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Saturday, December 30, 2017

Scottish Bagpipers and Irish Uilleann Pipers in Boston, 1954

Piper Patsy Brown

A Boston Globe feature story called "Mystery of the Bagpipes" by Virginia Bright, published on January 3, 1954, gives insight into greater Boston's Irish and Scottish musical environment during that decade.

The first part of the story focuses on the challenge of organizing Scottish pipe bands in the region, finding the right instruments and practice sets, not to mention the bass drums and kilts.   Frederick Colvin of Burlington, formerly of Belfast, conveyed his efforts to start a band.  It took him a year to find an instructor, Archibald MacLeod of Malden, pipe major for the Caledonian Band. 

Scottish-American activities were on the decline in 1950s Boston.  The Boston Caledonian Club, in existence since the 1850s, held its last Highland Games Festival in 1956, according to writer Emily Ann Donaldson in her book, The Scottish Highland Games in America.  

The Globe story then turns to what it calls 'the Irish bagpipes, or 'Uilleann' pipes, formerly known as Union pipes.' 

"Uilleann pipe playing is all but a lost art today.  Only three local people are still living who can make merry tunes on these intricate instruments," Bright writes.

"One of these pipers, Patrick Brown of Dorchester, is 80.  He was an outstanding player and noted for making the highly complicated, delicate reed pipes.  Because of failing health, he has not been devoting too much time to the Irish pipes."

A native of Killorglin, County Kerry, Brown was also a noted uilleann pipes maker, crafting sets of pipes in his Dorchester basement, according to a story in a June 1993 issue of An Piobaire.  

“Another top master," writes Ms. Bright, "is Daniel J. Murphy, 74 of 41 Mt. Bowdoin Street, Dorchester.  For years he has pursued the hobby and has provided dance music for Irish charitable benefits.  But he too, has given up playing the instrument in public about 10 years ago."

Murphy, also from County Kerry, was the uilleann piper in the famous Dan Sullivan's Shamrock Band, which was popular in Boston in the 1920s and 1930s.   

The third uilleann piper interviewed, Joseph Walsh of Jamaica Plain, noted that “Irish pipers in New York and Canada are fairly well organized and stage numerous competitions.  But in Boston, he said, the hobby is fast dying."

The reporter also interviewed an Irish dancer in the story.  “Keen to promulgate the Uilleann pipes is James McCarthy of Somerville, a member of the Eire Society, which is so actively interested in Irish culture and lore.  Although Mr. McCarthy does not play these pipes he teaches Irish dances and would like to see the traditional instrument played at Irish get-togethers." 

In his 1913 book, Irish Minstrels and Musicians, Francis O'Neill recounts several pipers of note with Boston ties, starting with Ned "The Dandy Piper" White, who lived in Roxbury in the mid-19th century, made pipes, performed and ran a dance hall during the Civil War period.  He also mentions Patsy Touhey, whose family emigrated from Galway to South Boston in 1868; William Hanafin, who came to Boston in 1889;  Eddie "Kid" Joyce, born in Boston in 1861 and the son of Galway piper James Joyce; and John Murphy, born in Boston in 1865 and the son of Bartley Murphy, a gifted piper who taught his son to play the pipes as well as Touhey and Joyce.

In 1910, the newly-formed Boston Pipers Club held its first concert January 11 at Wells Memorial Hall in the South End featuring William Hanafin and his brother Michael on fiddle.  In the audience were uilleann pipers Patsy Touhey and Sergeant James Early from Chicago.

Today you can find uilleann piping through the Boston Uilleann Pipers Club or the Boston chapter of Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann.  Last month, there was an International Uilleann Piping Day celebration at the Canadian American Club in Watertown, MA on November 4.

In Ireland, visit the Na Piobairi Uilleann (NPU), the Society of Uilleann Pipers founded in 1968 when "there were less than 100 uilleann pipers remaining," according to the web site.  It is located at 15 Henrietta Street in Dublin.

- Written by Michael Quinlin 

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Eamon DeValera's Christmas Greeting to the Irish in 1937

 Eighty years ago, Eamon DeValera, President of the Irish Free State, gave a special radio broadcast on Christmas Eve, according to an item in The Boston Globe

The five minute speech, which ended in a Gaelic blessing, came at a time when a new Constitution of Ireland was officially enacted on December 29, five days after DeValera’s address.  It had been approved in a vote of the Irish people on July 1, 1937.

“We are in a position to shape our Nation’s destiny. We will establish a new order, make life here more noble and happy," DeValera said to his listeners.  "However we need to plan wisely.  Our new life cannot be the work of a day; we must build from the right foundation."

