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The Boston Irish Character

by Jason Rabin

The Kennedys, Boston’s royal family, (see The Color of Rose for their story), come from a proud tradition. Boston Irish politicians are known for their way with words, be it eloquence or bombast, their solidarity with the working class, and their feisty tenacity. History has taught them that if they win today, they are just as likely to lose tomorrow.

It’s a spirit often associated with Bostonians as a whole. Take our legendary near religious devotion to the Red Sox. We embrace them as a clannish nation, rallying together against a wealthy and entrenched “evil empire” of Yankees. For us the Sox are the greatest of teams, yet in our hearts, we expect them to lose. It’s just the order of things (at least from 1918-2004). Even in the worst of times we celebrate our faith in their renewal and embrace our identity as a city of scrappy underdogs, destined to suffer while battling to the last. It may be a coincidence that the Sox play in a park designed by an Irish immigrant, but it’s no coincidence that an Irish punk band sings their fight songs. 

In addition to harboring dark thoughts in the bottom of the 9th, Bostonians have adopted from our Irish citizens a uniquely dark sense of humor. Get a taste from this “Traditional Irish Folk Song” by Boston Irish comedian (and Emerson alum), Denis Leary. Born of a survivor’s mentality, it’s a propensity to meet the bleakest of realities with stony-faced sarcasm or an ironic smirk. You’ll see Irish black humor at its best in Martin McDonagh’s The Cripple of Inishmaan.

When William Butler Yeats’ Abbey Theatre premiered John Synge’s Playboy of the Western World a century ago, it opened to riots in Dublin because a line about Irish women wearing petticoats drew offense. When it played in Boston the same year, a small chorus of boo-ers was ejected from the theater. It nevertheless garnered warm reviews, drew praise from the mayor and was extended for a fortnight. We can’t wait to see the Abbey Theatre again, for Terminus. Maybe I’ll see you at Kennedy’s after. I’ll be there with my Jameson and my Guinness—checking on the Celtics.

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