas eve, with nightly events planned.

For more about Boston's Irish history, visit

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Irish Connections to the Boston Massacre on March 5, 1770

Irish sailor Patrick Carr was one of five people shot and killed by British troops on Monday, March 5, 1770, during a confrontation that became known as the Boston Massacre. The shooting came after a tense week of acrimony between Bostonians and the British, which included a fist fight in a local tavern, small skirmishes on the streets and taunting threats by both sides.

There are several interesting Irish connections to this episode:

. The 29th British regiment, led by Captain Thomas Preston, was mostly Irish soldiers who had been conscripted, often against their will.  The names of the British troops involved in the shooting were William Wemms, James Hartigan, William McCauley, Matthew Kilroy, William Warren, John Carroll and Hugh Montgomery.

. It was Captain Preston who ordered his men to present arms to keep the crowd at bay, but the taunting continued.  Only years later was it revealed that the person who yelled out the fatal call to fire on the citizens was Montgomery.

. Thirty-one year old Patrick Carr, an Irish immigrant who had come out of a house on Court Street and was moving toward the ruckus with fellow sailor Charles Connor, was the last man to be shot. He lingered for a few days and was able to give dying testimony that ultimately exonerated the soldiers.  Carr and the other four victims are buried at the Old Granary Burying Ground

. As the trial of Preston and his men loomed, the anti-Catholic dimension emerged.  The Boston Gazette revealed that many of the soldiers the British sent to Boston were Irish Catholics...The Providence Gazette suggested that Pope's Day, a virulent anti-Catholic event, should take place on the anniversary of the Boston Massacre so as to include Preston and the others in the effigy burning.

. The famous drawing of the Boston Massacre by engraver Paul Revere was actually done by 21 year old Henry Pelham, half brother of artist John Singleton Copley.  Their mother, Mary Singleton Copley, had emigrated to Boston from County Clare in Ireland in 1736.  Pelham was furious when he learned that his friend Revere had used his illustration without Pelham's permission.

. Over a century after the Massacre, in 1888, when the Boston Massacre Memorial was unveiled on Boston Common, Irish-born poet John Boyle O'Reilly was selected to write and deliver a poem for the ceremony. 

Find out more about the Boston Massacre and colonial history by visiting the Bostonian Society at the Old State House.   

For more about Boston's Irish history, visit

This information is taken from Irish Boston: A Lively Look at Boston's Colorful Irish Past by Michael  Quinlin, published by Globe Pequot Press  in 2013.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

1200 People Attend Boston's First County Mayo Reunion in 1905

Nearly 1,200 Irish expatriates and Americans with ties to County Mayo gathered at Paine Hall in Boston on November 28, 1905.

Organized by the newly formed Mayo Men's Benevolent Association, the event was so crowded that "at no time during the festivities was there room enough to accommodate those desiring to take part in the dances," according to a story in The Boston Globe the following day.

A number of prominent guests attended, included Thomas O'Conannon, a leader of Ireland's Gaelic League, and James Michael Curley, then an Alderman for the City of Boston.  In addition, representatives from other county clubs in Boston attended, representing Galway, Cork, Waterford, Sligo, Limerick, Roscommon, Kilkenny,Clare and Kerry.

Paine Memorial Hall, named after philosopher Thomas Paine, was located on Chandler Street in Boston's South End, and was used frequently by Irish organizations at that time.

In 2008, Boston's Irish community celebrated the official chartering of the Mayo Men's benevolent Association with a series of festivities.  Here is a story from The Mayo News.

Find out more about Boston's Irish history by visiting

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Irish Storyteller Seumas McManus Speaks on "The Problem of Ireland" in Bangor, Maine

Donegal poet and storyteller Seamus MacManus gave a lecture in Bangor, ME on November 2, 1914, regarding the Irish and World War I.  He told his audience that "a great majority of the Irish people were not in sympathy with England in the present war and that most of them hoped that England would be severely beaten," according to a report in The Boston Globe.