DeValera saw the new Constitution as a forward-looking document that future generations would value.  “Children and youth of Ireland you are on the threshold of a new era.  Opportunities now are yours.  The tradition of a free Ireland has been handed down to you.  You must give it life through fidelity and devotion.”

The 1937 Constitution replaced the 1922 Irish Constitution that DeValera and others felt was imposed by the British Government.  An important element, according to Dr. Ronan Fanning’s book, Eamon DeValera: A Will to Power, was “taking the king out of the constitution” thereby strengthening Ireland sovereignty.  It was also a bi-lingual document in English and Irish, and aspired to a united Ireland.  

While the Constitution recognized "the special position of the Holy Catholic Apostolic and Roman Church," Dr. Fanning notes the document also recognized other denominations, including the "Church of Ireland, Presbyterian Church in Ireland, the Methodist Church in Ireland, the Religious Society of Friends in Ireland, as well as the Jewish congregations and the other religions denominations existing in Ireland."

In his broadcast, DeValera also addressed the “scattered children of Erie.”  He asked Irish-American youth to help Ireland take its place as a nation of “culture and learning.”

He asked that “friends of Ireland in America enjoy a homely and happy Christmas and rejoice with us in our new found success.”  He described Ireland as being free of “national captivity after centuries of sacrifice.”

When the new Constitution became law on December 29, 1937, the nation was officially known as Ireland or Eire, and not the Irish Free State.  The Constitution set up a two-chambered legislation, a Prime Minister (Taoiseach) and a President.

Read Irish Times article by Diarmaid Ferriter regarding the Constitution's "robustness and adaptability and the sophisticated legal thinking of its drafters." 

Monday, December 18, 2017

Maude Gonne, Ireland's Joan of Arc, Lectured in Massachusetts in December 1897

One hundred and twenty years ago this week, Maude Gonne, known in the media as "Ireland's Joan of Arc," passed through Boston on December 18, 1897 on her way to Lynn, Massachusetts, where she spoke before an overflow audience of Irish supporters at Lynn Theatre.

She arrived in Boston at Park Square Station from New York City, and was met by local Irish leaders, according to The Boston Globe, which described her as "a tall and stately beauty, and about the last person in the world one would pick out for a martyr to a cause which has produced in the past so many martyrs."

When asked by local reporters if she expected to accomplish much on the visit, Gonne replied, "Yes, indeed.  It has stimulated me.  I find that Irishmen succeed in every land except their own, and the reason they don't succeed there is that England's tyranny will not permit it."

Asked if she believed in absolute freedom for Ireland, she replied, "Absolute.  Ireland can take care of herself without any aid from England, as Irishmen do all over the world."

In addition to her passion for Irish freedom, Maude Gonne also advocated against the British during the Boer War, and was involved in the women's movement and in occultism.  She was the longtime muse of Irish poet William Butler Yeats, who also visited Boston on several occasions.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

A Christmas Celtic Sojourn - See Shows for Free in Worcester & Boston

Natalie Haas

A Christmas Celtic Sojourn with Brian O’Donovan sparkles with masterful music, spellbinding stories and dazzling dancing. It evokes emotions of Christmas memories that stretch back generations. It inspires audiences throughout New England to embrace tradition, spirituality and community.

The Boston Irish Tourism Association is a free pair of tickets for the Hanover Theatre show in Worcester on Monday, December 18, and for the Cutler Majestic Theatre show in Boston on Thursday, December 21, 2017.

Enter to Win Tickets here and follow the directions. 

Or, you can purchase tickets online now to these or other shows, to ensure you get to see one of the magical shows this Christmas holiday.

Read profile of Brian O'Donovan here.

Find year round details on Irish cultural activities in New England by visiting

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Timothy Deacy, Irish Patriot and Leading Citizen of Lawrence, MA

Timothy Deacy (1839-1880) , Civil War soldier, Irish rebel and politician, died on December 10, 1880 in Lawrence, MA

Deacy emigrated with his family from Clontakilty, County Cork to Massachusetts in 1847 to escape the Irish Famine.  The family settled in Lawrence 35 miles north of Boston, the nation's first planned industrial city where immigrants and Yankees worked long hours in mills and factories.

The Deacy family had long been involved in Irish political insurrections, starting with the United Irishmen Uprising of 1798. In Lawrence, Timothy and his younger brother Cornelius joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood, formed in 1858 as a physical force movement to oust Britain from Ireland.  When the Civil War started, they enlisted in the 9th  Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry in 1861.  Both brothers were wounded in May 1864, but continued to fight with their unit.

