by Ed Forry
It was a grand night on April 27 at Boston’s Seaport Hotel as several hundred guests applauded Kathy O’Toole, the recipient of the Eire Society of Boston’s 2019 Gold Medal Award.
A native of Pittsfield, she was born Kathleen Horton, and moved in her teens with her family to Marblehead, and later to Boston. A graduate of Boston College and New England School of Law, she has been married for 37 years to a now-retired Boston police officer, Dan O’Toole, and they make their home in South Boston. Their daughter Meghan lives in Seattle.
Kathy began her career in law enforcement as a Boston cop, and has served in a number of police command roles, including Secretary of Public Safety in Massachusetts, and terms as police commissioner in both Boston and Seattle. In 1998 she was appointed a member of the Patten Commission to reform policing in Northern Ireland, and later served in Ireland as Chief Inspector of the Irish police force, the Garda Inspectorate.
The Eire Society event in the hotel’s Lighthouse ballroom was filled with many current and former police officials, including current BPD Commissioner Willie Gross, retired Commissioner Bill Evans, and State Police head Col. Kerry Gilpin. Boston Globe columnist Kevin Cullen was MC.
In her remarks, O’Toole said, “I appreciate the kind introduction first of all. Thanks, Kevin Cullen. I often say that Kevin and I rose through the ranks together. I was a young beat cop when he was a young beat reporter at the Boston Globe and our paths have continued to cross. We continued to pass on both sides of the Atlantic. Ever since Kevin has dubbed me the ‘Nun with the Gun.’
“I was introduced to the Eire Society years ago by the distinguished scholar and my friend Catherine Shannon and attended these events previously, but never imagined I’d be a recipient. So from the bottom of my heart, very sincere thanks to Dr. Richard Finnegan and the board for this honor.”
O’Toole was mostly light-hearted in reflecting on her career. “I’ve served in a few high profile positions, but honestly I don’t like being the center of attention. So I do find comfort in being surrounded by incredible family and friends. You know, everyone in this room has touched me in some way, either directly or indirectly, and provided friendship and support along the way.
This event is my opportunity to thank you, all of you, so if you don’t mind, I’m going to make a few remarks about all of you.
“It would be impossible to acknowledge everybody and I apologize in advance for those I do neglect. I still have a cousin in Co. Roscommon who hasn’t spoken to me for ten years because I neglected to mention that he was one of my cousins during a profile piece for us, and he’s a wonderful human being. But you know, it’s like, what do they say about the Irish? All Alzheimer’s, forget everything but the grudge. But my friends and family are certainly a wonderful cast of characters.
“I know I’m preaching to the believers here because so many of you I know personally have been so supportive to the police over the years and I appreciate that. If you don’t mind, I’d like to take the opportunity to ask all the people who have served or are serving and law enforcement the stand up so that we can all applaud them. And thank them.”
She also recognized two Boston priests, John Connolly and Sean Connor: “Usually it’s customary to acknowledge the priests at the front, but I thought I’d save the best for last. I’m so pleased that Father John and Father Sean are here tonight. These are two wonderful, selfless guys who’ve helped so many of us maintain our faith during very difficult times. They’ve always been there for me personally and professionally. It was a privilege for me to appoint them as the Boston police chaplains. Of course, it was at the orders of Monsignor Bill Francis who said, ‘This is the way it has to be.’ But that was an easy one for me because they’re just great, great guys.
“We’ve shared wonderful times together on both sides of the Atlantic, and you know, sometimes, they say what happens in Dublin should stay in Dublin, but I can’t resist telling this one story and I don’t want to embarrass anybody- but I think it’s priceless:
“So this one night, Father John and Father Sean were in Dublin with us and we’re all heading out to dinner on a Saturday night. But I hadn’t the good sense to make a reservation. You know, it was a really busy night in Dublin, so we were in close proximity to Shanahan’s, a beautiful restaurant on Stephen’s Green. And I said, ‘Oh, are you kidding me? You know, we’ll never get in there.’
“And I love Shanahan’s downstairs. They had this great bar, very posh, it’s called the Oval Office and is dedicated to all US presidents with Irish ancestry. In fact, they have JFK’s rocking chair in a case to the back of the bar, his original rocking chair. So I thought, ‘Now we’re never going to get in here, you know, this is ridiculous.’
“Father Sean said to me, ‘No worries. Follow me. Let me speak to the hostess.’ So I followed him inside. And next thing I knew, I saw him taking his wallet out and I said, I can’t believe it. He’s going to like duke the hostess with a twenty to get into this place. Nope, not at all. So I saw him pull out the wallet and quickly flash it and close it. But just for an instant, I could see his Boston police chaplains’s badge. And then he said, ‘US Secret Service. Any chance we can get a table, possibly downstairs?’ And he pointed to Dan as the alleged president.
“Obviously the Polish hostess was not a student of American history. I couldn’t imagine which president she thought Dan was. But for the rest of the night, we were treated regally. In fact, one of them actually curtsied when she took our order.
So I just want to thank Father John and Father John for being dedicated priests who live in the real world.
“As I said at first, tonight isn’t about me. It’s about all of us here and in some ways, all of you who have touched my life. And that’s why I wanted my comments to focus entirely on you. So thank you for your love. Thank you for your support. Thank you for your incredible friendship and for paving the way for me to receive this honor.”
At Deer Island, Bill & Rita O’Connell had a dream; many hands made it a reality
by Ed Forry
Anyone involved in Boston Irish events over the last three decades knew Bill O’Connell. The Dorchester-born podiatrist, one of five children of Irish parents, and his wife Rita (Layden) were beloved volunteers in all things Irish, from the AOH Plymouth chapter, the Corkmen and Lady’s Association, the Knights and Ladies of St. Finbarr, the Eire Society of Boston, and the Charitable Irish. And they helped found the Irish Cultural Centre in Canton.
When he first learned of the famine-era Irish who had been buried in a mass grave in Boston Harbor, he began raising funds to build a Famine Memorial on Deer Island.
As the 150th anniversary of Black 47 approached, well-funded famine projects in Cambridge and downtown Boston took precedence, dimming the doctor’s hopes for a famine memorial.
Together with stalwarts like Aisling Gallery’s Maureen and John Connelly, Margaret Stapleton, and Catherine Shannon, AOH and County Cork club members, and others, the O’Connells held a series of small fundraisers that kept the dream alive. But after Rita died in late 2012 and Bill passed away in January 2014, the stalled plans seemed to have become moot.
That spring, then-Consul General Michael Lonergan encouraged several people, including attorney John Foley and me, to revive the memorial project. Few records were available – no data base or specific plans and only about $12,000, which was placed in the custodial care of the non-profit Irish Cultural Centre.
At that point, John Foley and I set out to publicize the idea for a memorial, searching for anyone who could help make it happen. In 2017, Mike Carney, a Winthrop builder and contractor with Donegal roots, called John and said “I will get this done.” Together with two friends, Mark Porter and John Flaherty, they reached out to friends in the construction and building trades, and with support from Boston Mayor Walsh and his staff, they found a way to indeed “get it done.”
On Saturday, May 25, 2019, Rita and Dr. Bill O’Connell’s dream became a reality.