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Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore was born in 1829 in the small village of Ballygar, Co. Galway. He attended the local school, playing Fife and Drum – and it’s there that he developed a love for music and its value to people. Later on he studied/played music in Athlone, Co Westmeath.
Then, in 1849, and aged 19yrs old, Patrick left Ireland, emigrating with over 1 million other Irish to the United States, escaping hunger and the Famine. It was this step that would eventually allow him to become the leading bandmaster of his day thoughout the United States.
At this stage, Gilmore had become a cornet player, and in his twenties he took over leadership of the Salem Brass band in Massachusetts, Boston. He’s even credited with developing the initial 4th July celebrations in the US. He subsequently went on to lead a host of other Brass bands across the US - and also form his own touring band.
In the mid/late 1800’s, what Gilmore referred to as a band was actually an orchestra. The average size of Gilmore’s ‘band’ was 55 - up to 100 members by his death in 1892. Each member was required to know between 1,500 and 2,000 pieces by heart for their instrument. Gilmore himself was a prolific composer – and his personal music library was the largest of the day totaling between 11,000 and 14,000 separate scores of music. P.S. Gilmore was by far the best known Irishman of the 19th century in America.
In 1889 alone, Gilmore's Band (on a nationwide US tour) were seen by crowds in excess of 1 million. He played at and lead his band at six US presidential inaugurations, more than a few significant funerals and at the opening of the Statue of Liberty. He organised two huge and spectacular events, known as Peace Jubilees in Boston in the 1860’s using hundreds of musicians, thousands of singers, cannon and pyrotechnics. He also introduced woodwind to his brass band to form an orchestra sometimes numbering 70 or more players. He played residencies at Gilmore’s Garden in New York city (before it became Madison Square Garden ), summer seasons at Manhattan Beach and toured relentlessly across the US.
P.S. Gilmore was seen as a real American superstar of his day. And throughout his life, he never forgot his Irish roots – and at times became involved in Irish politics – donating large amounts of money back to Ireland.
He also toured Europe with his ‘band’, including an 1878 European tour of 151 concerts, including a few in Ireland. Yet despite all of this, Gilmore isn’t very well known outside band music circles in the US, apart from the song ‘When Johnny comes marching home’ which he wrote under a pen name and to a tune he said he heard being whistled while he served in the Union army during the US Civil War.
P.S Gilmore died suddenly in 1892, at the dawn of recording technology. His mantle was taken by John Philip Sousa and the rest as they say…
So very little of his music remains in the public domain. Apart from When Johnny comes marching home, he’s known for the ‘Famous 22nd Regiment March’ and little else.
As part of this documentary, we teamed up with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra to revive one of Gilmore's ‘long lost’ compositions, unheard in well over one hundred years - and in doing so, celebrate a forgotten Irish musical star.
Extra Resources: P.S. Gilmore: The Authorized Biography of America's First Superstar by Rusty Hammer
Songs Included: 1) Good news from Home 2) Colombia 3) Music is the only Charm. Vocals and Piano Yann O'Brien
The RTÉ Concert Orchestra played 'President Grants March' by P.S Gilmore, arranged by Gavin Murphy and conducted by Gavin Moloney.
Special thanks to both Jarlath McNamara and Angela Rohan, PR Executive, RTÉ Concert Orchestra
Contributors include: Jarlath McNamara, Michael Cummings, Steve Dillon (Steve Dillon Music), Gerald Regan (The Wild Geese), John Ridge and Frank Naughton (New York Irish Roundtable), Barry Moreno (Librarian and Historian, Statue of Liberty National Monument).
Since first broadcast, Ireland's First Superstar has won a Gold Award at the 2019 IMRO Awards and a Finalist Certificate at the 2019 New York Festivals Radio Awards.
Narrated by Dawn Bradfield & Readings By Roger Gregg
Studio Engineers were Mark Dwyer and Dave Gibson.
Produced by Tim Desmond
First Broadcast on RTÉ Radio 1, Saturday November 3rd 2018 @ 2pm