After the war, Deacy and 300 veterans went to Ireland in 1865 to train Irish soldiers for a planned insurrection. They returned to the States in 1866 and led an unsuccessful Fenian invasion of Canada, hoping to persuade the British Empire to free Ireland.  In January 1867 Deacy returned to England and raided Chester Castle, securing weapons and explosives for the Fenian Uprising in Ireland, which also failed.  Deacy and Civil War veteran Colonel Thomas Kelly were arrested and imprisoned in ManchesterEngland.  In a daring plot to free them, a Manchester police officer was killed.  While Deacy and Kelly escaped, three of the rescuers were captured, tried for murder and hanged in public.  They became known as the Manchester Martyrs.

Deacy returned to Lawrence and turned his energy toward politics.  In 1872 he won a seat on the Lawrence City Council and won re-election in 1874.  In 1876 he was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives. He retired after one term due to failing health and ran a pub in Lawrence with his brother.  In 1880 he helped raise over $1,000 during Charles Stewart Parnell's visit to Lawrence on behalf of the Irish Land League. 

Deacy died on December 10, 1880 and received a massive funeral ceremony, attended by the Ninth Massachusetts Regiment band and an Irish pipe band.  Hundreds marched in the funeral cortege and thousands lined the street to bid their hero goodbye.

In 1990 the Irish National Graves Association designated Deacy's grave a national grave.  

In November 1992, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, Division 8, placed a memorial tombstone on Deacy's grave at St. Mary's Immaculate Conception Cemetery in Lawrence/Andover.   Read more about Timothy Deacy at the AOH page on Lawrence History and from author Robert J. Bateman.  

(Editor's Note: Deacy's name has also been spelled Deasy and Dacey in various media accounts).

- Text Courtesy of Boston Irish Heritage Trail. 

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Irish Land League Advocate Michael Davitt Speaks in Boston on December 5, 1886

Irish republican and agrarian activist Michael Davitt spoke at the Boston Theatre on December 5, 1886 before a sold-out standing-room-only audience.

The son of parents who were evicted from their home, Davitt was introduced by Boston Irish leader and U.S. Congressman Patrick Collins, who praised Davitt creator of the Land League, for "turning his own misfortune into glory."

Davitt described his efforts “to band together tenant farmers of Ireland in the Land League to defend their homes and earnings from the rapacity of an idle and non-producing landlord class.

 “A few years ago the Irish question was involved in obscurity: today the whole world is discussing its merits.  A few years ago most civilized nations, not excepting America, sympathized as much, if not more, with England, for having a turbulent people on her hands with the Irish.  Today the position is reversed and Ireland has the symphony and good will, I believe, of most civilized nations in her righteous struggle.”

 The following day, David met at Parker’s Hotel with 25 members of the Philo-Celtic Society, where he was joined by Congressman Collins, Boston Mayor Hugh O’Brien and Irish leader John Boyle O’Reilly.  

Prior to visiting Boston,  Davitt had addressed enthusiastic audiences in Providence and Newport RI.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

1917 Sinn Fein Convention - Delegates United on Independence

"Those who looked for a lot of verbal fireworks" at the recent Sinn Fein convention in Dublin "must have been disappointed," according to a Boston Globe story by James T. Sullivan on November 18, 1917.

"Moderation prevailed, but the delegates insisted on letting the world know they were firm upon the platform of independence," wrote the Globe.

Eamon deValera was elected President of Sinn Fein, and gave the principle address:

"We are asserting to the world that Ireland is a Nation, and Ireland has never yet agreed to become a subject Nation or part of the British Empire.  The people of Ireland were kept from expressing that view simply by the naked sword of England, but England pretended that it was not by the sword, but by the goodwill of the people of Ireland that she was there, which was false.  Ireland’s aim was freedom.

“Those men (who fought for Ireland) felt they were morally justified in doing that.  They said what the people of Ireland aimed at was freedom, and that they represented the solid sensible opinion of Irishmen, and they said if they were to win that freedom the first step in the battle would be to get the Irish people themselves determined to win it; and they said that, even thought the first battle in that political fight might be a military defeat, it would lead to final success.”

Sinn Fein's plan, wrote the Globe, "is to place candidates in opposition wherever there is a contest, particularly in the County Councils, and in this way, if they win such places, it will later on give Sinn Fein control of the government boards.  And contests will be made for Parliament and whatever other offices become vacant."

