We are as usual open today at 11:00 am! Stop by to see our temporary exhibit on The Irish in the American Revolution.
We explore the contributions, history, and culture of Irish people in America.
The work of the Museum is supported through a grant from the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs "Emigrant Support Programme."
We are as usual open today at 11:00 am! Stop by to see our temporary exhibit on The Irish in the American Revolution.
in 1951, Irish American politician & 98th Mayor of New York City, John Patrick O’Brien died in New York City at age 78.
O’Brien was born on February 1, 1873 in Massachusetts to Irish immigrants Mary & Patrick O’Brien. He graduated from College of Holy Cross in Worcester, Ma before earning his master’s & law degree from Georgetown University in 1897. He afforded his education through scholarships & prize money won in wrestling matches.
After college he moved to New York City, was admitted to the bar & worked for a Tammany district club. He was appointed the Assistant Corporation Counsel for Tammany Hall after working for them for 3 years. He worked cases for the Corp Counsel for over a decade before he was promoted to NY County Surrogate Court Judge in 1922. In 1927 he was elected president of the Friendly Sons of Saint Patrick & in 1927 helped organize the Guild of Catholic Lawyers. O’Brien also was also an active member of the Holy Name Society, the Knights of Columbus, & the American Irish Historical Society. His advancements over the years with Tammany bolstered his reputation around smaller societies & clubs; he was often chosen as a speaker for events & church services.
In 1932, NYC Mayor & Tammany Democrat, Jimmy Walker was forced to resign from office amidst a bribery & corruption scandal. Deputy Mayor Joseph V McKee was made acting mayor while an election was arranged. Tammany Hall slated John O’Brien to run against McKee; O’Brien won the election & served just one term. He ran for reelection in 1934, but lost to Republican candidate Fiorello LaGuardia. O’Brien retired from politics completely after the election.
Mayor LaGuardia was directly opposed to both the political leanings & the corruption associated with Tammany Hall. LaGuardia was the only anti-Tammany mayor to win reelection & his mayoral seat was ultimately the death knell to the Democratic & vastly Irish American ‘Machine’ that had controlled Manhattan for more than 100 years. The Tammany headquarters on 17th Street was nearly taken over by the Genovese crime family by the time LaGuardia was mayor & was vacated by 1943. LaGuardia was the 99th Mayor of NYC from 1934-46.
We are pumped for the Annual Regatta at Jennings Landing on Saturday!! Currach teams from across the country will be participating and the rain is not going to stop them!
The ancient seafaring tradition of the Irish will be on display as the Albany Irish Rowing Club hosts its annual currach regatta at Jennings Landing on the banks of the Hudson River. Races kick off at "noonish" and run until 5 p.m. The regatta will include competitive races for men and women and mixed teams in categories ranging from one to four person crews.
In contrast to traditional crew races, the regatta features fixed-seat currachs, the traditional fishing boats that have been used in Ireland for over 1,500 years. Currachs have canvas covered hulls, with long, thin-blade oars – two per rower – that help make the vessels highly maneuverable, yet surprisingly sturdy, even in rough waters.
The Albany Irish Rowing Club was founded in 1987 and owns several Kerry Style currachs with painted, canvas covered hulls. The club, whose members range from ages 20-70, practice from March to December and participate in several regattas across the country. The Club is a member of the North American Currach Association which promotes currach racing and fosters Celtic marine heritage. For more information visit our Facebook and/or Instagram page at
in 1906, Medal of Honor recipient, Thomas M. Doherty, died in Fort Thomas, Kentucky at 37 years of age.
Thomas M Doherty was born in Mitchelstown, Co Cork on May 11 1869. He came to the US alone at 16 years old, arriving in New York in August of 1885. He moved to Newcastle, Maine & was working as a coach driver when he enlisted in the US Army 21st Infantry in September 1891; he was 22 years old. He reenlisted after he was honorably discharged for completing his five year contract & when filing for naturalization, Doherty listed the Plattsburgh Barracks in Clinton County, NY as his address. He became a US citizen at 27 years old in January 1897.
