Eighty years ago, on March 17, 1940, at the 203rd Anniversary Dinner of the Charitable Irish Society, it was announced that an anonymous gift of over $50,000 was donated in the name of the Society, to endow a chair for Celtic Studies at Harvard University. Later, the name of the donor was revealed - longtime Society treasurer, Henry Lee Shattuck.
Shattuck was an attorney, financier, a state legislator, and a Boston City Councilor. His selfless devotion to public service extended for over sixty years, most of it enmeshed in the world of politics. He was also treasurer of Harvard University from 1929 to 1938, and treasurer of the Society for twelve years. With a distinguished Brahmin pedigree, Shattuck was also a descendant of Patrick Tracy, Irish born Revolutionary - era shipbuilder and early founder of the Society.
While once visiting Ireland, and meeting with Irish President Douglas Hyde in Phoenix Park, Shattuck later wrote that “Hyde agreed with me that something more might be done to advantage… in bringing to the attention of the American public - Gaelic art, literature, and language." That was in 1938. Two years later, Shattuck decided to do something about it.
"Henry Shattuck’s gift was motivated by three things," recalled Henry Lee, Shattuck’s cousin and Past President of the Society, "His love of Ireland, his love of Harvard, and his love of the Charitable Irish Society.” He combined these three passions into one visionary gift that lives on today.
Shattuck’s generous donation (equivalent to over one million dollars in today’s value) firmly established Harvard’s renowned Department of Celtic Languages and Literatures, the only Celtic department in the United States. Some eighty years later, graduates of Harvard now teach in Irish studies programs at universities throughout the country and beyond.
Shattuck’s philanthropy extended in many directions. In addition to other endowments to the Harvard Graduate School of Education, the School of Public Health, and the Institute of Politics at the Kennedy School of Government, there were countless acts of private assistance to students to further their education. In 1953 Shattuck was the recipient of the Gold Medal Award, presented annually by The E̒ire Society of Boston to a person who exemplifies the best of Irish culture and ideals. It is presented to those who have made significant contributions in their field of expertise that benefit society.