Irish American Marty Walsh, son of Connemara emigrants, was sworn in as Boston mayor this week, creating an entire new political era for his city.
Outgoing Mayor Thomas Menino was in office for an astonishing 20 years, during which time it seemed the era of the Irish politician was over in terms of mayoral politics in that most Irish of cities.
But while that may be true in New York, it is certainly not in Boston, where Walsh faced fellow Irish American John Connolly for the top job. Both won out to take part in a run-off despite widespread predictions that the era of the Irish in Boston was over.
No way it seems.
As the son of Irish immigrants, Walsh represents an extraordinary tradition in Boston politics.
How proud his mother Mary must have been standing beside her son as he was sworn in as CEO of America’s greatest Irish city.
Not since James Michael Curley’s mother and father, also from Galway, had an emigrant couple’s son occupied the city’s top office.
“Now it’s Maaahty Time” as acerbic columnist Howie Carr noted in the Boston Herald.
Walsh came from very humble beginnings and had huge problems himself.
His parents grew up in remote Connemara with little hope of work and set out in the mid-1950s for Boston, two more ordinary immigrants on a familiar trail.
In Boston John and Mary met, married and had two kids. Their son Marty’s prospects in life looked dim to say the least. He battled a dangerous cancer as a child and was once given just a few weeks to live.
Later he was shot in a drive-by shooting, defeated alcoholism and dropped out of college.
Just standing up and not falling down might have been a remarkable achievement after all that hardship.
Instead Walsh has become mayor of arguably America’s most politically tough city.
The Dorchester Irish love their local boy. He still eats the $4 special in his local diner. You won’t find any lace curtains in his modest home.
The working-class hero persona fits him. There is nothing fake.
But Walsh is not just a mayor for the Irish. These lines in his speech reinforce his commitment to treating each neighborhood equally.
“Boston has been called, a City Upon a Hill. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone use that phrase to make a lofty point. We are a City Upon a Hill, but it’s not just the shining light of Beacon Hill,” he said.
“It’s Savin Hill, where I live. It’s Bunker Hill, Bellevue Hill and Fort Hill. It’s Pope’s Hill, Jones Hill, and Telegraph Hill. It’s Copp’s Hill, Mission Hill and Eagle Hill.”
The remarkable underdog campaign of Walsh was predicated on that same commitment. He secured key minority endorsements by making clear his commitment to helping each neighborhood equally and bringing Boston together.
While he comes from a traditionalist Irish past, Walsh is very much a politician for the future.
Boston has just elected a very different and very talented mayor.
The history behind “When Irish Eyes are Smiling”