Doherty served with Company H of the 21st Infantry during the Spanish-American War. He was a corporal at the battle of San Juan Hill in Santiago, Cuba on July 1 1898. Doherty risked his own life multiple times over to rescue injured men during the brutal engagement, dodging heavy gunfire along the frontline to do so. His actions at the Battle of San Juan Hill earned him a Medal of Honor, which he was awarded on June 22, 1899.
After the war, Doherty was transferred to the 4th Infantry, Company K, out of Fort Thomas in Kentucky. He was a ‘Color Sergeant’ after promoting up 8 grades as Corporal & another 5 as Sergeant. Color Sergeant was given to soldiers who were particularly courageous during battle. While it is no longer used in the US Army outside of ceremonies, it was an honorable position to earn at a time when unit colors were important in battle.
According to newspapers at the time of Doherty’s death, he faced disciplinary action for his over consumption of alcohol at Fort Thomas. His rank as Color Sergeant was pulled & he was placed as acting Drum Major. This apparently devastated Doherty & he was witnessed being drunk & despondent in the following days. He was seen in a saloon across from the barracks on September 21 1869, but did not report for duty the following day. He was discovered in an outhouse behind the saloon with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his head & the revolver still in his right hand. He was buried with full military honors at the Evergreen Cemetery in Fort Thomas, Kentucky.
in 1892, actress & writer, Patricia Collinge, was born in County Dublin.
Her birthname was Eileen Cecilia Collinge & she was born to Fredrick Channon & Emmie (Russell) Collinge. F. Channon was a musical director & church music composer, which exposed Patricia to the theater world at a young age. She took dance & piano lessons as a child in Ireland. Collinge’s first stage appearance was in December 1904, she appeared in ‘Little Black Sambo’ at the Garrick Theatre in London. In 1907, 15 year-old Patricia moved to the US with her mother. She immediately joined the theater community & made her first American stage performance the following year, as a flower girl in ‘The Queens of the Moulin Rouge.’
Collinge’s first major stage success was as the title role in ‘Pollyanna’ when it opened in Chicago in August 1915. She remained in the role for the entirety of the three-year US tour & is known in the theater world as the Original Glad Girl. She was cast in another title role in 1915’s ‘Tillie.’ Collinge was a cast member of the original Broadway production of ‘The Little Foxes’ in 1939 & in the 1941 film adaptation. After her film debut in 1941 earned her an Academy Award nomination & a National Board of Review award, she received multiple film roles, but continued to act on stage until 1952. Her last stage appearance was in ‘I’ve Got Sixpence.’ She was cast in the films ‘Shadow of a Doubt’ (1943), ‘Tender Comrade’ (1943), and ‘The Nun’s Story’ (1959). Collinge was also appeared in various television programs, including Laramie,’ ‘NYPD,’ and four episodes of ‘Alfred Hitchcock Presents.’
Patricia Collinge also had a career as a writer. In 1938, she wrote the play ‘Dame Nature’ adapted from a French drama. In addition to writing several short stories, Collinge published ‘The Small Mosaics of Mr. and Mrs. Engel’ (1959)- a travelogue that earned her a gold medal from the Italian government. In 1945, she co-wrote ‘The B.O.W.S’ about the traveling production of ‘The Barretts of Wimpole Street’ in Europe during WWII. Collinge died from a heart attack on April 10, 1974 at age 81.
The Embassy of Ireland, USA is looking to recruit a Finance and Administrative Officer. The position is based in Washington. Please see the link below.
Do you have accounting experience, an interest in Ireland and diplomacy, and are a team player? The Embassy of Ireland, USA wants to hear from you!
⏲️ Applications due Wednesday Sept 27 at 4:30 p.m. EST / 9:30 p.m. IST
in 1956, composer & champion fiddler, Liz Carroll, was born in Chicago, Illinois.
Her father, Kevin, emigrated from Brocca, Co Offaly & played the button accordion. Her mother, Eileen, emigrated from Ballyhahill, Co Limerick. Liz first took music lessons from nuns at a Catholic school & was brought up listening to traditional Irish music. She composed her first reel at just 9 years old. Carroll graduated from DePaul University with a degree in social psychology.
