For Boston’s Irish, a Presidential Apology is Overdue

DORCHESTER, Mass.  Mike Doyle’s Kinvarra Pub in this gritty Boston neighborhood is the sort of “third space” that sociologists say is essential to bringing community and a sense of belonging to urban residents.  “You can tell them sociologists they got that one on the nosey,” said pub regular Ernie Sullivan with a laugh.

The Kinvarra: Apologies on three wide-screen TVs!

The parochial character of this particular watering hole doesn’t mean its customers aren’t up on world affairs, however.  “Oh yeah, we watch the news every so often,” says Sullivan.  “Sometimes when we’re changing the channel from the Bruins to the Red Sox in the spring Mike will hit the wrong number and we’ll get CNN.”

It was just such a fortuitous slip of the remote control that alerted the Kinvarra’s patrons, who are overwhelmingly Irish-American, to a recent apology by President Obama for the accidental bombing of a Doctors With Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, that killed twenty-two people.

“That’s the right thing to do,” says Sean “Butchie” McGrath.  “But what about me?” he asks.  “When do I get me apology?” he asks, and his friends chime in that they’d like one as well.

Why, this reporter asks, does a crowd of men drinking $2 Bud Light drafts think that they’re entitled to an apology from the President of the United States–apart from self-pity?

Oliver Freakin’ Cromwell

“Oliver Freakin’ Cromwell,” Butchie McGrath replies without hesitation.  “Cromwell invaded Ireland in the 17th century, and killed me great-great-great-great-great grandfather Liam,” he says as his eyes grow misty with tears.  “I lost the paperwork on it,” he adds, “so they’d have to take my word on it.”

“If that Cromwell guy ever shows his face in here, I’m going to pop him one!”

McGrath and his friends suffer from what pathologists have come to refer to as “Irish Alzheimer’s,” a variant of the degenerative disease characterized by loss of memory.  “They forget everything–car keys, social security number, children’s birthdays–except the grudges,” says Dr. Philip Mainwaring of Massachusetts General Hospital.  “It’s hereditary, and there is no known cure.”

“As long as you’re handin’ em out, we’d like an apology.”

While Obama has Irish roots and has been eager to apologize for just about any historical wrong, he has hesitated to commit himself on Anglo-Irish affairs, and some say ethnic and religious prejudice is the reason.  “If he apologizes for Cromwell, he’ll have to apologize for the Potato Famine,” says Anthony Waugh, an expert in Anglo-Irish history at Oxford University, referring to a 19th century catastrophe in which more than a million Irish died from hunger while absentee English landlords exported food from their plantations in Ireland.  “There aren’t enough Andy Capp Pub Fries in Boston to pay off that debt.”


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