It’s a long way from Savin Hill to Beacon Hill, a distance measured not so much in miles as in time.
On Beacon Hill, you’ll find a few of the grandees fondly recalling that their people came over in the 17th century, on the Mayflower or some other such boat.
Marty Walsh, the mayor, grew up in Savin Hill, a neighborhood thick with immigrants, where most people measure their residence in the city by years or months.
Walsh’s parents, John and Mary Walsh, left the rocky, russet land of Connemara, in the west of Ireland, in the 1950s, in separate years and on separate boats, to find work in Boston. They fell in love at a dance in Roxbury, got married at St. Mary’s in Dedham, and settled into one floor of a three-decker on Taft Street in Savin Hill.
Mary Walsh still lives in that three-decker. John Walsh, sadly, died a few years ago, which is too bad, because he was a wonderful guy and I would have loved to have a cup of coffee with him at McKenna’s on Savin Hill Ave. and ask him what he thought of the shower of snobs who bristled at his son, the mayor, the other night on Beacon Hill.
You see, as mayor of the city of Boston, Marty Walsh had the audacity, the sheer and unmitigated gall, to go before his betters and suggest that they have to . . . obey the law.
And, to make matters worse, the mayor is doing this on behalf of people in wheelchairs. Marty Walsh told the high hats on Beacon Hill they can no longer be the only neighborhood in the city to resist installation of sidewalk ramps to help people with disabilities.
Can you imagine that? A guy from Dorchester siding with the disabled over the entitled set on Beacon Hill.
What’s got into this guy?
Well, at one level it’s all about numbers. Some people on Beacon Hill like to talk about 1620, the year the Mayflower landed. The mayor and his people are a little more familiar with 1585. That was the gap in the mayor’s race last year: Marty Walsh lost Beacon Hill to John Connolly, 15 to 85 percent.
I told the mayor he should have gotten up before the Beacon Hill crowd and told them that his people were on the Mayflower with their people. And when all the old ladies leaned forward, clutching their pearls in sudden, earnest interest, the mayor could have deadpanned, “Yeah. My people were downstairs, rowing.”
The mayor didn’t think much of my idea. Actually, as we were sitting in his office on Friday, he was excited about some real news, and, frankly, a bunch of elitists from Beacon Hill telling the great unwashed to leave them alone hardly constitutes news.
The news is, Marty Walsh is going home in September, and home is not so much Savin Hill as it is the hills of Connemara, where his parents grew up.
Connemara is in the Gaeltacht, the Irish-speaking region of Galway. This sometimes gets lost in translation, but Walsh is the first mayor of Boston to grow up in a house where his parents’ native language was not English. That explains, in part, where his natural sympathies lie, and why he did better in minority neighborhoods than he did where the lace curtain Irish live in West Roxbury, not to mention Beacon Hill.
Now, John and Mary Walsh certainly had good English when they got here, but there was always a deep and abiding respect on Taft Street for immigrants who come here without English, looking for work and something called dignity.
Mary Walsh is from Rosmuc, a village that supplied about half the congregation at Gate of Heaven in Southie and St. Brendan’s in Dorchester. When the mayor gets to Connemara, he’ll go to Saturday afternoon Mass with his mother at the church where she was baptized. The next day, they’ll drive about a half hour west, along the coast, out to Carna, and go to Mass in the village where John Walsh grew up.
On the drive from Connemara up to Donegal, before heading on to Derry, Belfast, and Dublin, the mayor and his mother plan to stop at the Knock Shrine in County Mayo, where his mom took him to pray after he was diagnosed with cancer as a 7-year-old.
While this homecoming, Sept. 19 through the Sept. 24, won’t have the historic weight that Jack Kennedy’s presidential visit to Ireland in 1963 had, it will be far more personal. In Wexford, Kennedy was introduced to distant cousins he had never met. Marty Walsh is related to half of the people, and knows just about everybody, in Rosmuc and Carna. Of his 10 first cousins there, half have lived in Boston at one time or another.
There’s a big Marty Walsh sign on the outskirts of Carna. He will have to pose in front of it for photos. About 500 times.
“I can’t wait,” the mayor said.
But in the meantime, he’s got to run a city, and deal with the likes of those on Beacon Hill who were having the vapors over the prospect of cuts being made in their sidewalks so people in wheelchairs can get around.
Somebody got up to voice opposition to the yellow stripes that are typically installed in the ramps. They wanted gray stripes, even though that’s not as good for the visually impaired. Then somebody said they wanted granite ramps because they look better than the concrete ones in the rest of the city. They should: They cost four times as much.
Then somebody suggested shaved bricks, and I’m thinking, who knew bricks have hair?
Still, for all the complaints from the whine and cheese set, the best contribution of the night came from a longtime Beacon Hill resident named Connaught Mahony, who is 84 years old, and whose husband, Gael, was the first president of the Beacon Hill Civic Association. Gael Mahony, a great lawyer, was a centurion for the neighborhood for decades, resisting an expansionist Suffolk University.
Mrs. Mahony made it clear that she opposed the whole idea of sidewalk ramps, saying they would destroy the neighborhood’s character. She had a proposal.
“Why can’t we have a handicapped lane,” Connaught Mahony asked, “just like we have bike lanes?”
I only wish the mayor’s uncle, Pat Walsh, who used to run the laborer’s union, was still alive because he would have had something funny to say about Mrs. Mahony’s modest proposal. Funny and unprintable.