In 1973, Liz attended Fleadh Cheoil, where she won second place in the All-Ireland under-18 fiddle championship. The following year, she won first place. In 1975, Liz was the second American to win the All-Ireland Senior Fiddle championship. Carroll also won the senior duet championship after performing with Jimmy Keane. In 1977, Liz partnered with Tommy Maguire for their album ‘Kiss Me Kate’ & released her first solo album the next year, ‘A Friend Indeed.’
Carroll joined Mick Moloney’s ensemble for the Green Fields of America tour in the early 1980s. She released her second solo album ‘Liz Carroll’ in 1988. In 1992 she formed Trian, a band with Dáithí Sproule & Billy McComiskey; they released two albums together. She composed music for ‘The Mai’ which premiered at New York’s Irish Repertory Theatre in 1994. Also in 1994, Liz received a National Heritage Fellowship, a lifetime honor by the National Endowment for the Arts. She has performed at the JFK Center for the Performing Arts with guitarist John Doyle & they were invited to play for President Barack Obama at the White House in 2009. Carroll also performs with five other world-renowned women fiddlers in String Sisters.
Liz Carroll has composed hundreds of tunes over her long-spanning career. 200 of her songs, some that have yet to be recorded, were published & published in ‘Collected: Original Irish Tunes’ (2010). Many of her original tunes have become modern-day standards in Irish & American fiddle music & have had choreographed dances from notable Irish dance companies. In 2011, Carroll was the first American-born composer to receive the Gradam Ceoil TG4 Cumadóir award.
in 1890, Irish actor & playwright, Dion Boucicault, died in New York City.
He was born Dionysius Boursiquot on December 26, 1820 in Dublin. His mother was Anne Maria Laura Beresford, but his father’s identity has never been confirmed. Dion attended various schools in London & worked briefly at the Guinness brewery in Dublin around 1840. He first started acting while he was in England as “Lee Morton” & began writing his own plays soon after. His first play ‘A Legend of the Devil’s Dyke’ premiered in 1838. His five-act comedy ‘London Assurance’ was written with John Brougham & debuted in March 1841. This play was Boucicault’s first major success & featured many notable English actors. Boucicault was the lead role in his 1852 melodrama ‘The Vampire.’
Dion left for New York in the fall of 1853 with actress Agnes Robertson. He worked as Agnes’s manager, continued to write plays & went on a lecture tour. He opened the Gaiety Theater in New Orleans in 1856, but it was closed within three months & he moved back to NY. In 1856 Dion’s play ‘The Vampire’ debuted in Philadelphia as ‘The Phantom.’ He campaigned for the American Copyright Act of 1856 & wrote his first modern-set play after the law was passed- ‘The Poor of New York’ debuted in 1857. ‘The Octoroon’ is a play that takes place on a Louisiana plantation & is considered the first anti-slavery play in American theater. Boucicault published it in 1859 & it premiered at NYC’s Winter Garden Theater. It was the most popular media that ignited debates about abolition since ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ 7 years prior.
In 1860, Dion moved back to England & wrote ‘The Colleen Bawn’ adapted from the novel ‘The Collegians.’ It was incredibly successful & ran in both UK & US theaters. He wrote & starred in 1864’s ‘Arrah-na-Pogue’ which began his reputation as the best ‘Stage Irishman.’ Dion moved back to NYC in 1875, but continued to visit London for theater appearances. His last stage performance was in his play ‘The Jilt’ (1885) & he wrote his last play ‘A Tale of a Coat’ in 1890, which closed on September 13th, 5 days before he died from pneumonia.
Today is National Recognition Day, honoring the devotion & courage of service members who are missing & unaccounted for.
