By Joe Leary
Special to the BIR
It was exciting, exhausting, and troubling at the same time!
For most of us who were born in Ireland or whose families emigrated from Ireland, much of each March has been the focused of the many events celebrating our heritage. Formal dinners, Mass at the Cathedral, parades, visitors from Ireland, and even a bit of controversy enlivened the whole month.Despite the fact that Irish Americans achieved leadership positions throughout our society many years ago, some still rely on exaggerated stereotypical images to profit from Saint Patrick’s Feast Day celebrations.
Those trying to sell newspapers or television advertising time fell to concentrating on a few curmudgeons who think they own the “Southie” Parade. But they don’t - the Irish families of South Boston and the rest of Boston do. Some in the media should take the advice of Pope Francis, “Who am I to judge?”
Additionally, a few money-hungry retailers and manufacturers create and sell insulting merchandise they think is funny. The insulting prize winner this year was the “drunken Jesus T-shirt” sold by Urban Outfitters at its three stores in the Boston area (Allston, Cambridge and Boston). They deserve an equal measure of scorn.
Then there are the big beer companies, who consider Saint Patrick’s Day the perfect opportunity to sell their product. Their marketing departments invest thousands of dollars in various promotions to promote as much drinking as possible. And the pub owners are more than willing conspirators.
Mountains of freely distributed green hats, shirts, and jewelry magically appear on the streets around parade time each year. This year a flash-mob-type party was organized on Boston’s Broad Street, nine days before the 17th, with hundreds of young people dressed in green going from pub to pub. They were seen and heard loudly tramping around the financial district at 3 o’clock that Saturday afternoon. The big beer companies played the Pied Piper role.
Despite all that, the real story is the growing pride all Boston Irish have in our heritage and in the changing diversity within our city. Illustrating the latter was the appearance of an impressive new politician at this year’s traditional breakfast before the parade: State Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry of Dorchester, a Boston College graduate with a master’s diploma from Harvard pending this spring, and a mother of two boys and two girls who is married to Bill Forry, the editor of this newspaper.
She emerged a new Boston hero with her amazing performance as the host of the event which was made famous by Bill Bulger, longtime president of the Massachusetts Senate. As a compliment to her and the rest of Boston, Ireland’s Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, travelled to Boston from Washington to attend the breakfast and celebrate along with the rest of us. He had left Dublin a few days before to meet with President Obama at the White House. The prime minister then paid a much deserved visit to the Irish Cultural Centre in Canton to greet and encourage their members and supporters.
And Boston’s new mayor, Marty Walsh, now almost three months in office, was everywhere. His lifelong loyalty to his city drove his efforts to change the minds of the narrow-thinking organizers of the parade leaders. Maybe next year. For all that, there were many other parades to enjoy, most notably in Holyoke and the relatively unknown Cape Cod extravaganza in Yarmouth.
The parties were large and small. One of the best is in Dorchester at Blessed Mother Teresa’s Parish on behalf of the Brett family’s food pantry,a must stop for politicians. One of the most elegant is the annual Charitable Irish formal dance, which was a big success this year. Boston was honored by visits from many Irish leaders in addition to Enda Kenny. The hard working Mayor of Belfast, Mairtin O’Muilleoir was here promoting business exchanges between our cities.
The 300 attendees at the Irish American Partnership breakfast on Saint Patrick’s Day heard the president of the University of Limerick, Don Barry, and Ireland’s Consul General, Brendan O’Caollai, discuss the improving economic situation in Ireland and the unique excellence of the university. President Barry and University of Massachusetts Provost Winston Langley signed a memo of understanding between the campuses at the breakfast. Mayor Walsh, a frequent participant in the past, welcomed all to the breakfast and received Partnership grants for several schools in Galway that his parents once attended.
All in all, Boston had a good time.