Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore

Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore – “Father of the American Concert Band”

Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore (1829-1892)

Introduction and Early Life
Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore was born on Christmas Day, 1829. When he was a young boy his family moved to Ballygar and he spent much of his childhood here. At an early age, Gilmore developed a love of music as he learned to play fife and drum. Gilmore’s formal musical education began in Athlone where he studied under the great band-master Patrick Keating. Keating encouraged Gilmore to travel and expand his musical horizons. In 1849 Gilmore set sail for the United States of America.

Superstar of Music in the U.S.

Gilmore arrived in Boston as part of the mass exodus of Irish refugees fleeing the Great Famine (1845-1850). Settling in Boston, he developed his musical skills and went on to become one of America’s foremost bandleaders and concert organisers.

From the 1850s to the 1870s, Gilmore played in, and conducted, some of the finest bands in the Boston area, including the Boston Brigade Band and the Salem Brass Band. In 1858 Gilmore established his own band, it was simply named ‘Gilmore’s Band.’ That same year he married Ellen O’ Neill. On the Fourth of July each year, Gilmore’s band would perform a concert on the Boston Common. This led to a summer promenade concert series for the city.

Gilmore’s Great Concerts
National Peace Jubilee 1869
Gilmore co-ordinated the National Peace Jubilee Concert which took place in Boston in 1869. This concert was to celebrate the end of the American Civil War (1861 to 1865). Gilmore organised the construction of a coliseum to house this concert. In this building there was seating for 50,000 audience members, 10,000 chorus members, and a 1,000-piece orchestra. The coliseum was by far the largest structure of its kind in the city. The building was located at Boston’s Back Bay, where the Copley Plaza Hotel and Hancock Towers now stand.

Highlights from this five-day festival included a performance of Verdi’s Il Trovatore, which included 100 Boston firemen striking anvils, a battery of cannon, chimes, church bells, a huge bass drum 8 feet in diameter (the biggest drum in the world at the time), and a gigantic organ specially built for the occasion. The then president of the United States, President Ulysses S. Grant, was in attendance.


World Peace Jubilee 1872
Following the National Peace Jubilee, Gilmore began preparations for the World Peace Jubilee. Once again, a new coliseum was designed and built especially for the event. Unfortunately the coliseum collapsed during construction and a larger version of the 1869 coliseum was hurriedly erected in its place. Despite this setback, the Jubilee opened as scheduled in Boston on June 17th, 1872.
The World Peace Jubilee, celebrating the end of the Franco-Prussian War (1870 to 1871), lasted eighteen days. Gilmore gathered 20,000 choral performers, 2,000 instrumentalists, and such internationally famous composers and performers as Johann Strauss and his orchestra from Austria, the Grenadier Guards Band from the United Kingdom, the Garde Republicaine of France, and the Prussian band of Kaiser Franz Grenadiers.

Gilmore the Composer
P.S. Gilmore was also a respected composer. Some of his well-known tunes include the famous 22nd Regiment March, Good News from Home, The Everlasting Polka, Sad News from Home, Seeing Nellie Home, We are coming Father Abraham and Music Fills my Soul with Sadness. His most famous tune, When Johnny Comes Marching Home, was first performed in New Orleans in 1863.
The lyrics to this tune were written during the American Civil War. Gilmore is said to have written the song for his sister Annie as she prayed for the safe return of her fiancé, Captain John O’ Rourke. The first edition of the sheet music for the piece was published on September 26th, 1863, with words and music credited to Louis Lambert. Why Gilmore chose to publish under a pseudonym is not clear, but popular composers of the period often employed pseudonyms to add a touch of romantic mystery to their compositions.
Gilmore’s song has several important qualities. It is written in 2/4 time and played as an upbeat march, with a tempo of enthusiasm and optimism perfect for brass bands or marching bands.

Gilmore’s career from 1873 to 1892
Gilmore spent the next twenty years touring North America and Europe with the Gilmore Band. From 1873 until his death in 1892, Gilmore also conducted the 22nd New York Regiment Band, helping it to become the foremost professional band in the United States. His own band performed at a number of U.S. Presidential inaugurations and at the dedication of the Statue of Liberty in 1886.
Gimore died in St. Louis, U.S.A. on September 24th, 1892 and is buried in Calvary Cemetery, Woodside, Queens, New York. His funeral in New York was a grand affair, with a 100-piece marching band, a detail of sixteen soldiers from New York’s 22nd Regiment, and a route, as described by a New York Times obituary, “thronged with people gathered to pay the only tribute in their power to the beloved musician.” Gilmore was a superstar of 19th Century America and contributed greatly to music in his adopted country.
As a tribute to this great bandleader, composer and organiser of concerts and musical events the committee of Ballygar Tidy Towns erected a band-stand in Ballygar’s Market Square. Every time music is performed at this band-stand, Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore will be remembered and his legacy will be honoured.

1829 – Gilmore was born near Dublin on Christmas Day
1829 to 1839 – Gilmore and his family moved to Ballygar, Co. Galway (Exact year unknown)
1849 – Gilmore emigrated to the United States
1858 – Married Ellen O’Neill and established his own band known simply as Gilmore’s Band
1859 – Debut performance of ‘Gilmore’s Band’
1861 – Gilmore’s Band enlisted in the Union Army. Gilmore trained up to twenty bands during the American Civil War
1863 – Composed the famous tune ‘When Johnny Comes Marching Home’
1869 – Organised the National Peace Jubilee
1872 – Organised the World Peace Jubilee
1875 to 1879 – Founder of Gilmore’s Concert Garden which became Madison Square Gardens in New York City
1885 – Performed at the first New Year Celebration in Times Square, New York
1886 – Musical Director of the Inauguration Ceremony of the Statue of Liberty, New York
1969 – Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore Society founded in Boston
1992 – To mark the centennial of his death, a monument was erected by the Society, at his graveside.

Further Reading

The Michael Cummings Collection of P.S. Gilmore Materials 1850 – 2004 housed at the Irish Music Centre, John J. Burns Library, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA 02467-3801

The Boston Irish Tourism Association

Songwriters Hall of Fame

The MacNamara Collection