James “JJ” Connell was born on May 6 1939 in Wilmington, Delaware. His father was James Connell Sr & his mother was Anne (McTague). His paternal great grandparents, Patrick & Margaret (Connor) Connell, were Irish immigrants. After graduating high school in 1957, Connell enrolled in the Annapolis Naval Academy. He graduated in 1961 as a trained naval aviator. Connell was assigned as a flight instructor for one year at the Naval Air Station Whiting Field before he was assigned to a Fleet Replacement Squadron stationed at Lemoore in Fresno, Ca. He married & had two children before serving in the Vietnam War.
In 1964, Connell was assigned to the VA-55 attack squadron & started serving aboard USS Ticonderoga & USS Ranger. In 1966, the USS Ranger was participating in Operation Iron Hand to suppress North Vietnamese missile sites. On July 15th that year, Connell was flying south of Hanoi, Vietnam in an A4E Skyhawk alongside three other aircraft from the USS Ranger when he was shot down. Connell was able to eject from the plane in a parachute & obtained minor injuries from his landing. He was able to make radio contact but US forces could not pe*****te the dense woods to rescue Connell & he was soon captured by the North Vietnamese.
Connell was held with many other American POWs in Hanoi. Witnesses reported Connell resisted Vietnamese coercion which included depraved conditions & sometimes physical torture. POWs that made a safe return considered Connell a “hard resister” that faced worse treatment than most of the other prisoners & was kept in solitary confinement for extended periods.
After 1,645 days in captivity, Connell died in the prison camp on January 14 1971. His death wasn’t confirmed until 1973, when other Hanoi prisoners were repatriated. Connell’s remains were repatriated in March 1974; he was posthumously promoted to Lieutenant Commander & awarded a Navy Cross for valor. In 2018, Governor John Carney posthumously awarded Connell Delaware’s highest honor, the Order of the First State.
This lecture is part of our series called "The Irish and..." featuring an in-depth look at the Irish in South America. Historian and author Tim Fanning discusses his book Paisanos: The Forgotten Irish Who Changed the Face of Latin America.
The early Irish presence in Latin America is connected with traditional links between the Irish in Britain, Spain and Portugal. The first recorded Irish arrivals there were Juan and Tomás Farrel, who accompanied Pedro de Mendoza to found Buenos Aires in the Río de la Plata region in 1536. But over the next three centuries, thousands of Irish men and women arrived there, lured by the promise of adventure and fortune. They and their descendants fought for independence and helped to shape modern Latin America. This talk will include luminaries including Irish-born Argentine hero Admiral William Brown and Chile's great liberator Bernardo Higgins, trailblazing women like Eliza Lynch and Camila O' Gorman, and the viceroy of Peru, Ambrose O' Higgins.
in 1638, John Harvard, a 31-year-old clergyman from Charlestown, Massachusetts died, leaving his library & half of his estate to a local college. The “New College” (Harvard) was the first college established in the American colonies. Over 200 hundred years later, an Irish American produce seller, John “Orange Man” Lovett, ostensibly became the school mascot.
John Lovett was one of 12 children, born to a farming family in Co Kerry in 1833. From the start of the Great Hunger, members of John’s family fled to the US. John left for Cambridge, MA around 1848, where his mother & his brother were settled. John didn’t have the fare to get in from the port, but was assisted by a local who dropped him off at Harvard Square. John rented a room in the Square & worked odd jobs for nearly 10 years.
When work became harder to come by, a Harvard student suggested John sell produce in the Square. Fresh fruits were hard to come by in the schools dining halls & John was willing to give cashless students free fruit; he could count on them to pay him back. John quickly developed a friendly rapport with Harvard students & was an avid supporter of their sports teams. The Harvard class of 1881 gifted John a cart to distribute his fruit in the Harvard Yard, expanding his business. Campus police tried to stop John’s access to the Yard, but student petitions won John permissions as the sole cart vendor. The class of 1891 gave John a new pull cart with a donkey. John named her Radcliffe & hailed her as the only woman admitted to Harvard.
John had a vastly different background than the student population he was entrenched in & the students often came to his defense against local authorities, who treated John as a poor outsider. Despite his financial progress & being able to purchase his own home in the 1890s, he was asked to leave upscale establishments that wouldn’t cater to an ‘ordinary workman’. John was a campus confidant; different cliques & social circles shared gossip with him & he kept everyone’s secrets. If ever he was asked to comment on a student he would reply “Aw, he’s a good fellah, frin.” John Lovett sold fruit in the Square until his death in 1906.
in 1924, film & television actor famous for Western films, Scott Brady, was born in Brooklyn, NY.
