The crowd at City Hall in Boston last night had gathered for the annual Irish Emigrant awards, annually given to New England Irish heroes. The Guinness and good cheer flowed as the Irish gathered to toast their local heroes.
The venue was packed. Earlier in the day, Irish Emigrant, run by Connell Gallagher, a sister paper of Irish Voice, met with Mayor Marty Walsh, to award him with his special badge of honor – a Waterford crystal shamrock.
A politician who struggled with alcohol abuse and overcame it and fought cancer off as a young man, Walsh is everything that NY’s Bill De Blasio is not – approachable, humble, a working man’s mayor.
He embodies the lunch-pail-guy, populist approach of a La Guardia or a Huey Long. Walsh has huge positive ratings and a great future.
Walsh, son of Irish immigrants, needs no briefing on Irish issues. He is on top of his Irish stuff perhaps more than any politician in America. On his way to meeting with Bill Clinton before the debate, he instanced the banning of Gerry Adams and the deportation of Malachy McAllister as issues he wanted to discuss.
The second honorees also have an incredible story. The Barley House Wolves are New Hampshire’s first American-born hurling club. The Wolves were originally formed in 2006 by combat veterans from the New Hampshire Army National Guard as a way to stay connected as they adjusted to life post combat. They had seen hurling on the TV screen at Shannon en route to Iraq and had decided to use it as their bonding method.
Today, the Barley House Wolves are represented by N.H. veterans & active service members from all branches of the military, along with members of local law enforcement, fire rescue service, and civilians who have come to love the Irish sport. Recently they defeated the Wexford club in Boston to make an incredible breakthrough. They were saluted in fine style when they accepted their awards.
Melinda Thompson ( whose grandfather was a Grady from Ireland) is an authentic American hero who saved a young Irish woman from a dreadful fate of life in prison. Aisling Brady McCarthy was falsely accused of killing a one-year-old baby girl. Prosecutors had thrown every trick in the book at her: refusing her bail, withholding evidence, leading damaging medical findings without proper evidence.
The case of the Boston nanny was a sensational one covered widely in the world's media. Into the maelstrom stepped Thompson, wearing her trademark black outfit, looking like an avenging angel.
I remember a priest who had 30 years' experience of visiting prisoners and who had met McCarthy telling me that without any doubt the girl was innocent.
Melinda Thompson won a huge victory. She offered her services pro bono, then proceeded to tear the prosecution's case to shreds and win Aisling her freedom. It was a victory hailed and welcomed nowhere more than in Boston's Irish community which had stood with the Brady family.
Her victory was reminiscent of the Oscar winning movie “Spotlight,” also based in Boston, where the truth of clerical child abuse was eventually ferreted out by dogged reporters. Melinda did the same with the Aisling Brady McCarthy case.
The final honoree was one of the great givers in the Irish community, the unofficial mayor of West Roxbury, Richie Gormley. Richie is so popular that he ran away with an unofficial poll of locals, and some from all over the world. To confuse matters jokester Ritchie ordered a set of mayoral chains from Ireland and marched in the Pat's parade with them.
The late former mayor Tom Menino put it best., "What can you say about Richie Gormley except that he is very quietly one of the most generous people around. It’s fitting that he would receive such an honor because he has helped so many people in West Roxbury and many of them don’t even know it. He’s a great guy."
Quite a night for Boston Irish and those receiving the honors. The goodness in the Irish community there still runs very strong.