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Saturday, July 2, 2011

Irish Band Leader Patrick S. Gilmore Started Boston's Fourth of July Concert Tradition in 1855

Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore, an Irish immigrant from Ballygar, County Galway, started Boston's annual tradition of a musical tribute to Independence Day on July 4, 1855, with a concert on Boston Common.

Michael Cummings, founder and president of the Patrick S. Gilmore Society, says that Gilmore emigrated to Boston in 1849.  He was a talented cornet player and soon got work leading the Salem Band before eventually returning to Boston to form his own Gilmore Band.

By 1855, when he held the concert, Boston was filled with Irish immigrants who had been coming there over the past decade to flee Ireland's famine and economic woes.  According to Irish Boston: A Lively Look at Boston's Colorful Irish History, over 100,000 Irish had arrived between 1845 and 1849, transforming the city.

The New York Times in 1853, wrote a sarcastic column that most of the people enjoying the Common on Independence Day, complaining "the whole costermongery was so preponderently Hibernian, that, if the Pilgrim Fathers could have come out of their graves, the surprise of it would have sent them back again shaking their heads, and telling every ghost they met that the chronic Irish rebellion had at last succeeded and that the strongest holds of Anglo-Saxondom were overrun by the Celts- they had the Boston Common in their hands!"

Cummings notes that Gilmore was also the composer of the anthem, When Johnny Comes Marching Home, which he published in 1863 at the height of the American Civil War.

Gilmore continued the July 4th tradition whenever he was in Boston, and later gave Independence Day concerts in New York and other parts of the country.  He died in 1892 giving a concert in St. Louis.

Today the Boston Pops carries on a glorious Fourth of July concert tradition that dates back to the 19th century.

For more about Boston's Irish history, visit

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