Barney Williams, Irish songster performed for the soldiers during the Civil Wa

It all started simply enough. I was reading through other parts of the December 2, 1864 issue of The New York Times. I originally purchased the newspaper for its value in recording the story of the Battle of Franklin which was fought on November 30, 1864.


As I was thumbing through the classifieds, more specifically the section labeled “Amusement,” I stumbled upon this particular ad and it caught my eye:

Several things struck me. One, the ad was promoting a husband/wife team. Two, they were comedians. Three, they used song in their routine. Fourth, there appeared to be an Irish connection. The information caught my attention enough to do a quick Google search on Barney Williams. I soon discovered Barney Williams was originally born Bernard O’Flaherty, born in Cork, Ireland, and he performed for President Lincoln as well as for the troops during the Civil War (at least for the 47th NY according to Miles O’Reilly)

Pvt. Miles O'Reilly
Pvt. Miles O'Reilly

Excellent speeches were made by General Daniel E. Sickles, Mr. James T. Brady, John Van Buren, Wm. E. Robinson, Commodore Joseph Hoxie, Judge Charles P. Daly, Daniel Devlin, and others; while Dr. Carmichael, Mr.John Savage, Mr. Stephen C. Massett, Mr. Barney Williams, and several celebrated songsters, amateur and professional, favored the company with patriotic and expressive melodies as the good vessel steamed up the Hudson on a brief pleasure trip.

Barney Williams CDV
Barney Williams CDV

I then Googled his name to find any extant images of him and/or his wife and I was delighted to find this wonder CDV.

I spent many hours that first evening mining the riches of the Internet and digging up everything I could on Mr. and Mrs. Barney Williams. Here are some quotes about him from his contemporaries:

. . . the genuine Paddy, the true Irish peasant.

When he opened his mouth you could smell the shamrock.

Barney Williams . . . held a dominating place on the American stage as the portrayer of Irish comic roles from the middle 1840’s till the 1870s.

He could make an audience roar by hispantomimc excellence.

Williams possessed the true Irish spirit of the comical . . .

One comment

  1. From Vol. 12 of the Letters of Charles Dickens
    (Pilgrim Edition)

    On Sunday,Jan. 12, 1868, Dickens traveled by train from NY to Phila. with Mr. & Mrs. Barney Williams. They were traveling with their pretty little daughter and stayed at same hotel (The Continental, 9th & Chestnut Streets) in Philadelphia as Dickens. He bought their little girl, who was a great source of amusement for Dickens, a black doll. As he was writing to his daughter, the little Williams girl was in the hallway looking through the keyhole watching him. He let her in with a frightful friend, a tall girl with stockings sticking out, who sat far back on the sofa, stared at him and spoke not a word the whole time. His manager came in and found Dickens and the strange girl confronted in a sort of fascination
    like the serpent and the bird.

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