Born Gerard Kenneth Tierney, “Scott Brady” was the son of Lawrence Sr. & Mary Alice (Crowley) Tierney. Lawrence Tierney Sr was the son of Irish immigrants & was the chief of the NYC Aqueduct Police. The Tierney’s were raised in Westchester County, NY, where Brady attended both Roosevelt & St Michaels high schools. In high school, Brady played varsity basketball & ran track, but enlisted in the US Navy before he was able to graduate. He served as a naval aviation mechanic during WWII until he was discharged in 1946.
Brady’s brothers, Lawrence Jr & Edward Tierney, were working actors in Los Angeles at the end of WWII, so he followed them out there after being discharged from the Navy. While utilizing his GI Bill to study at the Beverly Hills Drama School, Brady worked as a cab driver & lumberjack. Brady made his film debut as a boxer in 1948’s ‘In This Corner.’ He was hired for ‘tough-guy’ roles including in ‘He Walked by Night’ & ‘Canon City,’ both released in 1948. Between 1953-56, Brady appeared in the dramatic comedy anthology series ‘Lux Video Theater’ as well as ‘The Ford Television Theater.’ He appeared in many film noir thrillers in the 1950s, including ‘I Was a Shoplifter’ (1950) & ‘Terror at Midnight’ (1956). From 1959 to 1961, Brady held the star role in 78 episodes of the Western mystery television series ‘Shotgun Slade.’ Through the 1960’s, Brady had several roles in Western films produced by AC Lyles.
Toward the end of his career, Brady moved to television movies- typically low-budget & sci-fi- but also had small roles in various television series. He declined the offer to play Archie Bunker in ‘All in the Family’ but did appear in 4 episodes as Joe Foley. He was in an episode of ‘Welcome Back, Kotter’ & had a role in the TV miniseries ‘Wheels’ (1978). His last acting role was as Sheriff Frank Reilly in ‘Gremlins’ (1984). Scott Brady died of respiratory failure on April 16 1985 in Los Angeles at age 60.
in 1848, Patrick “P.J.” McCarthy, the 24th mayor of Providence, Rhode Island, was born in Geevagh, Co Sligo.
Patrick was the 5th of 7 sons to Patrick & Alice McCarthy. The family left Ireland amidst the Great Hunger & arrived in the Boston Harbor in 1849, where they were placed under quarantine on Deer Island. While in quarantine, his younger brother Philip died from typhus, followed by the death of his infant brother Peter a month later, & their mother a week after that. Another 6 months passed on Deer Island before Patrick’s father died from a fever. PJ & his remaining siblings were released from quarantine, taken in by relatives & split between homes ran by Catholic charities in Boston.
In 1865, McCarthy moved to Providence, Rhode Island & attended public schools before he enrolled in Harvard University Law School, graduating in 1876. He worked as a lawyer with various educational & fraternal societies revolving around the Catholic Church & networked among the growing Irish Catholic community. He served on the Providence City Council in 1890 & 1892, & served in the Rhode Island House of Representatives through the 1890s. In 1907, McCarthy was elected Mayor of Providence, the first ever foreign-born mayor for the city. He was reelected for a second term in 1908 but lost the vote for a third term. He was lauded in the press as an immigrant success story & for being a shining example of the potential held by Irish refugees that enter the US & follow a path of upward mobility, often disregarding the hardships McCarthy endured to get there.
PJ McCarthy died of pancreatic cancer on March 13 1921; his grave in St Francis Cemetery in Pawtucket bears a plaque with a brief history of McCarthy. In regard to the Irish diaspora, the gravestone reads: “May their history be written that future generations may learn of the heroic efforts and suffering of Irish Catholics at home and abroad for faith and fatherland.” McCarthy's daughter published a memoir on PJ & his family in 1927, with many writings from McCarthy himself. He was inducted into the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame in 2008.