Sunday, November 12, 2017

James Michael Curley Died on November 12, 1958

James Michael Curley, the larger-than-life political figure who dominated Boston and Massachusetts politics for half a century, died on November 12, 1958, fifty-nine years ago today.  

Over 100,000 people passed by his coffin at the Hall of Flags in the Massachusetts State House, according to a story in The Boston Globe

“The rich and the humble, Democrats and Republicans, bared the depth of their tribune in whispered prayers and unrestrained tears,” wrote the Globe.

Then a final process drove Curley's body through the streets of Boston and then to Holy Cross Cathedral in the South End, where his son, Reverend Francis S. Curley, S.J., celebrated mass along with Richard Cardinal Cushing of South Boston.  

Curley is buried the Old Calvary Cemetery in Boston

Born on November 20, 1874 on Northampton Street in Roxbury, Curley's political career was unparalleled.  Curley served four four-year terms as mayor of Boston, in 1914, 1922, 1930 and 1946.  He was Governor of Massachusetts from 1935-37, and also served as  US Congressman from 1911-14.

Ray Flynn, former mayor of Boston and US Ambassador to the Vatican, praised Curley for "helping the poor and needy of Boston."

Mayor Marty Walsh now uses the original desk of Mayor Curley in his office on the 5th floor of Boston City Hall.  "It's about history," Walsh told the Globe.

Find out more about Boston's Irish history at

Saturday, October 21, 2017


Seamus Heaney & Robert Frost

This essay appeared in The Boston Globe, October 25, 2002

By Michael Quinlin

Robert Frost would appreciate knowing that the road less traveled leads to Lawrence, which is where Ireland's esteemed poet Seamus Heaney plans to read tomorrow evening. Frost, New England's favorite poet, spent his formative years in this industrial city, where he got his education, worked in a woolen mill, and learned to chisel the emotions, thoughts, and words of New Englanders into a poetic form as beautiful and enduring as the landscape.

When he died in 1963 at 89, Frost had written nine books of poetry, four of them winning Pulitzer Prizes. He received the Congressional Medal from John F. Kennedy, and was the first poet invited to recite a poem at a presidential inauguration, a magnificent gesture from a president "not afraid of grace and beauty."

Frost's preference for Yankee individualism in lieu of the homogeneity of modern times struck a chord with readers everywhere:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Now Heaney, Frost's worthy successor in the public eye - where poets today rarely abide - is coming to pay homage to America's great poet.

Heaney, who won the 1995 Nobel Prize for literature and who often cites Frost as an early influence, will appear at Lawrence High School as guest speaker at the annual Robert Frost Festival.

Frost was the school's co-valedictorian, along with his future wife Elinor White, and found early encouragement from teachers like Katharine O'Keefe, a well-regarded writer of her day.

As chroniclers of their respective times, Frost and Heaney share many traits. Both found inspiration in nature, forming an artistic preoccupation with the growth of the soil and its effect on the soul.

Frost ran a farm in Derry, N.H., for a decade and spent his later years on a farm in Ripton, Vt. Heaney was raised on a cattle farm in Derry, Northern Ireland, where the fond memories of the natural world imbued many of his poems. Each poet found solace and sanctuary in a "hushed October morning," or the "earth dreaming its roots in flowers and snow" while enjoying a rich intellectual life in academic circles.

Both poets ventured into the political realm in ways that enhanced that often-dogmatic and pessimistic arena. Frost's inaugural poem for President Kennedy forecast the courage and verve of the Camelot years:

There is a call to life a little sterner,
And braver for the earner, learner, yearner
Of a power leading from its strength and pride,
Of young ambition eager to be tried.

Heaney captured the same spirit of possibility in December 1995 when he recited his poem, "Doubletake," on the occasion of President Clinton's visit to Belfast to support the peace process in Heaney's native land. He wrote:

But then, once in a lifetime,
The longed for tidal wave of
Justice can rise up,
And hope and history rhyme.

Poetry is, of course, the road less traveled in today's world of noise, speed, and sound bites. But the visit of a Nobel poet such as Heaney validates the efforts of local educators to inspire children who might not otherwise take up the world's oldest art form.

The Robert Frost Foundation of Lawrence, which is hosting the reading, sponsors year-round writing workshops for children in the public schools and last year received nearly 500 entries for its annual poetry contest, according to executive director Mary Ellen Janeiro.

Poetry not only reveals "what you think about," as sixth-grade poet Olivia Li explained, it also provides a context for understanding the value of place so important to ethnic newcomers who have been migrating to Lawrence for over 150 years.