Author of numerous books, including the popular The Story of the Irish Race, MacManus was considered a master storyteller in the old Irish tradition.  In 1900, The Boston Globe ran a six-part series of the author's stories and observations.   MacManus also lectured regularly in greater Boston, at places like Notre Dame Academy and Hibernian Hall in Roxbury and Boston College.  He was a frequent guest lecturer at Notre Dame University in Indiana.

Find out more about Boston's Irish history at

Sunday, October 19, 2014

New Moving Picture Called "Ireland a Nation" Opens to Enthusiastic Crowds in Boston on October 19, 1914

Barry O'Brien as Robert Emmet 

Ireland a Nation, described in The Boston Globe as  "The stirring story of Ireland's fight for freedom as a Nation since 1800" and told "in graphic motion pictures from the Old Land," made its debut at Boston's National Theatre on October 19, 1914.

The black & white, silent film came in five reels, and starred Irish actor Barry O'Brien as Robert Emmet, along with other Irish actors and actresses of the day.  The film was written, directed and produced by WalterMacNamara, and issued in the USA on September 22, 1914.  

Here is a full synopsis of Ireland a Nation on Trinity College's Irish Film and TV Research Online project. 

"Large audiences, in which were included many prominent Irish-Americans of the city, enthusiastically greeted the pictures," the  Globe wrote.  Prior to the filming, the Emerald Quartet provided live music, and "moving pictures of Cardinal O'Connell, Governor (David I.) Walsh and Mayor (James Michael) Curley were then presented."  

The British Government banned the film in Ireland because of it’s nationalistic sentiments.  It was finally released in Ireland on January 8, 1917.

The National Theatre of Boston was located at 533 Tremont Street in Boston's South End, just next to where Boston Center for the Arts is today. 

Find more about Boston's Irish history by visiting and

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Chicago Uilleann Piper Charles Mack Performed "Come Back to Erin" at B.F. Keith's Theatre

The week of October 12, 1914 Chicago-born uilleann piper Charles Mack played at B.F. Keith’s Vaudeville Theatre in Boston with his musical revue, “Come Back to Erin.”  He was joined by his co-star and wife Etta Bastedo, who was from Worcester, Massachusetts.

Reviewing the show, The Boston Globe wrote that Etta “won favor in Celtic songs,” while Charles “contributed pleasing selections on a kind of bagpipe.”

In an earlier 1912 review, the Globe said that Mack and company “give a fresh and wholesome sketch that combines pathos and Celtic humor most appealingly.”

Mack was the son of Michael Charles McNurney, who emigrated from Ireland to Chicago in 1850.  McNurney and Sargeant James Early were pupils of uilleann piper James Quinn in Chicago.  Musicologist Francis O’Neill, in his book Irish Minstrels and Musicians, described McNurney as “a wealthy horseshoer and alderman, who was himself an enthusiastic dilettante on the pipes.”

McNurney's son Charles Mack, born around 1869, began performing as a teenager and was a star on the Albee and Keith vaudeville circuit, according to a 1957 story in the Miami Sunday News, which interviewed his son, Charles Jr, who had a successful career as a professional clown.  Mack was the stage name he and his father used throughout their careers. 

When Charlie Mack the piper visited Boston in 1914, he would have been familiar with the Boston Pipers Club, formed in 1910 by local musicians Michael and William Hanafin, along with PatsyTouhey, by then the leading piper of his generation.

In his book, The Companion to Irish Traditional Music, Fintan Vallely says that “vaudeville piper Charles McNurney advised Chicago piper Joe Shannon on Touhey’s technique."

For more about Boston’s Irish history and heritage, visit or

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Boston Celtics - Green Uniforms, Shamrocks and Lucky the Leprechaun

Many people wonder why the Boston Celtics wear shamrocks on their green uniforms and have a giant leprechaun smoking a pipe 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 For current Irish cultural activities visit

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

For more about the Boston Celtics, visit

Saturday, October 4, 2014

First Aer Lingus Flight from Boston to Ireland Took Place on October 5, 1958

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:

"The inaugural flight that bright fall day was an Irish affair start to finish. 

