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Monday, May 29, 2017

President John F. Kennedy: A Boston Irish Story

President Kennedy’s thousand days in office marked an epoch in the Boston Irish story. One man stepping forth from a marginalized community that had struggled mightily for so many generations, facing hostility and surviving on the edge of society, driven to success by fear of hunger and anger at prejudice, determined to right the wrongs for the sake of the children and future generations. JFK was the future generation that his parents, grandparents and great-grandparents had daydreamed about as they were toiling in America, saving their pennies, getting stronger, wiser, and warier. He may have represented the hopes and dreams of the world, and of a nation, but in essence JFK represented the pinnacle of immigrant dreams for millions of Irish around the world.
Kennedy’s optimism and resolve was emblematic of the American mind of the twentieth century, but he also brought a new level of sophistication to public life.  Louis M. Lyons wrote, “The elevation of the tone of the national life may be John Kennedy’s most enduring contribution to his country.” Along with his beautiful and stylish wife, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, JFK brought a savoir faire to the White House and created a magical mood that later moved Jacqueline to use the word Camelot to refer to her husband’s presidency. Both the president and his wife were lovers of the arts, and they surrounded themselves with singers, poets, dramatists, artists, and dancers. In a well-deserved nod to the power of poetry, Kennedy invited New England poet Robert Frost to read at his inauguration. Frost later told Kennedy, “You’re something of Irish and something of Harvard. Let me advise you, be more Irish than Harvard.”
On October 26, 1963, Kennedy gave a compelling address at Amherst College called “On Poetry and National Power,” in which he laid out a vision of American life to which the Irish, the politician, and the poet could relate.
“When power leads man towards arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses, for art establishes the basic human truths which must serve as a touchstone for our judgment. . . . I look forward to a great future for America – a future in which our country will match its military strength with our moral strength, its wealth with our wisdom, its power with our purpose. I look forward to an America which will not be afraid of grace and beauty. . . . And I look forward to an America which commands respect throughout the world not only for its strength but for its civilization as well.”
Kennedy had shown more than a casual interest in Ireland, according to Arthur Mitchell, whose book JFK and His Irish Heritage traces the president’s youthful interests. Kennedy made the first of his six trips to Ireland in 1939, and in 1945 had the opportunity to meet Eamon de Valera, forging a friendship that lasted through Kennedy’s life. Kennedy had interviewed de Valera during that trip and submitted a thoughtful piece titled “De Valera Aims to Unite Ireland” to the New York Journal American in July 1945. He wrote, “De Valera is fighting the same relentless battle fought in the field during the Uprising of 1916, in the War of Independence and later in the [Irish] Civil War. He feels everything Ireland has gained has been given grudgingly and at the end of a long and bitter struggle. Always, it has been too little too late.” When de Valera visited Boston in 1948 to promote Irish unification, Kennedy met him at Logan Airport, even though his flight arrived after midnight. Kennedy also cosigned a bill sponsored by Rhode Island Congressman John E. Fogarty in 1951 calling for Irish unification, and he supported a similar Senate resolution.
A high point of the president’s time in office was his official visit to Ireland in June 1963. It 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. 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. On June 29, 1963, in Limerick, Ireland, Kennedy told the crowds of cheering Irish, “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.” It was a sentiment wrought with love, promise, friendship, and possibility, and it was almost unbearable to recall when the president was assassinated in Dallas on November 22, 1963.
