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made my way up, seat after seat, every two years. And I was lucky that I got a committee early on because the infrastructure in Massachusetts was pretty good. I came through a system where personal loyalty was a very important consideration. You had Joe Moakley [South Boston politician who was chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Rules], Tip O’Neill was just leaving, Eddie Boland had just left and I took his seat and got on a committee very early in my career. You came from a very humble background, a very tough one, because your mother and father both died when you were young. So how did you cope with that?

I was lucky to have an aunt and a grandmother. They were both great. And I also think it’s interesting that they were very Catholic. So we were never adopted. No social worker ever came to check on us. And the grandmother, she was one of fourteen, so I think her attitude was, “wWhat’s another mouth at the table?” My aunt was devout. Remember those days they used to cover their heads when they went to Mass? We said the rosary at night. There is much controversy right now as it relates to some of what happened in the Church, but for my aunt, grandmother, and my mother, the Church to them in those days was everything. It was an anchor.

Eddie Boland. My mother in particular always knew someone who was running for the register of deeds or the city council because that was the way up. And it was a great time of ascendancy in politics. There was a succession of mayors, six or seven in a row, whose parents or grandparents were Irish-born. The Democratic party in particular was the beneficiary [of the Irish]; they brought the right infusion of energy. And there was a great alliance between unions and the Democratic party. From city councilman to one of the most powerful men in America: where did it all go right?

Part of it was ambition. I was thirty-eight when I first got elected to congress. I think I worked at least as hard, if not harder than everybody else. I had a good constituency that I inherited from Eddie Boland. He retired in 1988 and I took his seat. I think I certainly was patient enough. I kind of

Not really. It wasn’t exactly as though the neighborhood had a lot. My aunt had a pension, Mass Mutual. We had a little bit of life insurance that my father left, about $10,000. That was it. And we had the genius of Roosevelt’s social security survivor’s benefit. It was about $119 a month for each one of us. It wasn’t a lot, but we lived as a family. Did you know you were poor?

TOP: Congressman Richard Neal in his Washington, D.C., office. LEFT: Congressman Neal on a visit to Stormont with Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) and former congressman Jim Walsh (R-N.Y.) CENTER: Congressman Neal and former president Bill Clinton. RIGHT: Gerry Adams on a recent visit to Congressman Neal’s office.

My paternal grandmother was born in County Down. On my mother’s side, her grandparents were born in West Kerry – Ventry. Irish was the first language for the West Kerry people. Springfield was the next parish over. You went where the others went before you, and they came here. In Holyoke, which is close by, they all came from Mayo. We were all from Kerry. And I think that they were very, How far back do your Irish roots go?

MAY / JUNE 2019 IRISH AMERICA 29

Profile for Irish America Magazine

Irish America May / June 2019  

Irish America's May / June issue, featuring Congressman Richie Neal, chairman of the Ways and Means committee of the U.S. House of Represent...

Irish America May / June 2019  

Irish America's May / June issue, featuring Congressman Richie Neal, chairman of the Ways and Means committee of the U.S. House of Represent...