LogoPatrick Sarsfield Gilmore

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Gilmore was born on Christmas Day in 1829 in Ballygar, Co. Galway. Gilmore's family had no plans of letting the young Patrick enter the musical world; he was slated to enter the priesthood. But, before Gilmore had had much of a chance to travel this route, he encountered a site that would radically change his life.

Gilmore accompanied his father to a monster protest rally in Athlone as a member of the Ballygar Fife and Drum Band. Because Athlone was a garrison town, the British paraded their finest military bands through Athlone. Gilmore was completely enamored -- it was the first time he had been open to a modern, well-disciplined and well-equipped band. From then on, he was intent on returning to Athlone to join the band.

Eventually, Gilmore realized his dream. He moved to Athlone, where he soon became a member of a local band. One of the great bandleaders in Europe at the time, named Keating, introduced the young Gilmore to classical music and taught him the finer points of playing the trumpet. Another fine musician, named Cavalinni, exposed him to sacred music. Under their direction and leadership, Gilmore flourished as a band member. It was at this time that he decided to make his move across the Atlantic to Boston -- but it is a move that for years been shrouded in myth and rumor.

Allegedly, Gilmore joined the British musical regiment in Athlone, which was then moved to Canada, where it was said that Gilmore broke off from the group and came to Boston. Michael Cummings, through years of research and hard work, has finally shattered this fallacy. Cummings found Gilmore's name, along with his brother's, on the register of a ship which transported immigrants to Boston from Ireland in 1848. Cummings says that the false story of Gilmore's move originated in New York in the late 1800's. Because Gilmore was not a radical revolutionary on behalf of the cause of Irish freedom, his critics circulated a rumor that Gilmore was unsympathetic to the United Kingdom through his musical affiliations with the British military. "That circulation got currency," says Cummings. "It was still prevalent to this day. It is truly not so."

Once settled in Boston, Gilmore immediately became a member of a local band. In a short time, he became the leader of the Boston Brigade Band and then the Charlestown Band. He quickly became the best known trumpet player in the East -- and he must have been a real whiz, because he was sought by them all.

Salem, which at that time was the home of the best band in America, asked Gilmore to join their group and Gilmore agreed. Salem was also the home of the Know-Nothing Party. The Know-Nothings were a radical political party in the 1850's and 1860's who despised the Irish, Catholics and foreigners in general. Needless to say, Gilmore was not exactly handed the keys to the city upon his arrival in Salem.

Some of them suggested that he change his name if he wanted regular bookings, I think they must have been totally unprepared for the change Gilmore made. He dropped the middle name Steven and adopted instead probably the proudest name in Irish annals: Sarsfield. Gilmore's audacity may not have endeared himself to his enemies in Salem, but his immense musical talent could not be overlooked.

He and the band became a hit, especially with the onset of the Civil War. They played at recruiting rallies and other military functions, including the inauguration of James Buchanan, prior to the crisis in 1861. While the state of Massachusetts built up its resources and prepared to deploy thousands of young men to the south, Gilmore and his band played their part. In one particular incident, Gilmore played for the 12th Massachusetts Regiment stationed on Fort Warren in Boston Harbor. While on the island, Gilmore heard one recruit singing a doleful tune which was then known as John Brown's Body. He set it to music and it became a rollicking hit, the greatest marching song of the war. Gilmore's song would later be rewritten with the same music by Julia Ward Howe and is now known as the Battle Hymn of the Republic.

Over the course of his life, Gilmore wrote and performed several other songs that became big hits in the United States. Included among them were Good News from Home, which was such a success that he wrote a sequel entitled Sad News from Home. God Save Our Nation was another huge success for Gilmore during the Civil War. But his greatest hit is undoubtedly familiar to most Americans today. After the Battle of Gettysburg,I think he sensed it was a turning point. It was then that he wrote the rollicking When Johnny Comes Marching Home. It went on to be a lasting and enduring hit -- no later than Desert Storm, they played it as the troops came off the planes.

Gilmore himself played a significant role in Massachusetts contribution to the northern war effort. Governor Andrews put Gilmore in charge of training the bands, and he personally trained, equipped, and sent out 20 bands from Massachusetts. That was the highest compliment of any state in the nation. Gilmore himself and his whole band later enlisted and actually saw service in the Carolinas.

At the close of hostilities, Gilmore was personally asked by Abraham Lincoln to organize and perform a large celebration in New Orleans. Gilmore had always dreamed of massing musicians together in one performance, and with this directive from the Commander-in-Chief he saw his chance. He came up with 500 musicians, along with 5,000 schoolchildren, many from Confederate families, singing patriotic numbers. In Gilmore's celebration in Lafayette Square, history was made. For the first time he used a cannon to mark the beat with electricity. It was a stupendous affair and Lincoln wrote him and thanked him for a job well done.