Having followed the president’s visit to Ireland with immense pride, reveling in how he had turned the world’s attention to their small island off the coast of Europe, the Boston Irish community was stunned by the tragedy. They knew that he had grown up in a different society, one of privilege and wealth. But they considered him to be one of their own. To that postwar generation in particular, John F. Kennedy would always be one of them.
Shortly after his death the Kennedy family took up the task of creating a presidential library and formed a committee in 1964 to raise funds for the project: An Irish American Committee for the John F. Kennedy Memorial Fund in Boston, led by Cornelius O’Connor, Humphrey Mahoney and Michael Cummings. Its motto was “Modest Donations by Many Rather Than Large Endowments of a Wealthy Few.” As they had done for generations, the Boston Irish envisioned that the library would be built by the small cash donations of thousands of ordinary believers, the same way they had built their churches, parish schools, and colleges. The committee held a fund-raiser at the New State Ballroom on Massachusetts Avenue on May 17, 1964, and proudly donated $6,550.20 to the Kennedy Library Fund.
The family had selected Harvard Square in Cambridge as an ideal site for the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, but numerous delays occurred in securing the land because of “bureaucratic red tape and political infighting.” The Library Committee looked at other possible sites, including Hyannis and the Charlestown Navy Yard.  Finally, in 1975 the committee formed an alliance with city and state leaders to select a parcel of land at Columbia Point in Dorchester, home of the University of Massachusetts on nine acres of land and three acres of mud flat, overlooking Boston Harbor as well as Boston’s skyline. 
State Senator Joseph B. Walsh of Dorchester introduced legislation for the land transfer, and in August 1976, Governor Michael Dukakis signed a bill permitting construction of the library.  Boston Globe reporter Robert Campbell described the design by architect I. M. Pei: “The Kennedy Library is lonely as a lighthouse or a boat. . . . It was Pei who chose this lonely site . . . it’s a place you see from afar, a place you sense yourself journeying toward.”
The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum was formally dedicated on October 20, 1979, before seven thousand people. The event was described as “a sedate ceremony . . . sandwiched by a kind of affectionate hobnobbing and backslapping that characterized the JFK era.  With the same emotional mix that accompanies a jazzman’s funeral, the sobriety seemed only a loud whistle away from a friendly touch football game on the library’s landscaped grounds.”
Guest speaker President Jimmy Carter said:
President Kennedy understood the past and respected its shaping of the future. [He] entered the White House convinced that racial and religious discrimination was morally indefensible. He never failed to uphold liberty and condemn tyranny.   . . . The essence of President Kennedy’s message – the appeal for unselfish dedication to the common good – is more urgent than ever.
The podium that day was crowded with President Kennedy’s loved ones: former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy and her children John Jr. and Caroline; his brothers and sisters, nephews and nieces, cousins and in-laws. Any of them could have glanced out at Boston Harbor and settled their gaze on Deer Island, the last island separating the United States from Ireland. This is where their ancestors – the Kennedys, Fitzgeralds, Murphys, and Coxes—would have been stopped at the quarantine station before they were allowed to enter Boston, where history could then take its course.
From Irish Boston: A Lively Look at Boston’s Colorful Irish Past, 2nd edition, by Michael Quinlin. Published in October, 2013 by Globe Pequot Press