Celebrating Frost's Lawrence roots is part of a larger civic pride the city has rekindled after decades of tough economic times. The city's upbeat mayor, Michael Sullivan, has a blueprint for a revitalized Lawrence that calls for new schools, technology parks, and cultural districts that knit together the city's business, literary, and artistic heritage with its immigrant and native communities.

It would be fitting, some would say poetic justice, for Frost's legacy to inspire a new Lawrence full of grace and beauty.

Some would say that's a road worth taking.

Michael Quinlin is author of the book, Irish Boston. 

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Irish Tenor John McCormack Sings Before 4,000 at Boston Opera House in 1917

Courtesy of Boston College Irish Music Archives

On October 15, 1917, famed Irish tenor John McCormack sang at the Boston Opera House to a packed audience of 4,000 of his fans. 

As always, McCormack played a wide-selection of music to embody his classical training and his native traditions. During the concert, he performed works by Handel, Schubert and Brahms, as well as classic Irish melodies such as Mother Machree, co-written by Chauncey Olcott and Ernest Ball and Sweet Kitty Malone by Hugh Dunbar Hargrave

McCormack's final encore was the hit song, I Hear You Calling Me by Harold Harford and Charles Marshall. 

 The Irish Music Collection at Boston College's John J. Burns Library has an important collection of materials about John McCormack.  And the Archival Collection at Boston Symphony Hall has  programs from McCormack's concerts between 1911 and 1936, plus various newspaper clippings.

Read more about John McCormack in Irish Boston: A Lively Look at Boston's Colorful Irish Past,  published by Globe Pequot Press.   

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Irish Poet W.B. Yeats in Boston in September 1911 to Discuss the Irish National Theatre

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

 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 touring the United States to introduce a new literary movement  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 inDublin 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 York Times 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

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Army & Navy Monument Unveiled on Boston Common on September 17, 1877

Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia

One hundred and forty years ago today, public officials, military leaders and the people of Boston unveiled the Army & Navy Monument at Flagstaff Hill on Boston Common to commemorate Massachusetts men and women who gave their lives during the Civil War.  

The unveiling on September 17, 1877 also marked the 247th anniversary of the settlement of Boston in 1630.

Over 100,000 spectators lined the streets of Boston as 25,429 veterans marched along a 6 1/2 mile route through the city and up to Flagstaff Hill. 

"All nationalities, all colors and conditions of men were represented," reported the New York Times.  "The Irish, Scotch, English, Portuguese and others were out in large numbers and carried the blood-stained flags under which they fought.  The colored men also turned out in large numbers and stepped as proudly to the strains of martial music as the men who had so enthusiastically take up the case which led to their freedom." 

The memorial was created by Martin Milmore, an Irish immigrant who moved to Boston from County Sligo with his widowed mother and three brothers in 1851.  He showed early signs of artistic genius as a student at the Brimmer Elementary School and Boston Latin, and got an apprenticeship with noted sculptor Thomas Ball by offering to sweep the floors of the studio every night. 

The monument project was initially conceived after the Civil War, in 1866, as a memorial to "fallen heroes who...aided in putting down the Southern Rebellion and in sustaining the Constitution of our Country and the Union of the States," according to the official program. 

"The deeds of our heroes, whom we proposed to honor, caused the chain to fall from 4 million of the human race.... And not only did they aid in restoring to liberty those upon whom the brand of servitude had been stamped for years, but they emancipated our own Southern brethren from the customs of the past, and placed them in new relations to humanity and progress, where they will enjoy a freedom never before known to them."

Milmore was awarded the commission in 1870, and the following year moved to Rome, Italy for five years, modeling his design in a setting of artistic inspiration.

Part of Milmore's genius was to depict the figures of navy and army not as admirals and generals but as ordinary sailors and soldiers.  This was an artistic perspective he had taken in his earlier Civil War works, including memorials in Roxbury, Charlestown and Framingham, MA, Claremont, NH, Waterville, ME and Eire, PA.

According to published specifications, the granite column is seventy feet, and has the shape of a square fort with bastions.  Four bronze figures, eight feet in height, represent peace, history, army and navy.  Atop the column is a bronze statue, eleven feet in height, representing the Genius of America. 

The Genius of America "represents a woman, majestically proportioned, clad in a flowing robe...upon her head is a crown of 13 stars.  The head is slightly bowed, and the eyes cast down.  There is nothing of haughtiness nor defiance in attitude or expression.  The figure does not symbolize America the conqueror, proud in her strength and defiant of her foes; but rather America the mourner, paying proud tribute to her loyal dead, whose bones lie upon every battlefield of the great South, toward which her face is turned." 

