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Heritage helps Walsh see families seeking a better life

We are our parents' children. We don't fall far from the tree.

"Boy," Marty Walsh was saying last night, waiting for his destiny, "is that ever true."

Mary and John Walsh grew up in the rocky West of Ireland, where the native language floats across the bogs like music and where peat grows well but jobs do not.

So, like so many others from the impoverished villages of Connemara, John left in 1956 and Mary left in 1959, bound for Boston, on different boats, on different paths.

They met in Roxbury, at the Intercolonial on Dudley Street. Then in 1965, John Walsh stood at the altar at St. Mary's in Dedham and watched the most beautiful woman in the world walk down the aisle and take his hand.


They settled into a modest three-decker on Taft Street in Dorchester and they had two boys, Marty and Johnny.

When Marty was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 7, some people, including some doctors, thought he would die. Mary Walsh knew he would not. Mary Walsh talked to and believed in a higher power.

"My mother is very religious," Marty Walsh was telling me, just before the wait was over. "From her, I get my faith."

From his father, he gets his work ethic. John Walsh was a laborer, and when he was 18 years old, just off the boat, an accent as thick as his calloused hands, he was building Commonwealth Pier on the Southie waterfront. John Walsh had a huge heart, and when it gave out three years ago, Marty Walsh couldn't imagine that he'd be mayor of the city where his immigrant parents made a life.

Mary Walsh still lives in that house on Taft Street and she always votes at the Kit Clark apartments on Dorchester Avenue. And There she was on Tuesday, her son Marty at her side, walking toward the polls, and the cameras and the people with notebooks were there.


And when my pal Maria Cramer asked what she was thinking, Mary Walsh had tears in her eyes and a lump in her throat, because of course she was thinking about her John, the man she was married to for 45 years.

A journalist from Ireland spoke to Mary Walsh in her native tongue, the Irish language, and that helped Mary Walsh in a way none of us will ever understand, just as Marty Walsh, as the son of parents who spoke something other than English, understands why kids in East Boston whose parents speak Spanish are no different than him.

When Marty Walsh meets Cape Verdean kids, kids whose parents left an island of great beauty with no jobs, he sees Irish kids with dark skin, kids no different than him and his brother Johnny, kids of parents who left an island for a better life.

The cousins are over from Rosmuc, in a part of Galway that sent tens of thousands of Walshes and Nees and Joyces to Dorchester and Southie and Roxbury, the neighborhood where Marty Walsh's parents danced and fell in love.

Just minutes before we knew Marty Walsh was elected mayor of Boston, I asked him what it felt like to have his mother at his side and his father not there to see this day, this special day, and Marty Walsh expressed genuine surprise and said this:


"My dad is here. He's right here."

And if you knew Marty Walsh, you would know that what he said is absolutely true.

John Walsh is here and always will be.

We are our parents' children.

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at cullen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeCullen.