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Patrick Stephen Gilmore was born on Christmas Day in 1829 in Ballygar, Co. Galway. Catholic Emancipation in Ireland was only six months old when he was born. He was musical from the outset as he learned to play the fiddle, fife and drum. Marching bands were everywhere in those days and Patrick joined the Ballygar band. On a trip to Athlone in 1843 he saw the professionalism of the big British Army regimental bands and was hooked. Upon asking his father to join the band the answer was an emphatic no. But soon the famines raged the land and his father consented to young Patrick so that he could escape. He joined a regimental band as a trumpeter and was transferred to Canada.

His sojourn in Canada only lasted a year before he made his way to Boston, which was the musical capital of the United States. He held positions in various posts in bands that worked with the great entertainers of the day including P. T. Barnum and the Swedish Nightingale Jenny Lind. In 1855 Patrick moved to Salem, Massachusetts where he met his wife Ellen O’Neill. It is also in Salem where Patrick dropped his middle name of Stephen and adopted the name of Sarsfield, one of the more famous names in Irish history.

He had missed Boston and returned there in 1859. By 1861 he was known as America’s greatest bandleader and he organized many regimental bands for the Union. His own band, Gilmore’s Band, served as the regimental band for the 24th Massachusetts Infantry during the Civil War. He subsequently wrote many notable tunes of the day, especially for the war. Two of his compositions are still recognized today. He wrote the melody to the words of John Brown’s Body by Captain Halgren and this was destined to become one of the great marches of all time, and an unofficial national anthem, when it became known as The Battle Hymn of the Republic. Before the war ended he wrote the music to another poem by Louis Lambert which became the famous song When Johnny Comes Marching Home.

While music historians today recognize the above two compositions as a huge gift to our patriotic repertoire, Gilmore was known during his lifetime as more of an organizer of extravagant events than a composer.. His first major event was held in New Orleans at the inauguration of Governor Hahn in 1864. He assembled a choir of 5,000 school children and an orchestra of 500 pieces. This made national news and for his efforts he was awarded a silver goblet filled with gold coins. In 1869 he put on his “National Peace Jubilee” in Boston. In this undertaking he built a new auditorium to hold the spectacle which was presented with 10,000 voices, 1,000 instruments, 100 bells and cannons. He also had 100 real fireman hammering out the Anvil Chorus. Because of its success Gilmore decided to do it one more time with twice as many performers. The “World Peace Jubilee” in 1871 included 20,000 voices, 2,000 instruments and several hundred bells and cannons. He built an auditorium capable of holding 50,000 people. He called on royalty from around the world to send bands of which England, France, Germany, Austria, Belgium and Ireland all complied. World famous composer Johann Strauss composed The Jubilee Waltz for the occasion. Even by todays standards these numbers are huge. It is estimated that over 18 days a million people attended this event.

Other facts about Gilmore is that he took over the old Hippodrome in New York and named it Gilmore’s Concert Garden. It is now known as Madison Square Garden. He later became the bandmaster of the 22nd regiment band in New York. It is with this band that a tradition started that the world still recognizes today. Every December 31, beginning in 1888, the band would play in Times Square and at midnight Patrick Gilmore would fire his pistol to bring in the New Year. He was also the first bandmaster to take his bands around the country and overseas for grand concerts

Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore died on September 24, 1892. That very night a young man by the name of John Philip Sousa gave his first concert and dedicated the concert to the life of Gilmore. Gilmore was noted for his flambouyant showmanship and innovations and was America’s first musical “Superstar.”

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