Search This Blog

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Galway Immigrant Edward White, noted Uilleann Pipe Maker in 19th Century Boston

  Ad in 1853

by Michael Quinlin

Edward White (1807-1877), who emigrated from Loughrea, Galway to Roxbury, Massachusetts in 1848, was a notable figure in Boston’s Irish music community, and a successful businessman as well.  

Based at Dallas Place (off of Ruggles Street) in Roxbury, White was a musical instrument repairman, whose specialty was the uilleann pipes, then referred to commonly as the union pipes or Irish bagpipes.   During this time, Roxbury was a separate city next to Boston, and would later be annexed to Boston as a neighborhood in 1868.

Throughout the 1850s, White ran a regular advertisement in the Boston Pilot, the nation’s leading weekly newspaper.  The Pilot catered to the city’s growing Irish population, but also had a national following of readers.  White’s ads ran over 225 times between 1853 and 1860.

Ad in 1859

"Edward White, manufacturer of the union Irish and Scotch bag pipes…. can furnish the purchaser with (bag pipes) superior to anything of the kind to be found in this country.  All kinds of Musical Instruments repaired on the shortest notice.  He (is) also prepared to be present at all parties (where) his services are required to play upon the union pipes."

In the 1850 US Census, White is described as a music instructor, and in the 1860 and 1870s census,  he updated it to read musical instrument maker. 

During this period, a number of well-known uilleann pipers came through Boston.  James Gansey, a 70-year-old blind piper, who arrived in December 1847 and played for the Charitable Irish Society in March 1848. Charlie Ferguson performed at Tremont Temple in Boston on December 21, 1855

According to Francis O’Neill, in his book, Irish Minstrels and Musicians (Chicago:1913), White  was a well-regarded pipe-maker, whose "tone of his drones, if equaled, were never surpassed by those of any piper known to Americans."  O’Neill also adds that when famed pipe maker Michel Egan died in New York City around 1860-61, it was White who stepped in to meet the demand, specializing in drones as well as reeds.  

O’Neill writes that White owned and operated a popular dance hall in Roxbury during the 1860s, and that he often appeared in public “with a tall silk hat.  Hence his nickname, The Dandy Piper. 

Born in Galway in 1807, White emigrated to the United States in February 1848, and took up residence in Roxbury, which had a fast-growing Irish population due to an influx of Irish escaping from the Irish Famine.   He was naturalized an American citizen in 1853.   When he married Bridget Gaughin in 1860, it was his third marriage and her second, and that year they had a daughter named Catherine.   White died on April 23, 1877.

An influential generation of Irish pipers began to emerge in Massachusetts in the 1870s that included Patsy Touhey, Bartley Murphy and his son Johnny Murphy,  James Joyce and his son Edward "Kid" Joyce, William and John Connolly, William Madden, Owen Cunningham, John Coughlan and Mici Cumbaw O'Sullivan.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Irish Rebels Take over Dublin on April 25, 1916

Flag of the Irish Citizens Army

On Tuesday, April 25, 1916, Irish insurgents objecting to British rule in Ireland tried to take over the City of Dublin

The rebellion was led by a collection of volunteer organizations including the Irish Republican Brotherhood, Sinn Fein, the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizens Army.  

Throughout the day, the Irish rebels took possession of several different sections of the city.  An official British communication, published in The Boston Globe, read:

“A large party of men identified with the Sinn Fein party, mostly armed, occupied Stephen’s Green and took possession forcibly of the Post Office, where they cut the telegraph and telephonic wires.  Houses were also occupied in Stephen’s Green, Sackville StreetAbbey Street and along the quays. In the course of the day soldiers arrived from the Curragh and the situation is now well in hand.”

The armed uprising was planned for months in advance, with weapons from Germany being simultaneously shipped to the coast of Ireland to support the rebellion.   But the capture of the German ship, the Aud, bringing guns for the rebels meant that “any chance of a successful uprising disappeared,” wrote Irish historian Michael Kenny in The Road to Freedom, published by the National Museum of Ireland.

On April 28, the Globe reported that the revolt was spreading outside of Dublin and that martial law had been declared across the island. Subsequent reports referred to the rebels as “traitors to Ireland,” but that sentiment quickly changed when British General Maxwell executed the captured Irish leaders on May 3, 1916.

In Boston, the Irish community had already rallied against the British and saw the rebels as heroes.  In a speech in Pittsfield, MA on May 1, 1916, Joseph O’Connell, ex-US Congressman from Boston, told a rally organized by the Friends of Irish Freedom,  "I glory in the brave spirits who defied the tyrant England, and I am very proud that there are yet Irish in Ireland with the spirit of Wolfe Tone, Emmett, Meagher, John Boyle O’Reilly and O’Connell...who dare to oppose the despotic rule of England in Ireland.”
Later that summer, Nora Connolly, the daughter of Irish rebel James Connolly, one of the executed leaders, came to Boston to “tell the true story of the Irish uprising.”  The 23 year old woman made a great impression on the Boston media and on the area’s large Irish community. 

