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Sunday, October 15, 2017

Irish Tenor John McCormack Sings Before 4,000 at Boston Opera House in 1917

Courtesy of Boston College Irish Music Archives

On October 15, 1917, famed Irish tenor John McCormack sang at the Boston Opera House to a packed audience of 4,000 of his fans. 

As always, McCormack played a wide-selection of music to embody his classical training and his native traditions. During the concert, he performed works by Handel, Schubert and Brahms, as well as classic Irish melodies such as Mother Machree, co-written by Chauncey Olcott and Ernest Ball and Sweet Kitty Malone by Hugh Dunbar Hargrave

McCormack's final encore was the hit song, I Hear You Calling Me by Harold Harford and Charles Marshall. 

 The Irish Music Collection at Boston College's John J. Burns Library has an important collection of materials about John McCormack.  And the Archival Collection at Boston Symphony Hall has  programs from McCormack's concerts between 1911 and 1936, plus various newspaper clippings.

Read more about John McCormack in Irish Boston: A Lively Look at Boston's Colorful Irish Past,  published by Globe Pequot Press.   

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Irish Poet W.B. Yeats in Boston in September 1911 to Discuss the Irish National Theatre

Portrait of W.B. Yeats by John S. Sargent, 1908
Courtesy of John J. Burns Library at Boston College 

 William Butler Yeats addressed an audience at the Plymouth Theatre in Boston on September 28, 1911 on the subject, "History of the Irish National Theatre and its Purposes."

As managing director of Dublin's 
Abbey Theatre, Yeats was touring the United States to introduce a new literary movement  in Ireland that he hoped would be "the awakening of the mind of Ireland."

Plymouth Theatre, located at Eliot Street (now Stuart) and Tremont Street, was a brand new playhouse, described as "a cozy, compact and home like-arrangement, with the seats in all parts of the house as near the stage as possible."  The Abbey players christened the new theatre with their productions. 

The Irish plays on opening night included The Shadow of the Glenn by John M. Synge, Birthright by T.C. Murray, and Hyacinth Halvey by Lady Gregory 

Yeats was introduced to the audience by 
George Pierce Baker, professor of dramatic literature at Harvard University, according to a Boston Globe story on September 29, 1911.

"In Ireland, we are putting upon the stage a real life where men talk picturesque and musical words and where men have often picturesque and strange characters, that is to say, the life of far away villages where an old leisurely habit of life still exists," Yeats told the audience in Boston. 

"The country life has for us the further fascination that it is the only thoroughly Irish life that is left.  All our patriotic movements go back to the peasant.  We try to recreate Ireland in an Irish way by mastering what he knows and by using it to understanding what the old manuscripts contain," he said.

Yeats and 
Lady Gregory came to the United States to promote Ireland's new theatre movement but also to defend it against opponents who rioted inDublin when the Playboy of the Western World by Synge was first performed.  Critics assailed the play as a slight upon the Irish character

Yeats told reporters that 'if Ireland is to have a literature, the Irish must not resent truthful portrayals,' according to a 
New York Times story on October 12, 1911.

Lady Gregory said that the controversy over Synge's play was due to misunderstandings about Synge's purpose, and "to something that might be called race sensitiveness," wrote the NY Times on November 20, 1911. 

When the Playboy debuted in Boston on October 16, 1911, the 
Boston Globe reported the play elicited 'some hisses, some cheers,' but that overall it did not cause "the excitement that some people had feared."

Yeats told the Globe he was 'very much pleased,' at the response to the opening night performance. 

"I would not have been surprised if there had been more of a disturbance.  It was very mild, indeed.  I am satisfied.  I am sure that the Irish people will appreciate the play in time here," he said.

When Yeats returned to Ireland in November, he reflected on his trip.  "At Boston, the Abbey Theatre company had a flattering reception.  The more intellectual the play, the greater the success we achieved in Boston.  I attribute this to the influence of the universities," Yeats told the New York Times, in a story published on November 26, 1911.

For theater in Boston today, visit 
Huntington Theater Company and ArtsEmerson.

Here is information about the W.B. Yeats collection at John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

In 1988, the W.B. Yeats Foundation was formed by Professor James Flannery at Emory University in Atlanta.

