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Saturday, August 6, 2016

10,000 Attend the Boston Calendonian Festival in West Roxbury on August 5, 1916

Over 10,000 people attended the 63rd Scottish picnic hosted by the Boston Caledonian Club at the West Roxbury Grove on Saturday, August 5, 1916.

According to The Boston Globe, there were 39 athletic and cultural events, ranging from track and field and football (soccer) to Scottish dancing and Bagpipe competitions.

The Caledonian handicap road race of 13 ¼ miles started in front of the State House and finished at the Grove.  “The 16 starters were the crack local marathoners and Mayor Curley sent them off on their grind at 1:45,” wrote the Globe.

Mayor James M. Curley then traveled to the festival, where he addressed the crowd briefly and enjoyed the activities.  At one point, reported the Globe, Curley “was so pleased with the dance of one of the girls that he gave a personal prize.”

In addition to the sports and cultural competitions, three prizes were also awarded for “Best Dressed Highlander,” which was won by George A. Mitchell.

 According to writer Emily Ann Donaldson in her book, TheScottish Highland Games in America, the Boston Caledonian Club “sponsored Games for more than a century; the last one was held in September 1956 at Brookline Town Field.”

There is a tune called Boston Caledonian Club, which was published in Ryan’s Mammoth Collection in 1883.   

For information on today's Scottish celebrations in the USA, visit the Association of Scottish Games and Festivals.

Find more about Irish & Scottish activities in Massachusetts at

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Boston Parks Department Created Irish Floral Design in Public Garden to Welcome AOH Convention

Scene from the Boston Public Garden, ca. 1916 

In July, 1916, the Boston Parks & Recreation Department created a floral design of an Irish harp in Boston's Public Garden to welcome the national convention of the Ancient Order of Hibernians.  The convention took place on July 19-23 and attracted over 50,000 delegates, many from the mid-Atlantic and mid-Western states.

According to a Boston Globe story on July 2, 1916, a number of local residents complained about the Irish arrangement to John H. Dillon, chairman of the Parks Department and James M. Curley, mayor of Boston.

Dillon "explained that it has always been his policy to plant in the Public Garden an emblem of any large organization holding its convention in Boston, but up to the present instance of the harp no objection has ever been made.  He recalled that last year the emblem of the Zionists was planted in the Public Garden and that at other times the Masonic emblem, as well as the insignia of a large colored organization, had been laid out in flowers there.

"He added that he did not quite see how the emblem of the AOH Could offend anyone."

Later in the month, just as the AOH convention was ending, the harp floral arrangement was vandalized in the middle of the night and wrecked, according to the Globe. 

For more on Boston's Irish history, visit

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Irish Art Adorns the Boston Arts Festival in the Public Garden on June 6, 1954

The third annual Boston Arts Festival, which opened in the Public Garden in downtown Boston on June  6, 1954, featured a tent devoted to "works by contemporary Irish artists" chosen by Ireland's Cultural Relations Department.

The Irish tent contained "24 paintings and a tapestry by some of Ireland's top-notch contemporary artists.  Some work is in the abstract vein, some semi-abstract, and more romantic."

The Boston Globe story by Edgar J. Driscoll, Jr. called the festival "the largest and most comprehensive display of the arts in the city's history."   The festival was comprised of twelve tents, "housing hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of art," Driscoll wrote.

The Ireland tent included works by "a painting priest, Rev. Jack P. Hanlon, who is represented by a Madonna and Child and a landscape inspired in County Kerry.  Others whose work has been sent here through the courtesy of the government of Ireland include William J. Leech, Daniel O'Neill, Norah McGuiness, Gerald Dillon, George Campbell, Nano Reid and Patrick Collins."

The role of the Ireland's Cultural Relations Department in bringing art and culture to Boston was part of a new initiative the Irish government undertook in the wake of Ireland becoming an independent Republic on April 18, 1949, ushering in a new era of Irish pride.

As Sean MacBride, Ireland's minister of external affairs, told a gathering of Eire Society members in 1950, "Whether it be in the field of international politics, foreign trade, or tourism, one of the first tasks to be achieved is to make the people of other countries interested in our island and to make them feel kindly to us."

Cultural exports - including art, literature and theater, and later music and dance - proved a sure way to achieve this.  In 1950 the Cultural Relations Department sent an Irish photo exhibit to  Boston as part of Jordan Marsh's hundredth anniversary.  The following year an exhibit  of paintings by Jack Yeats opened at the Institute of Contemporary Art on Newbury Street.

Throughout the 1950s various Irish performers came to Boston, including the Dublin Players in 1951 and actress Siobhan McKenna in 1957.

For more about Boston's Irish community, visit

(Information in this blog taken from Chapter 11 of Irish Boston: A Lively Look at Boston's Colorful Irish Past by Michael Quinlin, published by Rowman & Littlefield.)

