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Sunday, May 26, 2019

Massachusetts Bans Catholic Priests from Bay Colony in May, 1647

On May 26, 1647, the Massachusetts Bay General Court officially passed a law banning Jesuit Catholic priests from the Bay Colony.

In part, the law was passed because Puritans insisted upon purifying themselves and protecting the Protestant faith from Catholicism. The Puritans has originally broken away from the Church of England because it hadn't fully extricated itself from Catholic practices such as holy water, crucifixes and stained glass windows. 

 The other part was political: the Puritans were worried about the incursion of the French from Canada, who were encroaching on Maine, which was then part of the Massachusetts Bay colony.  The French Jesuits were converting Indians to Catholicism, raising the scenario that the French could induce the Indians to help defeat the Protestant New Englanders as the two European powers sought to carve out territories in America. 

It was "the only penal law against the presence of priests to be enacted in 17th century New England," according to historian Arthur Reilly, in his scholarly book, Catholicism in New England to 1788.

"To ensure observance of this law, heavy penalties were annexed," writes Reilly.  "One suspected of being a member of the Jesuits or an ecclesiastic subject to the See of Rome was to be tried before a magistrate.  If suspicion remained and could be proved, the Court of Assistants was to banish or otherwise proceed against him.  Anyone, so banished, taken a second time, would be put to death after lawful trial and conviction."

The anti-Catholic sentiment in New England lasted for centuries, even though Catholics were eventually accepted, starting with a public mass being celebrated in Boston in 1788.  But the negative reception of German and Irish Catholics in 19th century Boston demonstrated that the Puritan prejudice still lingered with a vengeance.

Read more about the Jesuit ban at MassMoments.  

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.)

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Harpist Nancy Hurrell Performs at John J. Burns Library at Boston College

A special performance lecture and reception celebrating the release of The Egan Irish Harps:Tradition, Patrons and Players by Nancy Hurrell  takes place at 5 p.m. on May 17, 2019 at the John J. Burns Library at Boston College. 

Nancy Hurrell is a harp historian and consultant to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Her groundbreaking CD, The Egan Irish Harp, is the first recording of an Egan Portable Irish Harp, c.1820.

The book was recently published by Four Courts Press with support from John J. Burns Library.  This event is jointly sponsored by the Irish Georgian Society and Boston College Libraries.

Click here for directions, parking, and more information.

Read more about the library's Irish and Irish-American collections.

Find year round information on Irish activities in Massachusetts at  

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