Just in time to get ready for her concert here in the museum next month! Harpist Maire Ni Cathasaigh has reissued one of her albums: “The New-Strung Harp.” This was the first harp album that featured traditional Irish dance music and truly represented something new for the instrument. It includes Carolan & Bunting tunes (as might be expected), songs (where she’s joined by her siblings Nollaig, Mairéad, and Greg in outstanding fashion), and a group of dance tunes that are beautifully rendered.
See the event listing on our page to purchase your tickets.
In the media thingy this week are two newly-remastered reissues, Máire Ní Chathasaigh’s “The New-Strung Harp” (1985) and Mick Moloney’s “We Have Me...
Our executive director, Dr. Elizabeth Stack, is giving a talk tomorrow at 3pm for our friends in the Genealogical Society of Ireland. Follow the link below if you would like to tune in!
Genealogical Society of Ireland Monthly Open Meeting - Lecture via Zoom on the Irish American Heritage Museum by Dr Elizabeth Stack, Executive Director.
ALL WELCOME - see the access details below.
Please 'Like' and 'Share' - GRMA
Today we remember all those who were lost in the World Trade Center attacks on September 11, 2001.
2,977 people were killed during the tragic attacks; may they all rest in peace. It's estimated that around 1/6 of the people who died on 9/11 had an Irish connection. The firefighters of the FDNY, while helping to evacuate some 25,000 people, lost 343 of their brothers. The police also lost many. Many of these First Responders were of Irish ancestry or members of the Emerald Society.
Based on family names & stories, there are many hundreds who died on 9/11 with Irish heritage. The very first certified fatality was Irish American Catholic priest, Father Mychal Judge, chaplain to the FDNY & a Siena College alum. Judge entered the lobby of the North Tower, where he continually prayed for the rescuers, the injured & the dead.
Mike Cawley wasn't even on duty that day with his regular outfit the “Elmhurst Eagles” of Ladder 136, but instinctively he raced to the Towers with another unit, Rescue 4. On a September 11, when he could have stayed away, Cawley, of course, could be no place else.
In Spring Lake, New Jersey, the McAlary’s leaped for joy when their son & brother Bryan phoned to say he had escaped unharmed from his Trade Center office. They were soon horrified to learn that Bryan's older brother James, a 42-year-old broker, was in the Trade Center that day for a sales meeting. "Jimmy Mac," as he was known to all, never came home.
Maureen Haskell, a Fire Department widow, sent three of her four boys, Kenny, Timmy, & Tommy, to the FDNY. Timmy, 34, was on the 60th floor of Tower One when the floor dropped beneath him. Nearly two weeks after the attacks, Maureen listened as Kenny gave a eulogy, Timmy's remains lay in a casket & Tommy was still in Lower Manhattan, one of the thousands lost in the mountain of steel & smoke.
On September 11 the iconic skyline of Manhattan was changed forever, while the sacrifice of those first responders & others who helped that day, remain. The stories of others were never recorded & may never be known & their loss is just as tragic.
Ni bheidh a leithéidí aris ann. We will not see their like again.
in 1921, the first Miss America was crowned at the Atlantic City Beauty Pageant. Margaret Gorman won the title of “Inter City Beauty” which was renamed Miss America the following year.
Margaret Gorman was born on August 18 1905. Her parents were Michael & Margaret (McCarthy) Gorman, who each had a parent that emigrated from County Cork. In June of 1921, just before turning 16, Margaret Gorman entered a photo of herself into a popularity contest held by the Washington Herald. The winner of the contest would receive a free trip to Atlantic City to participate in a beauty pageant. The 2nd Annual Atlantic City pageant would take place over the Labor Day weekend & bring in an influx of tourists to closeout the season on the boardwalk. Gorman’s photo was chosen among 5 other girls who were brought before a panel of judges to inspect & interview them on August 28th.
