Boston mayor credits Irish aunts with his victory
US-born Marty J Walsh says he is proud of his Irish heritage
Marty Walsh at his election-night rally following his victory in Boston earlier this month. Photograph: Gretchen Ertl/New York Times
Martin J Walsh, the new mayor of Boston, jokes that it was his two Irish aunts, one travelling from Galway and the other from England, that “put me over the top” in his election win earlier this month.
The son of Irish emigrants, a Democratic state representative in Massachusetts of 16 years, “Marty” had his aunts out “knocking doors and visiting people” in the lead-up to the November 5th ballot.
Walsh (46) maintains a strong allegiance to one of the headlands east of Boston – Connemara. His late father John was from Callowfeenish in Carna, while his mother Mary O’Malley (71) comes from a few parishes further away, in Ros Cide, Ros Muc. The couple emigrated to Boston in the 1950s and settled in Dorchester, an Irish stronghold outside the city.
Boston’s mayor-elect used to visit Connemara every year. On each trip back, he visits the grave of his grandparents at the Atlantic-sprayed cemetery on Mweenish, the island a few miles out by road from Carna.
“It has been a couple of years since I have been back but I plan on going back after the new year,” he says. Walsh will be sworn in on January 6th, replacing Thomas Menino.
Walsh’s story is remarkable. At the age of seven, doctors gave him six months after he was diagnosed with Burkitt’s lymphoma, a form of cancer.
A special First Communion was held at Christmas because doctors feared he wouldn’t make it to the following spring.
He was treated with radiation and chemotherapy and beat the cancer.
“Having cancer at a young age I didn’t really understand what that meant but as I got older I realised it was a very serious time in my life,” he says.
As a twentysomething, Walsh and two friends were the victims of an early-morning shooting on St Patrick’s Day in 1990, caught up in the aftermath of a bar fight between two other men in Dorchester.
Walsh has also struggled with alcohol; he last tasted alcohol on April 23rd, 1995, and since then has helped others battle the bottle. His own fight gave him an advantage in his recent election, he says.
“Overcoming alcoholism gives you strong inner strength and the ability to deal with issues and look at life a day at a time rather than worry about things on a larger scale. I take my life a day at a time and do the challenges in front of me for that particular day and my job for that day,” he says.
“As far as being a candidate it gave me a certain amount of drive. I didn’t look at the end of the campaign – I took a day at a time. That gave me a competitive edge over a lot of people in the race.”