PRIDE IN HERITAGE SPANS 50 YEARS: Boston Police Department Emeralds President Sean McCarthy and VP Robert "Doc" Welby In front of the Emerald Society Hall in the Rosalind section of the city

Boston Police Emeralds celebrate 50 years on the beat

Boston's finest will salute the 50th anniversary of the force's famed Emerald Society on 27 April at a gala event in the 'Capital of Irish America'.

Leading the celebrations at the Boston Police Emeralds Society premises in Boston will be newly-elected President Sean M. McCarthy and Vice President Robert “Doc” Welby.

Sean is a Police Officer assigned to District A1, which covers downtown Boston. Doc is a retired Boston Police Officer who was shot in the line of duty in 2003. 

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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. Into action went our founders- the late William B. Ahern, Francis Coleman, Arthur “Archie” Kelly, Arthur McNamara, Michael O’Malley and William Powers Jr.”  

Up until this time, there were no associations for the Irish and Irish American police officers in Boston. The battle to form the first Irish 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.  

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; 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.

The Society's first meeting saw “400-500 members.” and resulted in the election of in Bill Powers, President; Michael O’Malley, Vice President; Bill Ahern, Secretary and Arthur McNamara; Treasurer.

In 1982 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 which is now home to the Society. 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.  

FLASHBACK TO 2014: Emerald Society Past Presidents at BPD Headquarters Fallen Law Enforcement Officers Wall (L-R) Billy Kelly, Frank McLaughlin, Jim O'Loughlin, Liam Hawkins, Consul General of Ireland Breandán Ó Caollaí, Steve DaCorta, Tom Miller and Ned Dervan

FLASHBACK TO 2014: Emerald Society Past Presidents at BPD Headquarters Fallen Law Enforcement Officers Wall (L-R) Billy Kelly, Frank McLaughlin, Jim O'Loughlin, Liam Hawkins, Consul General of Ireland Breandán Ó Caollaí, Steve DaCorta, Tom Miller and Ned Dervan

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!

Full details of membership regulations are on the Society's website.  

The Emerald Society hosts many events throughout the year including the Annual Emerald Golf Classic, The 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 Society members to Ireland, New York City, Savannah and other destinations. 

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 co-workers. Unfortunately, anti-Catholic and anti-Irish sentiment from the Yankee establishment caused his career to end in less than 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 (, having joined on November 11, 1995. NCLEES is an umbrella organization that serves Law Enforcement Emerald Societies in the United States and abroad.  

Last November, the NCLEES Fall Meeting was held in Boston, this marked a return to Boston as the host City. Brother Societies and their members attended meetings, visited the USS Constitution, enjoyed a bagpipe-led pub crawl, enjoyed the history of the city and discovered why Boston called the “Capital of Irish America”.

There are two things the Emerald Society refuses to forget. Although our list of accomplishments in Law Enforcement continues to grow, so does the price officers 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 their first 50 years in the bag, the Boston Police Department Emerald Society has its eyes firmly fixed on the future. As Society Historian Claire O’Keefe stated in her 1998 history: “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 this Emerald Society of the Boston Police Department of the City of Boston, Inc. could not survive”. 

Go maire siad an céad! Roll on the next 50!