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Mass Senate Members Honor St. Patrick's Day in a Meaningful Way

Senate President Stan Rosenberg

Massachusetts State Senate President Stan Rosenberg and members of the senate presented a recitation of excerpts from native son President John F. Kennedy, presented in his City on a Hill speech, spoken on the eve of his inauguration as the 35th President of the United States, given at the House of Representatives Chamber.

The recitation was created as part of the St. Patrick's Day festivites, and honors the centennial of President Kennedy's birthday of May 29, 1917, which is being celebrated this year by the John F. Kennedy Library and others throughout the Commonwealth.

Find year round information on the Irish in Massachusetts at

Irish Piper Shaun O'Nolan Entertains Inmates at Charlestown Prison on March 15, 1918

A group of Irish musicians, storytellers and comedians entertained the inmates at Charlestown Prison on March 15, 1918, according to a story in The Boston Globe.

Among the performers was uilleann piper Shaun O'Nolan (1871-1941), a recording artist on Columbia Records and a well-known piper in the Boston area for many years.

"Shaun O'Nolan, the Wicklow Piper, kept his audience in laughter for a full half-hour with his fund of Irish stories, sogs, wreading and Irish bagpipe selections."

Other acts include a piano solo by Mrs. A.W. McMunn, the St. James Auartet, a reading by C.A. Birmingham of John Boyle O'Reilly's poem, "Bohemia," and a monologue by Miss Katherine Hanley.

Humorist Billy Troy "sang a solo and told stories in Scotch, Italian and Irish dialects."

Find more about Boston Irish history at

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Boston's Airport Named for Edward L. Logan, South Boston Leader with Galway Roots

Boston’s Logan InternationalAirport was named for General Edward L. Logan (1875-1939), a first generation Irish-American, military leader, civic leader and municipal judge with family roots in Galway and South Boston

Logan was the son of Lawrence Logan and Catherine O'Connor from Ballygar, County Galway, according to historian Michael J. Cummings.  The Logan family lived on East Broadway in South Boston.  

Read a full profile of Edward L. Logan on

The Logan statue is part of Boston's Irish Heritage Trail, a collection of public landmarks, memorials, buildings and statues that tell the story of the Boston Irish from the 1700s to the present. 

Find year round information on Boston's Irish community at

The British Siege of Boston led to Evacuation Day, March 17, 1776

In October, 1768, the British sent 4,000 troops to Boston after local citizens objected to a series of British taxes on the populace.  This only led to increased tensions between British authority and colonial Boston.  That tension escalated and came to a head in April 1775 during the Battles of Lexington and Concord, followed by the Battle of Bunker Hill in June 1775.

General Henry Knox played a key role in ending the British occupation 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 ThomastonMaine in 1806, where today the Henry Knox Museum is located.

For more about Boston Irish history, visit

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Role of the Irish in the famous Boston Massacre, March 5, 1770

Boston Massacre Memorial on Boston Common

The Boston Massacre took place on March 6,1770,  and is said to have sparked the American Revolution.  The episode took place when British troops fired into a crowd of Bostonians; four people were killed and a fifth  victim died a few days later. The shooting came after a tense week of acrimony between Bostonians and the British soldiers, which included a fist fight in a local tavern, small skirmishes on the streets and taunting threats by both sides.

There are several interesting Irish connections to the Boston Massacre:

. The soldiers involved were from the 29th British regiment, led by Captain Thomas Preston.  The regiment was mostly Irish soldiers who had been conscripted, often against their will.  The names of the troops involved in the shooting were William Wemms, James Hartigan, William McCauley, Matthew Kilroy, William Warren, John Carroll and Hugh Montgomery.

. It was Captain Preston who ordered his men to present arms to keep the crowd at bay, but the taunting continued.  Only years later was it revealed that the person who yelled out the fatal call to fire on the citizens was Montgomery.

. Thirty-one year old Patrick Carr, an Irish sailor who had come out of a house on Court Street and was moving toward the ruckus with fellow sailor Charles Connor, was the last man to be shot. He lingered for a few days and was able to give dying testimony that ultimately exonerated the soldiers.  Carr and the other four victims are buried at the Old Granary Burying Ground

. As the trial of Preston and his men loomed, an anti-Catholic dimension emerged.  The Boston Gazette revealed that many of the soldiers the British sent to Boston were Irish Catholics, while the Providence Gazette suggested that Pope's Day, a virulent anti-Catholic event, should take place on the anniversary of the Boston Massacre so as to include Preston and the others in the effigy burning.

. The famous drawing of the Boston Massacre by engraver Paul Revere was actually done by 21 year old Henry Pelham, half brother of artist John Singleton Copley.  Their mother, Mary Singleton Copley, had emigrated to Boston from County Clare in Ireland in 1736.  Pelham was furious when he learned that his friend Revere had used his illustration without Pelham's permission.

. Over a century after the Massacre, in 1888, the Boston Massacre Memorial was unveiled on Boston Common, Irish-born poet John Boyle O'Reilly was selected to write and deliver a poem for the ceremony.  The memorial was created by sculptor Robert Krauss. 

