Tag Archives: Cardinal Michael Logue

The Irish harp in Woodrow Wilson’s drawing room

An Irish harp sits in the drawing room of the Washington, D.C. house once occupied by former U.S. President Woodrow Wilson. The three-story, red brick, neo-Georgian structure at 2340 S St. NW in the city’s fashionable Kalorama neighborhood is two miles northwest of the White House, where Wilson held office from 1913 to 1921. He died at the private residence on Feb. 3, 1924, aged 67, nearly five years after he suffered a stroke.

At 3-feet tall, the Irish harp is smaller than models of the instrument typically played in orchestras. It is more decorated, too, with green and gold Celtic knots, zoomorphic motifs, medallions, and clovers, as seen in two images in this post. The crown bears the name of the manufacturer, “Clark Irish Harp, ” and 1914 and 1915 patent dates.

The harp belonged to Margaret Wilson, the president’s eldest daughter, an accomplished singer and pianist. It was either given by, or purchased from, Melville Clark of Syracuse, New York, the instrument’s creator. Clark performed at the White House during Wilson’s first term of office, when Margaret served as a “social hostess” after the death of Ellen Axson Wilson, her mother and the president’s first wife.[1]Meghan Drueding, “How Margaret Wilson’s Harp Reaches People On A ‘Visceral’ Level” in National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Preservation Magazine, Spring 2017; and Aug. 28, 2023, … Continue reading

Clark (1883-1953) designed the portable Celtic-style harp that bears his surname after a 1905 trip to Europe, including a stop in Ireland, where for centuries the instrument has been considered a heraldic and nationalist symbol. Clark said he “learned much of the romantic part the instrument has played in that country’s history. It was while doing so that the idea of developing a small harp was something I wanted to do.”[2]Linda Pembroke Kaiser, Pulling Strings: The Legacy of Melville A. Clark. (Syracuse, N.Y., Syracuse University Press, 2010), p. 31, citing Clark, “Music: My Hobby, My Profession, and Business,” … Continue reading

Clark met Cardinal Michael Logue (1840-1924), primate of Ireland, on the steamer from the United States, and he visited the prelate’s residence in Queenstown, now called Cobh. Clark recalled they had several “animated conversations” about harps, including Logue’s own instrument, which the cardinal “cherished exceedingly.” Clark purchased several Irish-made harps to bring back to Syracuse, including one that had been owned by Irish poet and composer Thomas Moore (1779-1852). It influenced Clark’s design in the characteristics of size, shape, and construction.[3]Kaiser, Pulling Strings, p. 31, citing Clark, “How I Came To Invent the Clark Irish Harp”, 1942.

The Clark Irish Harp “became his most important contribution to the world of music,” biographer Linda Pembroke Kaiser has written.[4]Kaiser, Pulling Strings, p. 5. While regular concert harps were too big, too expensive, or too difficult for most amateur musicians, Clark’s instrument was affordable and could be learned by nearly any adult or child. The first handcrafted models began to appear in 1908 and used rock maple instead of the bog oak of traditional Irish harps. Mass production began in 1911, three years before Clark performed for the president and his daughter.

White House performances

Clark played at the White House on March 27, 1914. The invitation developed through his association with John McCormack (1884-1945), the Athlone, County Westmeath-born tenor. They became acquainted when the singer performed concerts in Syracuse and purchased one of Clark’s harps for one of his children. Clark returned to the White House on May 27, 1914, specifically to accompany Margaret Wilson.[5]Kaiser, Pulling Strings, pp. 104-110.

After one of these performances, Clark recalled decades later, the president invited him to bring his harp to a rear portico. The musician wrote that Wilson:

… suggested one song after another—Scottish and Irish songs and those of Stephen Foster. He sang easily and with faultless diction. It was nearly midnight when he stood up to go, amazingly buoyant, relaxed and unworried.”[6]Melville Clark, “I Played the Harp for Wilson”, Christian Science Monitor, May 19, 1945.

