Holyoke's Irish Heart
I was welcomed by David Pinsky who represents Tighe & Bond, sponsors of the Ambassador Award (James Tighe was an Irish immigrant to Holyoke who worked on the Hydroelectric dam which replaced the wooden structure in 1900. Tighe went on to become city engineer in 1911). I received several citations from city and state representatives, and numerous gifts, and I am moved by the experience and at the same time worried about what I will say when my turn comes to speak.
Luckily, Mayor Mike Sullivan does the introductions. A native son, who has been mayor for 10 years, Sullivan is passionate about Holyoke and prized for his sense of humor. He has everyone laughing so hard that I begin to relax. I realize, not for the first time, that in Holyoke, I am amongst my own. And so, I proudly accept the Ambassador’s Award on behalf of all the Irish immigrants who went before me.
The mayor has Kerry and Mayo roots: “My grandmother Bridget Kennedy was from Slea Head, and my grandfather Michael Sullivan was from Brandon Mountain. On my mother’s side, my grandmother Una Lavelle was from Belmullet, Co. Mayo, and my grandfather Nicholas O’Neill was from Cahirciven, Co. Kerry,” he writes in response to a follow-up e-mail I sent requesting more information on his family background. “As a second-generation Irishman, I loved sitting off to the side when I was young to hear stories of glory, tragedy and opinion spun with thick brogues that were only translated through tumblers of Four Feathers or Seagram’s Seven.
“My Nana Sullivan was the only one I knew who was sweet and fierce with equal measure in all matters. She would approach the local butcher with praise, asking about his family, his wife, his new car and then when he would reveal the price of hamburger she would use all that against him in an instant. ‘No wonder your flock are going to college and you are driving a new car – with the price of meat in this store it’s a wonder you don’t have a chauffeeeeeur,’ she would exclaim. It was a great lesson in politics. She also cared for me and my youngest sister while my mother was at work. I ended up having to go to speech class when I began elementary school because I would say ‘ba-a-ll’ and ‘ca-a-ll’ instead of ball and call, or ‘windell’ for window, or, as everyone in Holyoke still says, ‘pa-day-da’ for potato. The therapy broke my brogue.”