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Sunday, June 30, 2019

Irish-born Augustus Saint-Gaudens, America's Master Sculptor in the 19th Century

Courtesy of Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site, Cornish, NH

Acclaimed as America's greatest sculptor of the 19th century, Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848-1907) was born on March 1, 1848 on Charlemount Street in Dublin at the height of the Irish Famine, when millions of Irish were fleeing Ireland to places like Boston, New York, Montreal, St. John and other eastern port cities.  

His father Bernard Saint-Gaudens was a French cobbler who had "a wonderfully complex mixture of a fierce French accent and Irish brogue."  His mother, Mary McGuinness, was born in Bally Mahon, County Longford, to Arthur McGuinness and Mary Daly.

According to his son Homer, when Augustus was six months old, "the famine in Ireland compelled (the family) to go to America."  They landed in Boston in September 1848, where they lived for six weeks until the father found work in New York City and sent for them.  Augustus apprenticed as a cameo cutter, and in 1867 moved to Paris, where he studied at Des Beaux-Arts, then to Rome in 1870.  He met his wife, Augusta Homer, an American art student, while there, who was born and raised in Roxbury, MA.

Saint-Gaudens' first major commission of Civil War leader Admiral David Glasgow Farragut was unveiled at Madison Square Garden in 1881.  In his career he created over 150 sculptures, such as the Adams Memorial in Washington and the General Logan Memorial and Abraham Lincoln statue in Chicago.  He worked closely with his brother Louis and wife Augusta, and had a number of outstanding pupils such as Frederick MacMonnies and John Flanagan.  

Shaw Memorial in Boston

Augustus' most famous work is the Shaw Memorial a homage to the 54th Black Infantry Regiment of Boston. It took Saint-Gaudens fourteen years to complete the memorial, partly because there was an early disagreement among patrons regarding how the piece should look.  Plus, the perfectionist artist approached the project in a painstaking manner, seeking out forty black men in New York to use as models, from which he chose 16 to appear on the final memorial.  The memorial was unveiled in 1897 at a ceremony attended by Booker T. Washington, philosopher William James, and the families of the soldiers.  It is located near the site where Civil War regiments mustered before going off to war.

Saint-Gaudens' other major sculpture of interest is the Charles Stuart Parnell statue on O'Connell Street in Dublin, which was his last major work before he died in 1907.  The Parnell Memorial was unveiled in 1911, finished by his studio, which was led by his brother Louis.

Other Saint-Gaudens sculptures include the Phillips Brooks statue next to Trinity Church in Copley Square; the Puritan in Springfield, MA; the General Sherman Monument in Central Park, New York City; the Marcus Daly statue in Butte, MT; the official seals on the front entrance to the Boston Public Library; the Nevins Monument at Mt. Auburn Cemetery.  

Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site

Saint-Gaudens is buried at his home in Cornish, New Hampshire, which is now a National Historic Site open to the public. 

The Shaw Memorial is part of Boston's Irish Heritage Trail and the Boston Black Heritage Trail. It is located on Beacon Street, facing the Massachusetts State House.MBTA: Red Line to Park Street Station.Read about the Shaw Memorial's restoration in 2019.

Read more about Irish sculptors who came to the US in the 19th century.

Find more about Boston's Irish history at

Saturday, June 29, 2019

de Valera Visited Mission Church, Bunker Hill, Cambridge & Lexington on the Weekend of his Fenway Park Rally in 1919

 Basilica Church in Mission Hill, Roxbury

Prior to his triumphant rally at Fenway Park on Sunday, June 29, 1919, Irish political leader Eamon de Valera spent the morning at the Roman Catholic Mission Church in Roxbury, where his half-brother, Reverend Thomas Wheelwright, was stationed as a priest. 

Known formally as the Boston Basilica and Shrine of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, the Mission Church opened in 1870 and is ministered by the Redemptorists Priests, whose mission is to serve the poor and the spiritually abandoned.

Dev had arrived at Boston’s South Station on Saturday, June 28 with his secretary Harry J. Boland and was greeted by scores of Irish supporters as he made his way to the Copley Plaza Hotel in Boston’s Back Bay.  A marching band led the triumphant procession through the streets of Boston.

That evening, Dev visited the rectory at Mission Church in Roxbury, where his half-brother, Rev. Thomas Wheelwright, C.SS.R. was stationed.  After de Valera’s father died in 1885, Dev was sent back to Ireland where he was raised by his relatives.  His mother Catherine Coll of Bruee, Limerick married Charles Wheelwright, and had two children, Thomas and Ann.

The following morning, on June 29, Dev went to the Mission Church for the 9 a.m. Sunday mass.  “When his automobile approached, a deafening cheer arose, and hundreds tried to push forward and shake his hand, “ according to news stories.  President De Valera knelt on a prie-dieu at the head of the middle aisle, near the sanctuary rail.  The officials who accompanied him included Mayor Edward W. Quinn of Cambridge and President Ford of the Cambridge City Council. 

The  Rev Father Kenna, in greeting De Valera, told the congregation,

“A cordial welcome to our honored guest pours forth from the hearts of our community and all its people on this memorable occasion.  We thank him for honoring this church by selecting it to assist at the Sacrifice of the Mass. I assure him that the congregation of no other church in the united states is more solidly behind him and the cause which he represents than the congregation of the Mission Church.”

The 125-piece Mission Church Field Band marched from the church to Fenway Park with 3,000 parishioners.  In totally, 6000 people from Irish clubs and societies marched in the Irish association division. 