Mayor Frederick O. Prince said, “If the commemorated dead could arise and speak to those they have met in battle, their words would not be words of anger, but of peace and good-will.  Why then, should it not be otherwise with the living?

“The genius of the artist has with great felicity placed the statue of Peace looking to the South,” Prince continued.  “Let us hope that…it is an assurance that the past is forgotten; that there are to be no irritating or disturbing memories; that the South, when it looks to the North, shall see not the sword of victory, but the fraternal hand grasping the olive-branch of reconciliation and friendship.”

In a further sign of reconciliation, Confederate officers were invited to attend the ceremony, joining Union Generals Joseph Hooker and George B. McClellan. 

Charlestown native Charles Devens, a Union General and Massachusetts judge, was orator of the day.  He also characterized the monument as a gesture of peace, not war.

“The monument bears no words of boasting or unseemly exaltation, and the assertion of the justice of their cause, though firmly made, is yet not made in any harsh or controversial spirit,” Devens said. 

“Let us endeavor to lift ourselves to a higher level of patriotism which despises any narrow sectionalism, and rejoices in the nationality broad enough to embrace every section of the Union, and each one of its people, whether high or humble, rich or poor, black or white.”

- Essay by Michael Quinlin

The Army Navy Monument, also called the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial, is on Boston's Irish Heritage Trail.  Read more about Irish immigrant sculptors

