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Friday, April 18, 2014

Irish Patriot John Boyle O'Reilly Helped Form the Boston Athletic Association in 1887

John Boyle O’Reilly (1844-90), known in Boston as an Irish patriot, poet, orator and spokesman for the downtrodden, was one of the founders of the Boston AthleticAssociation (BAA), in 1887. 

In January, 1887, “at the suggestion of the late John Boyle O’Reilly, the first meeting was formed to consider…forming an athletic club in Boston,” wrote The Boston Globe in a March 9, 1912 story on the BAA’s 25th anniversary.

A few months later, the General Court ofMassachusetts passed an act to incorporate the BAA on May 9, 1887, listing O’Reilly as an official, along with other leading Bostonians like Henry Parkman, George Morrison and George W. Beales, Francis L. Higginson, Richard D. Sears and Harrison G. Otis.

The first meeting of the new club took place on June 14, 1887 at the Boston Cadet Armory.  The full membership of 1,200 was already enrolled by the time the first meeting took place, wrote the Globe.

The BAA helped field the first US Olympic team that competed in Athens, Greece in 1896, and also started the Boston Marathon in 1897, a race it oversees to this day.

Today, O’Reilly is best known as a leader of Boston’s Irish community, but in his day he was renowned as a poet, orator, intellectual and sportsman.  He had escaped a life imprisonment from a British penal colony in Australia by hopping on a whaling ship out of New Bedford, MA, and he arrived in Boston  in 1870, where he lived for the rest of his life.

O'Reilly was an active outdoors man, and taught fencing for a time at Harvard University.  His book, Ethics of Boxing and Manly Sport, published in 1888, defended the controversial sport of boxing, but also delved into other topics like Irish hurling, canoeing, and hints for fitness and nutrition for the serious athlete. 

A new book by John Hanc, entitled the B.A.A. at 125 recounts the formation of the group and gives a synopsis of O'Reilly's life and his involvement in the forming the city's most famous athletic organization.

Today, a memorial to John Boyle O'Reilly is located in the Fens at the top of Boylston Street. 

Find about more about Boston Irish history by visiting

Friday, April 4, 2014

Mayor Curley and Ex-Mayor Fitzgerald Attend Opening Day at Fenway Park, 1914

As the Boston Red Sox faced off the Washington Senators at Fenway Park on April 14, 1914, another battle was going on in the stands between newly-elected Mayor James Michael Curley and his rival, former Mayor John "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald.

""Twenty-four thousand, two hundred and seventy-one persons went to Fenway Park yesterday afternoon to see Mayor Curley throw out the first ball....It was an enthusiastic crowd...eager to cheer and ready to use every excuse to the fullest extent," wrote The Boston Globe.  

"The first old-time roar of delight came promptly on the handling of (Senator) Eddie Foster's attempt (to steal base).  One minute later John F. Fitzgerald came in and the real thunders broke loose.  Mr. Fitzgerald looked pleased with the world and sat down modestly in a box near the Red Sox dugout."

Mayor from 1910-13, Fitzgerald had thrown out the ball when Fenway Park first opened in 1912, and again in 1913.  Fitzgerald opted not to run for reelection in 1914 when Curley threatened to reveal Fitzgerald's "well-known dalliance with a blond cigarette girl named 'Toodles' Ryan, who worked at the Ferncroft Inn," according to author Thomas H. O'Connor.

The Senators defeated the Red Sox 3-0 that day.

For more about Boston's Irish heritage, visit


Sunday, March 16, 2014

Boston Irish Heritage Trail - Guided Tour at 2pm on Sunday, March 16, at Boston Common

Take a guided tour of Boston's Irish Heritage Trail on Sunday, March 16 at 2:00 p.m.. The tour begins at the Boston Common Visitor Information Center  and winds its way through 300 years of the city's illustrious Irish history.

Tickets are $15 for adults, $12 for students, military and seniors, and free for children under 12.  You can purchase your ticket at the visitor center the day of the tour.  Find more details of the tour here.

The Irish Heritage Trail was created by the Boston Irish Tourism Association, a group formed in 2000 to promote the Irish history, heritage and culture of Massachusetts. 

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Boston Irish Heritage Trail guided tours at Boston Common Visitor Center this Weekend

Guided tours of Boston's Irish Heritage Trail are taking place on Saturday, March 15, Sunday, March 16 and Monday, March 17, 2014, beginning at the Boston Common Visitor Information Center at 2:00 p.m.  Also, there is an additional tour at 11:00 a.m. on Monday, March 17.

Tickets are $15 for adults, $12 for students, military and seniors, and free for children under 12.  You can purchase your ticket at the visitor center the day of the tour.  Find more details of the tour here.

The Irish Heritage Trail was created by the Boston Irish Tourism Association, a group formed in 2000 to promote the Irish history, heritage and culture of Massachusetts. 

Monday, March 10, 2014

Going Green: Boston’s Top 10 Irish Sites to Visit this St. Patrick's Day

John Boyle O'Reilly Memorial 
© Boston Irish Tourism Association 

Author Michael Quinlin has explored the rich history of Boston's Irish community in his book, Irish Boston: A Lively Look at Boston’s Colorful Irish Past, published by Globe Pequot Press

Garnering material of famous people and places in his book, here is his list of top ten Irish sites in Boston to check out this St. Patrick’s Day, or any time of year.  All of these sites and more are listed on Boston’s Irish Heritage Trail, a walking map of 20 sites Quinlin created as a companion to his research for Irish Boston. 

Quinlin is co-founder of Boston Irish Tourism Association  and is a frequent contributor to Irish America Magazine and the Irish Echo newspaper.

For year round details on Irish cultural activities in Massachusetts and New England, visit


Sunday, March 9, 2014

Mass Historical Society has exhibit on the Shaw Memorial designed by Irish-born sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens

The Massachusetts Historical Society has an exhibit called, "Tell it with Pride: the 54th Massachusetts Regiment and Augustus Saint-Gaudens' Shaw Memorial," through May 23, 2014.  The exhibit is free and open to the public.

The exhibit, organized by the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC,  conveys the magisterial monument to the nation's first Black military regiment, led by Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, as created by famed sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens. 

The monument took fourteen years to complete, because of disagreement among patrons regarding how the piece should look.  Plus, the perfectionist artist approached the project in a painstaking manner, seeking out forty black men in New York to use as models, from which he chose 16 to appear on the final memorial.  The memorial was unveiled in 1897 at a ceremony attended by Booker T. Washington, philosopher William James, and the families of the soldiers.  It is located at the site where Civil War regiments mustered before going off to war. 

Saint-Gaudens was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1848, the son of a French cobbler and his wife, Mary McGuinness.  Fleeing the Irish Famine, the family arrived in Boston in September 1848, but finding no work, moved to New York after six months, according to the book, Irish Boston.  

The Shaw Memorial is located on Boston's Irish Heritage Trail, a walking trail of 20 sites in downtown Boston and the Back Bay that convey 300 years of Irish presence in Boston. 

For more about civil war memorials made by Irish-American sculptors, read this story in Irish America Magazine.

For more about Boston's Irish history, visit