This St. Patrick’s Day, you can revisit Doyle’s — online

Memorabilia that hung on the wall now available at Digital Commonwealth

The Boston Public Library, Digital Commonwealth, and the Jamaica Plain Historical Society announced today the launch of a new online collection comprised of items that once hung on the walls of the beloved Doyle’s Café in Jamaica Plain.  After serving as a community gathering place, a backdrop for hundreds of political campaigns, and a cornerstone of the American brewing industry for almost 125 years, Doyle’s closed its doors in October of 2019. 

Following the public auction of the equipment, fixtures, and historical memorabilia that made the space unique, the majority buyers agreed to loan their items to the Boston Public Library, where they were digitized in the library’s on-site digitization lab.  The gallery is hosted online by Digital Commonwealth, in collaboration with the Jamaica Plain Historical Society.

This gallery serves to preserve the memory and context of this important community gathering place. Currently the gallery is made up of digital images and text descriptions of each historic item that hung on the walls of Doyle’s Café.

“Digitizing the history of Doyle’s was an easy choice for the Library,” said Tom Blake, Director of Content Discovery at the Boston Public Library.  “Doyles was more than a community pub; its history is not only the history of European immigrants in the late 1800s, but it was also a key part of establishing the economy of Boston through the American Brewery movement. As one of the stewards of our city’s history, it felt important for future generations to be able to experience Doyle’s in some way." 

"This is a Saint Patrick's Day unlike any other,” said Doyle’s owner Gerry Burke, Sr.  “It’s the first one without Doyle's and where the community cannot gather. It’s sad, but what the Boston Public Library has created is really wonderful. I will be overjoyed if there are any memories of Doyles that can be preserved."

"The online gallery of Doyle's memorabilia is a gift to the community and keeps the spirit of Doyle's alive as we celebrate this Saint Patrick's day virtually,” said Ziba Cranmer, of the Save Doyle’s Group. “It is wonderful to see the BPL documenting the people's history of Boston and we hope that we will be able to someday continue this history in person at a future Doyle's Cafe.”

Among the historic treasures hung on the walls of Doyle’s were a series of New Deal Era murals painted onto the plaster of the interior walls by Jamaica Plain Artist Max Beichel.  These works, commissioned by the novel Public Works of Art Project, kept company with news clippings and treasures of political ephemera.

The political memorabilia was collected through the years as the fortunes of Irish immigrants improved and they gained political stature in Boston.  Doyle’s Café became a center for city, state, and national politics; its back room was formally dedicated the Honey Fitz Room to raise the profile of Senator Ted Kennedy in Jamaica Plain in the anticipation of his 1988 Presidential campaign. Multiple Presidents – of Ireland and the United States – visited Doyle’s as guests of Boston’s politicians.  Boston Mayor and Vatican Ambassador Ray Flynn commented once that “You could learn more about politics at Doyle’s than at Harvard’s JFK School of Government.”

At the turn of the 20th century, Doyle’s also played a role in the emergence of the American Brewery movement, which was based in Roxbury and Jamaica Plain, thanks to the clean water of the Stony Brook that flowed through these neighborhoods. 

As the gallery is published this St. Patrick’s Day, the public is invited to add their stories to the collection of memorabilia.  In partnership with Digital Commonwealth and the Jamaica Plain Historical Society, the Boston Public Library is asking the public for their own memories, stories, and personal knowledge related to individual items. Images from the Doyle’s collection have been posted to the Library’s Flickr account here.  

Participants can use the “Comment” section on any individual image to share additional information about the item. This information will be used to enhance the Digital Commonwealth gallery and will help preserve a more intimate story of Doyle’s and its connection to the community for future generations.