Tag Archives: Robert Emmet

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 Emmet at midsummer blogiversary

I hope regular readers and occasional visitors to this blog are enjoying their summer. This post concludes our eleventh year, which included a temporary relocation to Boston and return to Washington, D.C. Here, one of my regular walks takes me by the statue of Irish patriot Robert Emmet.

Since 1966–the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising–the statue has been located in the 2400 block of Massachusetts Avenue, known as “Embassy Row.” It’s a 5-minute walk from the Embassy of Ireland on Sheridan Circle, and a block from the historic Woodrow Wilson House. As a second-term U.S. president, Wilson attended the June 1917 unveiling of the statue by Kerry-born sculpture Jerome Connor. “Heckling suffragettes” briefly disrupted the ceremony as they unrolled a banner that asked: “Why laud patriotic struggles of the past and suppress struggles for freedom at your gates?”[1]”Two Arrested With A Banner at Emmet Statue Exercises”, The Washington Post, June 29, 1917. American women secured the right to vote three years later as it became clear that Wilson was no supporter of Irish independence.

I continue to pursue my research about how American journalists reported the Irish struggle, both in Ireland and in America. More posts ahead. Thanks for your continued support of the blog. MH



1 ”Two Arrested With A Banner at Emmet Statue Exercises”, The Washington Post, June 29, 1917.

An American reporter in 1920 Ireland: Mummers

Harry F. Guest

American journalist Harry F. Guest of the New York Globe spent January and February 1920 reporting from revolutionary Ireland. Upon his return to America, he wrote two dozen stories based on his interviews and observations, which were syndicated to U.S. and Canadian newspapers through May 1920. See earlier posts in this series and other stories about American reporting of Irish independence at the linked project landing page. Reader input is welcomed, including photos or links to relevant source material. MH


Night With Irish Mummer Who Gives Performances In House Or Barn In Secret1

Guest attended “one of the most popular ways of keeping the torch of liberty lighted and fanning the flames of hatred of England in the south of Ireland … a revival of the ‘mummers‘, roving bands of actors who impersonate the ancient and modern Irish heroes.”

The reporter, guided by an escort on a dark and misty evening, “walked, or rather stumbled” across the fields to a farm house about two miles outside of Glengarriff, in County Cork. Approved by a sentry, the pair entered a barn filled with about 40 people, Guest estimated, “a dozen of whom were women.” Two lanterns dimly illuminated a small platform. He continued:

Thomas Ashe

From somewhere out of the darkness at the side of the stage a bent figure slowly made its way to the center. The face of the man was whitened and drawn as if in pain. ‘It’s Tom Ashe’ my companion whispered, meaning that the ‘mummer’ was impersonating Thomas Ashe, who died in Dublin in 1918, [sic, Sept. 25, 1917] following a hunger strike in prison. The bent figure on the platform straightened up and the lips moved:

My name is Ashe
and like a flash
From Kerry’s hills I came
And on the tree of Liberty
I carved a deathless name.

Guest quoted rhymes from other figures: Easter 1916 martyr Padriag Pearse; President of the Irish Republic Éamon de Valera, then touring America; and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland Sir John French, the government’s chief administrator at Dublin Castle. “Groans and hisses punctuated the [mummer’s] recital” for French, Guest wrote. Other impersonations included Wolfe Tone, Michael Dwyer, Robert Emmet, and Father John Murphy. 2

Guest noted that “if the audience feels secure enough,” a piper or fiddler might accompany the mummer and a dance after the performance. This was not the case at the show he attended. “The lanterns on the platform were put out, leaving the barn almost in darkness. The audience was not permitted to leave all together: they went out at twos and threes at intervals of a few minutes.”

Guest’s escort returned him to Glengarriff by a different route, “shorter, I’m thankful to say, for it was raining hard.”

Near Glengarrif, Co. Cork.

NEXT: Drastic Gov’t In Ireland Fosters Spirit of Hatred, Leading Churchmen Say 

On Robert Emmet, St. Patrick, and Irish Savannah

I’m on business in Savannah, Georgia, which claims to have America’s second largest St. Patrick’s Day parade, in large measure due to its once thriving native Irish population and subsequent generations of Irish Americans.

