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Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Irish 9th Regiment of Massachusetts Presented Flag to Governor Andrew in June 1861

An estimated 150,000 Irish fought on the Union side in the American Civil War, including two Irish regiments from Massachusetts: the Ninth Regiment of Infantry, Massachusetts Volunteers and the 28th Irish Massachusetts Regiment.

The 9th Regiment's flag was first publicly displayed on June 25, 1861 when Colonel Thomas Cass made a formal visit to Governor Andrew to receive the state flag.  The Ninth Regiment sported an Irish flag made of green silk, with a scroll inscribed in gold that read: "Thy sons by adoption; they firm supporters and defenders from duty, affection and choice."

On June 30, 1861, the 9th arrived in Washington D.C., where they were welcomed by President Abraham Lincoln.

The Ninth Regiment saw extensive battlefield action in Virginia and Pennsylvania.  When Colonel Cass was mortally wounded at the Battle of Malvern Hill in Virginia in 1862, he was replaced by Colonel Patrick R.Guiney of Tipperary, who continued to distinguish the Regiment for its ability and courage.  Guiney himself was wounded in battle but survived.

During the Spanish-American War of 1898 the Ninth Regiment also saw action in Cuba.  The flag for that campaign was presented to the Regiment by the Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH) of Suffolk County.  It carried that flag during the decisive Battle of San Juan Hill and the siege of Santiago, which the American forces won.  The Ninth Regiment sustained many casualties, not on the battlefield but from malaria and other tropical diseases contracted in the jungle.  Among the members of the 9th regiment were James Brendan Connolly, Olympic medalist and writer (see page__) and Lawrence Logan of Ballygar, Galway, and his son Edward J. Logan (see page)

The 28th Massachusetts Regiment, also composed of Irish troops, was officially mustered into service on New Years Eve, 1861, and carried four Irish flags during its service.  When the Regiment joined forces with the Irish Brigade in December 1862, Brigader General Thomas Meagher presented the regiment with an Irish flag similar to the New York Irish regiments he was commanding. Known as the Faugh au Ballaghs (Irish for 'Clear the Way'), the 28th had several slogans on its flags, including 'They shall never retreat from the charge of lances" and a second, placed in a scroll in an American eagle's mouth that read "Fostered under they wing we will die in they defense."

Today facsimiles of the flags are on display at Memorial Hall, the main rotunda of the State House, part of a 350 flag collection dating from the Revolutionary War to the present.  The actual flags are in an environmentally controlled storage space in the State House, and can be viewed by special appointment.

FInd more information about Boston's history by visiting

Monday, June 29, 2020

President John F. Kennedy Bids Farewell to Ireland, June 29, 1963

A high point of President John F. Kennedy’s time in office was his official visit to Ireland on June 26-29, 1963.

The visit captured the world’s imagination and shone a spotlight on the new Republic of Ireland. The visit was a triumphant, emotionally charged promenade in which the entire population of Ireland seemed to participate. Kennedy’s motorcade passed regally through the streets of Dublin, Cork, and Galway as thousands of proud Irish cheered him with tears of joy in their eyes, and the twin flags of Ireland and the United States waved madly for him.

The President’s eight great-grandparents all migrated to Boston, Massachusetts during the Potato Famine of the late 1840’s, seeking to take advantage of the economic opportunity offered in America. By the end of the century, both of President Kennedy’s grandfathers had become successful Boston politicians. Patrick J. Kennedy was a tavern owner and later a banker who served in both Houses of the Massachusetts Legislature and was the political "boss” of a ward in Boston. John F. ("Honey Fitz") Fitzgerald, a colorful politician who served in the Massachusetts State Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives, was also mayor of Boston for three terms.

He visited the modest town of New Ross, Wexford, which twenty-five-year-old Patrick Kennedy had left in 1848 on a ship bound for Boston. 

“When my great grandfather left here to become a cooper in East Boston, he carried nothing with him except two things: a strong religious faith and a strong desire for liberty. I am glad to say that all of his great-grandchildren have valued that inheritance.”

In Limerick, he said,“This is not the land of my birth, but it is the land for which I hold the greatest affection, and I will certainly come back in the springtime.”

On his final appearance in Galway before departing for home, President Kennedy said, “You send us home covered with gifts, which we can barely carry, but most of all you send us home with the warmest memories of you and your country.”