After breakfast at the Mission Church rectory, Dev returned to the Copley Plaza at 12:30 p.m., where he was presented with a floral bouquet and a brief address of welcome from the Irish Counties Association.

At 2:30 p.m. the De Valera party, accompanied by the Irish delegation, headed to Fenway Park by automobile, where 60,000 people eagerly received him and his message of Irish freedom.  He was introduced at Fenway by Massachusetts Governor David I. Walsh, who called de Valera Ireland's Abraham Lincoln.  The rally was covered by the international and domestic media.

 Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection

The following day, Monday, June 30, Dev “placed a wreath beneath the historic elm in Cambridge, under which General George Washington took command of the American revolutionary army, and another on the Minuteman monument on the green in Lexington,” wrote the Indianapolis Star.  

Dev also visited local landmarks in Cambridge and stopped at Bunker Hill in Charlestown, where he laid a wreath.   Then he wrote on a piece of paper the date and the words of George Washington when he heard the Battle of Bunker Hill had taken place, "The liberties of my country are safe."  He signed it and placed it on the wreath, wrote The New York Times

de Valera in Boston

That evening, de Valera addressed the House of Representatives at the Massachusetts State House.

He raised the question of whether the Irish wanted a Republic. “It is said that the Irish are divided among themselves.  This is not so, in respect to this question.  If we could get a plebiscite, we could carry it four to one.  Ulster is mentioned as an exception, but Ulster is a very small part of the island.

“It is said that this is a religious question,” Dev continued.  “This, too, is not so.  It happens that the majority of the Ulster minority is Protestant and that the majority of the Irish people is Catholic, but that has nothing to do with the present situation.  England has tried to keep alive this claim of religious difference, but it will not be able to do so and the Irish people will be united in support of Irish sovereignty.”

Dev's secretary Boland said that De Valera had hoped to meet with Boston’s William Cardinal O’Connell while in Boston, but the meeting did not take place, according to the Catholic Advance of Witcita, KS.

In addition to visiting Massachusetts, de Valera also stopped in Rhode Island and New Hampshire, where he was met by enthusiastic crowds.  Following that, de Valera traveled across the United States, visiting Irish strongholds like Butte, MT and San Francisco, CA, before returning to New York in the fall.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Boston's Irish Famine Memorial, Unveiled on June 28, 1998

Boston's Irish Famine Memorial was unveiled before a crowd of 7,000 people on Sunday, June 28, 1998 at the corner of School and Washington Street along Boston's Freedom Trail and Irish Heritage Trail.

The $1 million Memorial commemorated the 150th anniversary of the Irish Famine which occurred in Ireland between 1845-1849, killing nearly one million people and forcing another two million people to emigrate to  Boston, New York, Halifax and other eastern seaboard cities.

The memorial project was headed by the late Thomas J. Flatley, along with Michael Cummings and others from the Boston community.  

For year round details on Boston's Irish cultural community, visit

Irish Rebel, Boston Reconciler John Boyle O'Reilly born on June 28, 1844

John Boyle O'Reilly, the famous Irish rebel who lived in Boston's Charlestown neighborhood from 1870 until his death, was born on June 28, 1844 in Dowth Castle along the River Boyne.

Conscripted into the British Army as a young man, O'Reilly was later charged with sedition against the British Crown and sentenced to life imprisonment in an Australian penal colony.  O’Reilly made a daring escape aboard a New Bedford whaler, Catalpa, in 1868, a feat that helped shape his legend by the time he landed in America.  

Arriving in Boston in 1870, he spent the next 20 years reconciling the city's racial and ethnic factions who struggled against one another.  He became editor and then owner of The Pilot, the leading Irish Catholic paper in America, using the paper as a bully pulpit to advance various causes.  He befriended the Yankee establishment while admonishing them for the prejudices.  He defended American Blacks who were still looking for post Civil War equality.  He welcomed new immigrants such as Italians, Jews and Chinese, insisting that they get the same privileges as nativist Americans.  Throughout his life he pursued freedom of Ireland from Britain, advocating for home rule and land reform.

In 1885 he delivered a thunderous speech in defense of the rights of Black citizens at Faneuil Hall before the Massachusetts Colored League.  He said "So long as American citizens and their children are excluded from schools, theaters, hotels, or common conveyances, there ought not to be among those who love justice and liberty any question of race, creed, or color; every heart that beats for humanity beats with the oppressed."

O'Reilly was a popular poet and speaker, often called upon to deliver poems at noteworthy occasions such as the unveiling of the Boston Massacre Monument on Boston Common in 1888. There, he read a poem dedicated to Crispus Attucks,  killed by British soldiers at the Boston Massacre of 1770. Attucks' father was an African slave and his mother an American Indian. 

O'Reilly died on August 10, 1890 from an accidental overdose of medication. He was taken back to St. Mary's Church in Charlestown for the funeral, one of the largest in Boston's history. "The greatest of Irish-Americas" is dead, proclaimed The Pilot

A memorial to O'Reilly was commissioned to noted sculptor and friend Daniel Chester French.   Vice President Adlai Stevenson and hundreds of Boston's prominent and ordinary citizens attended the official unveiling on June 20, 1896. 

The bust of O'Reilly is set against a Celtic design stone, and the back of the memorial has bronze allegorical figures of Erin, flanked by Poetry and Patriotism. The O'ReillyMemorial is located in Boston's Fens at the intersection of Boylston and Fenway Streets, and is part of Boston’s Irish Heritage Trail.