Irish Cross Memorial New Orleans

Irish Cross Memorial New Orleans
The Celtic Cross Memorial in New Orleans, Louisiana. Photo by Adrian McGrath. Click the image for the story about the cross.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Irish Comedy and Tragedy: Art Carney and Jackie Gleason

The cast of "The Honeymooners" in 1955
including Jackie Gleason and Art Carney
Photo from Wikimedia Commons

By Adrian McGrath

Are the Irish a sad people or a happy people? Or is that too simplistic a question? Yes, it is simplistic; and yet the Irish seem, in general, to swing in moods between wit and laughter at one moment to the deepest melancholy at another.

Maybe the 800 years of tyrannical British oppression in Ireland transferred itself to the Irish in Ireland and the Irish in the Diaspora, particularly in the United States. This, plus discrimination based on ethnicity and religion (remember “No Irish Need Apply”) and prejudice against a people forced into exile much like the ancient Israelites, resulted in such dreadful moods? Maybe this moodiness was passed down generation to generation?

Perhaps wit and humor -- and frequent visits to the pub for music and dance and storytelling and poetry and beer and whiskey -- were necessary responses? (A friend of mine suggested that wit was the Irish defense mechanism to Irish sadness.)

The Englishman William Shakespeare could write great plays about tragedy and comedy. The Irish, however, lived with tragedy and relied on comedy and wit to ward off the brutality of life.

Two excellent examples of Irish Americans who lived with tragedy and yet became renowned for comedy were Jackie Gleason and his pal Art Carney.

Comedy, wit, satire, and a sense a humor can be an antidotes for human sadness -- at least to some extent. The Irish have shown this over the centuries from the 18th century creator of “A Modest Proposal,” Jonathan Swift, to Peadar Kearney.

Kearney was an early 20th century poet who wrote the words to the Irish National Anthem called “A Soldier’s Song;” but he also wrote one of the most humorous and sarcastic Irish Rebel songs ever written called “Whack Fol the Diddle” or “God Bless England” wherein he satirically thanked Britain for all the harm it brought to Ireland. (Interestingly enough, “Kearney” is a variant of the Gaelic name O’Cearnaigh, the same root word for “Carney.”)

Art Carney and Jackie Gleason are good examples of this mix of comedy and tragedy in the Irish in America. Carney and Gleason lived with suffering and tragedy in their lives … but they became masters of comedy.

Art Carney: Soldier, Alcoholic, Acclaimed Actor

Art Carney in 1959
Photo from Wikimedia Commons
Art Carney was born in Mount Vernon, New York in 1918, one of six children. His father Edward and his mother Helen were both Irish Catholic. Helen’s maiden name was Farrell. Carney is an English version of the old Irish Gaelic name O’Catharnaigh or O’Cearnaigh. (Irish family names often have variant spellings.)

Carney served in the US Army during World War II and was sent to Normandy in France in July of 1944 as part of the replacement troops after the D-Day invasion. He was an infantry soldier. He was wounded in the leg during combat against the Germans. His injury came as he had just finished preparing his machine gun position and was reaching for his canteen. Shrapnel from German mortar fire ripped into his right leg leaving him seriously wounded. He was hospitalized for many months and suffered for the rest of his life from a shortened right leg, a resulting limp, and pain.

In his early days Art did radio shows and some television doing comedy and even serious impersonations. He could impersonate famous people like Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt, and Dwight Eisenhower and did these impressions on a radio news program called “Report to the Nation.”

By 1950 Carney appeared in a variety program called “Cavalcade of Stars.” This popular variety show also starred another Irish Catholic comedian named Jackie Gleason. The two hit it off and made a great comic team.

Despite obtaining some business success, Art suffered from alcoholism. His drinking problem started when he was a teenager and continued throughout adulthood. He wisely joined Alcoholics Anonymous, however, and began to manage his addiction. Art was married in 1940 to Jean Myers but divorced in 1965. In 1966 he married Barbara Issac but divorced in 1977. He married Jean Myers again in 1980 and remained married to Jean until he died in 2003.

