JFK, Marty Walsh- strong, deep Irish ties with Boston

Ed Forry

The ancestral bonds that will forever link the town of Boston with the Emerald Isle were in great evidence last month as Ireland’s citizenry and its media were riveted with two huge stories from our city’s Democratic politics.

The first, of course, was the anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination, an event that even today occasions spasms of tears from the Irish. In New Ross, where JFK had greeted his cousins just months before his death, a special commemoration was held on Nov. 22.

Back in Washington, it was reported that an elite group of 26 soldiers from the Irish Defence Forces had performed a silent three-minute drill, known as the Funeral Drill, at the burial site at the request of Jacqueline Kennedy. And late last month, another group of Irish soldiers joined Irish Ambassador Anne Anderson at JFK’s gravesite at Arlington National Cemetery, a story prominently reported both in the US and in Ireland.

The other Boston political story that continues to capture attention in Ireland is the Nov. 5 mayoral election of Dorchester’s Marty Walsh, an eight-term state Rep from Dorchester who as a young man spent many summers living in Connemara, Co. Galway. Irish television, RTE, had news crews in Boston before and after the election and the Irish newspapers have been treating Boston’s mayor- elect almost like a native son.

An in-depth profile of Walsh in the Irish Times told readers that his late father John was born and raised in Callowfeenish in Carna. Mary, his mother, “comes from a few parishes farther away, in Ros Cide, Ros Muc,” the newspaper reported. “The couple emigrated to Boston in the 1950s and settled in Dorchester, an Irish stronghold outside the city.

“Boston’s mayor-elect used to visit Connemara every year,” the Times related. “On each trip back, he visits the grave of his grandparents at the Atlantic-sprayed cemetery on Mweenish, the island a few miles out by road from Carna. ‘It has been a couple of years since I have been back but I plan on going back after the new year,’ ” he says.

Of course, even as Walsh’s upbringing in Dorchester prepared him for a life in politics, in many ways his Dot years parallel a truly Irish experience in Galway. Brian Donnelly, the Dorchester Lower Mills man who served 14 years in the US Congress and authored the so-called “Donnelly Visas” program that led to US citizenship for scores of Irish in the 1980s, once explained to me the similarities between the Dorchester and Ireland’s counties.

I traveled with him to Galway on my first trip to Ireland in 1992, and he prepared me for the experience: “You’re going to see faces that look familiar,” he said on the plane to Shannon. “It seems like half the people from our neighborhood are from Galway, and you’re sure to recognize them,” he said. “A lot of people spend parts of the summer over in Ireland, so you will see people you think you recognize. But if it’s not them, it’s most likely their first cousins.”

If Savin Hill’s Marty Walsh was over there that summer, I don’t remember seeing him in Galway city; he likely was out with his family in Ros Muc. But Donnelly had it right – walking along the prom in Salthill, I did run into a young Boston priest, Father Vin Dailey, who then was serving in his first assignment at St. Gregory’s in Lower Mills, where he now is pastor.

The Irish Times story included the news that Walsh speaks Irish, a trait he shares with his mother, and quoted him on how he views his connection with the old sod: “I look at the story of my father and mother growing up on a farm in Ireland and working hard and never getting anything handed to them. … That is very much part of my Irish heritage. I am very proud of my Irish heritage.”