According to Visit Savannah:

As the Civil War and the Industrial Revolution moved masses of people into the larger cities in the north for factory work, jobs began to fill, and eventually Boston, New York and others turned the Irish away at the ports to keep work open for “native-born Americans.” But Savannah was one of the few port cities still open to the Irish, still in need of an able workforce for its shipping, agricultural and railroad industries. Savannah’s Irish heritage and cultural groups filled and multiplied, and its neighborhoods spilled out into the general population.

Emmet Park, a grassy strip on a bluff overlooking the Savannah River, is a year-round focal point of the city’s Irish heritage. It is named, of course, after Irish patriot and orator Robert Emmet. Here’s the historical marker erected by the Georgia Historical Society and the St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee:

At the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, site of the annual St. Patrick’s Day Mass, a statue of St. Patrick stands near the front entrance. Ireland’s patron saint is also depicted in one of the church’s stained glass windows.

See my 2014 post on Irish Savannah, from Arcadia Publishing’s popular “Images of America” series.

U.S.-Irish relations at St. Patrick’s Day: 1916-2016 (P3)

This blog series focuses on U.S.- Irish relations at St. Patrick’s Day over the past 100 years. Since this is the centennial of the Easter Rising, I’m looking at 1916 and each 25 years afterward: 1941, 1966 and 1991. I’m also writing a post on St. Patrick’s Day 1976, the year of the American bicentennial.

Part 3: The Rising’s 50th anniversary & the bowl of shamrocks

The tradition of an Irish government official visiting the White House at St. Patrick’s Day to deliver shamrocks dates to 1952. President Harry Truman was out of town when Irish Ambassador John Joseph Hearne paid the call.

During the Eisenhower years, “the ceremony’s prominence waxed and waned,” according to this 2010 CNN story, “but the shamrock presentation became a full-blown media event when John F. Kennedy, himself an Irish-American, entered the White House.”

Less than three years after Kennedy’s triumphant return to Ireland and his assassination six months later, Lyndon B. Johnson was the U.S. president. According to president’s daily diary for March 17, 1966, LBJ received Ambassador of Ireland H.E. William Fay and Mrs. Fay in the Oval Office shortly after noon.

The president was presented with “fresh shamrocks [redacted] flown in from Ireland. The shamrocks were presented in a large (about 18 inches tall) Waterford crystal vase. The Ambassador and his wife also left the President a book of Irish art for Mrs. Johnson. 

It appears that two words are redacted between “shamrocks” and “flown.” My guess: “and whiskey.”

120513_jfk_lbj_2_ap.jpg (605×328)

JFK and LBJ.

Earlier that St. Patrick’s Day, officials at the British Embassy discovered their gateposts and two plaster lions on a parapet in front of the building had been painted green. The Washington Post reported: “Painted in black letters upon the chests of the seated two-foot-high lions were the fighting words: ‘Up the rebels.’ ”

But the story does not mention the 50th anniversary of the Rising.

The Post’s St. Patrick’s Day roundup also reported that a small park at 24th Street and Massachusetts Avenue near the Irish Embassy would soon become the new home for a 7-foot-tall bronze statue of Robert Emmet. The statue of the early 19th century leader in the fight for independence was commissioned in 1917, the year after the Rising. It had been display the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of Natural History, but recently put into storage. An April story notes the statue and park were dedicated for “the 50th anniversary of Irish independence.”

The presidential diary for St. Patrick’s Day shows that Johnson left the Oval Office shortly before 8 p.m., telling aides he was returning to the private residence to change shirts “because I’m going to help the Irish celebrate.”

He was driven to the Statler Hilton Hotel a few blocks from the White House to visit the Washington Society of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick’s annual dinner. Chapter President Rev. C. Leslie Glenn of the Washington Cathedral draped an honorary membership medal with green ribbons around the president’s neck. Only Presidents George Washington and Theodore Roosevelt had received similar honorary membership, according to the diary notes.

“The president then walked the length of the head table and shook hands with those sitting there,” the diary says. He gave remarks, but the diary does not indicate what he said.

Johnson returned to the Oval Office about 30 minutes later.