Last week Boston Mayor Marty Walsh was presented with the Irish American of the Year award by our sister publication Irish America magazine at an event hosted by the magazine and the Irish American Partnership in Boston. Below is an edited version of Mayor Walsh’s remarks.
It’s important to keep your heritage alive. It’s important to learn the traditions – It certainly was in my house.
I grew up in a house where both my parents were from Ireland. We would go to Ireland in the summertime and we’d come back and we’d bring in about 75 pounds of Irish sausages, some Irish bacon, a box of crunchies, and tea bags. [laughs]. I’m proud of the family I grew up in.
And because we went back to Ireland an awful lot I had a chance to go back to Connemara and work on the farm. I had a chance to get to know my mother’s mother and father. They were very active when I was a kid so I was able to learn what my mother and father went through. Especially my father when it came to cutting the turf and cutting the hay and making sure that the cattle were okay. We went back often and we learned about the tradition and a lot of us have kept those traditions alive here in Boston. I’m very proud of who I am and who I come from.
I’m proud as Mayor of the City of Boston that I can build relationships. My first international trip as mayor is going to be to Ireland and I’m looking forward to that. There are companies in this room that have ties to Ireland and I’m excited to strengthen those ties.
I’m also proud that the first sister city agreement I signed as Mayor of the City of Boston was with Belfast, another great Irish city in the North.
Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, the mayor of Belfast, was here and we had a chance to sign this historic agreement. I’m going to go to Belfast as well because there are real connections we can make there as well. You hear a lot about “growth,” and you hear a lot about different countries like China and other places around the world that we need to have relations with, but Ireland is a key component of those relations. So I’m very honored that I was able to sign my first sister city agreement with Belfast.
Ireland has a booming high tech industry and there is a big presence from companies here over in Ireland; in Boston too we’re promoting more high tech. We’re also promoting more tourism here in the city of Boston. We want to make sure that Boston becomes a destination point. We want to increase our tourism from Ireland but also we have to give back the favor so Ireland is promoting their tourism here with us. These ties are very, very important.
You know, I’ve got a lot of awards and a lot of plaques, but this award means a lot to me because of where I grew up and how I grew up. I’ve told this story many times, but when I was 18 years old I went to work construction with my father in the summer.
He would leave the house and go to mass at St. Anthony Shrine every single morning. Work would usually start at seven but he’d be leaving at five and would have to drag me in at five down to the waterfront and find one of the doorways and sit me there from five to seven in the morning and wait for work to start. And because my first job was [unloading] international crates I understood the value of working hard. My father is one of 13, my mother’s one of seven and we may not always get along, but when you think about what’s common about all of us, it’s the theme of being proud of where we came from.This award however, this recognition, really isn’t about me. It’s about preserving your heritage and never forgetting your heritage. I think that’s an important piece.
I think people have to understand the struggles that others have. Whether they were in the South during the turn of the century in counties like Cork and Kerry, or in the North in Belfast and Derry in the Troubles, or whether it’s on the east coast or the west coast, or in Dublin or Galway, or anywhere in between, we have to remember our history. Irish history is not one filled with victories in battle; it was one of struggle where we ultimately persevered and got those victories through hard work.
Finally, I’d like to call on you, before we leave here, to take a moment just to think about your own heritage, because that’s who we are. We’re about our heritage. We’re about the people who came to this country. Most of us in this room, all of us probably, [our ancestors] came to this country from somewhere else. There’s no one in this room whose family started here, and I would ask you to think about your heritage. Take a moment to sit back and ask, “Why do I have this opportunity?”
I think about it every single day. Behind my desk at city hall there is a hand holding a piece of rebar (steel) . And it’s for me to remember exactly where I came from – my father coming to this country and working extremely hard; my mother coming to this country, working hard, just to give me the opportunity to someday sit in the Mayor’s office in the City of Boston.