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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)

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Hostility to Immigrants in Boston, June 1847

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh declared June 2014 as Immigrant Heritage Month in the City of Boston, in recognition of the positive role immigrants play in Boston, in Massachusetts and across the United States.

The plight of new immigrants coming to Boston has always been contentious through history.  Here is an excerpt from a Boston Pilot editorial dated June 19, 1847, in response to the way Irish famine refugees were being treated by certain Bostonians at that time:

Hostility to Emigrants

"We feel a sentiment stronger than shame, when we see a portion of this community indulging in vituperation and abuse against emigrants, who this season (for various causes) are flocking in unusual numbers to our shores.  They come amongst us for a home, and if life and health are vouchsafed to them, they will earn the right to that home and whilst rescuing themselves from famine, will enrich by their labor and industry, the land that affords them a refuge."  

At the same time, many Bostonians recognized the plight of the Irish and vowed to help.  They raised funds, food and medical supplies to send back to Ireland, where a famine was in full force, and also took steps to help the Irish settle in Boston.  One story that endures is the voyage of the USS Jamestown from Boston to Cork.

The editorial was prescient in forecasting that, given the opportunity,immigrants would enrich the nation "by their labor and industry." 

For more about Boston's Irish history, visit

Happy Immigrant Heritage Month!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

In summer 1872, Boston Staged the Biggest Concert in History, with over 22,000 Musicians

In the summer of 1872, Boston staged the largest concert in history, featuring over 2,000 musicians and 20,000 singers, performing as soloists, in various ensembles and also en masse, to convey the joy, comfort and inspiration that music can bring.

The World Peace Jubilee and International Music Festival ran from June 17 through July 4, 1872, housed in a temporary coliseum that was built in what is now Copley Square in Boston’s Back Bay.  In addition to the 22,000 performers, the stadium held 60,000 spectators, and it was filled to capacity on many of the 18 days in which the Jubilee ran.

The Jubilee was created by Irish immigrant Patrick S. Gilmore, a talented cornet player, band leader and impresario who had become the best known musician in America.  Gilmore had been Band Master for the Union Army during the Civil War and is credited with penning the song, When Johnny Comes Marching Home, a war anthem still played today.  He had staged an earlier National Peace Jubilee in 1869 that featured 10,000 singers and 1,000 musicians. 

Among the highlights of the 1872 Jubilee: 

• Johann Strauss, the Austrian waltz king, made his American debut at the Jubilee, having met Gilmore in Vienna the previous summer. Strauss conducted his famous waltz, the Beautiful Blue Danube, to thunderous applause, and also composed a Jubilee Waltz especially for the occasion, dedicated to Gilmore. 

• The Fisk Jubilee Singers, a group of Black college students from Fisk University in Nashville, performed at the Jubilee, “sending the audience into a rapture of boisterous enthusiasm” for its rendition of Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory of the Coming of the Lord. President Grant invited them to perform at the White House later that year, helping to launch a singing ensemble that still flourishes today. 

• The unlikely stars of the Jubilee were the 100 Boston firemen, dressed resplendent in red shirts and white suspenders, whose job it was to hammer onto 100 anvils as part of the chorus to Verdi’s Il Trovatore (The Troubadour). As the firemen hammered in unison, cannons outside the coliseum were firing and all of Boston’s church bells were ringing as the orchestra reached a crescendo.

The IrishMusic Center at Boston College's John J. Burns Library holds the Michael Cummings Collection of P.S. Gilmore Materials, donated by the late Gilmore scholar Michael Cummings

Learn more about Irish heritage in Boston by visiting  Or visit for year round details on Boston's Irish community. 

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.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

BITA Issues Summer 2014 Travel & Culture Guide, for New England & Ireland

(Boston) — The Boston Irish Tourism Association (BITA) has issued its annual Travel & Culture Guide, featuring a round-up of festivals, concerts and cultural activities taking place in Massachusetts and the region, as well as travel information to Ireland and Northern Ireland.

