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Saturday, May 25, 2019

Irish Famine Memorial Unveiled on Deer Island in Boston Harbor Today

A memorial commemorating Irish immigrants who were buried on Deer Island in the 1840s is being  unveiled at 10 a.m. on Saturday, May 25, 2019 on the island.  
Guests include Boston Archdiocese Sean Cardinal O’Malley and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh.  Master of Ceremonies is Eugene O’Flaherty. City of Boston’s Chief Archivist John McColgan is giving the historical remarks, and Máirín Keady is singing the American and Irish anthems.  The Boston Curragh Rowing Club is placing a ceremonial wreath in the water in memory of those who died.
Deer Island is currently the wastewater facility run by the MWRA, but in the 1840s it was converted to a quarantine station as thousands of impoverished and ill Irish immigrants flooded into Boston Harbor, fleeing the Irish Famine, a series of potato crop failures that decimated Ireland.  In 1847 alone, some 47,000 Irish came to Boston.
The idea for an Irish Memorial was first raised in the 1990s when the bones of interred Irish were inadvertently uncovered during construction.  The MWRA worked with local Irish-American organizations and Boston historians to find a fitting memorial to the Famine generation, as well as American Indians who were buried here during the King Phillips War in 1676.
A public ceremony was held in June 1997 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the opening of the quarantine station, and a temporary Celtic Cross, created by Irish carpenters Larry Reynolds and Jimmy Roach, was placed at the site.  
The late Rita and Bill O’Connell of Duxbury advocated for a permanent Irish Memorial through the 2000s until their death in 2012.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

May 19, 1832: Charlestown Refuses Request to Bury Irish Catholic Children in the Town Cemetery

Photo courtesy of Stephen O'Neill

"On May 19, 1832, Boston's Catholic Bishop, Benedict Fenwick attempted to bury two Boston children, three-year-old Florence Driscoll, who died from teething, and three-month-old James Kinsley, who died from infantile disease, at the recently opened Bunker Hill Catholic Cemetery in the town of Charlestown, Massachusetts, right across the bridge from Boston.

"The obligation to make the request in writing was unusual, but the town selectman had passed a ruling the previous November, in an effort to keep Irish Catholics from being buried in Charlestown. The townsfolk feared that the Irish would bring religious superstitions and disease to their town. In the nineteenth century the entire world was worried about the spread of diseases.

"Fenwick’s request to bury the children was denied the same day it was written by Selectman Nathan Austin, who stated, “The object of the town in adopting the rule was to prevent the bringing of the dead from the surrounding towns and country. . . . We feel constrained from a sense of duty to decline giving the permission you request.”

"Bishop Fenwick decided he would test the validity of the state ruling and went ahead and buried the children without the town’s permission. The matter went to a higher court, and ultimately the church was recognized as having the right to bury its dead on its own property."


Saturday, May 18, 2019

May 16, 1847, USS Jamestown Returns to Boston After Historic Voyage to Cork to Aid Famine Victims

Painting of USS Jamestown in Boston Harbor, by Ted Walker, Marine Artist

On May 16, 1847 the USS Jamestown returned to Boston Harbor after carrying food, medical supplies and clothing to the people of Cork during the height of the Irish Famine. 

The journey was headed by Captain Robert Bennet Forbes, a wealthy China trade merchant from Milton, MA, who had left Boston on March 28, 1847 with a crew of 38 men and 800 tons of supplies.

Henry Lee's book, Massachusetts Helps to Ireland During the Great Famine, gives a masterful account of this extraordinary episode in Boston's history.

"Contributions of food continued to arrive from all over New England," Lee wrote.  "The cargo consisted largely of Indian corn and bread but included also hams, prok, oatmeal, potatoes, flour, rye, beans, rice, fish and sixteen barrels of clothing."

The fifteen day voyage faced foul weather and a blend of rain, sleet, wind and fog requisite for that time of year, but finally, they arrived in Queenstown Harbor.

A cruel irony became apparent to Forbes as Ireland's provincial rulers greeted Forbes and his crew with an invitation to a sumptuous feast.  Forbes and his crew found this banquet most embarrassing, however, as Irish citizens lay dying in the streets nearby.

