Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh and Massachusetts Congressman Richard Neal spoke at a Boston College forum – “Reflections on the 100th Anniversary of Ireland’s 1916 Easter Rising” – on Feb. 22 in Gasson Hall on the BC campus. They were welcomed by the Rev. Oliver P. Rafferty, a Jesuit priest and director of B.C.’s Irish Studies Program. Following are excerpts from Walsh’s remarks:
“I’m sure there are some in the room more qualified to explain the historical importance of the Rising. In any case, I want to focus my reflections on what the Rising means to me and my family on a personal level. All of us in the global Irish Diaspora take pride in Ireland’s history. That pride can take many different forms, just as in Ireland there are many different ways of being Irish.
“But one common theme is self-determination. That’s what the Rising was about. Even before the people got behind those rebel leaders, it had run throughout Irish history; it was there in the role of the trade union movement; and it was there in the plight of the tenant farmers.
The desire for self-determination, the ability to control your own destiny. It’s also what so many immigrants are looking for, and have always looked for, when they come to America.
“My father came to Boston from Ireland nearly 60 years ago, in 1956. My mother came in 1959. Both came from the Connemara region of Galway. They kept strong ties with home, and they believed in preserving and passing on their culture to their children. … And so I was raised with a keen sense of Irish history and a strong pride in Irish independence. Ireland’s long struggle for self-determination was not something we left behind, but a value we brought with us, that gave life to our journey. The Easter Rising was one of the historical touchstones for that pride. We felt it in the connections that many of the leaders had to the United States, and the support they got from, as they said, Ireland’s “exiled children in America.”
“As someone who followed my father into the union, I also feel pride in the role of the labor movement and leaders like James Connolly. Connolly spent several years before the Rising as a labor organizer in the United States, including some time spent living not far from here, in Mission Hill.
“We should also remember his daughter Nora Connolly, one of the many remarkable women of the Rising. She came to Boston weeks after her father’s execution to raise support for Irish independence. She gave a memorable speech at Faneuil Hall, on a stage I am privileged to share myself from time to time.
“Perhaps most personally, I take pride in the fact that Patrick Pearse developed his ideas about human freedom in my mother’s home village of Rosmuc. He was a leader of the Rising, and one of its great writers and poets. He was the one who read out the Proclamation of the Irish Republic on the steps of the General Post Office on that fateful Easter Monday. … “I’ve spent many summers myself in Rosmuc. I can testify to the way the land there inspires you, the people inspire you, and the culture inspires you. … I can say also, in a deep sense, that these values and this history are what led me into public service and are the reason I’m standing here today as mayor.
“I want Boston to be a place where anyone can make their own destiny. I want Boston to be a community that supports self-determination and freedom for people all over the world. It’s a universal human need.
“So it’s important as we remember the Easter Rising, as we take pride in this history, that we understand what Connolly and Pearse and their comrades did: that all people want and deserve self-determination, and “the world unfree shall never be at peace.” This desire is driving people all over the world today to strike for freedom, whether at home or on our shores. And this history should drive us to support them and welcome them as brothers and sisters.”