Carney suffered a mental and physical breakdown in 1965 and had difficulties with marriage and with alcoholism again. He sought psychiatric help and was admitted to a hospital for treatment. At a low point in his life, his pal, Jackie Gleason, asked Art to revise the role of Ed Norton in a skit on “The Jackie Gleason Show” on TV. The reappearance of Ed Norton was a smash hit, fans loved it, and Art continued the role, off and on, for a few more years winning more Emmy Awards playing the famous sewer worker.

Art Carney, it was said, claimed that Ed Norton saved his life.

Across the years, Carney starred in many films, TV programs, and stage plays of various types -- from drama to comedy. For example, in 1965 he played the role of Felix Unger from “The Odd Couple” with Walter Matthau on Broadway. In 1966 he played a villain called The Archer in the Batman TV series. In 1969 he was nominated for a Tony award for his performance in a play by Brian Friel, who was from Northern Ireland, called “Lovers.”

Most impressive of all, Art Carney won an Academy Award in 1974 for Best Actor starring in a film about an elderly man and his journey with his cat called “Harry and Tonto.” When he won this Oscar, for a role he originally felt he was unfit for, Art stunningly beat out several famous and well established Hollywood actors -- Jack Nicholson, Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman, and Albert Finney.

Art Carney’s talents in entertainment were varied, and he became successful in many ways. But he will always be remembered for one role above all others. That was of the best friend of Ralph Kramden’s, portrayed by his real friend, Jackie Gleason.

Ralph, Ed, and Alice
A scene from "The Honeymooners"
Photo from Wikimedia Commons

The Honeymooners first appeared in 1951 as a sketch in the larger variety show Cavalcade of Stars. It lasted as a sketch for three more years -- 1952 to 1954 -- until the famous 39 episodes were made in 1955 to 1956. After that it lasted just as a sketch within “The Jackie Gleason Show.” Art Carney’s Ed Norton was an essential part of that great program. Jackie Gleason insisted that only Art Carney could play the role of Ed Norton, however, whenever the skits reappeared, although other actresses filled in for the roles of Alice and Trixie.

Gleason greatly admired Carney’s performance as Norton and publicly gave Art Carney credit for the success of The Honeymooners.

Art lived with tragedy and excelled with comedy. He lived through the horrors of combat in World War II. He endured and overcame an addiction to alcohol and struggled with mental depression and physical exhaustion.

Art Carney brought laughter and joy to his many fans through his fine acting and died of natural causes at age 85.

Jackie Gleason: The Great One

Jackie with one of the June Taylor Dancers
in a sketch about St. Patrick's Day, 1955
from "The Jackie Gleason Show"
Photo from Wikimedia Commons

He was Irish, and he was Catholic -- from Brooklyn, New York. His last name was Gleason which comes from the old Irish Gaelic name “Glasain” or “O’Glasain” which possibly originated in County Cork but was also found in Tipperary. His father’s father was an Irish immigrant. It was said in ancient Ireland, the Glasains were rulers or even kings. One day many, many centuries later, another “Glasain” would became great as well, The Great One.

Born in 1916 with the name Herbert Walton Gleason, Jr., Jackie’s childhood was very sad. He was raised in a poor neighborhood in Brooklyn and lost both of his parents and a brother at an early age. His father disappeared from his family when Jackie was only seven years old, abandoning the family. His brother died reaching just age 14. Gleason’s mother, Mae, who preferred to call him Jackie, clung to him as the only one left in the family. She insisted he be raised as Roman Catholic and tried her best to instill in him a religious faith that he would surely need in his difficult life.

Mae (maiden name Kelly), who was born in Farranree in County Cork, Ireland, never wanted Jackie out of her sight. He would often sit by their apartment window and watch the other children playing outside while he stayed with his mother. (They actually lived in Brooklyn where the fictional Kramdens would live, and Jackie based much of the characterization in “The Honeymooners” on his childhood experiences.)