Forbes was more interested in seeing firsthand the suffering everyone had heard so much about.  He was escorted around Cork by Father Theobald Mathew, the famous temperance priest.  Forbes later described the event:

"It was the valley of death and pestilence itself.  I would gladly forget, if I could, the scenes I witnessed."

Forbes was overwhelmed by the plight of the dying, and when he returned home, arriving in the Charlestown Navy Yard on May 16, he immediately set his sights on the USS Macedonian, another ship that he would fill with supplies for the people of Cork.

Reverend R.C. Waterson later wrote, "I consider the mission of the Jamestown as one of the grandest events in the history of our country.  A ship-of-war changed into an angel of mercy, departing on no errand of death, but with the bread of life to an unfortunate and perishing people."

For more about Captain Forbes and his journey to Ireland, visit the Forbes House Museum in Milton 

- Excerpts from Irish Boston: A Lively Look at Boston's Colorful Irish Past  by Michael P. Quinlin.  

(Thanks to Ed Walker and Fred Robinson for permission to use the image above.)

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Special Offer for Nathan Carter concert at Wilbur Theatre in Boston, May 28

Celtic Country star Nathan Carter is performing live at The Wilbur Theatre in Boston on Tuesday, May 28.  He is being joined by Chloe Agnew, one of Ireland's premier vocalists and former member of Celtic Woman.  They'll be backed by a stellar six-piece band. 

You can win a free pair of tickets to this captivating show - just enter the BITA contest here.  

This week only (May 6-12), you can save 20% off your tickets while supply lasts.  Use 20Nathan with code and go to this link.

Nathan is taking the music world by storm. He first catapulted into stardom in his native Ireland, charming audiences on guitar, piano and accordion. Nathan’s live show is a unique blend of Celtic, country and pop favorites that bring audiences to their feet.  Read more about Nathan Carter here.

The Wilbur Theatre is located at 246 Tremont Street in downtown Boston, right across from Boston Common, the nation's oldest public park. Tickets to the show range from $35-55. 

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

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Boston Forms a Thomas Moore Club in May 1852 to Celebrate Ireland's Bard

Leaders from Boston's Irish community formed a Thomas Moore Club in May 1852 to celebrate the life and musical genius of Ireland's most famous bard.   Upon learning of Moore's death in February, 1852, Boston Pilot Publisher Patrick Donahoe and other leaders formed the Club to perpetuate his music.  

The first annual celebration of the Tom Moore club occurred at the Merchant's Exchange Hotel on May 27, 1852.  The original officers included Thomas Darcy McGee, president; P.H. Powers, Vice-President; John W. Atkinson, Secretary; and Henry Dooley, Treasurer, according to an account in The Boston Pilot, an Irish-Catholic weekly newspaper. 

"About 80 gentlemen sat down to a bounteous table, in a tastefully decorated hall, where mirth and music, peace and harmony, love and good fellowship, seemed to congregate as members or invited guests in paying homage to the departed spirit but ever-living genius of Thomas Moore," wrote The Pilot

McGee, who served as the chairman of the dinner, said to the assemblage, "As young men we love him and as young Irishmen we wish to show honor to his memory. In Athens of old, such a man would have been deified, but as we are here in this modern Athens, we take pride in seeing our humble praise coutenanced by the highly intelligent gentlemen who now grace this festive board."

Born in 1779, Moore was considered a poet and patriot who melded his gift of language with his fervor for Irish liberty.  His ten-volume collection of Moore's Melodies, published between 1808 and 1834, helped revitalize interest in Irish music that was in danger of being marginalized and forgotten.  

In Boston, Moore's Melodies quickly found their way into the city's musical community; with several of his songs published as early as 1811.  His songs, particularly 
Last Rose of Summer, were performed as part of Boston's musical repertoire by famous visiting performers like singer Jenny Lind and violinist Ole Bull

In 1869 and 1872, Patrick S. Gilmore featured Moore's songs at the National and International Peace Jubilees, alongside composers like Handel and Mozart. 