Wilson had a complicated relationship with Ireland and the Irish. His two paternal grandparents hailed from Strabane, County Tyrone, in today’s Northern Ireland. In 1912 he touted this heritage to appeal to the Irish-American voters who gravitated to the Democratic Party, which nominated him for the presidency. But Wilson grew agitated with pro-independence Irish activists during the First World War and subsequent Paris peace conference. “Your attitude on the matter is fraught with a great deal of danger both to the Democratic Party and to the cause you represent,” warned one of the president’s closest aides.[7]Joseph Tumulty to Wilson, cited in John Morton Blum, Joe Tumulty and the Wilson Era (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Comp., 1951), p. 176. Irish Americans in turn lobbied Congress to reject Wilson’s post-war plans and helped tip the 1918 midterm and 1920 presidential elections to the Republicans.

Clark met Wilson again in 1917 to present his idea of dropping messages from balloons to counter German propaganda. The president was enthusiastic about the idea, and the plan was eventually adopted by the Allies. The first balloon offensive launched over German airspace occurred in March 1918.[8]Kaiser, Pulling Strings, pp. 99-103. About the same time, Clark and Margaret Wilson began to perform together for troops at U.S. military camps in New Jersey.


Wilson made the first nationwide remote radio broadcast from the S Street house on Nov. 11, 1923, to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the armistice ending World War I. A few weeks earlier, former British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, the war-time leader and a key negotiator of the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty, paid a visit to Wilson at the house. The two men discussed “the world conditions of today rather than memories of yesterday,” according to a news report.[9]”Lloyd George Lays Wreath On Unknown Soldier’s Tomb In Arlington Today”, Associated Press report in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Oct. 26, 1923. One can only imagine if the conversation included the newly created Irish Free State and partitioned Northern Ireland.

Clark returned to the White House to perform for presidents Warren G. Harding, Wilson’s successor, and Franklin D. Roosevelt. He also acquired for his collection a harp that once belonged to the Irish patriot Robert Emmet (1778-1803).[10]Kaiser, Pulling Strings, p. 132. By coincidence, President Wilson attended the 1917 unveiling of the Emmet statue in Washington, D.C. by Kerry-born sculpture Jerome Connor. The statue was relocated 50 years later to a small park a block from the Wilson house, where it stands today.

Margaret Wilson died in 1944, aged 57. Clark died in 1953, aged 70. His papers at Syracuse University’s Special Collections Research Center contain correspondence from Woodrow Wilson and Margaret Wilson dated between 1914 and 1922. I’ve reached out to the archive for more information about this material and will update this post as appropriate.

Edith Bolling Galt Wilson, the president’s second wife, bequeathed the S Street house and its furnishings, including the harp, to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. She died in 1961, aged 89. The mansion has been open to the public since 1963.


1 Meghan Drueding, “How Margaret Wilson’s Harp Reaches People On A ‘Visceral’ Level” in National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Preservation Magazine, Spring 2017; and Aug. 28, 2023, email reply from President Woodrow Wilson House staff to my questions.
2 Linda Pembroke Kaiser, Pulling Strings: The Legacy of Melville A. Clark. (Syracuse, N.Y., Syracuse University Press, 2010), p. 31, citing Clark, “Music: My Hobby, My Profession, and Business,” notes for public lectures, 1948.
3 Kaiser, Pulling Strings, p. 31, citing Clark, “How I Came To Invent the Clark Irish Harp”, 1942.
4 Kaiser, Pulling Strings, p. 5.
5 Kaiser, Pulling Strings, pp. 104-110.
6 Melville Clark, “I Played the Harp for Wilson”, Christian Science Monitor, May 19, 1945.
7 Joseph Tumulty to Wilson, cited in John Morton Blum, Joe Tumulty and the Wilson Era (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Comp., 1951), p. 176.
8 Kaiser, Pulling Strings, pp. 99-103.
9 ”Lloyd George Lays Wreath On Unknown Soldier’s Tomb In Arlington Today”, Associated Press report in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Oct. 26, 1923.
10 Kaiser, Pulling Strings, p. 132.

Remembering Oliver Plunkett’s May 1920 beatification

A century ago, Oliver Plunkett (1625-1681) was beatified in Rome, the penultimate step to his canonization as a saint, which occurred in 1975. As the Catholic Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, the County Meath-born Plunkett was the last of 22 martyrs in the “Popish Plot,” a conspiracy theory run amok in England’s anti-Catholic legal system. He was hanged, drawn and quartered.