Jackie loved his mother, but he could not be like the other kids. He did not even start going to school until he was eight years old. Sadly, Jackie’s mother died when he was still young, in his late teens. In addition to the pervasive poverty, when he often went hungry, such personal losses were devastating for a young boy.  

Later in life he commented to an interviewer that he felt embarrassed to get free food from various stores which gave out extras that were labelled “Free Food.” He would tear off the label feeling ashamed. Much later in life, after he made money in entertainment, he would buy lots and lots of food and other things as if to compensate for earlier deprivations.  

He was not a happy student. He often skipped class and visited pool halls and vaudeville shows in New York. He eventually dropped out of school totally in the eighth grade. He worked odd jobs and lived with his beloved mother until he was 19. When she died, he said, he owned exactly 36 cents. That was his net worth in the world.

So, before he was 20 years old, he had an abandoned father, a dead brother, a dead mother, an eighth grade education, and 36 cents. And that was all. The year was 1935 -- right in the middle of the Great Depression.

Jackie and Rosemary Decamp
in 1949 in "The Life of Riley"
Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Jackie found work in comedy and entertainment, married and had children. (He would eventually divorce after many years -- a delay due to religious reasons -- and marry a woman he had been in love with many years earlier, Marilyn Taylor, the sister of his dance leader, June Taylor.) His early career went up and down, with very little stability. He had problems with his weight, and he began to drink. Alcohol became a constant companion throughout his life. He went from entertainment job to job, trying to find his place -- he did bit parts in Hollywood films, radio, even Broadway shows. It was just enough to get by but was always a struggle.

His first real break was to play the role of Chester A. Riley in the 1950s TV show called “The Life of Riley,” which later starred William Bendix. Jackie played Riley only from 1949 to 1950. But what really made the breakthrough for his career was his own show which appeared in several forms and under different names over the years --  “Cavalcade of Stars” and “The Jackie Gleason Show.” There was music and dancing with the popular June Taylor Dancers, and Jackie devised and acted in many roles.

Gleason was very clever and understood television. He knew an audience would soon tire of the same person over and over. So, he created many characters of different natures, and he played them all to brilliant comic perfection -- Reginald Van Gleason III, Joe the Bartender, and perhaps most brilliant of all, The Poor Soul. The last one was a sad character who never spoke and was always facing some difficulty in life. He knew audiences would sympathize with this, and Jackie was right.

Now, in addition to making people laugh, Jackie could make people cry and love the character. Jackie Gleason drew from his sad youth to touch the sympathies of his audience in ostensibly comic characters who had a deep tragedy underneath. Audiences were now emotionally attached to Jackie Gleason.

But there was one other character and skit Jackie had on his variety show. This would be the jewel in the crown of his comic genius. It would spin off and become a legendary TV show in its own right. Jackie’s character was a humble and lovable bus driver named Ralph Kramden, perpetually seeking grandiose dreams. He had a devoted and strong-willed wife named Alice and a great pal -- pal-o-mine, as Ralph might say -- who worked in the sewer called Ed Norton -- played by another Irish American named Art Carney. With Norton’s wife, Trixie, these four highly talented actors plus great writing resulted in pure comic genius. It was the beginning of a brilliant TV comedy of 39 classic episodes which revealed wit and humor on a legendary level. It was “The Honeymooners.”

Jackie had done it. In the mid 1950s he was at the top, TV’s highest paid star. He dominated Saturday night television with his variety show and lived on forever with “The Honeymooners.” He became The Great One. (Supposedly, he was first named “The Great One” by none-other-than Orson Welles.) Expressions like “And away we go” and “How sweet it is” were synonymous with Jackie Gleason.