Gilmore's experiment in New Orleans inspired him. He always had a flare for making things bigger and better; he was in many ways cut in the same mold as his contemporary P.T. Barnum. Accordingly, Gilmore dreamed of organizing a huge peace festival to celebrate the end of the war in the land. Gilmore decided to hold the event in Boston, since no one in Washington or New York was interested in his outlandish ideas. He finally got Eben Jordan to back him. He had to do the whole organizing himself, and he did. He planned to double the numbers he had in New Orleans, 1,000 musicians and 10,000 singers. No building existed in the area suitable to house an event of this scale, so Gilmore planned to build a structure 300 feet long, 100 feet wide, and 100 feet tall on Boston Common. Defenders of the Common showed opposition so Gilmore moved his site to Cooley Square -- where the Hancock Building and Trinity Church now stand.

Somehow, Gilmore got together an unprecedented number of performers and the Festival was held in June of 1869. It was an outstanding success. Grant came with his cabinet. It was the biggest social even of the century in Boston.

So great were the vibes from the National Peace Festival of 1869 that Gilmore -- always thinking of bigger and better things -- now envisioned an International Peace Jubilee to mark the end of the Austro-Prussian War in 1872. With the money he made from the first festival, Gilmore was able to tour Europe with his band. There he made contact with European bands and came back flushed with the idea of a World Peace Jubilee.

The World Peace Jubilee of 1872 was again held in Boston. Gilmore had yet another building constructed to handle the estimated 40,000 to 60,000 people who were expected to arrive from all over the world. The structure was 300 feet long, 500 feet wide, and 100 feet tall. The event itself was also extended -- it was scheduled to run from June 17 to July 4. For the first time, Gilmore overextended himself. It was too much.

It was a financial flop. There were some days when they had over 60,000 people in it and yet there were days when they didn't have as many in the audience as there participants. One of the highlights of the festival for Gilmore must have been the arrival of a band from his homeland -- Ireland. Originally, the British would not let them come, fearing that it would reveal a split in their supposed United Kingdom. Gilmore himself arranged for the Irish to be represented apart from the British band.

Despite financial failure, the World Peace Jubilee made Gilmore a national musical figure -- the premiere bandmaster of the time. It was at this time that Gilmore joined the 22nd Regiment Band in New York, which allowed him to fashion a band to his desires. "It became the greatest band in the United States and probably the world. It was with this band that Gilmore started a tradition that is observed every December 31 in Times Square. On New Year's Eve, beginning in 1888, Gilmore and his band went to Times Square and played. At midnight Gilmore would fire two pistols to usher in the new year. Gilmore continued to tour with the 22nd until 1892, when he died of a heart attack on the second night of yet another tour. He was buried in Old Calvary Cemetery in New York, and at the time of his death it seemed as if the nation would never forget the bandmaster from Ballygar. On the night of his funeral, a young bandleader named John Philip Sousa dedicated his performance to the late Gilmore. Ironic when you consider that it would be Sousa, who would take his place above Gilmore, eventually rising to such heights that the Irishman became nothing more than a footnote in the annals of musical history.

Until 1992, no marker was visible on the bandmaster's final resting spot. The Ancient Order of Hibernians agreed to make the restoration of Gilmore's grave a top priority project of theirs as well as the Patrick S. Gilmore Sciety.



Career Highlights of P.S. Gilmore

Patrick Sarfsield Gilmore is often called "father of the American Band," "America's greatest bandleader", "America's first Superstar". He touched the lives of music lovers all over American and the world.

  • Born on December 25, 1829 in Ballygar, County Galway, Ireland.
  • Emigrated to Boston in 1849.
  • Became famous as cornet soloist and band leader.
  • Founded Gilmore's Band in 1857, featured two woodwinds to each brass instrument: the same used in modern concert bands.
  • First Promenade Concert in America (1855): forerunner of today's Boston Pops.
  • During the Civil War, Gilmore's Band served with the Massachusetts 24th Regiment.
  • Wrote many songs, including When Johnny Comes Marching Home, Good News from Home, We are Coming Father Abraham, Seeing Nellie Home, and Famous 22nd Regiment March and the band arrangement of The Battle Hymn of the Republic.
  • Produced the World's Peace Jamboree (1872), which had a 2,000 piece orchestra and 20,000 voice chorus. Johann Strauss, Jr., was paid $100,000 to appear at these concerts -- the only time he visited America.
  • Created Gilmore's Concert Garden, which became the first Madison Square Garden.
  • Music Director for many important celebrations, including:
    July 4th Centennial in Philadelphia (1876).
    Dedication of the Statue of Liberty (1886).
  • Featured at Manhattan Beach Hotel and St. Louis Exposition.
  • Successfully toured Europe (1878).
  • Toured extensively throughout the United States until his death in 1892.
  • Made some of the first commercial recordings for Thomas Edison in 1891.
  • It was Gilmore and his band who started the new familiar tradition of greeting the New Year in Times Square, New York.

Gilmore is buried with his wife and daughter in Old Calvary Cemetery, Long Island, New York.
In September, 1992, the Centennial of his death, the P.S. Gilmore Society erected a monument at the grave.

Thanks to Michael Cummings for this information.


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