"Business leaders, journalists and travel agents with Irish names tagged along, prompting journalist Brendan Malin to peg Boston as "the American Dublin." Even Logan International Airport was named for Irish-American Edward J. Logan, a judge and general from South Boston whose father, Lawrence, had come from County Galway.

"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."

Aer Lingus flies out of the international Terminal E at Logan Airport.   Massport, which runs the airport, installed an exhibit of iconic Massachusetts in October, 2011, which included Boston's Irish Heritage Trail

For more information about traveling to Ireland, visit

For information about visiting Massachusetts, go to

For more about the Irish community in Massachusetts, visit

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Irish AOH Commemorate the Brig St. John Calamity in Cohasset on October 5

A tragedy off the coast of Massachusetts that occurred 165 years ago this month is being remembered on Sunday, October 5, 2014, by the Ancient Order of Hibernians, Plymouth Div. 9,

The event commemorates the Brig St. John, which  sank off the coast of Cohasset on October 6, 1849, while transporting 104 passengers and sixteen sailors from Galway to Boston.  The brig encountered a nor'easter that pushed the boat south, forcing it to try to anchor near Minot Light. 

Sunday's event begins at 1:00 p.m. with a Mass at St. Anthony’s Church, 129 South Main Street in Cohasset.   Irish singer Máirín ÚiChéide is the soloist, and the Boston Police Gaelic Column are performing prior to the Mass and at the wreath laying ceremony 

After the mass and reception in the church hall, participants will walk over to the Cohasset Central Cemetery for a brief wreath-laying ceremony at the foot of the large Celtic Cross.  The 20 foot Cross was erected in the cemetery 100 years ago this month by the Ancient Order of Hibernians Men's and Women's Auxiliary.

For more details on Irish-American heritage, visit

For year round information on cultural activities, visit

Sunday, September 28, 2014

William Butler Yeats Speaks in Boston about Ireland's National Theater on September 28, 1911

Portrait of W.B. Yeats by John S. Sargent, 1908
Courtesy of John J. Burns Library at Boston College 

On this day in history: Irish poet and playwright William Butler Yeats addressed an audience at the Plymouth Theatre in Boston on September 28, 1911 on the subject, "History of the Irish National Theatre and its Purposes."

As managing director of Dublin's 
Abbey Theatre, Yeats was in the United States to introduce a new literary movement taking place in Ireland that he hoped would be "the awakening of the mind of Ireland."

Plymouth Theatre, located at Eliot Street (now Stuart) and Tremont Street, was a brand new playhouse, described as "a cozy, compact and home like-arrangement, with the seats in all parts of the house as near the stage as possible."  The Abbey players christened the new theatre with their productions. 

The Irish plays on opening night included The Shadow of the Glenn by John M. Synge, Birthright by T.C. Murray, and Hyacinth Halvey by Lady Gregory 

Yeats was introduced to the audience by 
George Pierce Baker, professor of dramatic literature at Harvard University, according to a Boston Globe story on September 29, 1911.

"In Ireland, we are putting upon the stage a real life where men talk picturesque and musical words and where men have often picturesque and strange characters, that is to say, the life of far away villages where an old leisurely habit of life still exists," Yeats told the audience in Boston. 

"The country life has for us the further fascination that it is the only thoroughly Irish life that is left.  All our patriotic movements go back to the peasant.  We try to recreate Ireland in an Irish way by mastering what he knows and by using it to understanding what the old manuscripts contain," he said.

Yeats and 
Lady Gregory came to the United States to promote Ireland's new theatre movement but also to defend it against opponents who rioted in Dublin when the Playboy of the Western World by Synge was first performed.  Critics assailed the play as a slight upon the Irish character

Yeats told reporters that 'if Ireland is to have a literature, the Irish must not resent truthful portrayals,' according to a 
New YorrkTimes story on October 12, 1911.

Lady Gregory said that the controversy over Synge's play was due to misunderstandings about Synge's purpose, and "to something that might be called race sensitiveness," wrote the NY Times on November 20, 1911. 