Jackie with Irish writer Brendan Behan
in Jackie's dressing room after a stage performance
in 1960 in New York
(Photo originally by New York World Telegram and Sun but
in public domain at Library of Congress and Wikimedia Commons)

Jackie apparently never forgot his Irish heritage. One of his friends in those days was the famous Irish writer and actor Brendan Behan, author of “The Quare Fellow” and the song “The Old Triangle.” Behan was a playwright, an actor, a singer, most probably an alcoholic … and a member of the Irish Republican Army, the IRA. Jackie and Brendan would hang out together and raise a drink or two as well. With Behan, as with Art Carney, Jackie felt his Irish roots. (By the way, Brendan Behan was the nephew of Peadar Kearney mentioned at the start of this article.)

Jackie went on to play in films and even dramas. He portrayed the great pool player Minnesota Fats starring with Paul Newman in “The Hustler.” He starred in a film called “Gigot” where he was acclaimed for his portrayal of a sad mute (somewhat reminiscent of The Poor Soul). Later he was in popular films like “Smokey and the Bandit.”  Jackie became extremely popular and wealthy.

Jackie Gleason, the poor Irish Catholic kid from Brooklyn, lived with great tragedy, personal sadness, and hardship. He used comedy as a way to escape misery and built a tremendous career from it.  The Great One died of cancer in 1987.

Irish wit and humor are a key part of the Irish culture. But do not be fooled; the laughter is typically a means of dealing with the sadness underneath. That was often the case with Gleason and Carney. Still, we can be thankful to people like Jackie Gleason and Art Carney who were truly great at this gift of humor. They could make people turn away from sorrow and laugh and be happy for awhile … when their Irish eyes were smiling.

Sources and Further Reading: ABC’s TV program on Jackie Gleason called “20/20”; Origin of the name Gleason at Wikipedia at; Jackie Gleason biography site at; information on his biography at; See Carney name origin at and; Chicago Tribune article on the death of Art Carney; Wikipedia’s article on Art Carney at ; information about Paedar Kearney at . All photos are in public domain. St. Patrick's Day at; Brendan Behan at; Life of Riley at; Honeymooners scene at; full cast at; Art Carney at

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Audie Murphy: The Most Honored American Soldier

Audie Murphy.
He received more military
decorations for valor in combat
than any other American soldier.
The Medal of Honor is around his neck.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons

By Adrian McGrath  

He was born in 1925 into poverty on a farm near Kingston, Texas near Dallas. He was the son of a sharecropper. In 1940 his father, Emmett, left home one day, as he had done several times during the Great Depression, looking for work; but this time he never returned. He just disappeared. His beloved mother, Josie, passed away in May of 1941 when he was just a teen. This loss deeply affected him. It was a sad loss of love and caring he could never replace throughout his whole life.

During elementary school he had to abandon his formal education to find work to help what remained of his destitute family. He picked cotton and did odd jobs. He learned to use a rifle to hunt wild game to help feed his many siblings. He had little time for hobbies, but when he did he liked to read and listen to his uncles talk about their experiences during the First World War. He wanted to be a soldier.

He was small and short, five foot five inches, and weighed around 112 pounds by the time the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in December of 1941. His disposition was polite, even shy, and friendly … but he seemed to prefer being alone, and he could sometimes quickly get a bad temper. He was, however, extremely humble. He wanted to serve his country after the sneak attack which had killed his fellow Americans, so he went down to the recruiting station to join the Marines. But he was rejected for being too young and too small.

He tried again to get into military service, this time with the US Navy. He was rejected there too. He then tried the US Army. The Army rejected him at first too. So, he tried to gain a little weight and bulk up. He persuaded his older sister, Corinne, who was very close and caring towards him, to help him change his age on documents to show he was old enough. This time he was accepted -- by the US Army.