While in Boston Nora Connolly was the guest of Mayor James M. Curley, who gave orders that “every courtesy possible is extended to her while in Boston,” wrote The Boston Globe.  As she was leaving City Hall, “the mayor handed her a substantial purse of money, the gift of a few Friends of Irish Freedom, as the mayor put it.”

Monday, April 20, 2020

J.J. McDermott of New York Won the first Boston Marathon in 1897

John McDermott

This year's  Boston Marathon, slated to take place today, is being postponed to September 14, 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The annual race is sponsored by the Boston Athletic Association (BAA). 

The very first Boston Marathon was held on April 19,1897, inspired by the first modern Olympic Games held the previous year in Athens, Greece. 

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.  "At 12:15, Tom Burke scrapped his foot across the narrow street in front of Metcalf's Mill and called the contestants numbers," reported The Boston Globe. 

The race was organized by the BAA, and the initial field that year consisted of fifteen runners, of whom ten would finish the race.   John J. McDermott of the Pastime Athletic Club of New York won the race, finishing the 25 mile course in two hours, fifty-five minutes and ten seconds.  

McDermott apparently lost nine pounds running the race, and afterwards said, "This will probably be my last long race.  I hate to quit now, because I will be called a quitter and a coward, but look at my feet," he told The Boston Globe in its April 20, 1897 story.  "Do you blame me for wanting to stop it?  I only walked about a quarter of a mile in the whole distance, and it was 20 miles before I lagged a step.  I think I shall be all right tomorrow.

McDermott returned to Boston in 1898 and finished fourth.

The 1897 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, seeking to duplicate the spirit of the 1896 Olympic Games in Athens.

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. 

For more on Boston's Irish history and heritage, visit

Monday, April 13, 2020

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 Donahoe.

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

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Boston Athletes Dominate in the first Modern Olympic Games in Athens, Greece, 1896

The Modern Olympic Games kicked off in Athens, Greece, on April 6, 1896, rekindling the ancient sporting competition after an absence of 1,500 years.  Thirteen nations participated.

Boston, Massachusetts was well-represented at the Games that year, with six athletes making the journey to Greece. Also participating was a team from Princeton University in New Jersey.

The Boston athletes included Thomas E. Burke, Ellery H. Clarke, Thomas P. Curtis, Arthur Blake and W.W. Hoyt of the Boston Athletic Association (BAA), accompanied by their manager John Graham, as well as James Brendan Connolly of the Suffolk Athletic Association of South Boston, accompanied by manager Thomas J. Barry.

Connolly (1868-1957) was one of twelve children (including eight boys in a row) born in South Boston to immigrant parents John and Ann (O'Donnell) from Inis More, Aran Islands, off the coast of County Galway, Ireland.

The American team left New York on March 20, 1896 on a German Steamer, arriving in Naples twelve days later.  They took a train across Italy, then caught a steamer to Patras, Greece, followed by a ten hour train ride to Athens, arriving on April 5, 1896.

The Americans nearly missed the Games because of a mis-communication about when the event actually started.  While most of the world relied on the Gregorian Calendar, the Greeks still used the Julian Calendar, a difference of twelve days. Connolly recounts sitting in a cafe the morning of April 6, 1896, thinking the team had twelve days to prepare for the competition.  He was shocked to discover that his event was starting in just a few hours!

The team raced to the stadium and before long Connolly was competing in the Hop, Skip and Jump (now called the Triple Jump.)  He won the event with a leap of at 44 feet, 9 3/4", thereby becoming the first winner of the Modern Olympic Games.

Beverly Cronin of the Boston Herald described the scene:  "Connolly walked up to the line, and with Prince George of England and Prince George of Greece as judges, yelled in a burst of emotion, 'Here's one for the honor of County Galway,' before making his winning jump."

Burke (1875- 1929) became the first athlete in the Modern Olympic Games to win two races, the 100 yard dash and the 440 yard run.  He later became a journalist and coach. 

For more history on the Boston Irish, visit

For year-round details on Irish culture, history and heritage in greater Boston, visit

Saturday, April 4, 2020

South Boston's James B. Connolly, first medal winner in the 1896 Olympic Games in Athens

On Monday, 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.

Connolly 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 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. 

In his autobiography: Sea Borne: Thirty Years Avoyaging, Connolly talks about his family and their Irish roots, "As far back as my father and mother knew, their people came from seafaring stock.  They were Aran Islands folk; islands that lie off the west coast of Ireland.  It is a rough coast, and the Arans are little isles and almost solid rock, which was one reason why so many men of those isles took to the sea.  The lack of arable land left the sea as their best chance for a living."

Connolly lived to age 88, and spent the last several months at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Jamaica Plain, Boston. He died on January 20, 1957 and is buried at Holyhood Cemetery in Brookline.

When he died, an outpouring of respect came from journalists like Arthur Daley of the NYTimes, who called him “An Olympian to the End.” 
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)