Learn more about President Kennedy's by visiting the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum

Read more about JFK's Irish ancestry here.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Boston Irish Leader John Boyle O'Reilly Born on June 28, 1844

John Boyle O'Reilly, considered one of Boston’s true leaders in speaking, writing and campaigning for human rights, oppressed people and injustice, was born on June 28, 1844 in County Meath, Ireland. 

Conscripted into the British Army as a young man, O'Reilly was 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.  

When he arrived in Boston in 1870, he was infatuated by the possibilities of democracy and liberty.   He spent the next twenty years of his life, until his death in 1890, speaking out on behalf of Irish, Blacks, Native Americans, Jews, Chinese and other beleaguered groups trying to make their way in America.

As editor and then owner of The Pilot, the leading Irish Catholic paper in America, O’Reilly used 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 Jews and Chinese, insisting that they get the same privileges as 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.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

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

The Boston Irish Famine Memorial was unveiled on Sunday, June 28, 1998, before 7,000 people, including the governor of Massachusetts, mayor of Boston and government officials from Ireland.  A Vietnamese and Rwandan were among the speakers of the day, an acknowledgment of modern day refugees who continue to seek solace in Boston.

The Memorial by artist Robert Shure juxtaposes an Irish family starving in Ireland with another Irish family striving for success in America.   Eight narrative plaques encircling the statues tell the story of the famine and the Irish triumph in America.

The $1 million memorial park commemorates the 150th anniversary of the Irish Famine (1845-49), during which one million people died of starvation or disease and nearly two million fled Ireland to avoid death.  Over 100,000 Irish refugees arrived in Boston during this time, transforming the city.

Their arrival revealed deep-seeded hostility among some Bostonians, prompting an anti-immigrant nativist movement in the 1850s known as the Know Nothing Party.  "No Irish Need Apply" signs were regularly posted in newspapers and in store windows.  There were reports of Irish families sleeping in the bushes on Boston Common, or dying of typhus in basement apartments along Broad Street.

Unjust political reigns and economic instability in Ireland prompted a steady stream of Irish emigrants to Boston and other parts of North America.  The tribulations of the Famine generation were ultimately vindicated by the success of Irish-Americans, culminating in the election of President John F. Kennedy in 1960, whose eight great grandparents all left Ireland during the Famine years to find a better life in Boston.

Located at the corner of Washington and School Streets in downtown Boston, across from the Old South Meeting House.  The Memorial is along the city's Freedom Trail and is part of Boston's Irish Heritage Trail, a self-guided walk covering over 300 years of Boston Irish history.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

In June 1872, Boston Held the World Peace Jubilee with 22,000 Musicians & Singers

In the summer of 1872, Boston staged the largest concert in history at that time, featuring over 2,000 musicians and 20,000 singers, performing as soloists, in various ensembles and also en masse, to convey the joy, comfort and inspiration that music can bring.

The World Peace Jubilee and International Music Festival ran from June 17 through July 4, 1872, housed in a temporary coliseum that was built in what is now Copley Square in Boston’s Back Bay.  In addition to the 22,000 performers, the stadium held 60,000 spectators, and it was filled to capacity on many of the 18 days in which the Jubilee ran.

The Jubilee was created by Irish immigrant Patrick S. Gilmore, a talented cornet player, band leader and impresario who had become the best known musician in America.  Gilmore had been Band Master for the Union Army during the Civil War and is credited with penning the song, When Johnny Comes Marching Home, a war anthem still played today.  He had staged an earlier National Peace Jubilee in 1869 that featured 10,000 singers and 1,000 musicians. 

Among the highlights of the 1872 Jubilee: 

• Johann Strauss, the Austrian waltz king, made his American debut at the Jubilee, having met Gilmore in Vienna the previous summer. Strauss conducted his famous waltz, the Beautiful Blue Danube, to thunderous applause, and also composed a Jubilee Waltz especially for the occasion, dedicated to Gilmore. 

• The Fisk Jubilee Singers, a group of Black college students from Fisk University in Nashville, performed at the Jubilee, “sending the audience into a rapture of boisterous enthusiasm” for its rendition of Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory of the Coming of the Lord. President Grant invited them to perform at the White House later that year, helping to launch a singing ensemble that still flourishes today. 