The reality of war that young Audie witnessed.
A wounded American soldier getting First Aid.
Photo from the National Archives

He passed out during Army basic training in Texas from heat stroke. He just collapsed from the hot weather carrying all the heavy military gear. The officers wanted to reassign him to others duties such as a cook, but he pleaded with them to stay in the infantry. Reluctantly, the Army let him continue infantry training.

There is an old saying, sometimes attributed to General Dwight Eisenhower himself: It is not the size of the dog in the fight that matters, it’s the size of the fight in the dog. The unlikely soldier in our story was Audie Murphy. By the time the war was over he would receive every single medal and honor for valor in combat the United States of America had to offer -- a total of 33. Plus some from France, including the Croix de Guerre, and from Belgium.

Most extraordinary of all, Audie Murphy was awarded the Medal of Honor (a.k.a. Congressional Medal of Honor) for his incredibly courageous action in 1945.  He held the line, alone, against an attacking German company of combined infantry and tanks in the battle of the Colmar Pocket at Holtzwihr in Alsace.

Audie Murphy became the most decorated American soldier of World War II and indeed in all of American history. His accomplishments as a soldier were stunning beyond belief -- that such a slightly-built, mild mannered, self-effacing, and humble fellow could turn into a fearless, mighty warrior who destroyed Nazi troops with reckless abandon, totally disregarding his own personal safety, in the heat of bloody battle -- remains a puzzle to this day.

Rouffach, a town in Alsace,
was in the Colmar Pocket near where
Audie fought and received the
Medal of Honor. We see a US light tank
here. Photo Wikimedia Commons

It was often said that what made Audie a fierce fighter was the sudden death of his best friend, a fellow soldier who was killed by German gunfire in Italy. And while Audie was indeed always courageous in battle, he said after the war that he was always afraid and lived minute by minute. He did his duty despite his fear. The reason he fought so hard was to protect his friends, his brother soldiers.

But anyone who knows the Irish or Irish history would not be surprised. As the saying goes, Audie “got his Irish up” when faced with battle. He started as a buck private and finished as a major. Beloved by his fellow soldiers, he always gave credit to his comrades. Especially, he praised and grieved for his friends who did not come back alive. Reportedly, later in life he also grieved over the German soldiers he had to kill during combat.

Although he always wanted to be a soldier, he soon learned the reality of war. There was nothing glamorous or glorious about it. It was hard, terrifying, and savage. Kill or be killed. Audie stated in an interview well after the war that the best day he ever had while in the Army was the day he learned that the war in Europe was over.

Audie suffered after the war from what we today call post traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. It was not understood at the time and often dismissed with mysterious phrases like “shell shock” or “combat fatigue.” Audie would frequently have nightmares about battles, and he had severe insomnia. Reportedly, he would sometimes sleep with a loaded gun under his pillow -- never really escaping the world of brutal and deadly combat, in his mind, though the war was actually over.

Years ahead of his time, he became an advocate for PTSD sufferers. Additionally, he had wounds to his legs which he received in battle, a foot wound from mortar shrapnel, gangrene from a wound to his hip, and malaria. He was classified by the Army with 50 percent disability at the war’s end.

He was a hero, but he was a wounded hero.

Audie was Irish on both sides of his family; his father was a Murphy, and his mother a Killian. Murphy is the Anglicized version of the Irish Gaelic “Murchadh,” and Killian is the Anglicized variant of the Irish Gaelic name “Cillin.”

Following are some, but not all of the numerous battles Audie was in and some of the medals he received while still a teenager or in his very early 20s.

Audie's enemy -- the fierce and
highly disciplined German soldier. Although
Audie destroyed many of them, he learned
quickly how dangerous the Germans were.
Photo from the National Archives

Audie started out in Operation Torch, the US invasion of North Africa. Then Audie served with the 3rd US Army Division in Sicily in 1943. He participated in the Italian Campaign near Anzio and Rome. In Italy he received the Bronze Star for destroying a German tank and was awarded other citations for combat duty. There he learned that the German soldier was a well-trained and dangerous enemy.