When the Playboy debuted in Boston on October 16, 1911, the 
Boston Globe reported the play elicited 'some hisses, some cheers,' but that overall it did not cause "the excitement that some people had feared."

Yeats told the Globe he was 'very much pleased,' at the response to the opening night performance. 

"I would not have been surprised if there had been more of a disturbance.  It was very mild, indeed.  I am satisfied.  I am sure that the Irish people will appreciate the play in time here," he said.

When Yeats returned to Ireland in November, he reflected on his trip.  "At Boston, the Abbey Theatre company had a flattering reception.  The more intellectual the play, the greater the success we achieved in Boston.  I attribute this to the influence of the universities," Yeats told the New York Times, in a story published on November 26, 1911.

For theater in Boston today, visit 
Huntington Theater Company and ArtsEmerson.

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

- Researched and written by Michael Quinlin

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Patrick Gilmore's "When Johnny Comes Marching Home" First Performed in Boston on September 26, 1863

The classic war anthem, "When Johnny Comes Marching Home," was first performed at Tremont Temple in Boston on Saturday, September 26, 1863 by Patrick S. Gilmore and his Orchestra. 

Gilmore originally published the song - also known as the "Soldiers Return March" - under the pseudonym Louis Lambert for reasons unknown, but later acknowledged that he authored the piece.  The song appeared during the height of the American Civil War, and was meant as an optimistic tribute "dedicated to the Army and Navy of the Union."  

Henry Tolman & Company of Boston was the publisher. 

Gilmore expert Michael Cummings surmises that Gilmore took the song for an earlier Irish marching song called "Johnie I Hardly Knew Ye," which was apparently sung by Irish regiments fighting for the British in Ceylon in the early 19th century. 

Cummings, who founded the Patrick S. Gilmore Society  to preserve Gilmore's memory, notes that the song wasn't a hit during the Civil War, but emerged decades later during the Spanish American War of 1898.

It has remained popular ever since and has been recorded by hundreds of musicians, ranging from jazz organist Jimmy Smith to Boston's own Dropkick Murphys.

For more about Patrick S. Gilmore,  read Irish Boston, published by Globe Pequot Press. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Roxbury's John F. Collins, Mayor of Boston from 1960-1967

John Frederick Collins (1919-1995) served as Mayor of Boston for two terms, from 1960 to 1967. 

Born in Roxbury, his father, Frederick “Skeets” Collins was a mechanic for the Boston Elevated Railway.  Collins attended Suffolk University and served in World War II, and after the war married Mary Patricia Cunniff.

Elected to the House of Representatives in 1947, representing Jamaica Plain, Collins ran for City Council in 1955.  During that race, he and his four children were struck by the polio virus.  The children recovered, but Collins himself became paralyzed and never walked again.  He won the election and in 1959, when Mayor John B. Hynes announced he would not seek another term, Collins was a long-odds candidate against the popular John E. Powers, the state senate president from South Boston. Collin’s victory was considered a major upset, but it gave him the freedom to carry out his duties unfettered.

“I owed them nothing and they owned me nothing, so we could get right down to business,” he said about the city’s power brokers and wealthy executives.

In 1966, while still mayor, Collins ran for the U.S. Senate, but lost the contest to Massachusetts Governor Endicott Peabody.  Shortly after he retired from politics, Collins became a professor at MIT, where he taught urban studies at the Sloan School of Management for the next 13 years.  

Collins was admired for his courage in overcoming his physical affliction, and is best known for crafting a thorough urban redevelopment effort that helped rejuvenate city government and Boston’s business community.

In 2004 the City of Boston commissioned a mural of Mayor Collins, created by artist John McCormack, on the side of Boston City Hall, near the Government Center entrance.  

The City of Boston Archives has a photo collection of Mayor Collins in office. 

Collins was the 9th Mayor of Boston of Irish Catholic heritage. His grandparents on his father's side were both born in New Brunswick, Canada, while his grandparents on his mother's side were from Northern Ireland. 