The Bostonian Society at the Old State House has a full day of indoor activities on Saturday, March 4, 2017, to commemorate this historical event.  Due to the severe cold weather today, the outdoor reenactment of the shooting is not taking place.  

For more about Boston's Irish history, visit

This information is taken from Irish Boston: A Lively Look at Boston's Colorful Irish Pastpublished by Globe Pequot Press  in 2013.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

February 25, Death of Ireland's Famous Bard, Thomas Moore (1779-1852)

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

For a fuller story on Moore's life and achievements, read Ireland's Minstrel Boy Gets His Encore in the Irish Echo.

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, especially 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, Patrick Donahoe and other Boston leaders formed a Thomas Moore Club to perpetuate his music.  In 1869, Patrick S. Gilmore featured Moore's songs in the National Peace Jubilee, 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."

For more about Boston's Irish heritage, visit

To find year round cultural activities as well as pubs and restaurants, gift shops, hotels, museums and concert venues, visit

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Boston's Mayor Marty Walsh Vows to Defend City's Immigrant Population

Shortly after the White House released an executive order on Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements, Boston Mayor MartyWalsh convened a press conference at City Hall to reinforce his support for the immigrant community.  He was surrounded by dozens of immigrant leaders from various communities in greater Boston.

“Today's Executive Orders regarding immigrants are a direct attack on Boston's people, Boston's strength & our values,” Walsh said. “We will not stand for it.

“We are a city and nation built on immigrants and we depend on newcomers to maintain the vitality of our country.  We will not be intimidated by a threat to federal funding.  we will not retreat one inch,” Walsh continued.”

In June, 2014, the Boston City Council passed the Trust Act, which guarantees undocumented immigrants that the Boston Police Department would not report them to federal authorities. 

Earlier in the day, Mayor Walsh issued this statement:

I am deeply disturbed by today’s news.  We will not back down from our values that make us who we are as a city.  We will fight for our residents, whether immigrant or not, and provide the best quality of life for all Bostonians.  I will use all of my power within lawful means to protect all Boston residents – even if that means using city hall itself as a last resort.”

Saturday, January 21, 2017

President John F. Kennedy's Inaugural Address, January 20, 1961

Here is the inaugural speech of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, delivered on January 20, 1961.

For more details on President Kennedy and his legacy, visit the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum.

Learn more about the Kennedy Family's Irish heritage.

Follow year round Irish cultural activities in Massachusetts at

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Mayor Honey Fitz Fitzgerald Holds New Year's Day Reception at Boston City Hall in 1907

Boston Mayor John "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald started a new tradition of ringing in the New Year by holding a reception at Boston City Hall on Tuesday, January 1, 1907.

The Boston Globe wrote on January 2, “When the mayor announced the he would hold a reception among the lines of those held in the national capitol and other cities of the union, few regarded it seriously.  It had never been attempted before, and of course, to be attempted now in sedate old Boston was regarded as nothing short of a desperate plunge with no reward in sight to warrant it."

Between the hours of noon and 2:00 p.m., over 4500 people attended, and it was deemed a success, noted the report.

Among the Bostonians who turned out to greet Mayor Ftizgerald: President Toland of the Charitable Irish Society, Herbert Carruth, deputy commissioner of the Penal Institution, Colonel Roger F. Scannell, “late defeated candidate of the Board of Alderman,” Henri Flammond, the French consul, Jeremiah McCarthy, surveyor of the port, and Patrick F. McDonald, superintendent of bridges.

Also attending were "Tim Murnane and Hugh McBreen, representing the baseball interests.”

Not everyone made it on time, reported The Globe.  “For an hour or more after the mayor had retired from the chamber, as many as 500 persons, women in the main, hurried to the corridor on the seond floor, only to learn that they were too late.” 

Mayor Fitzgerald "said that he was highly pleased with the reception for a beginning."

Fitzgerald was the third Boston mayor of Irish heritage, following Hugh O'Brien and Patrick Collins. Here is a full list of Boston mayors with Irish ancestry

Find out more by visiting