You can pick up a free copy of the Travel & Culture Guide at these locations, or read the summer 2014 issue online.

The 28-page color magazine, distributed free at visitor kiosks and cultural venues throughout Massachusetts, gives details on Celtic festivals and concerts taking place from June through September, plus traveler information on hotels and travel agencies, pubs and restaurants, gift shops and retail shops, museums and cultural associations. 

This issue profiles Stephen Johnston, General Manager of the Boston Harbor Hotel, and James Rooney, head of the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority.  It details two of Tourism Ireland’s 2014 travel promotions, the Wild Atlantic West in Ireland, and the Causeway Coastal Road tour in Northern Ireland.

BITA was formed in 2000 to promote cultural tourism year round.  It publishes three issues of Travel & Culture Guide in March, June and October.  BITA is the creator of  Boston’s Irish Heritage Trail, which highlights Irish landmarks throughout Boston and around the state.

For further details on the festivals and concerts, as well as year-round Irish and cultural activities, hotel packages, gift shops and Irish pubs, visit

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Irish Social Club in W. Roxbury Holds Firefighters Fleadh on Sunday, June 8

The Irish Social Club of Boston is holding an all day Firefighters Fleadh on Sunday, June 8, 2014, to raise funds for the families of firefighters, including  firefighter Michael R. Kennedy of Ladder 15 and Lieutenant Edward J. Walsh of Engine 33, who lost their lives as Engine 33 battled a nine-alarm fire in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood.  

The event runs from noon to midnight, and suggested donation is $20.00.  There are raffle drawings, dance lessons and continuous entertainment, food and beverage. 

A number of great local Irish bands, singers and dancers are performing, including appearances by Pauline Wells and Sean Gilmartin.  Here is the schedule:

Auld Locals Noon
Colm O'Brien 1:00
Irish Whispa 2:00
Boston's Erin's Og 3:00
Erin's Guild 4:00
Ireland 5:00
Devri 6:00
The Old Brigade 7:00
The Fenian Sons 8:00
Silver Spears 9:00

For more about the Irish community in greater Boston, visit

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Massachusetts Fighting 9th Regiment Mustered into Service in June 1861

The famous Massachusetts Fighting 9th Regiment, which fought in all of America's wars, from the Civil War to the Korean War, was mustered into service on June 11, 1861.  

The regiment was headed by Colonel Thomas Cass, an Irish immigrant who organized the Irish immigrant squad after the Battle of Fort Sumter on April 15, 1861, when President Abraham Lincoln . issued a proclamation calling for 75,000 volunteers to defend the Union

Massachusetts Governor John Andrew commissioned Colonel Cass to lead the Fighting 9th Regiment, who proudly carried flags of the United States and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and the regiment was also permitted to carry its own Irish flag, which was donated by Mrs. Harrison Gray Otis. The flag is now part of the Hall of Flags at the Massachusetts State House.   

The 9th Regiment left Boston on June 25, 1861 and headed south to the war zone.  Cass led the regiment into battle and died from his wounds at the Battle of Malvern Hill.  

The Fighting Ninth fought in Cuba during the Spanish-American War, and in World War I, when it was renamed the 101st Infantry Regiment and led by Colonel Edward L. Logan of South Boston, for whom Logan International Airport is named. In World War II the regiment, still known as the Fighting Irish, was led by Colonel Paul G. Kirk, whose son, Paul G. Kirk, Jr. became the Massachusetts U.S. Senator in 2009 after the death of Senator Edward M. Kennedy. 

The Fighting Ninth was phased out on May 1, 1959, with its final review taking place on Boston Common on April 26, 1959.  

statue of Colonel Cass stands in the Public Garden along Boylston Street.  Cass is buried at Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge.  

Find out more about Boston's Irish history by visiting  

Information excerpted from the book,  Irish Boston: A Lively Look at Boston's Colorful Irish Past