Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Innocents of Boston and Iraq

I have visited Boston many times over the years. It’s a beautiful city and full of Irish and Irish Americans. Despite its sprawling size and population, and unlike New York and Los Angeles, it has the feel of a town where community is important and everyone knows everyone else. It’s also a comfortable place to go for a walk.

The first time I visited Boston was in September 1994. It was several weeks after the first IRA cessation. It was the start of a gruelling three week journey across the USA which would eventually take us to Washington DC for meetings with senior White House and government officials. I was given a rousing welcome at Logan airport where I was met by Senator Ted Kennedy and other Irish American activists.

I have been back often. Three years ago I was there for the St. Patrick’s Day celebration which traditionally goes on all week – they don’t do things by half!

Kevin Fagin from Dublin – Fago to all who know him – and Senator Steve Toland chaperoned us around, including to a remarkable early breakfast event hosted by Senator Jack Hart in South Boston. There were hundreds of Irish Americans, including Congress members, state legislators, city council members, the Boston police and fire service, trade unionists and community activists. They were all in fine voice and enjoyed an amazing singalong that went on for hours.

Every Irish song you can think of from ‘McNamara’s Band’ to ‘If You’re Irish Come Into the Parlour’, to ‘The Fields Of Athenry’ and ‘The Boys Of The Old Brigade’, were all belted out with great gusto. And in between one after another of the politicians would get up and slag off their opponents with wit and irony. It was a truly weird but wonderful experience.

Rita O Hare and I walked later that day in the St. Patrick’s Day event along with tens of thousands of Irish Americans whose enthusiasm was undiminished by the torrential rain that poured down from a grey leaden sky and the gale force winds that threatened to sweep Rita off her feet.

On another occasion Friends of Sinn Féin hired a large boat for a fundraising event and it was packed full of Bostonians eating, drinking and eventually listening to me speak about the peace process and the role of Irish America.

On Monday evening when the news broke about the bomb attacks in Boston and of the deaths and scores of injured, these were the people I immediately thought of. Good people, sound people, who have been hugely supportive of the people of Ireland over generations. Many of them first generation residents. Some from west Belfast.

Rita tried to ring Shannon who lives in Boston and has been a very close friend and activist for many years. She couldn’t get through as the phone lines were down. Eventually Shannon picked up on some of the texts that had been sent and emailed Rita back to confirm that she and her family were ok. Her niece, Courtney had been running in the marathon and was only seconds from the finish line when the explosion occurred. They were all shocked but safe and well.

Thus far no one knows who was responsible for the attacks or what lies behind this appalling incident. But for the people of Boston it is a day they will long remember.

Given the connections between Ireland and Boston there was and is a widespread and understandable feeling of shock and horror at events there. This is especially true in the north which has witnessed many similar days. Consequently, there is an acute of sense of solidarity with the people of Boston.

But Boston wasn’t the only place to suffer the horror of bomb attacks. On the same day, and in advance of elections to be held there on Saturday, there was a series of devastating bomb attacks across Iraq. Over 50 people were killed and countless more injured. More than 30 bombs, eight of them in Baghdad, detonated during the morning rush hour and caused chaos. Other bomb attacks have occured there this week.

Like the bomb attacks in Boston no one knows who was responsible although the attacks in Iraq are clearly linked to the elections and efforts to destabilise the country.

What is certain is that a lot of innocent people were killed and injured. To the families of all of those who were killed and injured I want to extend my condolences and solidarity.

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