In May 1920 in Rome, the Church of St. Agata became headquarters for three days of festivities for pilgrims who wore “badges and Irish emblems.”1 St. Agata is said to be the final resting place for the heart of Daniel O’Connell, Ireland’s early 19th century leader of Catholic emancipation. O’Connell’s famous burial request was, “My body to Ireland, My heart to Rome, My soul to Heaven.” There is some dispute whether the organ was ever interred … or still remains at the church.  

St. Agata belonged to the Pontifical Irish College. In 1920, County Wicklow-born Monsignor John Hagan was completing his first year as rector of the College, which hosted 20 Irish bishops for the beatification.2 The finding guides for Hagan’s correspondence offer several glimpses of the behind-the-scenes activities and the tenor of the times in revolutionary Ireland. For example:

  • In January 1920, Irish Cardinal Michael Logue wrote to Hagan saying he did not want to delay Plunkett’s beatification by a year because he would like to be present and could not vouch for 1921. Logue said he did not expect a great number of Irish people to attend the event.3
  • In April, Hagan sent a letter to the Irish bishops with advice on travel and weather. “A good warm rug is always a useful travelling companion,” he wrote, adding instructions about the necessary vestments and discouraging more clergy or laity from making the 1,200-mile journey.4
  • May correspondence from Waterford Corporation to Hagan and Bishop Hackett of Waterford and Lismore contained a resolution that expressed gratitude to Pope Benedict XV on the [May 16, 1920] canonization of Joan of Arc and for Plunkett’s beatification, “’both of whom were brutally murdered by the English Government.” The letters plead that a special form of universal devotion may help end hostilities in the world, “especially that the persecuted Irish people may be freed from the callous tyranny and military aggression of their cruel, [relentless] and implacable foe, Pagan England.”5

Canonization image hung from St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome during the canonization ceremony in 1975. (National Shrine to St. Oliver Plunkett.)

An estimated 300 Irish pilgrims, including nationalist politician Count George Noble Plunkett and his wife, assembled at the Consistorial Hall at the Vatican for an audience with Benedict XV, who had decreed Plunkett’s beatification on St. Patrick’s Day, 1918.6 The pontiff told the audience that Plunkett’s new designation came at a time when Ireland needed Heaven’s special help to “attain her lawful right … without neglecting her duties.” He continued:

As charity commands us to attend in the first place those nearest to us, no doubt the Blessed Oliver Plunkett, now more than ever, will prove an efficacious patron of his countrymen. Before God, let us, therefore, hope that the beatification of Blessed Oliver  will be an augury of more joyful days for Ireland.7

Monsignor Hagan

The event was a major propaganda coup for Irish separatists and became known as “Sinn Féin Week in Rome,” Marc Phelan wrote in a 2016 Irish Times column. Monsignor Hagan mentored the Sinn Féin diplomat and future president of Ireland, Seán T O’Kelly, in his dealings with the Roman Curia. O’Kelly reportedly lectured Benedict XV that one of his predecessors, Pope Leo XIII, had damaged church interests in Ireland by condemning the Land War of the 1880s. (See my 2017 post, The troubled foundation of St. Patrick’s in Rome, 1888.)

Several paintings and banners of Plunkett decorated the Basilica of St. Peter’s for the May 23 ceremony: the cleric dressed in a purple cope, surrounded by angels; another standing before his judges; one ascending the scaffold and forgiving his executioners; and one with the rope around his neck.8 (The image in this post hung outside St. Peter’s at Plunkett’s 1975 canonization.) Monsignor Hagan delivered the names of the postulators to the pope, as well as a reliquary–shaped like St. Patrick’s Bell–containing bone fragments of the martyred archbishop.9

The Irish Independent published a display of four photos from Rome, still something of an extravagance at the time.10 Religious services also were held across Ireland, including the martyr’s home district of Ballybarrack near Dundalk, and a procession in London.11


More than a year after the ceremony, Bishop Michael Fogarty of Ennis, County Clare, wrote to Monsignor Hagan and asked that he tell Pope Benedict XV “how marvelous it was” that the July 11 ceasefire in Ireland began on Plunkett’s feast day. Fogarty added, “the truce is a relief though peace not a foregone conclusion.”12

Plunkett was canonized on Oct 12, 1975, the first Irish saint since St. Lawrence O’Toole in 1225. An estimated 12,000 Irish, many waving tricolors, packed into St. Peter’s Square. In Northern Ireland, sectarian violence raged for the sixth year. A pastoral letter from the Irish Bishops Conference cited Plunkett as “an example in these troubled times” of someone who worked for reconciliation between communities and “played the part of peacemaker.”13 

Plunkett’s beatification seems to have helped end the War of Independence quicker than his canonization resolved The Troubles, which lasted another 23 years. Alas, even saints can only do so much.