Monday, May 29, 2017

President John F. Kennedy: A Boston Irish Story

President Kennedy’s thousand days in office marked an epoch in the Boston Irish story. One man stepping forth from a marginalized community that had struggled mightily for so many generations, facing hostility and surviving on the edge of society, driven to success by fear of hunger and anger at prejudice, determined to right the wrongs for the sake of the children and future generations. JFK was the future generation that his parents, grandparents and great-grandparents had daydreamed about as they were toiling in America, saving their pennies, getting stronger, wiser, and warier. He may have represented the hopes and dreams of the world, and of a nation, but in essence JFK represented the pinnacle of immigrant dreams for millions of Irish around the world.
Kennedy’s optimism and resolve was emblematic of the American mind of the twentieth century, but he also brought a new level of sophistication to public life.  Louis M. Lyons wrote, “The elevation of the tone of the national life may be John Kennedy’s most enduring contribution to his country.” Along with his beautiful and stylish wife, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, JFK brought a savoir faire to the White House and created a magical mood that later moved Jacqueline to use the word Camelot to refer to her husband’s presidency. Both the president and his wife were lovers of the arts, and they surrounded themselves with singers, poets, dramatists, artists, and dancers. In a well-deserved nod to the power of poetry, Kennedy invited New England poet Robert Frost to read at his inauguration. Frost later told Kennedy, “You’re something of Irish and something of Harvard. Let me advise you, be more Irish than Harvard.”
On October 26, 1963, Kennedy gave a compelling address at Amherst College called “On Poetry and National Power,” in which he laid out a vision of American life to which the Irish, the politician, and the poet could relate.
“When power leads man towards arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses, for art establishes the basic human truths which must serve as a touchstone for our judgment. . . . I look forward to a great future for America – a future in which our country will match its military strength with our moral strength, its wealth with our wisdom, its power with our purpose. I look forward to an America which will not be afraid of grace and beauty. . . . And I look forward to an America which commands respect throughout the world not only for its strength but for its civilization as well.”
Kennedy had shown more than a casual interest in Ireland, according to Arthur Mitchell, whose book JFK and His Irish Heritage traces the president’s youthful interests. Kennedy made the first of his six trips to Ireland in 1939, and in 1945 had the opportunity to meet Eamon de Valera, forging a friendship that lasted through Kennedy’s life. Kennedy had interviewed de Valera during that trip and submitted a thoughtful piece titled “De Valera Aims to Unite Ireland” to the New York Journal American in July 1945. He wrote, “De Valera is fighting the same relentless battle fought in the field during the Uprising of 1916, in the War of Independence and later in the [Irish] Civil War. He feels everything Ireland has gained has been given grudgingly and at the end of a long and bitter struggle. Always, it has been too little too late.” When de Valera visited Boston in 1948 to promote Irish unification, Kennedy met him at Logan Airport, even though his flight arrived after midnight. Kennedy also cosigned a bill sponsored by Rhode Island Congressman John E. Fogarty in 1951 calling for Irish unification, and he supported a similar Senate resolution.
A high point of the president’s time in office was his official visit to Ireland in June 1963. It captured the world’s imagination and shone a spotlight on the new Republic of Ireland. The visit was a triumphant, emotionally charged promenade in which the entire population of Ireland seemed to participate. Kennedy’s motorcade passed regally through the streets of Dublin, Cork, and Galway as thousands of proud Irish cheered him with tears of joy in their eyes, and the twin flags of Ireland and the United States waved madly for him. He visited the modest town of New Ross, Wexford, which twenty-five-year-old Patrick Kennedy had left in 1848 on a ship bound for Boston. On June 29, 1963, in Limerick, Ireland, Kennedy told the crowds of cheering Irish, “This is not the land of my birth, but it is the land for which I hold the greatest affection, and I will certainly come back in the springtime.” It was a sentiment wrought with love, promise, friendship, and possibility, and it was almost unbearable to recall when the president was assassinated in Dallas on November 22, 1963.
Having followed the president’s visit to Ireland with immense pride, reveling in how he had turned the world’s attention to their small island off the coast of Europe, the Boston Irish community was stunned by the tragedy. They knew that he had grown up in a different society, one of privilege and wealth. But they considered him to be one of their own. To that postwar generation in particular, John F. Kennedy would always be one of them.
Shortly after his death the Kennedy family took up the task of creating a presidential library and formed a committee in 1964 to raise funds for the project: An Irish American Committee for the John F. Kennedy Memorial Fund in Boston, led by Cornelius O’Connor, Humphrey Mahoney and Michael Cummings. Its motto was “Modest Donations by Many Rather Than Large Endowments of a Wealthy Few.” As they had done for generations, the Boston Irish envisioned that the library would be built by the small cash donations of thousands of ordinary believers, the same way they had built their churches, parish schools, and colleges. The committee held a fund-raiser at the New State Ballroom on Massachusetts Avenue on May 17, 1964, and proudly donated $6,550.20 to the Kennedy Library Fund.
The family had selected Harvard Square in Cambridge as an ideal site for the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, but numerous delays occurred in securing the land because of “bureaucratic red tape and political infighting.” The Library Committee looked at other possible sites, including Hyannis and the Charlestown Navy Yard.  Finally, in 1975 the committee formed an alliance with city and state leaders to select a parcel of land at Columbia Point in Dorchester, home of the University of Massachusetts on nine acres of land and three acres of mud flat, overlooking Boston Harbor as well as Boston’s skyline. 
State Senator Joseph B. Walsh of Dorchester introduced legislation for the land transfer, and in August 1976, Governor Michael Dukakis signed a bill permitting construction of the library.  Boston Globe reporter Robert Campbell described the design by architect I. M. Pei: “The Kennedy Library is lonely as a lighthouse or a boat. . . . It was Pei who chose this lonely site . . . it’s a place you see from afar, a place you sense yourself journeying toward.”
The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum was formally dedicated on October 20, 1979, before seven thousand people. The event was described as “a sedate ceremony . . . sandwiched by a kind of affectionate hobnobbing and backslapping that characterized the JFK era.  With the same emotional mix that accompanies a jazzman’s funeral, the sobriety seemed only a loud whistle away from a friendly touch football game on the library’s landscaped grounds.”
Guest speaker President Jimmy Carter said:
President Kennedy understood the past and respected its shaping of the future. [He] entered the White House convinced that racial and religious discrimination was morally indefensible. He never failed to uphold liberty and condemn tyranny.   . . . The essence of President Kennedy’s message – the appeal for unselfish dedication to the common good – is more urgent than ever.
The podium that day was crowded with President Kennedy’s loved ones: former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy and her children John Jr. and Caroline; his brothers and sisters, nephews and nieces, cousins and in-laws. Any of them could have glanced out at Boston Harbor and settled their gaze on Deer Island, the last island separating the United States from Ireland. This is where their ancestors – the Kennedys, Fitzgeralds, Murphys, and Coxes—would have been stopped at the quarantine station before they were allowed to enter Boston, where history could then take its course.
From Irish Boston: A Lively Look at Boston’s Colorful Irish Past, 2nd edition, by Michael Quinlin. Published in October, 2013 by Globe Pequot Press

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Mass Senate Members Honor St. Patrick's Day in a Meaningful Way

Senate President Stan Rosenberg

Massachusetts State Senate President Stan Rosenberg and members of the senate presented a recitation of excerpts from native son President John F. Kennedy, presented in his City on a Hill speech, spoken on the eve of his inauguration as the 35th President of the United States, given at the House of Representatives Chamber.

