by ED FORRY
Old friend Bill O’Donnell checked in by phone from his home in Rhode Island just before Christmas. For more than two decades, Bill was a stalwart in these pages, and his monthly column, erudite and informed, was always a joy.
His insightful observations about life on the island of Ireland, along with his indomitable comments on local and national Irish American affairs in Boston and beyond were always a great read.
Bill relinquished his role with us a year ago, when some nagging health problems forced him to put down his pen and deal with his medical needs. We reluctantly accepted his decision, but resolved there always would be room for him in these pages if and when he could contribute.
So, it was a true holiday delight to hear his voice when he called in late December. I admit in that moment I hoped his call would bring news of an early Christmas present- that he had found the muse and would return to his former role with the Reporter.
But even though it wasn’t the hoped-for good news, it wasn’t bad news either: Although Bill and his wife Jean each faced health issues last year, he told me they have come through them feeling much better, and looked forward to the holidays with their family and friends in increasing good health. His longtime readers will be delighted at that news!
As we begin this new year of 2019, I find myself reflecting about this newspaper project that began almost 30 years ago. It was early in 1990 that my wife Mary and I noticed a void: Here in this most Irish of American cities, there was no local Irish newspaper. Even though two Irish ethnic papers had a modest circulation here, they were produced in New York City, and both targeted the New York audience, with little notice given to the activities of their neighbors 200 miles up I-95. It seemed an opportunity to be filled, to tell the stories of Boston’s Irish.
Bill O’Donnell was one of the first people we sought out for advice. We learned that Bill was a veteran newspaper man, and for a short time in the 1980s he had edited a Boston edition of one of the New York Irish papers. But the cost of publishing journals of news and opinion depends on advertising revenues, and when the New York publishers couldn’t find a local ad base, the Boston experiment was ended.
Bill O’Donnell offered to help us. He pointed our way to a myriad of local Irish organizations— Boston Ireland Ventures, the Gaelic sports played on Somerville’s Dilboy Field and the many County groups across th city. As the decade was turning to the 90s, some Irish civic leaders and business people formed a non-profit cultural gathering spot with a vision to create an Irish venue that became the 46-acre Irish Cultural Centre of New England campus in Canton.
In those early days, there were many local taverns popular with the Irish in neighborhoods like South Boston, Dorchester, Brighton, West Roxbury, Cambridge and Somerville, but only a handful of “Irish pubs” featured native Irish music and performers. Back then, St. Patrick’s Day came just once a year. Today, Irish culture is celebrated all across the city and the region.
But the landscape for Irish-centered media has seen dramatic changes: Ireland’s many daily and county weekly newspapers can be read online, and Ireland’s TV and radio broadcasts are readily available on computer screens and smart phones.
As 2019 begins, the Boston Irish Reporter enters its 30th year, and we are grateful for all the support we have received from thousands of loyal readers and subscribers. Our New Year resolution remains the same we made three decades ago: We will continue to tell the stories of Boston’s Irish.