The Bostonian: Life in an Irish-American Political Family by Larry Donnelly


Over the last few years, we have become accustomed to the voice of Larry Donnelly on either RTÉ or Newstalk or any of the other media outlets - he has also written many opinion pieces for the various branches of the media.

Who is Larry Donnelly? Larry Donnelly is an Irish American, born in Boston and presently working in NUI Galway where he is founder and director of the School of Law’s Clinical Legal Education programme. Married to the journalist and broadcaster Eileen Whelan, they have two children and live in Wicklow, with Larry commuting most days between Galway and Wicklow.

Larry Donnelly was brought up in Boston, a member of a well-known Irish-American political family. Here in Ireland, we know the Donnelly name so well from the Donnelly visa scheme which Brian Donnelly, Larry’s uncle, brought in to allow the pent-up wish for Irish people to emigrate to the US, despite severe restrictions. I often meet so many people who were the recipient of a Donnelly visa and they are forever grateful for the same. This was followed by the Morrison visa, again re-opening America to Irish emigrants.

The Donnelly family belonged to the Democratic Party. Yet, at the young age of 22, Larry Donnelly decided that he was going to go Republican, to the consternation of his father who shouted at him “Welcome to the family business, kid!” as the young man started his campaign to obtain signatures from neighbours in order to get his name on the ballot for the lowliest of elected positions as a Massachusetts local government representative Town Meeting member. He was just 22, having completed his degree and continuing with his Doctor of Law degree.

From then on in the book, Larry Donnelly depicts all the various stages that he and his family went through in politics in Boston and in all the outlying precincts of Boston, where the Irish American and Italian voters held sway in many cases.

He writes so vividly and we get a full account of politics at all the various levels in Boston.

We get detailed accounts of the Congressional Friends of Ireland who later, as we know, went on to be of marvellous help at all levels between Ireland and America. Larry was a marvellous believer in John Hume and the SDLP. He definitely was not an admirer of the IRA, particularly when they went on their missions to the US where they had so many avowed supporters.

We get a very full account of the Boston School Bussing Controversy. I had come across this earlier in the book From Whence I Came by Dr Brian Murphy, where Larry penned an extract detailing the Boston Bussing Scandal. It was a terrible time in Boston, and Ted Kennedy never recovered politically from it. He was hounded and reviled and the echoes of it lived on, long after the Bussing Scandal had outlived its severe effects on Boston. I found that full description so riveting in all its aspects.

Later on in the book we read that Larry, on a visit to Galway which had been his paternal homeplace, linked up with NUIG who started negotiations with him about setting up a course for Legal Studies in Galway.

By that time, he had met and begun to woo Eileen Whelan, and of course that was a strong incentive to him to continue with his thrust into NUIG.

He depicts, in several chapters, politics in the US as it is today between the Republicans and the Democrats. He is equally observant of the political scene in Ireland at the moment, and in one of his pages makes clear that he is interested in running for politics in Ireland.

Larry Donnelly has huge admiration for those who are involved in politics on a daily basis. I am sure that many who read this book will wish that, somehow, he can be persuaded to run here in Ireland for the next general election.

I loved this book. It is vivid in its detail of all aspects of politics, both here and in the US, and it is so readable. I started the book in the morning and found it literally unputdownable. I turned page after page and learned more and more about politics, which of course makes up everyday life not just here with us in Ireland, but also across the waters both in the UK and in the US.

Christmas is coming, and this book would make a great gift, either to yourself or to someone you know who is engrossed in political life. It is lively, readable and engrossing.

Well done, Larry Donnelly.


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