Audie then went to southern France and drove towards Germany. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest award besides the Congressional Medal of Honor, after running up a hill towards German machine gun nests which protected heavy German artillery and destroying them all. He certainly saved the lives of many American soldiers.

Audie took out Nazi snipers and more machine gun nests single-handedly. He was offered a raise in rank to be an officer, but at first he declined because he felt he lacked a formal education. Furthermore, he did not want to be separated from his fellow soldiers who were his friends. But after repeated acts of heroism and awards, he accepted the rank of Second Lieutenant and was allowed to remain with his unit.

Winter conditions on the French - German
border in early 1945. Audie was near here
in Alsace. This is a photo of the area nearby
during the Battle of the Bulge.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

In January of 1945 under extremely frigid conditions in Alsace near the German border, Audie Murphy, now in command as First Lieutenant of a badly damaged American unit, single handedly stopped a German attack by infantry and tanks. Sending his men to the rear, Audie directed US Army artillery fire by radio while close to the enemy lines. Then he mounted a damaged and burning US M10 tank destroyer, an armored vehicle filled with fuel which could explode at any moment, and began to fire the mounted .50 caliber machine gun at the enemy. He aimed at the German infantry, knowing that the panzer tanks would not advance without infantry support and that a machine gun alone could not stop tanks. The plan worked.

An M10 US tank destroyer, the
type Audie mounted at the Colmar Pocket
and used its .50 cal machine gun to
stop the German attack.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Murphy’s machine gun fire stopped the German infantry and armor advance, giving the Americans time to recover. Murphy was wounded by enemy shrapnel and withdrew only after his men were safe and he ran out of ammunition.

For this incredible action, Audie Murphy was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest award America has to give for combat.

There is a museum and monument today to Audie Murphy at the Colmar Battlefield in Alsace, France. It shows the respect the people of France have for Audie Murphy.

A monument and plaque to Medal of Honor recipient Audie Murphy
at the site of the Colmar Battlefield in Alsace, France. It depicts
Audie firing his .50 cal atop a burning M10 tank destroyer.
Original photograph courtesy of Robert Burch. Taken in 2016. 

Audie became a popular actor after the war, starring in many Western films and also in an excellent role as a Union soldier in the epic Civil War film, “The Red Badge of Courage.”

Audie starred in a film about his own life during World War II called “To Hell and Back” based on a book by the same name. But he insisted on historical accuracy and always gave the proper credit to his fellow soldiers.

Audie Murphy, the actor,
starring in "The Red Badge of Courage."
Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Audie Murphy tragically died in his 40s in an airplane crash. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Audie Murphy, a descendant of the Irish, is perhaps the greatest American soldier of all time. He is America’s most honored soldier.

Sources and further reading:
. Audie Murphy at ; Audie Murphy: One Man Stand at Holtzwihr at ;  ; Audie Murphy at; See Irish names Murphy and Killian at and . Article at “Sweethearts of the West” website “American Hero and Western Star: Audie Murphy” by Caroline Clemmons ; Arlington Cemetery article on Audie Murphy
Photos -- All photos are from Wikimedia Commons, Wikipedia, or the National Archives and in public domain. Photo of the wounded American soldier at; Photo of the German soldier at; Photo of the tank destroyer at; Photo of the Battle of the Bulge soldier at; photo of Rouffach at; See more about Audie at

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Goody Ann Glover: The Boston Witch Trial of 1688

A melodramatic depiction of a witch trial
A lithograph by Joseph Baker from 1892
From Wikimedia Commons

By Adrian McGrath

(Note: Much about the story of Goody Glover is apocryphal. Much is believed as fact but without clear supportive evidence. Nevertheless, what follows is the basic story as best we know. I take the position it was an injustice based on religious and ethnic prejudice.  Others may disagree.)

