Michael Lonergan, Ireland's new Consul General to Boston, began his tenure here in a way none of his predecessors in the post had experienced. In an interview at the Consulate, he sat down with the BIR to talk about his memorable first days on the job, his first impressions of his new post, and his goals in the months to come.
BIR: Your arrival in Boston was unforgettable.
Lonergan: It was unbelievable, sad, and uplifting all at once. Ted Kennedy's passing was the end of an era. So, too, in many ways was that of his sister Eunice. I felt as though I was barely off the plane and here, my first day on the job, I was sitting near Vice President Joe Biden and Oprah Winfrey at the funeral mass of a woman whom I so admired and was so admired in Ireland for the Special Olympics. The Special Olympics are so big in Dublin.
The next week, Senator Kennedy died, and I was at the service with Taoiseach Brian Cowen. In a strong way, I felt privileged to be even a small part of it – no one will likely serve longer than Ted Kennedy, and I do feel it did mark the passing of an important era for Irish America and Ireland alike. It was an honor to be at the last act. It's so fascinating: the stars of Ted's brothers blazed so strongly but so shortly, but his shined for nearly fifty years of public life and service. Included in that, of course, was Ted's part in the Peace Process.
BIR: Many people know of Ireland's love of JFK – his triumphal "homecoming." Ted's place in Ireland was, in many ways, less covered.
Lonergan: There's no question that strong among the ties that bind Boston – Massachusetts, for that matter – and Ireland are the Kennedys. They are such a huge part of all those connections. Taoiseach Cowen dropped everything to be at Ted Kennedy's funeral. It was not only because of huge respect for Ted, but also respect for the long relationship between the Kennedys and Ireland. I was so very impressed by President Obama's speech. He is so poised, such a wonderful speaker, and his words were quite moving and appropriate.
BIR: What has been your life and career path that have led to Boston?
Lonergan: I was born in Co. Limerick and was raised in the town of Doon, right on the Limerick-Tipperary border. I graduated from UC-Dublin, studied law, and joined the diplomatic service. In Edinburgh, Scotland, I served as Vice Consul and met my wife, Kirsty, there. We have two sons, Hugh, three and a half, and Robert, seven months. I served in Nigeria for two years, three years in London as officer of Irish Community Affairs, and two years in Dublin as Press Officer for the Minister. Then, I was assigned to Boston.
BIR: What are your impressions of Boston so far?
Lonergan: It's a great assignment – has always been considered one and rightfully so. One thing I love is that in Boston, you don't have to explain being Irish. It's all around you, the city's Irishness, in the buildings old and new, the landscape, such as the Rose Kennedy Greenway, and even the names on so many construction and contractors' trucks, not to mention in business, the law, everywhere. It's a great privilege and pleasure for me and my family to be here. Even for my wife, who is Scottish, the history of the Scots-Irish in these parts is there.
I've been down to the ICC, in Canton, and they do great work down there. They're so very conscious of the strong Irish culture in these parts, and I've been so impressed with all the Irish studies, cultural, dance, art, and music programs not just in Boston, but all over the state.
BIR: What are your goals as your tenure in Boston begins?
Lonergan: I hope and plan to build on the tremendous work of previous consuls here, deepening the business and cultural relationships that are in place and cultivating new ones that benefit both Boston and Ireland. There are so many important business and fund-raising organizations in place already, and they are a tremendous resource that we can depend upon to continue work that's both important and innovative.
BIR: In your role as Consul General, how do you assess the economic climate, which is tough on both sides of the Atlantic, with Ireland having taken an especially hard hit.
Lonergan: No doubt that these are difficult times. In Ireland, the impact upon the banking sector has been terrible, and we're taking steps to address that, some of which are slowly paying off. At the same time, reflecting the importance of so many Boston and New England businesses with a large presence in Ireland, exports from EMC, Boston Scientific, and other American companies with large operations in Ireland remain strong from American inward investment. That's why it's important for us to maintain and strengthen these relationships that benefit Boston and Ireland alike.
There's always more we can do, and that's why the post of Consul General in Boston is both challenging and exciting.