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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