Immigrants a focus at Irish Honors event

Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh offered opening remarks at the Boston Irish Honors luncheon, saying in part: “Those of us that are Irish-Americans must be on the front lines to continue to fight and welcome immigrants — to protect them from persecution, and protect them from hate.”
Isabel Leon/City of Boston photo.

The Boston Irish Reporter hosted its eighth annual Boston Irish Honors luncheon on Oct. 26 at the Seaport Hotel. The event drew some 400 guests who helped to honor Boston Globe columnist Kevin Cullen, former state highway commissioner and Boston mayoral advisor Tom Tinlin, and a Dorchester and South Boston family dedicated to serving their community: Annmarie,Nora, and Bill Kennedy.

The event was bookended by passionate speeches from Mayor Martin Walsh and Cullen, both of whom preached humility and tolerance to the largely Boston Irish audience in the context of the divisive national debate surrounding the anti-immigrant climate in Washington.

Walsh’s parents immigrated from Connemara, Co. Galway in the 1960s, while Cullen’s grandparents came to America a generation earlier.

The mayor, who has been outspoken against the current administration’s harsh stance on immigration, implored his fellow Irish Americans to remember that just a few generations ago, their forebears were in the same position as today’s Latin American immigrants.

“Those of us that are Irish-Americans must be on the front lines to continue to fight and welcome immigrants — to protect them from persecution, and protect them from hate,” he said. “Many of our [Irish] ancestors and relatives who came to this country were undocumented. We should never forget that.”

The mayor said that it was only fitting that the BIR honors continue to be conscious of the plight of immigrants Boston, for they are the people who built and continue to build our city.

He added: “It’s important for us today … to remember that those immigrants coming today will be the leaders of the future. Some day they’ll be somebody standing, maybe at this microphone, maybe at this luncheon, whose mother might have come from Honduras and whose father might have come from El Salvador and they met at a hall or restaurant in East Boston. Twenty-five years later… their son or daughter could become mayor of Boston. And we hope that the immigrants 25 years from now are treated better than the immigrants of today are being treated.”

Cullen echoed Walsh’s sentiments in his remarks concluding the luncheon, chiding those who would willfully ignore their own immigrant past and turn a blind eye to the current plight of those seeking a better life in America.

As a group that “faced institutional discrimination for generations,” Cullen noted, the Irish should not forget their past just because their social status in America has changed over the last century.

“If anyone should be tolerant and welcoming, it’s the Boston Irish,” he declared. “If anyone should show solidarity for people who might be shunned or derided for being nothing more than themselves, it’s the Boston Irish.”

After writing a story earlier this year about Francisco Rodriguez, an immigrant from El Salvador facing the threat of deportation, Cullen said he received several racist emails from people “with Irish surnames.” He went on to denounce the hypocrisy of Irish Americans who would denigrate the very group they were once part of.

“Being Irish in a city where it once brought scorn now brings responsibility,” Cullen continued. “Part of being Irish is knowing your history. And if you’re really Irish, if you’re Boston Irish, you should always stick up for the underdog— the people who get stereotyped and screwed— because that used to be us.”

Other speakers at the event included honoree Tom Tinlin, who spoke about dedicating his work to raising awareness about brain aneurysms after undergoing surgery for one earlier this year. Nora Kennedy, representing her family in receiving their award, emphasized the need for the next generation of Boston Irish to carry on the values taught to them by their elders.

This year’s luncheon committee was chaired by Aidan Browne, partner at Sullivan & Worcester and chairman of the Boston Friends of the Gaelic Players Association. In his speech, Browne shared his excitement for the upcoming Fenway Hurling Classic on Nov. 19, which he described as “the biggest Irish event in Boston in almost 100 years.” Tickets to the tournament were raffled off at the event.