• The unlikely stars of the Jubilee were the 100 Boston firemen, dressed resplendent in red shirts and white suspenders, whose job it was to hammer onto 100 anvils as part of the chorus to Verdi’s Il Trovatore (The Troubadour). As the firemen hammered in unison, cannons outside the coliseum were firing and all of Boston’s church bells were ringing as the orchestra reached a crescendo.

The Irish Music Archives  at Boston College's John J. Burns Library holds the Michael Cummings Collection of P.S. Gilmore Materials, donated by the late Gilmore scholar Michael Cummings

Learn more about Irish heritage in Boston by visiting  Or visit for year round details on Boston's Irish community. 

For more on the history of Boston's Irish community and about P.S. Gilmore, read Irish Boston: A Colorful Look at Boston's Lively Irish Past, published by Globe Pequot Press.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

The New England Irish Connections to Bunker Hill

Bunker Hill Day is celebrated each June 17 in Boston, to mark the famous battle of June 17, 1775 between American colonists and British troops.  The Bunker Hill Monument was built to recognize the sacrifice of the colonists fighting against British rule.

The British may have won the Battle of Bunker Hill, but the battle marked the point where "British tyranny ended and American liberty began."  The 140 Americans who died at Bunker Hill included English, Scots, Irish, Native Americans and African Americans, a melting pot of future citizens of the nation. 

Of the New England militiamen who rushed to Charlestown to defend Boston Harbor, 176 were Irish-born, and hundreds more were born of Irish parents.  Historian Michael J. O'Brien notes there were seven Irish officers and dozens of Irish-American officers, including Colonel John Stark of New Hampshire, one of the heroes of the day-long conflict.  Major Andrew McClary of Epson, New Hampshire, whose parents were from Tyrone, was killed at the very end of the battle after fighting bravely throughout the day.  Also fighting that day was Captain Ebenezer Sullivan, whose brothers James would become governor of Massachusetts and John, a general in Washington's Army, would force English troops to evacuate Boston on March 17, 1776. 

In 1794 a small memorial was created, and in 1823 the Bunker Hill Memorial Association was formed to raise funds for a much larger memorial.  On June 17, 1825 Revolutionary War hero Marquis De Lafayette laid the cornerstone, while Daniel Webster gave the oration.  The 221 foot monument, with a 30 foot base, cost $100,000 to build, and was formally unveiled on Saturday, June 17, 1843.  US President Zachary Tyler and his cabinet attended the ceremony, and again Webster gave the formal address.  

On June 17, 1889, the Memorial Tablets were unveiled at nearby Winthrop Square, listing the names of the men who fought at Bunker Hill.    The Honorable John R. Murphy of Charlestown gave the oration that day. 

In the 19th century, Charlestown  became one of Boston's most distinctly Irish neighborhoods, with a strong contingent of families who settled here from Donegal.  In 1832, the Catholic Church opened the Bunker Hill Catholic Cemetery, against the wishes of the town's selectmen, in order to bury two Catholic children who had died. 

On June 30, 1919, Ireland's leader Eamon De Valera visited the Bunker Hill Monument, 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."  DeValera signed it and placed it on the wreath, wrote the New York Times.

Bunker Hill Monument in Monument Square and the Bunker Hill Memorial TabletsWinthrop Square, Charlestown are both located on Boston's Irish Heritage Trail.

Find out more about Bunker Hill Monument at

Monday, June 8, 2020

Mayo Gaelic Football Team Plays Massachusetts All-Stars at Fenway Park, June 6, 1937

The acclaimed Mayo Football Club visited Boston to play against the Massachusetts All Stars at Fenway Park on June 6, 1937.

The Massachusetts team, managed by Mike McKeown, consisted of the best players from the local Boston teams.

On game day, over 6,000 fans were in the stands, to witness Mayo easily defeating the Massachusetts team by a score of 17-8. 

Wrote The Boston Globe’s sports reporter Victor O. Jones, “I’ve looked upon some great athletes and some great teams in my day, but I’ve yet to see a finer body of men than those who wore the Green and Red of Mayo yesterday. 

"Most of them were giants - tall, broad-shouldered, barrel-chested and thick-limbed - but their physical qualifications didn’t stop there.  They were also fast, amazingly so, for such large men, rugged and apparently tireless.  Skillful too, they were nimble with their hands and feet in a game which requires not only power and speed but also fitness."

