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Column: Boston Mayor's 'homecoming' is mutually beneficial for both sides of the Atlantic

This week, he’s coming back in a capacity he could only have dreamed of all those years ago, writes Larry Donnelly.

Larry Donnelly Law lecturer, NUI Galway

THERE NEVER REALLY was any doubt about where the Mayor of Boston, Martin J. Walsh, was going on his first, official, overseas trip. The son of emigrants from Carna and Ros Muc in Connemara, Marty Walsh has been a regular visitor to Ireland, and to Galway, in particular, since he was a little boy.

This week, he’s coming back in a capacity he could only have dreamed of all those years ago.

Mayor Walsh, an organised labour leader and long-serving Massachusetts state legislator from the city’s Dorchester neighbourhood with which so many Irish people are intimately familiar and where I was baptised, was elected last November.

Irish American

He finished first in a September preliminary election featuring a crowded, diverse field of accomplished candidates and prevailed over another Irish American challenger, John Connolly, in the final.

St Patricks Day Breakfast Source: AP/Press Association Images

He won the mayoralty in a city that has changed inexorably in recent decades. And although Mayor Walsh looks and sounds the part of “Old Boston,” he has carved out his own identity and is a leader of a new breed of progressive, Irish American elected officials in the US.

Interviewed earlier this week by the Boston media about the 10 day trip, the mayor revealed that he will hold meetings with representatives of government and business and industry in the northwest and in Dublin. He will travel to Belfast to reunite with that city’s incredibly energetic and indefatigably optimistic advocate, Councillor and former Lord

Mayor, Máirtin Ó Muilleoir, and other key stakeholders. Boston entered into a “sister city” arrangement with Belfast in May which will “strive to foster educational exchanges, promote cultural understanding and stimulate economic development.”

Mayor Walsh will also be a guest on RTÉ’s The Saturday Night Show with Brendan O’Connor.

Galway 

Of course, and in recognition of the unparalleled ties between his home neighbourhood and Galway, the mayor will be in the capital of the west. An oft-repeated refrain that anyone from Ireland who’s been there will echo is that “it seems like half the people from Dorchester are from Galway.”

He will meet with a group of academics, business people and civic leaders at NUI Galway to learn more about existing and planned mutually beneficial, cooperative ventures. Those of us here and in Boston have good reason to believe that these engagements throughout this island will plant the seeds for economic growth and expanded opportunity on both sides of the Atlantic.

Boston Mayor Boston Mayor Marty Walsh Source: AP/Press Association Images

But what is likely to be equally important to Mayor Walsh is, as he put it, “spending some time at home” in Carna and Ros Muc. Indeed, his mother is already here with her family preparing for her son’s arrival. And the people of Connemara are gearing up for a series of events to celebrate this unprecedented homecoming.

They will honour Mayor Walsh at an open event on the night he gets there. In addition, he will talk to students and teachers at the schools attended by his parents, aunts and uncles; he will lay the foundation stone for the Carna Emigrants Centre; and he will get together with members of a boxing club who participated in a competition that was held in June on Boston’s City Hall Plaza.

Parents’ birthplace 

With any luck, he’ll be able to relax and simply enjoy being back in his parents’ birthplaces, People in Ireland have grown accustomed to American politicians who come to this country and reconnect with their family roots.

From JFK’s seminal visit to New Ross, Co. Wexford, to President Reagan’s stop-off in Ballyporeen, Co. Tipperary, to Barack Obama’s implausible encounter in Moneygall, Co. Offaly with his eighth cousin, Henry Healy, it is now commonplace, yet still extraordinary, to witness just how much Americans who can legitimately claim it value their Irishness.

And Mayor Walsh’s Irishness cannot be questioned even by those who are the most cynical about Irish America. On this trip, he will be seeing close relations and friends he has known his whole life, not meeting distant cousins for the very first time.

At the same time, however, the mayor isn’t the only Irish American who feels at home when he’s in Ireland. Countless visiting Irish Americans I have had conversations with – from a broad range of socio-economic backgrounds, political perspectives and degrees of lineage – say the same thing.

In Boston, they ask one another: “Are you going home this year?” Nobody bats an eyelash because, despite the accent the question is spoken in, it’s understood exactly what is meant by home. And they like coming back to Ireland time and time again to reclaim that unique feeling they have while they’re here. Some of us like it so much that we never leave.

Given that he has been extremely busy as of late, Marty Walsh has not returned home for a couple of years. Here’s hoping that – whether he is discussing the prospects for improving the lives of 50,000 undocumented Irish across the US in Government Buildings and Leinster House, or urging Irish companies to invest in Boston and Massachusetts, or wandering the fields of Connemara in his wellies – he savours every minute of it. I have no doubt that he will.

Larry Donnelly is a Boston attorney, Law Lecturer at NUI Galway and columnist with TheJournal.ie and IrishCentral.com.

Read: Two Irish American men fight it out to become Boston’s next mayor>

About the author:

Larry Donnelly  / Law lecturer, NUI Galway

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