BUFFALO, N.Y. — It is like the St Patrick’s Day anthem. “When Irish Eyes are Smiling, ‘tis like a morn’ in spring." It is the time of year that everyone is Irish and there are Irish eyes smiling wherever you look.
Mary Hennigan, Chairperson of the Buffalo Irish Center says the song captures that spirit. “No matter where you celebrate, everyone at one point sings ‘When Irish Eyes Are Smiling’ like you’re wrapped in a blanket of Irish music and magic and mystery, that binds the whole room and community together.” Well, what you might not realize is that blanket of Irish magic was woven right here in Western New York.
Chauncey Olcott, the man who wrote that Irish classic, along with another hugely popular song associated with the Emerald Isle, My Wild Irish Rose, was born and raised in the Queen City.
Olcott’s mother, Margaret Doyle, came over from County Cork when she was eight. She married Mellon Whitney Olcott and moved to Buffalo, where, in 1858, Chauncey was born. He started appearing in minstrel shows across the country and even studied in London. Ultimately he started writing his own musicals.
“Buffalo has a wealth of great musicians, and he was one that was overlooked for generations” says Hennigan. Finally in 1970, 45 years after he died, Chauncey was inducted in the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Two years ago, with his grandson, Chauncey Olcott Johnstone accepting the honors, he was also inducted into the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame. His songs continue ring beautifully through the Unknown Stories of WNY.