This site uses cookies to improve your experience and to provide services and advertising. By continuing to browse, you agree to the use of cookies described in our Cookies Policy. You may change your settings at any time but this may impact on the functionality of the site. To learn more see our Cookies Policy.
OK
Dublin: 12 °C Thursday 17 October, 2019
Advertisement

Column: I’ll never forget the moment I heard the news of the explosions in my hometown

Boston native, Larry Donnelly reflects on the the horrific events that happened at the Boston Marathon this week, saying he’s been heartened by the expressions of solidarity from countless Irish people who have such a special affinity with the most Irish city in the US.

Larry Donnelly Law lecturer, NUI Galway

THE SHOCK, FINALLY, has begun to wear off. Yet as long as I live, I will never forget the moment I heard the news of the explosions at the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

Before, thankfully, I was able to confirm that my relatives and friends back there were safe and accounted for, I had a frantic, out of body experience that left my wife and older son deeply concerned. My uncharacteristically manic reaction was borne out of disbelief.  How could this happen in our city?

The Boston Marathon takes place on our holiday, Patriots’ Day, and coincides every year with a very out of the ordinary, late morning baseball game played by our often begrudgingly beloved Boston Red Sox in our woefully outdated Fenway Park.  Consequently, the atmosphere is electric in Boston on the third Monday in April. Patriots’ Day is our version of Mardi Gras.  In future though, the day’s festivities will always be tempered by the memory of what happened on April 15, 2013.

Boston writers reflect

Other Boston writers – Dennis Lehane, bestselling author of “Mystic River” and “Gone Baby Gone,” and, like me, a graduate of Boston College High School in the city’s Dorchester neighbourhood, and Kevin Cullen of the Boston Globe foremost among them – have written eloquently about the events of this terrible day and the impact on the city they love so much.  They’re there, however, and I’m here, 3,000 miles away.  I can’t help but feel guilty about that.  Because I love the city with all my heart too, and I know how badly it’s hurting right now.

I know from talking to friends and family there since Monday.  The wife of one of my best friends ran the Marathon.  A superb runner, it was fortunate that she finished ahead of the large group crossing the finish line on Boylston Street when the explosions went off and that she, her husband and their two young children escaped the maelstrom.

That same friend has told me subsequently of heavily armed personnel in unusual places and of tank-like vehicles outside the city’s main train station.  My brother has informed me of the wild rumours that flew like wildfire after the explosions and of the panic that ensued.

I first found out about the explosions on Twitter

I know from following the traditional and social media coverage of the explosions’ aftermath exceedingly closely.  If nothing else, this Patriots’ Day revealed the incredible strength and equally incredible weakness of Twitter.  Like lots of others, I first found out about the explosions on Twitter – mere minutes after they happened.  On the other hand, I was misinformed about what transpired immediately thereafter and, as were traditional media outlets, about the authorities’ alleged capture of a suspect later in the week.  I wasn’t alone.

Many in the unmanageably large crowd that gathered outside the federal courthouse looking over Boston Harbour on Wednesday were doubtless drawn there by what they saw on their Twitter feeds.  Moreover, the tweeting and re-tweeting around the world of camera phone photos of persons critically injured in the explosions was tasteless and grotesque.

I know, above all else, because I never thought this would happen in our city. Notwithstanding the cataclysmic acts of terror on September 11, 2001, which were caused by planes that took off from our Logan Airport, I’ve always felt completely safe, and actually quite insulated, when I’ve been back there, even when I visited in those difficult days just after 9/11.  This feeling of comfort stemmed from a belief that Boston was a relatively inoffensive, tiny little place compared to what remains the financial capital of the world.  It will take some time for this comfort to return.  And when it does, it will be after a period of conversely uncomfortable, tightly enforced security measures.

The cost of any life

In the days since the explosions, reasonable and unreasonable attempts to contextualise things have been made. Unreasonably, a small minority in the Unionist community  claimed that explosions which took place in Northern Ireland and cost many more lives were fuelled by money collected for the IRA in Boston’s innumerable Irish bars in the 1970s and 1980s.  As such, this is payback.  They have no point.

Reasonably, commentators have observed that more than 50 people died as a result of explosions in Iraq on the same day.  While the death of three people in Boston commanded international attention, there was nary a mention of the Iraqi victims.  They do have a point.  Frankly, I can’t answer it.

Also in the days since the explosions, I’ve been heartened by the stories of the first responders – fire fighters, police, doctors, nurses and ordinary people – who did so much to prevent a greater loss of life and more severe injuries.  I’ve been heartened by vigils held throughout Massachusetts, especially the one to honour the memory of young Martin Richard and to pray for his family.

Irish support

It drew some 2,500 people to a park near their home. And I’ve been heartened by the expressions of solidarity I’ve heard from countless Irish people who have such a special affinity with the most Irish city in the US.

This weekend, after 24 hours of chaos, drama and, sadly, further loss of life, the identity of the two prime suspects is known.  The Tsarnaev brothers, Chechen immigrants, lived in the Boston area for a decade.  One is dead; the other is in custody.  The authorities will push the surviving brother to the limit for every bit of information there is.  But we are unlikely to get a sufficient answer to the key question: Why?

In the end, now more than ever, I am proud of where I come from. This Christmas time, my family, including my six month old son who’s never been to his father’s home city, will wake up in the house I grew up in some seven miles away and get on the T (Boston’s public transit system).

We will get off at Copley station, walk down Boylston Street and savour everything that led famous jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes in 1858 to label Boston “the hub of the universe.” I can think of no better way for us simultaneously to diminish the perpetrators and to pay homage to the victims of the unspeakable events of Patriots’ Day 2013.

Larry Donnelly is a Law Lecturer at NUI Galway and a political columnist with IrishCentral.com. To read other articles by Larry for TheJournal.ie click here.

Read: Criticism after Aussie TV host draws ‘Irish’ link to Boston bombings>

Read: Boston remembers marathon victims with this hair-raising national anthem>

  • Share on Facebook
  • Email this article
  •  

About the author:

Larry Donnelly  / Law lecturer, NUI Galway

Read next:

COMMENTS (7)