“Proud of Our Heritage” - The Emerald Society of the Boston Police Department
The history of the Emerald Society in Boston begins in a local Irish tavern in the South End called J.J. Foley’s where Officers would go after work to wind down from their shifts. As Historian Claire O’Keefe noted in May of 1988 – “It was back in 1973 when Bill Powers brought up the idea to a group of other Boston Police Officers after conversing with several New York City Police Officers about their Emerald Society (founded in 1954). Into action went our founders- the late William B. Ahern, Francis Coleman, Arthur “Archie” Kelly, Arthur McNamara, Michael O’Malley and William Powers Jr. Additional meetings of the founders often took place in the basements and living rooms of their homes where these men drew up the by-laws, developed recruiting strategies, formulated plans and met with various officials to get all the necessary clearances and legalities in order. At this time, assisting the founders in this endeavor were John Callahan, the popular news commentator from Channel 7 and the late Bill Joyce.”
Up until this time, there were no associations for the Irish and Irish- American Police Officers in Boston. The formation of such an organization in the Boston Police ranks began a bitter battle with then Police Commissioner DiGrazia. The Commissioner refused to allow the Irish to form an Emerald Society, although it was pointed out that other ethnic and religious groups had already founded their organizations and that it was not against rules and regulations of the Department.
Hard work paid off when the former Massachusetts Secretary of State John F. X. Davoren declared that the six founders, their associates and successors, were legally organized and made an existing corporation as of June 21, 1973. The official seal was placed on our Charter on July 13, 1973.
After the founding of the Society, the Commissioner relentlessly pursued the removal of the title “of the Boston Police Department” from the Society’s name, needless to say he lost. The Commissioner also refused to allow members to wear their Society’s pin, calling it a “girl scout” pin. The Society capitalized on his anti-Irish bigotry, flyers were put out in the various police stations and as the group started to flourish, others joined in the recruiting drive. It seemed that overnight half of the Department joined the Emerald Society. Although a long a force on the Department, the Society gave the Irish an organization of their own something that brought them together.
The first headquarters was located at 642 Beech St. in Roslindale and the first meeting of the general membership was held at the Police Post #251 quarters (Police Post/VFW #1018). That first meeting saw “400 – 500 members.” The first election resulted in Bill Powers, President; Michael O’Malley, Vice President; Bill Ahern, Secretary and Arthur McNamara; Treasurer. The original term of office ran January to December, but this was later changed to run as present March through February. Due to the changeover, the first terms were more than a year. The Post was the site of several years of meetings. It was in 1982 that Paul Carroll learned from a friend in the Suffolk Franklin Savings Bank that the bank property at 10 Birch St., Roslindale was up for sale. Emerald Society President John McManus moved with foresight and speed, and together with Arthur McNamara and Phil Doherty, did the necessary legwork to finally provide the Emerald Society with its own home.
Lots of hard work on the part of many people resulted in the beautiful building we now call our own. Sidewalk Sam, the famous local artist painted the murals that decorate the wall. His artwork was payment from the inspiration he received during a Society sponsored trip to Ireland. The first meeting at the Hall was held in September of 1983, before the floor and finishing touches were even completed. It was a grand opening and a proud day for many!
Many renovations have been done over the years, a new long wooden bar has replace the small old corner bar, a new wood floor replaced the old parquet, updates in the kitchen and the old stage in the rear corner has been moved to a larger location up front. Sidewalk Sam even made a return visit to add to the Society logo, the American & Irish Flags, the Boston Police Badge and our moto “Pride in our Heritage.” On the first Thursday of the month, membership meetings are held at the Holland the agenda includes the business of the Society, introductions of new members, planned functions and upcoming events, even drawings and prizes for members. Merchandise is also available.