This is a story about ignorance. This is a story about fear. This is a story about stupidity. This is a story about intolerance and even hate. And above all, this is a story about injustice. This is a story about all of those terrible things because this is a story about a simple Irish Catholic washerwoman named Goody (Goodwife) Ann Glover who was wrongly put on trial and executed in Boston, Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1688 for being a witch.

This is a story about how prejudice, fear, and stupidity can result in paranoid fanaticism and mindless killing. The story is a warning to us all of the inherent dangers of ignorance and bigotry. In this case the bigotry was directed against an innocent woman who happened to be Irish Catholic.

The term “Goodwife” was a word used in those days to mean a woman of moderate social status such as a housekeeper or nanny who took care of children. "Goody" was a shorter version of that term. Ann is referred to in both ways in research material. We are not sure, also, if Ann’s last name was really Glover since indentured servants and slaves, like Ann, were often called by their master’s last name then. (Note: Some historians argue that "slave" is an inappropriate term for how the Irish were treated at that time. Others disagree. Some argue "indentured servant" is the better term. The latter had more rights than the former. Readers can decide for themselves.)

Goodwife or Goody Ann Glover, an insignificant and poor peasant girl, was born in Ireland in the early 1600s (we don’t know the exact day or year); and her life was ruined by the Lord Protector of England, Oliver Cromwell. Cromwell ruined Ann’s life when he invaded Ireland in 1649 and went on a fanatical rage killing many Irish Catholics and destroying their civilization and sending the rest into virtual slavery or indentured servitude. This was a form of “ethnic cleansing,” sending many Irish to the British-held Barbados, an island in the Caribbean Sea rich with various spices and crops where Irish prisoners worked as forced labor. (Sometimes it was called "Barbados" in those days and other times "the Bardados". See Crowmwell.)

Ann and her husband were unfortunate enough to be among the Irish Catholics selected by Cromwell’s military to be sent by force to Barbados, never to see their relatives and friends and Ireland again. Ann’s husband was reportedly killed when he refused to abandon his Catholic beliefs. But little is known about Ann’s life while she was in the Barbados. What is known is that she and her daughter eventually arrived in Boston in the 1680s where Ann become a Goodwife or house servant who also minded children.

Ann worked for John Goodwin; and among her other duties, she cleaned the laundry. The story becomes muddled at this point. One version is that Ann became ill one day, and the children likewise became ill. The other version is that Goodwin’s children accused Ann (probably falsely) of stealing laundry which caused Ann to argue with the children who in turn became upset and ill. Whatever the case, the children fell sick and began to act in odd ways. A doctor was called who could not determine any cause or cure for the illness, whereupon the doctor -- in his learned wisdom -- concluded the problem must be the result of witchcraft.

Everyone blamed Ann, accused her of being a witch; and she was arrested. Having lived in Gaelic speaking Ireland in her youth, naturally Ann spoke primarily Irish Gaelic. She apparently knew some English, but Irish Gaelic was her main language. She could understand many English words, but she had great difficulty in speaking English words. So, being nervous and upset after being accused of such a horrible crime as witchcraft, she did most of her talking in Irish Gaelic. The legal authorities, confused by what she said to them, concluded that the alien language she spoke was the language of Satan.

A trial was held and presided over by a famous (or infamous) “religious” leader of the day named Reverend Cotton Mather, a graduate of Harvard and ostensibly a learned scholar, but nevertheless an incredibly bigoted and ignorant man -- despite his so-called education.

Reverend Cotton Mather
From Wikimedia Commons

Mather wanted to hear Ann recite the Lord’s Prayer. It was believed that a witch could not properly speak the holy words of the Lord’s Prayer, being possessed by the Devil. Cotton Mather eventually realized that she spoke almost exclusively Irish Gaelic, and sensibly a translator was summoned. This appeared to help procedural legal matters until Mather directly ordered Ann to say the Lord’s Prayer. Ann recited the prayer, but she spoke it in a mixture of Irish Gaelic, her native tongue, and broken Latin, which she no doubt learned from her Catholic faith.

