Bridging Cultures (Tip O'Neill, Cambridge, The United States of America & Ireland)

Bridging Cultures (Tip O'Neill, Cambridge, The United States of America & Ireland)

Celebrating the Life & Legacy of Tip O'Neill in Cambridge, USA & Ireland

In search of my ancestral Irish-American Cambridge roots, last year I happened upon the City of Cambridge's (in conjunction with the O'Neill family) commemoration of the centennial of the birth of its homegrown, quintessential Irish-American politician – Thomas “Tip” O’Neill Jr. Numerous events from May-December celebrated Tip's ancestry, life, achievements and legacy. (For instance, reference my coverage of the roundtable discussion - Former Congressional Staffers Recall Cambridge’s own Thomas Phillip “Tip” O’Neill, Jr. ) But why all this fuss about Tip? As the Massachusetts Speaker of the House (1946-52), US Congressional Representative (1952-87), and Speaker of the United States House of Representatives (1977-1987), Tip was the consummate Irish-American politician. He not only coined and personified the expression “All Politics is Local” - through his attention to and love of personal politics - but also worked across the aisle, the kind of political relationship almost obsolete in today’s increasingly ideological, polarized political climate, all the while creating an impressive legislative and diplomatic legacy in and for Cambridge, Massachusetts, the United States, and Northern Ireland.

The series of commemorative Tip O'Neill events concluded on December 9th - Tip’s birthday - with the unveiling of an impressive 12 ft. X 36 ft. mural located on the back parking lot side of the Mildred O'Neill Branch Library, in North Cambridge (named after Tip's wife Mildred), a few blocks from where Tip grew up. The mural depicts his Irish heritage, as well as his childhood, studies, family, while also bringng to the fore numerous legislative achievements, political partnerships, and friendships with people of different races and parties. ( For information about the various events, and in particular about the December 9th unveiling of the mural, read Emily Cataneo's Cambridge Wicked Local article. And for more information about the mural and the muralists - David Fichter of Cambridge, and Joshua Miner of Waltham - reference David's website - and Josh's website.)

While the unveiling of the Tip O'Neill mural at the Mildred O'Neill Library in North Cambridge marked the conclusion of the City of Cambridge’s commemoration of Tip’s life and legacy, in a real sense it also marked the beginning of another kind of celebration of Tip's life and legacy for others like Chris Matthews, myself, and the Irish side of the O'Neill family. Chris Matthews - the NBC political analyst and former Tip O'Neill staffer (for more information about Chris and his show reference - The Chris Mathews Show ) not only attended the mural unveiling, but in addition to his daily political commentary is now writing a book about the unique bipartisan political relationship and friendship that two prominent Irish American polticians: Tip O'Neill, one of his mentors and the last of the New Deal Democrats, and Ronald Reagan, a right-wing Republican, formed, enabling Congress to pass bipartisan legislation and so move Washington and the country forward. Meanwhile, I had the good fortune to meet Michael O’Neill (pictured above with his sister Breta and myself in Mallow, County Cork, Ireland), who was there as the sole representative of Tip’s father’s Irish descendants. Michael is from the town of Mallow, where Tip’s father’s family came from. (By contrast there was a large Irish contingent, including Frank McBrearty the Mayor, from County Donegal, where Tip’s mother side of the family are from, and which starting in September 2012, annually honors prominent Irish and Irish-Americans with the prestigous Tip O"Neill Diaspora Award Together the Irish contingent, with Michael O'Neill on the far left, appear with Tip's oldest son, former Massachuseets Lieutenant Governmor Thomas P O'Neill III, in the photo of and at the mural unveiling) After our chance meeting at the mural unveiling Mr. Michael O’Neill and I stayed in touch. Consequently this past July he and some of his siblings graciously hosted my family and I for a number of days in their County Cork, where I had the privilege to meet with Mr. Timothy Sheehan, a local historian, and Dan Joe Fitzgerald, the former Mayor of Mallow, and Noel O'Connor, the present Mayor of Mallow and County Cork (all shown alongside myself in the attached photos) as well as trace not only my and many Irish-American leaders' ancestry, but also the ancestry of many of Ireland's most notable independence leaders. (County Cork is commonly referred to as home of Irish independence leaders - the County of Rebels, summed up by and with the catch phrase and local sporting chant “Up with The Rebels!”.)

The journey to and through County Cork with the O'Neills awakened in me a desire to understand and document for myself, Cambridge, Massachusetts, the United States, Ireland, and the world at large, Irish and Irish-American leaders' struggle for a more perfect union; and that leads us back to Tip O’Neill; for Tip, along with many other Irish and Irish-American leaders, was very much involved in "The Eternal Quest" to create a more perfect and peaceful union in not only his home country - the United States, but also in their ancestral land of Ireland. In fact, he and his fellow Massachusetts Irish-American politician, Senator Ted Kennedy, were two of the Four Horseman - Tip O’Neill, Senator Ted Kennedy, Senator Patrick Moynihan, and Governor (of New York) Hugh Carey - who together intervened in, and worked to achieve a negotiated settlement to, the Troubles between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland. Although the four horsemens' efforts didn’t immediately produce a negotiated settlement, their efforts bore fruit some ten plus years later in the 1998 Good Friday Peace Accords, mediated in part by President Clinton’s Northern Ireland Peace Process envoy George Mitchell.

A sampling and survey of Irish and Irish-American history shows that union and peace are an elusive goal, an elusive quest; nevertheless both histories also show that union and peace are worthwhile goals and achieveable quests. For, as Tip O'Neill demonstrated, despite great odds, making the extra effort to bridge parties, borders and and cultures almost always leads to greater understanding, friendship, progress, prosperity, and peace for all.

With all of the above in mind, I wish to thank the City of Cambridge, the first-rate muralists David Fichter, and Joshua Miner, who opened their work and studio to me, Tip's fomer Congressional Aides, who spoke with real respect, love and admiration for their former mentor, the O’Neill family of Massachusetts (Thomas P. O'Neill III, Rosemary O'Neill, Christopher R. O'Neill), and in particular Mr. Michael O'Neill of Mallow, County Cork (Up with the Rebels!) for organizing, as well as welcoming me to witness and partake in, so many memorable Tip O'Neill commemorative events and experiences. Together these people, these events, these experiences bridged time and cultures, and in the process opened my mind and ignited in me the filmmaker, the primary agent of Culture Films LLC , the strong desire to produce two documentary films: All Politics is Local: The Life & Legacy of Tip O’Neil, the Consummate Irish-American Politician & The Eternal Quest: Irish & Irish-American Leaders' Quest for more perfect and peaceful Unions. In closing, let me share with you the following traditional Gaelic blessing: a blessing that continues to live in the minds and hearts of so many Irish and Irish-Americans during the seemingly eternal, ongoing, Irish Diaspora.

May the road rise up to meet you.
 May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.