Gorman was an immediate favorite & was informed by a Herald reporter that she won the contest the next day. Just like that, she was a household name around Washington DC; she received numerous invitations to dinner parties with political figures & got to meet President Warren Harding & his wife Florence. Hundreds of locals showed up to the train station to send Gorman off when she left for Atlantic City on September 6. The president of the Arts Club of Washington escorted Gorman down the boardwalk for photo ops & eventually a show at the theater. There were multiple pageant competitions lined up for the weekend, starting with smaller events like the bathers review. Margaret competed with 1200 women & earned the title of “The Most Beautiful Bathing Girl in America” & earned their grand prize, the Golden Mermaid trophy. At the main pageant, she won the highest honor of “Inter-City Beauty” recognizing her as the most beautiful woman in the US.
At the same event in 1922, Gorman was asked to return as the Queen of the carnival. Because another woman was since named as Miss Washington DC 1922, pageant officials had to come up with a new title for Gorman & chose “Miss America.” Gorman married Victor Cahill in 1925 & spent her adult years traveling as a socialite. She died on October 1, 1995 aged 90.
in 1907, competitive speed skater Jack Shea was born in Lake Placid, NY. He was the first American to win multiple gold medals in a single Olympic Winter Games.
John “Jack” Amos Shea was born to James & Grace (Obrey) Shea. His paternal grandfather, Michael Shea, emigrated from Di**le, Co Kerry in 1847 & married Irish immigrant, Mary Courtney. Jack Shea started skating at age 3. He was coached by Ed Lamy when he began competing, winning championships by age 10. At just 12 years old Shea was among Lake Placid’s “Famous Five” international speedskating champions. After graduating from high school in Lake Placid, he attended Dartmouth College & then Albany Law School but left to support his family during the Great Depression, finding miscellaneous jobs in Lake Placid.
Shea was the speed skating champion in the 1929 US National & the 1930 North American competitions. At the 1932 Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony, Shea read the Olympic Oath. Later that day he won the gold medal in the 500-meter race, followed by a gold medal in the 1,500-meter race the next day. At the closing ceremony in February, Shea was crowned king of the Olympic Carnival. Shea chose not to compete in the 1936 Winter Olympics to defend his title, because the games took place in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, under Hitler’s rule.
Shea was inducted in the National Speedskating Hall of Fame in May 1962. He served as the town Justice from 1958 to 1974, then he was the supervisor of North Elba, NY until he retired in 1983. Shea helped bring the Winter Olympics back to Lake Placid for the 1980 Winter games & was a member of the organizing committee. His son, Jim Shea, competed cross-country skiing in the 1964 Olympics; his grandson Jim Shea Jr. won a gold medal for Skeleton racing in the 2002 Winter Olympics. To kick off the 2002 Winter Olympics (of Salt Lake City, NV), Jack Shea participated in the torch lighting in Lake Placid but did not get to see his grandson take home the gold. Around 2 weeks before Jim’s win, Jack Shea was tragically killed by a drunk driver on January 22, 2002.
21 Quackenbush Square
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The mission of the Irish American Heritage Museum is to preserve and tell the story of the contributions of the Irish people and their culture in America, inspiring individuals to examine the importance of their own heritage as part of the American Cultural mosaic.
For centuries, they left because they couldn’t stay, or because they wanted to go, or a combination of both. Community became very important to the new arrivals, and so Irish immigrants gathered together in slums near the port or traveled further to meet family members or neighbors who had made the journey earlier and could help give them a start.
They experienced prejudice, hardship, trials, and sometimes good fortune. In turn, some of them displayed prejudice, wrestling for position in often-ruthless cities. Many served their new country in the military, some became labor leaders, politicians, teachers, and innovators. Some achieved great fame, others infamy. Most would remain nameless, living ordinary lives, proud of their heritage, working hard, and becoming American.
Although this museum tells the story of the Irish in America, with a few changes, it could tell the story of almost any immigrant. It is the story of leaving home and family to build a life in a new place. It is a testament to the courage of those who faced the unknown and conquered fear and discrimination to become Americans.
Today, these emigrants and their descendants, some 34 million Americans, are spread across every state in the nation. Here, we tell their stories.