Jones cited three Mayo players in particular, Paddy McClair, Gerald Courell and Purty Kelly as the stars of the Mayomen, while the Massachusetts players praised included Ned Clancy and Bobby Thompson.  

Celebrity guests at the match included famed wrestlers  Danno O’Mahoney and Steve Casey.

In the days leading up to the match, the team visited the Massachusetts State House, where Lt. Governor Francis Kelly welcomed them, then over to Boston City Hall, where they were well received by Mayor Fred Mansfield.  Afterwards, some of the players went to see the Boston Braves play the Pittsburgh Pirates, while others “visited Suffolk Downs and took a whirl on the ponies,”  according to George Collins of The Boston Globe.  

The night before the match, the team saw “Parnell” at Loew’s State Theatre, then went to Hibernian Hall in Roxbury to meet with the local Mayo Association.

Thursday, June 4, 2020

On June 1, 1847, six year old Irish girl is the first refugee to die at Boston's Deer Island Quarantine Hospital

On June 1, 1847, Mary Nelson became the first Irish immigrant to die at the new quarantine hospital at Deer Island.  She died of typhus fever and was six years old.

A few days earlier, on May 27, city officials had opened the quarantine station on the island to monitor the ships coming from Ireland and Britain filled with refugees who were sick or dying from a variety of diseases, ranging from typhus fever and consumption to cholera and convulsions.  The Irish were fleeing the devastation on successive potato crop failures that triggered poverty and disease, conditions that were exacerbated by the failure of the British overseers of Ireland to address the problems.

The first ship to be placed in quarantine was the Brig John Clifford from Galway.  It arrived in Boston on May 27, and the first patients were taken to the Deer Island Hospital on May 29, 1847, according to Dr. John McColgan, archivist for the City of Boston.  By the end of the week more than 100 patients were hospitalized.

Prior to the opening of the quarantine station that month, sick passengers arriving from Ireland were being allowed to come into Boston, as long as the head tax was being paid by the ship masters.  Many of the passengers became sick within a few days of arriving and ended up at the Alms House in South Boston, which quickly experience an outbreak of death among the patients.  In the last week of May, the total number of patients at the Almshouse was 812, "of whom 94 were admitted during the present week.  There have been 13 deaths during the same period and 53 discharged," according to an item in the Boston Traveler.

Commenting on the new hospital at Deer Island, a local nativist newspaper called American Signal wrote, "Quite a move of our wise city fathers, after they have allowed the city to be filled with pestilence, pauperism and crime.  It is like shutting the barn door after the horse is stolen."

Because of its proximity to sea air and wind, and its distance from the crowded tenements of Boston’s ghettoes, the Deer Island Hospital proved beneficial for the Irish who had contracted typhus, often called ship fever, and other airborne diseases.

The Boston Medical and Surgical Journal, in its June 16, 1847 issue, wrote that “bad food, and the huddling together of men, women and children in the hold of a ship for weeks, engender the disease which is brought to our shores….The only efficient remedy, certainly the first source of relief, is a fresh atmospheric exposure.” 

From June 1847 to December 1849, 4,816 people were admitted to the hospital.  Of these, 4,069 were ill upon their arrival and 759 died on the island during this time. 

The idea for an Irish Memorial was first raised in the 1990s when the bones of interred Irish were inadvertently uncovered during construction of the region's wastewater treatment facility.  The Mass Water Resources Authority (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.

In June 1997, a temporary Celtic cross was placed on Deer Island as part of a worldwide commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Irish Famine, and plans were set in motion to place a permanent memorial on the island.

Deer Island Irish Memorial, May 25, 2019

Finally, on May 25, 2019, thanks to the volunteer efforts of local residents and Irish-American leaders along with officials from the MWRA, a permanent Irish memorial was unveiled at Deer Island to the memory of those Irish who died and perished on the island during the Famine years.  The ceremony was attended by city officials, Catholic clergy, and by several hundred local residents and representatives from Irish-American organizations.  

A copy of the Deer Island Death/Burial Registry between 1847 and 1850 is kept at the City of Boston Archives

The Deer Island Irish Memorial is part of Boston's Irish Heritage Trail.  See information about visiting Deer Island here.