Monday, May 30, 2016

Cardinal O'Connell, Mayor Curley at St. Ambrose Church Dedication in Dorchester, May 28, 1916

Photo Courtesy of the Dorchester Atheneum

On Sunday, May 28, 1916, William Cardinal O'Connell "blessed the walls of the new Church of St. Ambrose in Dorchester," according to a report in the Republic Newspaper.

It was the 11th Catholic Church in Dorchester, wrote the Republic. The parish had been formed on December 4, 1914,and founding Father John P. Harrigan broke ground for a lower church in March 1915.  According to The Boston Globe, church services were initially held at the Dorchester Theatre and in the old Dorchester Post Office prior to the church being completed.

On this day, Cardinal O'Connell, assisted by Father Harrigan, confirmed over 200 children from Dorchester at the service.  Nearly 100 members of the Knights of Columbus escorted the Cardinal and his  entourage to and from the ceremony.  The St. Vincent's Boys Cadets of South Boston were also present, the media reported.

Among the guests were Mayor James M. Curley and his wife Mary.

"The church was crowded to its capacity during the services, hundreds outside being unable to gain admission," wrote The Boston Globe.  "Two women fainted in the church, but revived on reaching the open air."

In his sermon, Cardinal O'Connell said, "See what the Catholic Church means and signifies at the present day.  Think of the great wealth of benediction which the Catholic Church gives...which protects the laborer and in the poor; which guides the learned and the rich and the ruler invariably and infallibly; which signifies the conditions under which we ought to live, and brings happiness; which sanctifies the family and keeps it pure and holy, and the fire of love and veneration really always aflame; which brings up the little children in the law of Christ, in the reverence, obedience and respect which is due to the parents; and which is but the beginning of a great and larger reverence to society, the State and the world which every one placed therein must learn sooner or later."

Read this editorial by Ed Forry of the Dorchester Reporter entitled St. Ambrose Has Kept the Faith, published in 2014.

The Dorchester Atheneum has more information on the history of St. Ambrose Church, compiled by historian Anthony Sammarco.  Here is information about Fields Corner in Dorchester.

For information on Boston's Irish history, visit

Monday, April 18, 2016

Rare Photos of Boston Legend James Michael Curley Now Online

James Michael Curley, the legendary Irish-American politician who dominated Boston and Massachusetts politics for half a century, was also one of the most photographed politicians of his time.

Last year, the Jamaica Plain Historical Society purchased nearly 1,300 photographs of Mr. Curley from 1934-58, and has made that collection available online, thanks to a collaboration with the Boston Public Library and the  UMass/Amherst Libraries.

Here is the James Michael Curley Negatives Collection.

For more about Boston's Irish-American history, visit the

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Legendary Johnny Kelly finished 58 Boston Marathons over Illustrious Running Career

For the 120th running of the Boston Marathon taking place on Monday, April 18, 2016, we pay tribute to the amazing John Adelbert  Kelley, who holds the record for running more Boston Marathons than any other athlete. 

Kelley was born in 1907 in West Medford, outside of Boston, and traces his ancestry to County Wexford.  "My father's people left to go to Australia," he told The Boston Globe in 1981, when he was preparing for his 50th race.  "The boat stopped in Boston and they never left." 

Kelley ran his first marathons in 1928 and 1932 but did not finish either race.  He ran again in 1933 and has competed in every single race through 1992!  He finished in the top 10 eighteen times, taking first place in 1935 and again in 1945.  He owns the record for the most races started (61) and the most finished (58).  His best time was two hours and thirty minutes, posted in 1943.  He was 84 when he ran his last race in 1992, posting a time of Five hours and fifty-eight minutes.

He was christened Johnny "The Elder" Kelley, when John J. Kelley (no relation) emerged as a champion in the 1950s, winning the race in 1957. 

In 1993 the Boston Athletic Association erected a statue honoring Johnny Kelley on Heartbreak Hill in Newton.  The twin statues depict Kelley in 1935 and again in 1995, holding hands as they cross the proverbial finish line.

 For more on Boston Irish history and heritage, visit or visit

For tourist information, visit MassVacation and

Friday, March 25, 2016

In History: Dan Sullivan & Shamrock Band Perform at Shepard's Department Store in Downtown Boston on March 23

The famous Boston Irish traditional ensemble, Dan Sullivan and the Shamrock Recording Band, performed at Shepard's Department Store in downtown Boston on March 23, 1929, according to this ad in the Boston Globe.

The juxtaposition of band and the venue were significant, since Sullivan was one of the first Irish musicians to record extensively out of Boston, on Columbia, Victor and Decca labels, according to the Irish Traditional Music Archives in Dublin. 

The Shepard Stores, located on Tremont Street right across from Park Street Station, actually built its own fully-equipped radio broadcasting station, WNAC, on the third floor of its building,with a 65 foot signal tower atop the roof, according to the blog site, Shopping Days in Retro Boston

The band had a regular radio slot on WNAC, starting in 1928, usually on Monday's at 8:00 p.m.  An ad on April 9 of that year listed the band, along with special guests: Michael C. Hanafin, violinist; Thomas Quinn, tenor; and Shaun Nolan, well known as a singer of Irish songs." 