Find out more about Boston's Irish history by visiting

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

John B. Hynes, Boston Mayor in the 1950s

Mayor John B. Hynes

Boston Globe reporter Andrew Ryan, who is covering Mayor Marty Walsh's trip to Ireland, has written in Monday's paper that another Boston mayor, also from Dorchester and with Galway roots, visited the old country back in 1953, according to Pat Hynes, a member of the Galway City Council.

That was Mayor John B. Hynes, who served three terms as mayor, from 1950-1959.  Hynes left Logan International Airport for Shannon Airport in Ireland on October 15, 1953, the first leg of a trip that would also take him to France, Italy, Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Israel, where he joined other U.S. Mayors on a fact finding visit.

Once in Ireland, Mayor Hynes sent his own dispatch to the Boston Globe on October 16, describing his drive from Shannon to Dublin, traveling the 140 miles through Limerick, Tipperary and Kildare. He was joined by his wife Marion, three of his five children, and a coterie of city hall officials and friends.

On October 17 he traveled to Loughrea, County Galway, where his father Bernard Hynes was born and raised before emigrating to Boston.  There he reconnected with his uncle John Hynes, who had also lived in Boston for a time.  The Loughrea Town Council hosted a luncheon for the mayor and his family.

Hynes was a career municipal employee who was appointed as temporary mayor in 1947 when Mayor James Michael Curley was sentenced to serve time in a federal institution.  He ran for office in 1949, defeating Curley and Patrick J. McDonough.  On his Ireland trip, Hynes remarked that his two opponents were not only Irishmen but Galwaymen, "leaving the voters with very little choice."

Hynes was referred to around Boston as "the Galwayman."

According to his biography, Hynes was a self-made man who served in World War I and got a law degree from Suffolk University.  He lived at 31 Druid Street in Dorchester for his entire life.

Hynes is often credited with helping to usher in the New Boston.  In 1988, the new convention center in Boston's Back Bay was named the John B. Hynes Veterans Memorial Convention Center in his honor.

Find more information on Boston's Irish history by visiting

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

AOH Unveils Celtic Cross in Worcester on September 18, 1977

AOH Ceremony at Celtic Cross, Easter 2010

To mark the 150th anniversary of the first permanent Irish Catholic settlement in Worcester, Massachusetts, the city's Irish-American community erected a Celtic Cross on Worcester Common on September 18, 1977.

The 15 foot high memorial, weighing over 13,000 pounds made of Barre Vermont granite, was designed by Joseph Calcagni.  It features patriotic, religious and family symbols pertinent to Worcester, America and Ireland.

At the Celtic Cross unveiling, Thomas J. Early, Mayor of Worcester presided, along with Daniel F. Herlighy, chairman of the Irish Memorial Committee, and members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, especially from Division 36 in Worcester

Prior to the Irish Catholic settlement, Irish Presbyterians from Ulster settled in Worcester in 1718. When they initially arrived that summer, Boston leaders were afraid they would be a burden on the town, so they sent them to Casco Bay, Maine, Worcester, Massachusetts and Londonderry, New Hampshire.

On May 25, 2009, Ireland President Mary McAleese laid a wreath at the Celtic Cross commemorating the arrival of the Irish in Worcester.

For more details on Irish heritage in Massachusetts, visit  Or  read Irish Boston, published by Globe Pequot Press.   

For year round cultural activities, visit

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Boston Mayor Patrick A. Collins Dies Suddenly on September 14, 1905

On this day in history, 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.

Collins was born in 1844 in Ballinafauna, a townland outside of Fermoy, Cork, and 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 Boston spaces 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

Monday, July 28, 2014

Arthur Fiedler Conducts Boston Pops "Irish Night" on Esplanade in 1934

Arthur Fiedler, beloved conductor of the Boston Pops, held an Irish concert night at the Hatch Shell on the Charles River Esplanade on July 29, 1934.  Over 15,000 people attended, according to The Boston Globe.

The Pops performed several popular Irish American songs of that era: The Harp that once through Tara's Halls, written by Thomas Moore and arranged by Victor Herbert in his famous Irish Rhapsody Suite; the Londonderry Air, arranged by Sir Hamilton Harty; and Molly on the Shore by Percy Grainger.

