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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.

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