Sullivan was the son of Dan Sullivan the fiddler, originally from Mill Street, Cork and Tralee, Kerry.  Famed music collector Captain Francis O'Neill visited the elder Sullivan in Boston in 1905, describing him as "a teacher and maker of violins."

(For more on Boston's Irish music history, read Irish Boston: A Lively Look at Boston's Colorful Irish Past. )

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Maud Gonne, Irish Rebel, Visits Lowell, Fall River and Boston to Protest British Role in Boer War

Maud Gonne, rebel, activist and poetic muse, came to the United States in February 1900, to tell Americans about the atrocities of the British in South Africa's Boer War.  Already renowned for her beauty and fiery disposition, she was described by The Boston Globe as "pictuesque in a black velvet gown with a silver girdle at the waist...her splendid voice extremely musical."

Gonne spoke in Lowell on Sunday, February 11, 1900 in Associate Hall, and later met with a group of German-Americans from Lawrence. 

Then on Monday, February 12, she addressed 2,500 people in Fall River, during which eight Irish societies of 500 men and women preceded her speech with a parade that included two brass bands and a drum corps.

Gonne arrived in Boston on Sunday, February 17, and was greeted at South Station by a delegation of 50 men and women from Irish societies, who escorted her to the Vendome Hotel on Commonwealth Avenue.  The following day Gonne spoke at Tremont Temple on Boston Common, before 2,000 cheering supporters.  There she uttered a phrase that bespoke the mindset of many Irish people.

"From an Irish point of view," she said, "it matters not whether it be right or wrong, the nation that is the enemy of England is a friend and ally of Ireland."   That proposition was later rephrased by Irish rebel James Connolly as "England's difficulty is Ireland's opportunity."

Gonne left from New York on March 7 to return to Ireland, just in time to protest Queen Victoria's first and only visit to Ireland in April 1900. 

Gonne's husband, Major John MacBride, led the Irish Transvaal Brigade on the side of the Boers during the war.  They were married in 1903 and divorced in 1905.

Maude was the longtime muse of Irish poet William Butler Yeats, who also came to Boston on several occasions to promote Irish theater.  In his famous poem, Easter 1916, Yeats referred to MacBride, who was executed by English soldiers in the wake of the 1916 Easter Rising

(Excerpts from Irish Boston: A Lively Look at Boston's Colorful Irish Past, published by Globe Pequot Press)

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Irish Genius George W.Russell (AE) Pays Boston a Visit on February 10

Photograph of George W. Russell (AE) at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts

Ireland's famous mystic, poet, painter, essayist, economist and agricultural reformist George W. Russell visited Massachusetts on February 10, 1928, part of a six week tour of America.

Born in Lurgan, County Armagh, Russell moved to Dublin as a child and played an important role in Ireland's evolution in the early 20th century, as a writer, activist and thinker. He wrote under the pen name AE.

Described by The Boston Globe as "the most brilliant and versatile genius (Ireland) has produced in this generation," Russell held court at Boston's Statler Hotel upon arriving, talking with reporters for half an hour and impressing them with "the flash of his wit and the power of his  intellect."

He then traveled across the river to Cambridge, where he "lectured at Harvard in the afternoon and dined with President Abbot Lawrence Lowell in the evening."

AE said that the Gaelic revival and the poets of Ireland "had a large influence in the Irish fight for freedom.  There has been no great movement in Ireland that has not had a poet at the roots of it. Padraic Pearse, Joseph Plunkett and Thomas MacDonagh, poets, were all executed for their part in the Easter Rebellion.

"In our ancient sagas nothing was prized save the essential human virtues.  The emphasis is on truth, chivalry, heroism."

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

General Henry Knox of Charitable Irish Society, War Hero of the Revolutionary War

General Henry Knox played a key role in the revolutionary War, and helped to end the British siege of Boston.  The 25 year old Bostonian hatched a plan to capture the cannons at Fort Ticonderoga in New York, wheel them 300 miles to Boston.  His plan was to position the cannons atop Dorchester Heights in South Boston and aim them at the British fleet in Boston Harbor.

General George Washington gave him the go-ahead, despite objections from his senior command, and Knox set off with a group of men and captured 59 canons in December, and dragged them across the frozen landscape of western Massachusetts, finally arriving in Cambridge on January 24.   On March 5, British General Howe saw the guns aiming down at his fleet, and by March 17, 1776, the British troops, along with their sympathizers, evacuated Boston.  George Washington later named Knox the first U.S. Secretary of War. 

Read the full story on Henry Knox in Mass Moments.

Knox’s father and uncles were original members of the Charitable Irish Society, formed in 1737 to help other Irish immigrants settle in Boston.  A bookseller by trade, Knox joined the Society in 1772, when he was 22 years old.  He also became a member of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick in Philadelphia.  Knox died in Thomaston, Maine in 1806, where today the Henry Knox Museum is located.

For more about Boston Irish history, visit