The Reverend Cotton Mather eventually concluded that she must really be guilty because she was incapable of speaking the Lord’s Prayer properly in the King's English or even in proper Latin as all good people certainly could -- despite the fact that he knew her native language was Irish.

Seeking further evidence, the legal authorities searched Ann’s house and found what the court concluded were small dolls or figurines. Most likely these were homemade statues of Catholic saints. The Court concluded the dolls were “idols” and works of the Devil used for sorcery.

In addition to this “evidence” the Court also believed witnesses who testified that they saw “spectral evidence” against Ann. This idiotic form of evidence was testimony from a “witness” who claimed to have seen or even dreamt that the accused appeared to the witness as a spirit or a witch’s “familiar” such as a black cat. Incredibly, the court accepted this nonsense as persuasive evidence.

On top of this Cotton Mather somehow came to believe that Ann had engaged in sexual relations with the Devil. How he concluded such an absurdity is, of course, beyond any rational explanation.

A depiction of a witch trial
An engraving from 1876
From Wikimedia Commons

All of these matters show the extreme insanity of witch hunts and witch trials in those terrible days. But the trial of Ann Goody Glover shows us something else even more deplorable. It reveals the blatant prejudice that existed at that time based on ethnicity (being Irish) and religion (being Catholic). This was different from the clownish though deadly circus of the typical witch trial; this was a deliberate persecution and injustice committed against an innocent defendant because that person was Irish and Catholic. Being Irish and Catholic in Puritanical Boston was literally enough to get you killed.
(Note: Some may disagree with this analysis, but the evidence is there was systemic prejudice in Puritan New England against Irish Catholics.)

Now armed with what the court felt was sufficient evidence of witchcraft, it was decided that Ann Glover must die.

Ann Goody Glover was hanged to death on November 16, 1688. A crowd appeared at her hanging which was probably composed mainly of Puritans as that was the majority population of the time. Some denounced her as a witch and “Papist,” and at least one person observed that Ann’s cat was nearby, which some believed was further evidence of the Devil and witchcraft. Cats were seen as the Devil’s familiar or spirit.

The hanging of Ann was, of course, simply murder. The “trial” was a circus and a farce. It would have been comical had it not been so horrendous in its result. The trial and execution of Ann shows us the disgraceful state of education, medicine, organized religion, law, and society of that day. Ann died because she was Irish, Catholic, and -- lest we forget -- a woman, since the vast majority of innocent victims of witch hunts in those days were women, although some men and even children were also falsely accused.

Cotton Mather went on to be heavily involved in the equally atrocious Salem Witch Trials in 1692, probably the most infamous of all the witch trials in early America. These trials were directly influenced by the cruel and farcical trial of Ann Glover.

There are some people today who consider Ann to be a Catholic martyr who died for her faith. And there is strong evidence -- real evidence -- to support this claim. She never renounced her Catholicism despite great pressure to do so.

To its credit, the modern-day city of Boston in 1988, 300 years after Ann’s execution, made November 16 Goody Glover Day in her honor -- recognizing her innocence and the injustice done to her based on prejudice.

We can never undo the horrible injustice done to Ann, but by telling her story we can honor her memory and perhaps try to build a world were systemic prejudice and fanaticism are abolished and justice prevails.

Note: This article is dedicated to the late Professor Frederick Swaim of the Loyola University School of Law in New Orleans who taught me law ... and other things. He was my teacher, brother-in-law, and friend.

Sources and further reading:
“Was the Last Witch of Boston Actually a Catholic Martyr?” by Mary Rezac, article from CNA Catholic News Agency; Irish Boston History and Heritage website. “Goody Glover Day in Boston Pays Homage” at;  Wikipedia article on Salem Witch Trials at; Wikipedia article on Ann Glover at; Photos are all from Wikimedia Commons and in public domain. Cotton Mather; Witch Trial; Witch trial engraving