WICKLOW, Ireland – One of the things that American visitors to Ireland are commonly confounded by is the extent to which people here are steeped in and informed about politics 3,000 miles away. The transatlantic ties sewn by emigration, family and, increasingly, business are largely responsible. And Irish people love their politics. Over the past four years, it has been with a mixture of disbelief and horror that they have looked on at the Trump administration.
Accordingly, they weren’t about to stop watching until they knew, for sure, who would be inaugurated on Jan. 20, 2021. A man who is known throughout the US and to people across Massachusetts owing to his lengthy, stellar career at CNN, but who is especially familiar to Dorchester natives and residents because he grew up in St. Mark’s Parish, thus made an extraordinary entrance onto Ireland’s collective radar screen: It is no overstatement to say that John King was the most listened to and trusted individual in this country in the days after Nov. 3.
More on Ireland’s newest celebrity momentarily.
Back in East Milton, where I grew up, it’s fair to say that politics was invariably to the fore in our house. My father, another Larry, was a fount of wisdom about the toughest business of them all. He grew up in and around it. I wish he had stood for office himself.
His brother Brian was a Massachusetts state representative from Dorchester who later spent seven terms in the United States House of Representatives and served as ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago while Bill Clinton was president. Their uncles, Frank and John Kelly, had been Boston city councillors, with Frank later serving as lieutenant governor and attorney general and running unsuccessfully for governor.
It’s in the blood. A related bad habit I picked up from my Dad at a young age was incessantly hollering back at the television and radio when politics and current affairs were being discussed. I’ve frequently thought that “I know better!” and have to get my two cents in. In truth, I was jealous of those who earn a living from talking about what is my passion.
But Boston Irish lawyers with a strong interest in politics and an affiliation to the Democratic Party are more dime a dozen than diamond in the rough in the land of my birth. One of the many unexpected benefits of relocating to Ireland nearly two decades ago, however, has been realizing what has always been a dream and taking on what has morphed into a second career for me: media punditry on the politics of the two places I will forever consider home.
Since 2008, it has been a privilege to analyze the results of US presidential elections as they come in on what is usually the first Tuesday in November on RTÉ, the national broadcaster. Given the time difference, it’s an overnight shift. This year, the coverage was anchored by Caitríona Perry, who reported on American politics brilliantly in her tenure as the network’s Washington correspondent and has written two insightful books on the election of Donald Trump and the influence of Irish America.
We were joined by numerous high profile guests from the US, such as former White House Chief of Stuff Mick Mulvaney, former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, former New York Congressman Joe Crowley, and sitting Philadelphia Congressman Brendan Boyle. Our live program wrapped up shortly after 4 a.m., Irish time, when the outcome wasn’t entirely clear, but the key indicators were all pointing to a win for Joe Biden.
Then, thanks to satellite technology, a guy who was brought up in a three- decker between Ashmont and Fields Corner came into sitting rooms in every city, town, village, and rural area.
Irish people are accustomed to protracted election counts and couldn’t get enough of it as John King broke down the results state by state and county by county, demonstrating a vast knowledge as he kept going on almost no sleep and buckets of coffee. The “magic wall” of the US he and others use at CNN took on a life of itself. And inevitably, the viewers had to find out: Could they claim him? The screenwriter of the hit comedy “Derry Girls” asked if he was Irish in a tweet. King’s succinct reply – “Always”- sealed the deal.
In a subsequent interview with the much beloved Miriam O’Callaghan on her Sunday morning radio show, King downplayed the multiple compliments offered by the host and her listeners. Having done his homework, he described Miriam as Ireland’s Oprah.
He also spoke movingly about his family, in particular his late father Chris (who, coincidentally, was a Dorchester contemporary and pal of my Dad’s) and his Connemara-born grandparents, as well as the valuable lessons learned in childhood that have remained with him. Like so many Americans before him, King is now planning a visit back “home” to Galway to reunite with his cousins and get a fuller sense of his roots.
He has said that he looks forward to a few pints in Keough’s in his ancestral village of Ballyconneely – so deep in the west of Ireland that the next stop literally is Boston. He’ll have a tough time buying his own, though.
In his typically expert communication of what actually happened in Election 2020, John King won the rapt attention and sincere admiration of the Irish people. He did his family and the neighborhood that shaped him very proud.
Larry Donnelly is a Boston-born attorney, a Law Lecturer at the National University of Ireland, Galway and a regular Irish media contributor on politics, current affairs and law on both sides of the Atlantic. He is on Twitter @LarryPDonnelly.