Gilmore, Patrick Sarsfield (1829–92), musician and bandmaster, was born 25 December 1829 at Ballygar, Co. Galway, son of Patrick J. Gilmore, stonemason, and Mary Gilmore (née Sharkey). Initially destined for the priesthood, he was sent to work in a shop in Athlone, Co. Westmeath, after showing a marked preference for music over religion. There Patrick Keating, conductor of a regimental band, taught him harmony and counterpoint; Gilmore learned the cornet, and accompanied the regiment when it was sent to Canada in 1847. Shortly afterwards he moved to Boston, Massachusetts, where he worked in a music store and played in various local bands. In 1852 he became bandmaster with the Boston brass band, but left three years later to establish a music-publishing firm with Joseph M. Russell. In 1855 he was offered the position of bandmaster with the Salem brass band, which he accepted at $1,000 a year. His reputation grew rapidly, and he was invited to return as leader of the Boston brass band in 1859; he accepted only on condition that it change its name to ‘Gilmore's Band’.
The outbreak of the American civil war in 1861 saw him, and his band, enlist in the 24th Massachusetts volunteer regiment. John Andrew, the governor of Massachusetts, soon spotted his talents and asked him to organize bands for regular army brigades. In January 1864 he accompanied two of these bands on service in Louisana and was put in charge of all the army bands in the department of the Gulf. In March 1864 he held in New Orleans the first of his monster concerts, with a chorus of 5,000 and an orchestra of 500, including cannon. During the war he composed many military songs, and his arrangement of ‘John Brown's body’ is credited with consolidating its popularity. In 1864 he published the words and music for ‘When Johnny comes marching home’, under the pseudonym ‘Louis Lambert’; the song soon entered the national consciousness. He returned to Boston after the war, a local hero, and resumed his tireless self-promotion; he challenged Edward ‘Ned’ Kendall to a musical duel to see who could play the same passage better, and successfully dispatched the virtuoso bugle player.
His taste for gigantic concerts continued, and in 1869 and 1872 he organised two peace jubilees. The first – the national peace jubilee, about which he published an account – saw him conduct an orchestra of 1,000, and a chorus of ten times that, with a battery of cannon and fifty anvils. Although later derided for their vulgarity, these concerts were very popular in their day.
Moving to New York in 1872, Gilmore became bandmaster of the 22nd Regiment of the New York national guard, touring the US, Canada, and Europe. In 1879 he presented ‘Columbia’, a piece he claimed was inspired by an angel, to the public of the United States, hoping that it would become the national anthem. He died suddenly 24 September 1892 while conducting his band at the St Louis exposition. He married (1858) Ellen J. O'Neill; they had one daughter, Mary Louisa (‘Minnie’) Gilmore, who also composed music. Gilmore's greatest musical achievement is now considered to be the standardisation and balance he introduced to bands in America.