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Saturday, February 29, 2020

America's Greatest Sculptor Born in Ireland on March 1, 1848

One of America’s most acclaimed sculptors of the 19th century was actually an Irish immigrant.  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.  

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; and the Nevins Monument at Mt. Auburn Cemetery. 

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

 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

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Irish Poet Thomas Moore, Revitalized Irish Melodies

Irish poet, lyricist and musician Thomas Moore, who wrote compelling lyrics to many of Ireland's ancient melodies, died on this day of February 25, 1852. 

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

Upon learning of his death in 1852, Boston Pilot publisher Patrick Donahoe and other leaders formed a Thomas Moore Club to perpetuate his music.  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 heritage, visit

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Boston Massachusetts Launches Irish Bond Drive to Support the Irish Republic in February 1920

Irish organizations in Boston and across Massachusetts geared up for an Irish Bond drive that would raise money to create an Irish Republic. 

Organized by the Friends of Irish Freedom, the drive aspired to raise one million dollars in Massachusetts, of which the Boston goal was half a million dollars,  out of a total goal of $10 million across the United States. 

The denominations of the bonds ranged from $10 to $10,000, according to state chairman Thomas Walsh, who said he was counting on "some rich Bostonians of Irish sympathy" to buy the $10,000 bonds, though the success of the drive depended upon the number of $10 bonds sold, reported The Boston Globe.

Among the local groups involved in the drive were the County Galway Men's Association and the Gaelic School.

In Charlestown, six year old Ann Bonner was the first person to purchase bonds there.  Other large turnouts took place in South Boston, East Boston, Roxbury, Jamaica Plain, Lynn, Salem and Quincy.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Irish National Land League Holds Rally at Boston's Faneuil Hall in February 1881

Faneuil Hall was packed on February 11, 1881 with public officials, distinguished citizens and Irish-American leaders, there to show support for the Irish national land league and to criticize the British government for trying to thwart the Land League movement in Ireland by arresting its leaders.

Among those present were Irish-American leaders John Boyle O'Reilly and Patrick A. Collins, Boston Mayor Frederick O. Prince, General Benjamin Butler and abolitionist Wendell Phillips.

Mayor Prince expressed outrage at “the tyranny of the British government in arresting and imprisoning, without sufficient reason, that good man and true patriot, Michael Davitt.”  

Patrick Collins said, “This is not simply an Irish movement, but a movement in the interests of justice, truth, human rights and the civilization of the 19th century. What is happening in Ireland today is to happen in England and Scotland tomorrow, and this the British government knows and dreads.”

General Butler said, “In Ireland, the greater part of the men owning the larger share of the lands of Ireland had gone abroad, leaving the land in the charge of agents and middlemen, who had no interest in her people and no employment but to see how much money could be wrong out of the Irish people for their masters abroad.”

A resolution was passed…” that we hereby send to the people of Ireland a profound assurance of American sympathy with their suffering and so far as international comity allows of earnest cooperation with their constitutional agitation, which has already preserved them from the calamitous consequences of famine.”

For more about Boston Irish history, visit the IrishHeritageTrail.