Today in Ireland, more than a dozen parishes, another dozen primary schools, plus sports venues and teams, streets and roads, and an Aer Lingus airplane, are named after Saint Oliver Plunkett. Lean more from the National Shrine to Saint Oliver Plunkett at St. Peter’s Church, Drogheda.

Memorial church ruin of Saint Oliver Plunkett at Loughcrew, near Oldcastle, County Meath. (National Shrine to St. Oliver Plunkett.)


St. Colman’s Cathedral celebrates its centennial


  • At the centenary Mass, Bishop of Cloyne William Crean said: “One hundred years on an unimaginably different Ireland, Europe and global reality prevails. In the North of Ireland, the ancient divisions have eluded resolution. In the south, a liberal secular world view seeks to suppress the Christian narrative.” Notwithstanding the church’s clergy sex abuse scandals and other challenges, he was confident “the prophets of doom were mistaken” in condemning the church to “a dire future”. Coverage from The Irish Times.
  • Engineers Journal detailed, “The building of St Colman’s Cathedral, Cobh, 1868-1915“.


One of Ireland’s most iconic Catholic churches, St. Colman’s Cathedral in Cobh, has reached its 100th anniversary.

A special Mass will be celebrated Sunday, Aug. 25, by Bishop William Crean, joined by Archbishop Jude Thaddeus Okolo, Apostolic Nuncio, and clergy and parishioners from the 46 parishes of the Diocese of Cloyne in County Cork. Irish composer Bernard Sexton has created special music and hymns for the centenary.

The foundation stone for St. Colman’s was laid in 1868, a year after the Fenian Rising. The neo-Gothic church was substantially completed in 1915, when the harbor town was still known as Queenstown. The war-delayed consecration took place Aug. 12, 1919, followed two weeks later by solemn commemoration ceremonies overseen by Cardinal Michael Logue, according to this diocesan history.  

The Irish Examiner exclaimed:

A splendid symbol of the undying faith of the Irish people–a faith as firmly fixed as the granite walls of the Cathedral itself–the Mother Church of the Dioceses of Cloyne looks on the heaving waters of the eternal sea, and proclaims that Catholic Ireland discerns truth beyond material mundane affairs … Ireland and Irish Catholics can feel a justifiable pride in the imposing edifice that overlooks Cork Harbour, which is now finished and devoted to the service of God. … St. Colman’s Cathedral now stands for all time a monument to the Faith and zeal of Irish Catholics …1

St. Colman’s Cathedral in Cobh, formerly Queenstown, in County Cork.

The cathedral was not the only big building opened that summer in Cork. In July, the first tractors rolled off the Ford plant assembly line on the site of a former city park and racecourse on the south bank of the River Lee. The plant had 330,000 square feet of covered floor space. It provided employment for nearly 2,000 workers in the desperate post-war economy.

“On the edge of the sidewalks in Cork there is a human curbing of idle men,” Chicago Daily News correspondent Ruth Russell reported. “Just now most of them are sons of farmers or farm hands, for the farmer of the south is turning his acres back to grazing and extra hands are not needed.”2

These two developments, spiritual and commercial, happened as the Irish revolution continued to gather pace. By October 1920, the hunger strike death of Lord Mayor of Cork Terence James MacSwiney shocked the city and the world. His funeral was from the Cathedral of St. Mary and St. Anne, about 10 miles from St. Colman’s in the heart of Cork city.

St. Colman’s was the last dominate structure hundreds of thousands of Irish emigrants viewed as they sailed to America from Queenstown/Cobh in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. My Kerry-born grandmother and grandfather were among this cohort, leaving six years before the dedication ceremonies. I am certain they would have wandered up the hill to whisper a prayer inside St. Colman’s before their departure. Because of that, I was as emotionally moved to enter St. Colman’s as to walk the Cobh waterfront the first time I visited Ireland in 2000.

May God grant that St. Colman’s of Cobh stands to welcome the faithful of Ireland and the world for another 100 years.