Other parts of the program included pieces by Brahms, Strauss and Tchaikovsky.

Fiedler was Boston Pops conductor from 1930-1979, and helped widen the band's appeal by staging outdoor concerts on the Esplanade, including the famous Fourth of July concerts that continue today.  In that regard he was following in the illustrious footsteps of Patrick S. Gilmore, who began Boston's Independence Day concert tradition in 1854 with concerts on Boston Common.

Because of Boston's large Irish population, Fiedler continued the tradition of regularly performing Irish songs.  In 1966 he issued an album called Irish Nights at the Pops.  It was recorded live at Boston Symphony Hall.

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

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy - Beloved in Boston

She may be gone but she is certainly not forgotten.  Rose Kennedy Fitzgerald (1890-1995), who held the Kennedy family together through tragedy and triumph for much of the 20th century, is permanently enshrined along Boston’s waterfront.

The mother of President John F. Kennedy, Rose was the daughter of Mayor John “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald, the wife of businessman Joseph P. Kennedy, the mother of nine children - including an American president, two more senators, an ambassador and a war hero - and the grandmother of 30 children.  A highly educated woman of zest and curiosity, she led a rich and eventful life, becoming a public figure on the world stage for much of the 20th century, and relying upon her faith to get her through her later heartache.    

In Boston, two public parks bear her name, and bear witness to the love and affection Bostonians had for her in her life and after she died.

The Rose KennedyGarden, located on Atlantic Avenue, is not far from Rose’s birthplace at 4 Garden Court in the North End.  A small enclosed rose garden, encircled by an iron wrought fence, with a granite fountain as the centerpiece, it is part of Christopher Columbus Park, which runs along the waterfront and looks out onto Boston Harbor.  The Garden was officially dedicated on July 22, 1987 by Rose’s family, including Senator Edward M. Kennedy, who called his mother “the greatest teacher and most wonderful mother that any child could ever have.”

Today, the Rose Kennedy Garden has 104 rose bushes, one for every year of Rose’s life.

The Rose FitzgeraldKennedy Greenway is a new and evolving boulevard of parks, hotels, restaurants, cultural institutions and tourist amenities that has helped make Boston’s waterfront area a bustling new destination for both residents and visitors.  

The 27 acre swath of Greenway once lay beneath the unsightly and noisy Central Artery, a four lane, mile and a half highway built in the 1950s.  When the highway finally came down, the greenway began to take shape, connecting the city’s waterfront to the rest of downtown.

Since opening in 2008, the Greenway has become one of the city’s most popular public spaces, drawing office workers, tourists, students, conventioneers and local residents to enjoy its sweeping vistas and friendly amenities.  With a magnificent Carousel, public art, water fountains, concerts, food courts, Wi-Fi access and well-tended gardens, the Greenway serves its mission of being an urban oasis that is free and open to all. 

Neighbors along the Greenway, including Boston Harbor Hotel and InterContinental Boston Hotel, have been great partners in ensuring access to the wharfs and harbor walkway that encircles the harbor.

Rose Kennedy is officially enshrined in law too.  Some years ago, the Massachusetts legislature passed a bill proclaiming her birthday, July 22 as “Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Day” in the Commonwealth.

To find more about her Rose’s life, visit the John F.Kennedy National Historic Site in Brookline, or the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library at Columbia Point in Dorchester.  The Library recently issued a book, Rose Kennedy’s Family Album, which traces her life from 1878-1946 and has wonderful photos of the Kennedy family.

Boston has its own Kennedy Tour, a guided walk that takes visitors around nine downtown landmarks specific to the Kennedy family, including the Greenway.

The Rose Kennedy Garden is the first stop on Boston’s Irish Heritage Trail, a walking tour of twenty landmarks that tell three centuries of Boston Irish history.  The Trail winds its way through downtown Boston and into the Back Bay, then ends at Fenway Park.

(This story appeared in the Irish Echo newspaper)