In 1879, on the 100th anniversary of Moore's birth, poet 
John Boyle O'Reilly presided over a banquet at the Parker House honoring his fellow-countryman.  O'Reilly called Moore "an original poet of splendid imagination.....he found scattered over Ireland, mainly hidden in the cabins of the poor, pieces of antique gold, inestimable jewels that were purely Irish....These jewels were the old Irish airs - those exquisite fabrics which Moore raised into matchless beauty in his delicious melodies."

Professor James Flannery of Emory University, who published a book and CD of Moore's songs called, Dear Harp of My Country, said, "The real importance of Moore is that he envisioned a better future for Ireland, even while facing the bitter realities of the present." 

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

For more about Boston's Irish heritage, visit

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Irish Fiddle Master Kevin Burke Performs at Blackstone River Theatre on Saturday, April 27

Irish fiddle master Kevin Burke performs at Blackstone River Theatre in Cumberland, RI at 8 p.m. on Saturday, April 27, 2019.  Tickets to the show are $18 in advanced or $20 at the door.  Call 401-725-9272 for reservations.

A member of the famous Bothy Band in the 1970s, Burke was a founding member of two seminal traditional bands, Open House and Patrick Street in the 1980s.  Then in the 1990s Burke was a member of the legendary Celtic Fiddle Festival, performing around the world.

Burke also enjoys a distinguished solo career as a fiddler, and has received numerous awards,  including Ireland’s Traditional Musician of the Year, 2016, and a National Heritage Fellowship, the USA's highest honor for excellence in the folk and traditional arts. 

Read more about Kevin Burke here.

Here is a schedule of upcoming concerts at Blackstone River Theatre, considered one of the finest traditional music venues in New England. 

Find year-round details on Irish cultural events at

Monday, April 15, 2019

Tourism Ireland Unveils new Game of Thrones® Stained Glass to Commemorate Season 8

Tourism Ireland unveiled a giant, stained glass window today (15 April) opposite Belfast City Hall in Northern Ireland. The impressive installation is part of a brand new Game of Thrones® campaign – to showcase and celebrate Northern Ireland as Game of Thrones® Territory to millions of fans worldwide. This is the first of six installations to be unveiled over the coming weeks.

Over the coming weeks – as each episode of the final season airs – six beautifully crafted, freestanding stained-glass windows will be installed across Belfast. Each window will highlight a key House from the show, with a series of panels depicting the most exciting and talked-about moments from the entire saga. The first window, unveiled today, is all about the House Stark.
Each window will be large enough for fans to pose in front of, for photos and selfies, so they can recreate their own Game of Thrones® photo opp. They can then share the photographs on social media and encourage their friends and fellow fans to come and visit Belfast and Northern Ireland and experience it for themselves!
The stained glass panes have been designed by hand illustrators and are being stained by an artist in Bangor. By the end of series eight, the stained glass windows will form a new Game of Thrones® trail, leading fans across the city to the final window at the Titanic Studios, where much of the show has been produced.
Find more about visiting Ireland here. 

Abraham Lincoln Proclamation, April 15, 1861, and the Massachusetts Irish 9th Regiment

On April 15, 1861, two days after the attack on Ft. Sumter by the Confederate forces,  President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation seeking 75,000 volunteers to join the Union Army.

In Boston, Massachusetts, Irishman Thomas Cass immediately began recruiting Irish immigrants to form the Massachusetts 9th regiment.  The volunteers came largely from Boston and the nearby towns of Salem, Milford, Marlboro and Stoughton. A total of 1,727 men enlisted. 

The Irish volunteers encamped on Long Island in Boston Harbor through May, and on June 11 the Regiment was mustered into service.

The 9th enjoyed a big send-off on June 25, 1861, when the troops made their way from Long Island to Long Wharf in Boston, then marched to Boston Common, where Governor John Andrew welcomed them and thanked the two commanders, Colonel Cass and Lieutenant Colonel Patrick Guiney. 

Governor Andrew presented them with 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 regiment fought bravely at many battlefronts during the Civil War, including Malvern Hill and Gettysburg.  The regiment returned to Boston on June 13, 1864 and was mustered out on June 21, 1864. 

Excerpts from Irish Boston: A Lively Look at Boston's Colorful Irish Past.  

