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When Politics Was King in Irish Boston

by Gerard O'Neill

Pub Date: March 13th, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-307-40536-4
Publisher: Crown

A gritty, down-and-dirty saga about the Irish politicos who “ruled Boston for nearly a century,” from 1902 to 1993.

Pulitzer Prize–winning ex–Boston Globe investigative reporter O'Neill provides a candid look at the political machinations that built, and destroyed, a legendary American city. He begins with the famine ships that arrived with the “bedraggled [Irish] newcomers” who became the scourge of Yankee Boston. These immigrants quickly learned that the only way they could lay claim to “jobs, education [and] religious tolerance” would be through bare-knuckle politics. Boston elected its first Irish mayor in 1884, but O'Neill begins with a portrait of the shrewd and magnetic John “Honey” Fitzgerald, maternal grandfather of John F. Kennedy, who served as mayor from 1906 to 1908 and again from 1910 to 1914. By this time, other ambitious Irishmen, such as the infamous Ward 8 boss Martin Lomasney and the combative Boston Common Councilman (and later four-time mayor) James Michael Curley, were also on the scene. All engaged in cloak-and-dagger political schemes to enhance their power, while Curley unabashedly used his position to enrich himself at the city's expense. As Machiavellian as they were charming, these men brought Boston into the modern era—and to the brink of bankruptcy. Mid-century redeemers such as Mayors John Hynes and John Collins and urban planner Ed Logue brought the city back through programs that renewed parts of the city at the expense of creating enmity between numerous social and ethnic groups. They left Mayor Kevin White the unenviable task of guiding Boston through the desegregation crisis of the 1970s. Eager to put the city's tumultuous past behind him, White focused on making Boston "world-class," while the last “mayoral mick,” Ray Flynn, attempted to make a city now increasingly divided between rich and poor livable for all.

A splendidly detailed great American epic.