There are three types of membership, “Active” membership requires the member to be an active or retired Boston Police Officer able to trace his/her roots to Ireland. “Associate” and “Honorary” levels of membership are less stringent, but require an “Active” members sponsorship. The Purposes of the Society, History, Applications and more information are available on our web site:
The Emerald Society hosts many events throughout the year including the Annual Emerald Golf Classic, Our “Halfway to St. Patrick’s Day 5K Road Race” to benefit the charity Cops for Kids with Cancer was held for 10 successful years, the Kid’s Christmas Party run by long time member Patricia Shea, the popular “meet and greets” with other Emerald Societies and organizations that visit during the year. Planned trips that have taken us to Ireland with Past Presidents Jim McManus, William “Bill” Fredericks, Tom Brown and others, to New York City, Savannah and other destinations.
The Emerald Society were the original sponsors the Police Department’s Hockey Team and still support them. Our Emerald Society Honor Guard marches in many parades and events throughout the year, including trips to present the colors during professional sporting games. Emerald Society Past Presidents Billy O’Brien and Bill Fredericks who designed our logo, were two of the founders of the Boston Police Retirees Association. Member & retired Capt., John Dow founded the charity “Cops for Kids with Cancer” and Past President John McManus served on the Board of Directors. Although both have past, their work continues with the face of CFKWC and member former Chief Bob Faherty, Past President Steve DaCorta and member Rita Foley.
In 2011, the Boston Emerald Society, the South Boston Citizens Association, and Southie’s Historical Society joined together to honor the memory of Bernard “Barney” McGinniskin, Boston and the nation’s first Irish born cop who was appointed on November 3, 1851. A ceremony was held and a plaque was placed at his gravestone in St. Augustine’s in South Boston. Research revealed that Barney introduced himself proudly as being “from the bogs of Ireland” to his coworkers. Unfortunately, Anti Catholic and Irish sentiment from the Yankee establishment caused his career to end short of three years.
The Emerald Society of the BPD is a member of the Grand Council of United Emerald Societies Inc. and a founding member of The National Conference of Law Enforcement Emerald Societies (www.NCLEES.org), having joined on November 11, 1995. NCLEES is an umbrella organization that
serves Law Enforcement Emerald Societies in the United States and abroad.
This November 2nd – 5th, the NCLEES Fall Meeting will be held in Boston, this marks a return to Boston as the host City, held here previously in 1998 & co-hosted with the Irish American Police Officers Association of Massachusetts in 2014. Our brother Societies and their members will be in town enjoying the history of our city and discovering why we are called the “Capital of Irish America”. A web site, Facebook event page “NCLEES Boston 2023” has been set up for information.
Each May during National Police Week, NCLEES holds their main business meeting, followed by the Annual Emerald Society Annual Pipe Band March and Parade along with a Ceremony at the National Law Enforcement Memorial and a social event that follows. The Ceremony has grown to be the largest event held on the National Law Enforcement Memorial during Police Week. Members from Boston’s Emerald Society have become increasingly involved in the National’s events since its founding.
Each year in March, we hold our Annual Awards Banquet and Installation of incoming Officers. Awards include our “Man/Woman of the Year”, the “Barney McGinniskin Officer(s) of the Year”, the “Millie Smith Member Award” named after a long time member and volunteer, an Irish Heritage award and Lifesaving awards are also given out. It is a time for the celebration of our accomplishments and a time of reflection of our losses. These are two things the Emerald Society refuses to forget. Although our list of accomplishments in Law Enforcement continues to grow, so does the price we pay. Of the more than 23,000 names on the Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Wall in Washington DC, statistics provided by the NLEOM themselves show a third of the names to be of Gaelic descent. In the Boston Police Department’s Headquarters, a wall is also dedicated to the heroes who gave their life for the City, with many more who can trace their roots to “the bogs of Ireland.”
With our first 50 years behind us, Historian Claire O’Keefe summed it up best in 1988, stating “There have been fifteen Presidents so far. We hope that this figure doubles many times over. Our membership is strong, filled with wonderful people. We are proud of our Irish heritage, and looking forward to flourishing and building for the next generation a solid foundation so that they too, will remember their roots. God Bless the Founders, and all those who have devoted so much of their time and labors over the years and to those members without whom which this Emerald Society of the Boston Police Department of the City of Boston, Inc. could not survive”.
Contents from this article are from Emerald Society notes and documents from Society Historians Claire O’Keefe, John Finneran, Sean M. McCarthy and NCLEES Past President Patrick F. O’Brien