For year round information on Boston Irish history and heritage, visit

For year round details on Irish cultural events, visit

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Marathon Magic: John J. McDermott wins first Boston Marathon in 1897

The first Boston Marathon was held on April 19,1897, inspired by the first modern Olympic Games held the previous year in Athens, Greece. 

The race was sponsored by the Boston Athletic Association, and the initial field consisted of fifteen runners, of which ten finished the race. John J. McDermott of the Pastime Athletic Club of New York won the race, finishing in two hours, fifty-five minutes and ten seconds.

Thomas E. Burke, who won first place in the 100 and 440 yard races at the Athens Olympics in 1896, was the official starter of the race.

The race started in Ashland and finished at Irvington Oval near Copley Square in Boston, which had a 220 yard track.  There BAA officials had organized an entire track and field meet in the spirit of the Olympic Games the previous year.

Among the most talked about races was the 100 yard dash, which had a stellar field that included Tom Burke of Boston University, J.S. Quinn  and W.J. Holland from Boston College, Frank Quinlan from Fordham University, and D.C. Byers of Yale.  Holland won the race, and his BC teammate Quinn took second. 

McDermott apparently lost nine pounds running the race, and afterwards said, "This will probably be my last long race...look at my feet," wrote The Boston Globe in its April 20, 1897 story.  McDermott returned to Boston in 1898 and finished fourth.

For more on Boston's Irish history and heritage, visit

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Marathon Magic: The Story of Bricklayer Bill Kennedy, winner of 1917 Boston Marathon

Bricklayer Bill: The Untold Story of the Workingman's Boston Marathon 

The Boston Marathon is filled with iconic characters like John J. McDermott, who won the first contest in 1897, and Johnny Kelley, who finished the race 58 times. 

Equally notable is "Bricklayer Bill" Kennedy, a working class Irish-American who was part of the amateur running caste in America before the sport turned professional. 

Co-authors Patrick and Lawrence Kennedy have written Bricklayer Bill: The Untold Story of the Workingman's Boston Marathon.  It's an engaging, dramatic story about their famous ancestor,  with a Foreword by running legend Bill Rogers. 

Bricklayer Bill won the 1917 Marathon, two weeks after the U.S. entered World War I. Boston Harbor was on full alert for German submarines lurking off shore.  Despite calls to cancel the race, Kennedy insisted on running, sporting a bright stars and stripes bandana on his head. He won the race and became an instant hero, his picture splashed across newspapers around the world. 

The authors write that Kennedy "tapped into the zeitgeist not only of that moment in but also of that place – a proud but nerve-wracked city that needed a win on a grand stage."

The book is available from the University of Massachusetts Press. 

Friday, April 12, 2019

Marathon Magic: Tribute to Johnny Kelley, Legendary Boston Marathon Runner

For the 123rd annual Boston Marathon taking place on Monday, April 15, 2019, we pay tribute to the legendary marathon runner John Adelbert  Kelley, who holds the record for running more Boston Marathons than any other athlete. 

Kelley was born in 1907 in West Medford, outside of Boston, and traces his ancestry to County Wexford.  "My father's people left to go to Australia," he told The Boston Globe in 1981, when he was preparing for his 50th race.  "The boat stopped in Boston and they never left." 

Kelley ran his first marathons in 1928 and 1932 but did not finish either race.  He ran again in 1933 and then competed in every single race through 1992!  He finished in the top 10 eighteen times, taking first place in 1935 and again in 1945.  He owns the record for the most races started (61) and the most finished (58).  His best time was two hours and thirty minutes, posted in 1943.  He was 84 when he ran his last race in 1992, posting a time of Five hours and fifty-eight minutes.

He was christened Johnny "The Elder" Kelley, when John J. Kelley (no relation) emerged as a champion in the 1950s, winning the race in 1957. 

In 1993 the Boston Athletic Association erected a statue honoring Johnny Kelley on Heartbreak Hill in Newton.  The twin statues depict Kelley in 1935 and again in 1995, holding hands as they cross the proverbial finish line.

For more on Boston Irish history and heritage, visit or visit

For tourist information, visit MassVacation and