Kevin Cullen

As Marty Walsh prepares to go to Northern Ireland, he knows Boston can play a role on the world stage

Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh. (David L Ryan/Globe Staff/File 2019 )
Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh. (David L Ryan/Globe Staff/File 2019 )David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

For the third time as mayor, Marty Walsh will travel to Ireland, focusing his time in Northern Ireland.

He’ll leave on Thanksgiving and return five days later.

He’ll show support for initiatives that have sprung from Belfast and Boston becoming sister cities, including the Cinemagic program that last year saw 15 kids from Northern Ireland produce a short film about life inside the Boston Public Schools.

He’ll also drop the puck to open the Friendship Four hockey tournament that brings college hockey to Belfast every year. This year, it’s Northeastern, UNH, Colgate, and Princeton. So Walsh, a BC guy, will cheer for the NU Huskies.


He’ll also spend some time with relatives. Half the people who live in Rosmuc, in Connemara, where his mother Mary grew up, have lived in Boston at one time or another, and half of them are his cousins.

But this trip is different from the previous ones, as he’ll be in Belfast at an especially anxious time, as Brexit looms and people there wonder what it means for them.

Boris Johnson, Britain’s prime minister, has vowed that a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland will not return. If it does, it would be a gift to the irredentist rumps on both sides of the divide who are itching to restart a war that ended with the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

Walsh is aware of those tensions, and keen not to stoke them.

Instead, if asked, by members of the press or some taxi driver on the Falls Road in the Catholic republican heartland of West Belfast or the Protestant loyalist stronghold Shankill Road, he’ll repeat something that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Massachusetts congressman Richie Neal said repeatedly during their recent visit to Ireland: the United States invested enormous amounts of money and political capital in helping the warring factions in Ireland to end their hostilities, and will not stand idly by and allow Brexit to wreck the peace that has transformed Northern Ireland over the last generation.


“I support what the speaker and Richie have said, and I talked to Nancy about this in Boston just a couple of weeks ago,” Walsh told me. “I’ll do what she and Richie did: let them know we have their backs.”

Walsh said he appreciates that as mayor of Boston, his first priority is to make sure the city runs well. But he said that as an international city, Boston has an obligation to engage on a world stage and help where it can.

“Of course, there is an historic relationship between the city and Ireland,” said Walsh, the son of Irish-speaking immigrants, “but there’s a more recent but really profound relationship with Cape Verde, and that’s why Praia is our sister city and we have people in Cabo Verde right now.”

As we spoke, Walsh said, people from the Boston Police Department and Mass Fallen Heroes were in Praia, helping nurses there rehab a children’s room at a hospital.

Brian Golden, director of the city’s planning and development agency, and other city officials went to Kyoto, Japan this year to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the sister city agreement with Boston.

Cynics see junkets. Walsh sees responsibilities.


“This stuff matters,” Walsh said.

Next week, Walsh will meet with his Belfast counterpart and friend, Mayor John Finucane. In 1989, when Finucane was 8 years old, loyalist gunmen broke into his family’s home during Sunday dinner. They shot his father Pat, a well-known lawyer, dead and wounded his mother Geraldine.

The British security forces colluded in Pat Finucane’s murder. The Finucanes have waited more than 30 years for answers and justice.

Last May, in his first official act as mayor, John Finucane warmly welcomed Prince Charles to Belfast, hours after police warned him that loyalists had vowed to attack his family’s home again. Finucane vowed to be mayor for all of Belfast. The haters want him gone.

This stuff does matter.

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at cullen@globe.com.