The recitation was created as part of the St. Patrick's Day festivites, and honors the centennial of President Kennedy's birthday of May 29, 1917, which is being celebrated this year by the John F. Kennedy Library and others throughout the Commonwealth.

Find year round information on the Irish in Massachusetts at

Irish Piper Shaun O'Nolan Entertains Inmates at Charlestown Prison on March 15, 1918

A group of Irish musicians, storytellers and comedians entertained the inmates at Charlestown Prison on March 15, 1918, according to a story in The Boston Globe.

Among the performers was uilleann piper Shaun O'Nolan (1871-1941), a recording artist on Columbia Records and a well-known piper in the Boston area for many years.

"Shaun O'Nolan, the Wicklow Piper, kept his audience in laughter for a full half-hour with his fund of Irish stories, sogs, wreading and Irish bagpipe selections."

Other acts include a piano solo by Mrs. A.W. McMunn, the St. James Auartet, a reading by C.A. Birmingham of John Boyle O'Reilly's poem, "Bohemia," and a monologue by Miss Katherine Hanley.

Humorist Billy Troy "sang a solo and told stories in Scotch, Italian and Irish dialects."

Find more about Boston Irish history at

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Boston's Airport Named for Edward L. Logan, South Boston Leader with Galway Roots

Boston’s Logan InternationalAirport was named for General Edward L. Logan (1875-1939), a first generation Irish-American, military leader, civic leader and municipal judge with family roots in Galway and South Boston

Logan was the son of Lawrence Logan and Catherine O'Connor from Ballygar, County Galway, according to historian Michael J. Cummings.  The Logan family lived on East Broadway in South Boston.  

Read a full profile of Edward L. Logan on

The Logan statue is part of Boston's Irish Heritage Trail, a collection of public landmarks, memorials, buildings and statues that tell the story of the Boston Irish from the 1700s to the present. 

Find year round information on Boston's Irish community at

The British Siege of Boston led to Evacuation Day, March 17, 1776

In October, 1768, the British sent 4,000 troops to Boston after local citizens objected to a series of British taxes on the populace.  This only led to increased tensions between British authority and colonial Boston.  That tension escalated and came to a head in April 1775 during the Battles of Lexington and Concord, followed by the Battle of Bunker Hill in June 1775.

General Henry Knox played a key role in ending the British occupation of Boston.  The 25 year old Bostonian hatched a plan to capture the cannons at Fort Ticonderoga in New York, wheel them 300 miles to Boston.  His plan was to position the cannons atop Dorchester Heights in South Boston and aim them at the British fleet in Boston Harbor.

General George Washington gave him the go-ahead, despite objections from his senior command, and Knox set off with a group of men and captured 59 canons in December, and dragged them across the frozen landscape of western Massachusetts, finally arriving in Cambridge on January 24.   On March 5, British General Howe saw the guns aiming down at his fleet, and by March 17, 1776, the British troops, along with their sympathizers, evacuated Boston.  George Washington later named Knox the first U.S. Secretary of War. 

Read the full story on Henry Knox in Mass Moments.

Knox’s father and uncles were original members of the Charitable Irish Society, formed in 1737 to help other Irish immigrants settle in Boston.  A bookseller by trade, Knox joined the Society in 1772, when he was 22 years old.  He also became a member of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick in Philadelphia.  Knox died in ThomastonMaine in 1806, where today the Henry Knox Museum is located.

For more about Boston Irish history, visit

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Role of the Irish in the famous Boston Massacre, March 5, 1770

Boston Massacre Memorial on Boston Common

The Boston Massacre took place on March 6,1770,  and is said to have sparked the American Revolution.  The episode took place when British troops fired into a crowd of Bostonians; four people were killed and a fifth  victim died a few days later. The shooting came after a tense week of acrimony between Bostonians and the British soldiers, 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 the Boston Massacre:

. The soldiers involved were from the 29th British regiment, led by Captain Thomas Preston.  The regiment was mostly Irish soldiers who had been conscripted, often against their will.  The names of the 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, an anti-Catholic dimension emerged.  The Boston Gazette revealed that many of the soldiers the British sent to Boston were Irish Catholics, while 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, 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.  The memorial was created by sculptor Robert Krauss. 

The Bostonian Society at the Old State House has a full day of indoor activities on Saturday, March 4, 2017, to commemorate this historical event.  Due to the severe cold weather today, the outdoor reenactment of the shooting is not taking place.  

For more about Boston's Irish history, visit

This information is taken from Irish Boston: A Lively Look at Boston's Colorful Irish Pastpublished by Globe Pequot Press  in 2013.