38 John Costigan Canada / Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore USA /

Patrick Sarsfield {Stephen }Gilmore {1829-1892 }

By Jarlath MacNamara       psgilmore@eircom.net

Patrick  Sarsfield Gilmore was born outside Dublin in 1829 ,  and from an infant was raised in Ballygar, Co Galway  . Learning  to play fife and drum gave him his initial love of music , and he later studied it in detail in Athlone , Co Westmeath .

Boston and Civil War

As a 19 yr old he emigrated with 1 million others escaping the Great Famine  in 1849 . He arrived in Massachusetts   where he led bands in Salem , and Boston and developed his craft further as an innovative  Conductor  and Band Leader .  Whilst in Boston he developed the initial  4th July Celebrations  and the Boston Promenade Concerts , and he led the inauguration parade of President Buchanan in Washington DC.  In 1860 Gilmores Band  was booked to play in the Democratic National Convention and the Republican National Convention of the same year  { Pres Lincoln was selected at the latter convention} .  At the outset of Civil War , both he and his Band , volunteered  en masse for service with the 24th  Infantry  Regiment Mass, and set sail with General Burnside on the famous Burnside Expedition to the Carolinas.

He  saw battle  in Roanoke , New Bern , Gettysburg and other fields , and he is  recorded as playing music for his Union colleagues but also entertaining  the Confederate Prisoners and  acting as stretcher bearers on the battlefield for the  injured. In 1863 he composed a song that still lasts the test of time as a ballad which mentions neither victor nor vanquished , cause or result , ie . “When Johnny comes Marching Home “.  He was inducted into the American Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970 for this composition . He wrote the song using the pseudonym “Louis Lambert “.

“Gilmorean Concerts”

PS Gilmore organised 4 great “Gilmorean Concerts Jubilees” {“Gilmorean” was a word created by the great newspaper “Harpers Weekly”  to describe his massive  concerts which have no compare . 

  1. In 1865 Gilmore was asked by General Banks and Gov Andrews { Mass } to organise  the Inauguration ceremony of Gov Michael Hahn , the first Union Gov elected during the Civil War . For this Gilmore conducted a band of 500 Union and Confederate Musicians with 5000 strong choir , before an audience of 35,000 in Lafayette Sq in New Orleans .
  2. In 1869 Gilmore organised the National Peace Jubilee festival in  Boston over 5 days when 1000 musicians were accompanied by a choir of 10000 before an audience of 50,000 . Designed to help heal the wounds of the Civil War , President Grant and his cabinet attended.
  3. In 1872 Gilmore again organised another Music Festival which outwardly was designed to celebrate the end of the Franco Prussian war in Europe but to Gilmore was a test as to how good or bad were not only his band or the US Marine Bands when compared internationally.  Participating bands included the French Garde de Republica , the Prussian Band of the Kaiser Wilheim , the Royal Grenadier Guards , the Orchestra of Johann Strauss Jnr , and the  Irish Band from Phoenix Park {which were dreadful } . P S Gilmore paid Strauss $25000 to play in Boston and in fact Strauss was worried that his locks would be removed by warring Indians . Gilmore realised at the end of this festival that both his band and that of the US Marines were vastly inferior to the bands of the Old World and he set out a plan to put in place new standards which last to this day , and led to Americas acceptance as a centre of advanced culture .
  4. Boston and Chicago were ravaged by fires as were other centres of population , but as a result of the recent fire , Gilmore agreed to give a 5 day concert in Chicago’s new railway passenger terminal building in 1873 . The building held 40,000 and Gilmore conducted an orchestra of 300 combined with an choir of 3000 . It helped to re-launch the  city as a centre of enterprise and innovation where its rail network was a hub for America .


Reorganisation and New York

He  moved to NYC in 1873 and set about building a band that would surpass all offered in Europe , and for the next  5 years , rehearsals increased , the repertoire was broadened , and the Gilmore Band library of music was increased to over 11,000 separate scores .  Performances include touring , expositions ,  and parades increased ,   and throughout the country , Gilmores popularity intensified .

