Iron worker Peter Galvin expected a typical lunch last Monday when he walked into the Eire Pub in Dorchester, a deeply Irish neighborhood of Boston, and settled into the familiar place decorated in Irish flags and Boston Bruins championship memorabilia.
But as news went live on the pub’s TVs of President Barack Obama speaking in Ireland, Galvin said he and his fellow pub goers fell silent.
That’s when they heard the nation’s first black president acknowledge his distant Irish ancestry to roughly 30,000 people gathered in central Dublin and say: “I’ve come home to find the apostrophe we lost somewhere along the way.”
In this Boston neighborhood, where nearly 40 years ago was the site of some of the city’s most troubled racial strife between Irish and black residents during the busing riots and where for years Irish-American politicians flexed their political muscles, residents say Obama’s announcement served as a unifying force and was a sign of how much race relations have changed, even in this small section of the world.
“It brought tears to my eyes,” said Galvin, a Boston native. “It made me proud to be an American — an Irish American.”
Robert Simpson Sr. said he, too, got a little emotional. “We were all cheering,” Simpson said. “It was amazing.”
During the visit to Ireland, Obama downed a pint of Guinness in tiny Moneygall, the small Irish village where his great-great-great-grandfather once lived and worked as a shoemaker. Obama also told the crowd gathered in central Dublin that he had come to reaffirm “the bonds of affection” between the United States and Ireland.
Obama met there with his nearest Irish relative, 26-year-old accountant Henry Healy, and they stopped in at Ollie’s Bar for a drink.
Back in Dorchester, a Democratic stronghold of politically savvy residents who host an annual St. Patrick’s Day political breakfast each year, real estate agent Stephen McGee watched Obama from the bar.
“It shows how much things have changed,” he said. “I mean, I didn’t even think of his race when I saw the speech. I just saw him as one of us.”
Some were not ready to talk about race relations.
“Don’t go there!” said Galvin, when asked if Obama’s announcement brought up any unresolved racial strife between Boston’s Irish and black residents.
Simpson said Obama’s speech especially hit close to home because for 26 years he’s been married to a black woman and he is the father of a biracial son.
“Things have changed. Look at me. I’m in here and this is my father,” said Robert Simpson Jr., who was waiting with his dad for the start of the Bruins playoff game. “For me, the speech hit me in a sentimental way because of who I am.”
Those at Eire Pub did have at least one beef with Obama: He has not followed the example of Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, who shared a pint with the guys there and had their pictures on the wall to prove it.
“He needs to get in here,” said McGee, as he raised his glass. “We need to see that.”