For details on cultural activities in greater Boston, visit  For information on Boston's Irish heritage, visit

- Researched and written by Michael Quinlin

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Army & Navy Monument Unveiled on Boston Common on September 17, 1877

Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia

One hundred and forty years ago today, public officials, military leaders and the people of Boston unveiled the Army & Navy Monument at Flagstaff Hill on Boston Common to commemorate Massachusetts men and women who gave their lives during the Civil War.  

The unveiling on September 17, 1877 also marked the 247th anniversary of the settlement of Boston in 1630.

Over 100,000 spectators lined the streets of Boston as 25,429 veterans marched along a 6 1/2 mile route through the city and up to Flagstaff Hill. 

"All nationalities, all colors and conditions of men were represented," reported the New York Times.  "The Irish, Scotch, English, Portuguese and others were out in large numbers and carried the blood-stained flags under which they fought.  The colored men also turned out in large numbers and stepped as proudly to the strains of martial music as the men who had so enthusiastically take up the case which led to their freedom." 

The memorial was created by Martin Milmore, an Irish immigrant who moved to Boston from County Sligo with his widowed mother and three brothers in 1851.  He showed early signs of artistic genius as a student at the Brimmer Elementary School and Boston Latin, and got an apprenticeship with noted sculptor Thomas Ball by offering to sweep the floors of the studio every night. 

The monument project was initially conceived after the Civil War, in 1866, as a memorial to "fallen heroes who...aided in putting down the Southern Rebellion and in sustaining the Constitution of our Country and the Union of the States," according to the official program. 

"The deeds of our heroes, whom we proposed to honor, caused the chain to fall from 4 million of the human race.... And not only did they aid in restoring to liberty those upon whom the brand of servitude had been stamped for years, but they emancipated our own Southern brethren from the customs of the past, and placed them in new relations to humanity and progress, where they will enjoy a freedom never before known to them."

Milmore was awarded the commission in 1870, and the following year moved to Rome, Italy for five years, modeling his design in a setting of artistic inspiration.

Part of Milmore's genius was to depict the figures of navy and army not as admirals and generals but as ordinary sailors and soldiers.  This was an artistic perspective he had taken in his earlier Civil War works, including memorials in Roxbury, Charlestown and Framingham, MA, Claremont, NH, Waterville, ME and Eire, PA.

According to published specifications, the granite column is seventy feet, and has the shape of a square fort with bastions.  Four bronze figures, eight feet in height, represent peace, history, army and navy.  Atop the column is a bronze statue, eleven feet in height, representing the Genius of America. 

The Genius of America "represents a woman, majestically proportioned, clad in a flowing robe...upon her head is a crown of 13 stars.  The head is slightly bowed, and the eyes cast down.  There is nothing of haughtiness nor defiance in attitude or expression.  The figure does not symbolize America the conqueror, proud in her strength and defiant of her foes; but rather America the mourner, paying proud tribute to her loyal dead, whose bones lie upon every battlefield of the great South, toward which her face is turned." 

Mayor Frederick O. Prince said, “If the commemorated dead could arise and speak to those they have met in battle, their words would not be words of anger, but of peace and good-will.  Why then, should it not be otherwise with the living?

“The genius of the artist has with great felicity placed the statue of Peace looking to the South,” Prince continued.  “Let us hope that…it is an assurance that the past is forgotten; that there are to be no irritating or disturbing memories; that the South, when it looks to the North, shall see not the sword of victory, but the fraternal hand grasping the olive-branch of reconciliation and friendship.”

In a further sign of reconciliation, Confederate officers were invited to attend the ceremony, joining Union Generals Joseph Hooker and George B. McClellan. 

Charlestown native Charles Devens, a Union General and Massachusetts judge, was orator of the day.  He also characterized the monument as a gesture of peace, not war.

“The monument bears no words of boasting or unseemly exaltation, and the assertion of the justice of their cause, though firmly made, is yet not made in any harsh or controversial spirit,” Devens said. 

“Let us endeavor to lift ourselves to a higher level of patriotism which despises any narrow sectionalism, and rejoices in the nationality broad enough to embrace every section of the Union, and each one of its people, whether high or humble, rich or poor, black or white.”

- Essay by Michael Quinlin

The Army Navy Monument, also called the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial, is on Boston's Irish Heritage Trail.  Read more about Irish immigrant sculptors

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