In 1878 he arranged for his  band to tour Europe , to Ireland , UK , Holland ,Belgium , France , Germany and over 151 concerts they were judged by all to be the greatest band ever heard at this time in the world . They played for 1 month in the UK  alone to 65 concerts from Bristol to Aberdeen , and were cheered wherever they went . The King of Holland , and the Kaiser Franz attended the concerts. Even Queen Victoria invited them to play in Balmoral  Castle , but Gilmore declined as he would be late for the 4th of July celebrations in the Paris Exposition at the Trocadero  . He was delighted at the success of his “Gilmores American Band” tour of Europe. America was now truly launched as a centre of serious cultural performance  thanks to Gilmore .

Returning home he concentrated on developing his band organisation further . In the 1880’s they started touring  the country once a year  and later on into Canada .  Gilmore played Gilmore Gardens {not related to PS Gilmore } for 2 months ever summer and when the name changed to Madison Square Gardens , it was Gilmore who developed the record of 150 consecutive concerts to crowds of 10,000 or more .  He was also the musical director at National Event s such as the American National  Centennial Celebrations in 1876 in Philadelphia and again in 1886 for the inauguration ceremony for the Statue of Liberty . Gilmore was Americas first Superstar in the modern sense . Ezpositions in Kansas and St Louis would not open without having Gilmores band booked , or when the great city of Denver celebrated their anniversary it was Gilmore and his band again who officiated , or when the great state of Texas opened their new state Capital once more it was Gilmore who was the Musical Director .  And so Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore was by far the best known Irish Man of the 19th Century in America . In 1889 Gilmore in his band were seen by crowds in excess of 1 million nationwide with crowds of 12,000 per night in  Austin , or 6 nights in San Francisco before 5000 per night , or indeed 10000 per night in New Orleans .

Gilmore , Parnell , Davitt and Ireland

Never did he  forget Ireland or his  fellow Irish  . He was acclaimed as an Irishman in American newspaper articles throughout his career . And  when Charles Stewart Parnell and Michael Davitt and their organisations needed to promote their policies it was to Gilmore that they turned not only for  monetary support but more importantly for  public endorsement .  Gilmore included references to Home Rule in his Concert Programs and even wrote a Ballad dedicated to Home Rule called “Ireland to England “. He raised money for Famine Relief , Clan na nGael , the Annual Emerald Ball for Orphans , the Friendly Sons of St Patrick  etc . Gilmore spoke on the value of the “Boycott” to the Irish People and declared publicly and proudly that “he was an Irishman“.  His contribution to the Irish cause { to Parnell , or Davitt } has never been either researched or acknowledged until now .

In 1891 , Gilmore approached NYC Hall council , for a permit to welcome in the New Year from the steps of City Hall , and celebrate the 400th  Anniversary of Columbus arrival in America.  This became the first official public New Years celebration  in NYC and Gilmore started the tradition .

When he died ,an estimated  500,000 lined 5th Ave in NY for his funeral  to  St Francis Xavier Church in Manhattan . John Philip Sousa named Gilmore the “Father of the American Band “ , and said years later that  if anyone “ who could do one thousandth as much good  for mankind as was done by Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore ,  his memory will indeed be blessed “ . Gilmore is buried in Cavalry Cemetery ,  Woodside , Queens .

Gilmore today is  unknown worldwide .  His service to America covers 43 years . His legacy remains for future generations to appreciate .  However there is  only a Stone Plaque in Ballygar , a tin plate in New Orleans , and a street in St Louis commemorating    his name  .    


For Further Study: Please contact the Burns Library Irish Music Center at imc@bc.edu or 617-552-3956. The Patrick S. Gilmore Society home page (maintained by the Boston Irish Tourism Association) gives an overview of Gilmore’s musical career.



We kindly thank the Irish Canadian Cultural Association of New Brunswick for their assistance to The Ireland Monument – Canada.