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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

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Parnell Society of Dublin Honors Fannie Parnell at Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge MA

On April 11, 2001, the Parnell Society of Dublin placed a granite marker at the grave site of Ms. Fanny Parnell at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge,  honoring her role as a patriot and poet of Ireland.  The ceremony was led by Ireland’s ambassador to the United States Sean O hUuiginn, Irish government official Frank Murray and members of the Society.

Fanny was known as the Patriot Poet, a determined Irish woman of strong-mind born into a famous family with Boston connections.  Fanny Parnell used her gifts of language and intellect to express the eloquence and fury of Irish unrest in the late 19th century, and was the leading spokeswoman throughout the United States for the Ladies Land League.  Her sister Anna had founded Ladies Land League as an adjunct to the reform movement sweeping rural Ireland in the 1870s and1880s.  Their brother Charles Stewart Parnell, Ireland's great home rule leader in the latter half of the 19th century, was in jail with Land League founder Michael Davitt when the Ladies League formed.

Born in Avondale, County Wicklow, Fanny was the second of four daughters and two sons to John Henry Parnell and Delia Tudor, the American-born daughter of Admiral Charles Stewart of the United States Navy and commander of the USS Constitution.

Fanny visited Boston in May 1881 to address supporters of the land league movement.  She spoke at the Music Hall, introduced by Patrick Collins, then the head of the American Land League movement and future mayor of Boston in 1902.  Joining them on stage were poet and editor John Boyle O'Reilly and publisher Patrick Donoghue.

She began publishing her poetry in the Irish People in Dublin, the newspaper of the Fenian Brotherhood formed in 1858.  Most of her work, however, was published in the Boston Pilot, the leading Irish Catholic newspaper of the 19th century.  The Pilot published a collection of her works, entitled Land League Songs, priced at just ten cents.

Her most famous poem is probably Hold the Harvest, a powerful indictment of corrupt British land management that produced Irish famines, emigration and a weakened, discouraged peasantry.  The poem was a call for Irish farmers to keep their own harvest rather than give it to the landlords.  It reads in part:
O pallid serfs, whose groans and prayers have wearied Heaven full long
Lookup! There is a law above, beyond all legal wrong;
Rise up! The answer to your prayer shall come, tornado born
And ye shall hold your homesteads dear, and ye shall reap the corn.

Fannie died of heart failure at age 34 in Bordentown, New Jersey.  Her body was taken by train to Boston.  There the casket was open for family and friends to view her body at the Tudor home on Beacon Hill before being buried at the Tudor family plot at Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge.  Despite the Parnell family's insistence that her body remain here, numerous attempts were made to return her body to Ireland for reinterment at the Parnell family plot at Glassnevin Cemetery in Dublin.

Find more about Irish history and heritage in Massachusetts by visiting

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Marathon Magic: Irish Patriot John B. O'Reilly helped found the Boston Athletic Association in 1887

John Boyle O’Reilly (1844-90),  Boston's popular  Irish patriot, poet, orator and spokesman for the downtrodden, was also a founder of the Boston Athletic Association (BAA). 

In January, 1887, “at the suggestion of the late John Boyle O’Reilly, the first meeting was formed to consider…forming an athletic club in Boston,” wrote The Boston Globe in a March 9, 1912 story on the BAA’s 25th anniversary.  That initial meeting generated excitement and resolve to create an athletic organization, modeled on the popular New York Athletic Club, according to reports.

A few months later, on May 9, 1887, the General Court of Massachusetts passed an act to incorporate the BAA, listing O’Reilly as an official, along with other leading Bostonians like Henry Parkman, George Morrison, George W. Beales, Francis L. Higginson, Richard D. Sears and Harrison G. Otis.

The first meeting of the BAA took place on June 14, 1887 at the Boston Cadet Armory.  The full membership of 1,200 was already enrolled by the time the first meeting took place, wrote the Globe.

A new book by John Hanc, entitled the B.A.A. at 125 recounts the formation of the group and gives a synopsis of O'Reilly's life and his involvement in the forming the city's most famous athletic organization.

The BAA helped field the first US Olympic team that competed in Athens, Greece in 1896, and also started the Boston Marathon in 1897, a race it oversees to this day.

O’Reilly is best known as a leader of Boston’s Irish community; in his day he was well-regarded as a sportsman, intellectual, and community activist.  He had escaped a life imprisonment from a British penal colony in Australia by hopping on a whaling ship out of New Bedford, MA, and he arrived in Boston  in 1870, where he lived until his death in 1844 from an accidental overdose of medication at age 44.

O'Reilly was an active outdoors man, and taught fencing for a time at Harvard University.  His book, Ethics of Boxing and Manly Sport, published in 1888, defended the controversial sport of boxing, but also delved into other topics like Irish hurling, canoeing, and hints for fitness and nutrition for the serious athlete. 

Today, a memorial to John Boyle O'Reilly is located in the Fens at the top of Boylston Street. 

Find about more about Boston Irish history by visiting

Sunday, April 7, 2019

South Boston's James B. Connolly wins first medal in the modern Olympic Games in Athens, April 6, 1896

On April 6, 1896, James Brendan Connolly of South Boston became the first medalist in the modern Olympic Games when he won the triple jump on the opening day of the Games in Athens, Greece.

He won the event - back then it was called the Hop, Skip and Jump - by jumping 44 ' 9 3/4", beating the second place finisher by nearly six feet.  After his final jump, the audience began chanting his name and yelling Nike, the Greek word for victory, according to Connolly's teammate, Ellery H. Clark.

Connolly and his American teammates nearly missed their events - they arrived in Athens thinking they had twelve days to prepare, only to realize that the Greeks used the Julian Calendar, not the Gregorian Calendar, and his event was that afternoon.  

Connolly later recounted the story in his autobiography: Sea Borne: Thirty Years Avoyaging.

Connolly also competed in the 1900 Olympic Games in Paris, and took second place in the Triple Jump.  Beverly Cronin of the Boston Herald wrote, "In typical Connolly fashion, he walked the seven miles to Paris Stadium because he couldn't afford the taxi fare."

Connolly later became an advocate for amateur sports, and also ran for US Congress in 1914, representing the Progressive Party.   

After his athletic career, Connolly became an accomplished writer.  He authored 25 books, largely about the sea, and dozens of short stories.  He also worked as a journalist, covering the Spanish-American War in 1898, World War I,  and the Irish Civil War in 1920.  In the 1930s he ran a literary journal called Limelight

Connolly's papers are held in two collections: at Colby College in Maine and Boston College in Massachusetts. 

The James B. Connolly statue in South Boston is part of the Boston Irish Heritage Trail, a collection of memorials in downtown Boston and its neighborhoods that chart the Irish experience in Boston dating back to the 1700s.

Find year round details on Irish activities in greater Boston by visiting

(Excerpt from Irish Boston: A Lively Look at Boston's Colorful Irish Past (Globe Pequot Press, 2013)