When Irish Eyes Are Smiling

I was born down on A Street,

Raised up on Main Street,

Southie's my hometown.

There's something about it,

Permit me to shout it...

Southie's my home town.

Welcome to Boston. The city is occupied. A boycott exists. A tyrant reigns. Law is by decree. People are oppressed. The spirit of freedom still lives. --sign on the South Boston Information Center

South Boston sparkled a vibrant green as fresh as the Emerald Isle itself yesterday as Boston's close-knit Irish community gathered together along a three-mile parade route to laugh and dance, drink and kiss, mock politicians, cheer local heroes and occasionally watch the marchers.

Not many towns see parades like the one the "Town of Southie" enjoyed under sunny skies and amid melting mounds of snow. The marchers themselves--the South Boston VFW Post, Boy Scouts, the parish Knights of Columbus, the Catholic Youth Organization, and even the Harvard University Band--were amateurish compared to those who appear in the parades of most large cities, but this show was no Pasadena spectacular intended for viewed from a cordoned-off curbside.

Everyone participated in Southie's St. Patrick's Day parade. The O'Tooles, Flahertys, Kirbys, Comiskeys, Dohertys, Donnellys and Dineens. It was strictly a family-affair; a big block party with all the warmth, neighborhood pride, good humor and openness that one can only find in this last-of-the-big-working-class-ethnic-neighborhoods.

--Stop forced busing, give a buck.

--St. Patrick is Alive and Well at Murphy's Bar.

--Better dumb than dead.   --Southie bars, hotbeds of discontent.

If not everyone watching the parade yesterday was Irish, it appeared that at least every cop on duty there was just a generation removed from carrying a shillelagh instead of a night-stick. But if the Town of Southie has any laws concerning the public consumption of alcohol, they were not enforced by those men in blue wearing green carnations. Many of the reddest noses were found in places like Tom English's Cottage and Chauncey's pub, establishments packed to the rafters with old, freckle-faced ale-lovers and smiling lassies and laddies ordering up Heinekens because they like the color of the bottle. Though the curbs were strewn with cans and bottles by the end of the party, the fierce neighborhood of the Southie community remained. Staggering sometimes, the kids emerged with big plastic garbage bags after the parade and cleaned up their streets.

--Happy St. Patrick's Day anti-bussers.

--Sit on it Kennedy. We love you Louise.

--Cheers to all who wish us well--all the rest can go to hell.   --selected pickets and apartment window placards.

The parade itself, maneuvering a circuitous route through Southie's narrow and deteriorating streets, was a curious rag-tag affair composed mainly of badly coordinated local groups, political and patriotic floats, and the ever-present military contingent. Louise Day Hicks, the anti-busing Boston city councillor, led a float with signs declaring: "Hicks says South Boston is MY Roots," and "Southie is worth fighting for." Her group, ironically identifying itself as South Boston's Marshall's Youth Activities, was followed by a sound truck blurting the locally popular tune "Southie, My Home Town." Boston Mayor Kevin White did not march, but Gov. Michael Dukakis did, and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy '54 never showed despite his announced intention to participate. He is probably lucky he stayed away--bars, shop windows and lapels bore little good will for the man whose family name is uttered with reverence by most Irish-Americans outside the Boston area.

The parade stepped off at 1 p.m. from Andrews Square, heading up Dorchester Street toward South Boston High School. As the parade-leading South Boston chapter of the VFW passed by, people left their favorite watering holes and dashed onto the street in time to cheer on units from the marines, navy and army.

Among the first in a string of 26 marching bands was one more familiar with the endzone of Soldiers' Field than the streets of South Boston. Harvard's band, with only about 20 members marching, drummed up old Irish favorites like "Ten Thousand Men of Harvard."

As the parade drew to a close, Southie residents returned to the bars and open houses that offered free food, and the camaraderie of neighbors. Outwardly, at least, the people of South Boston seemed happy and contented. Where Were the Fighting Irish?

Dorchester Street and Broadway Street in Southie were paved with green yesterday but the only thing green at the St. Patrick's Eve Boxing Show

Wednesday night were the fighters.

Traditionally held in Boston Garden, the show usually features a fight between the best boxer from South Boston and a pugilist from some other ethnic background. But this year's locale was the Boston Arena--a building so decrepit that its rats should strike for better living conditions--and the feature fight matched two black men: "Marvelous Marvin Hagler," The North American Middleweight Champion, and Guyana's Reggie Ford, the 1972 Pan-American Games champion.

Sam Silverman, the show's promoter, blames the lack of good Irish fighters for this year's break from tradition. Without Irish boxers, the event can hardly hope to fill the Arena, much less the Garden. The people from South Boston simply don't come out to the fights if they can't cheer on the gutsy kid from L Street.

Southie's only representative was Kevin Dorian, who entered the ring wearing a robe with "Sinn Fein, South Boston," emblazoned on the back. But Dorian's "fighting Irish" background did not surface during the fight.

"These guys did more dancing and hugging than Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers," one fight fan said. The crowd only cheered once, when the beginning of the last round was announced at the evening's close.

The crowd wanted aggressive boxing more than it wanted an Irish name on the card. Even Dorian's meager victory was greeted with scattered booing. Imagine, booing an Irishman on St. Patrick's Eve!