Skip to main content

South Boston's St. Patrick's Day Breakfast - a Sacred and Unholy Southie tradition

The people in South Boston take their jokes and their politics seriously – and that’s why the annual St. Patrick’s Day breakfast this weekend is the city’s most important event of the Irish season.

On Sunday, March 20, Southie’s popular state senator Jack Hart expects to welcome over 1,000 people to attend the breakfast at the majestic Boston Convention Center, a new facility presided over by another South Boston native, Jim Rooney.

Last year newly christened Senator Scott Brown was there, and so were South Boston’s US Congressman Stephen Lynch, Governor Deval Patrick, Lt. Governor Tim Murray and State Senator Therese Murray

Sinn Fein chief Gerry Adams sat at the big table and gave the audience an update on Northern Ireland.  

And Ronan Tynan, who had just defected from New York to Boston, appeared in a Red Sox cap and sang a few songs.  Tynan has been invited back again this year.

The two-hour slag fest of songs, stories, jokes, lampoons, and maneuvering often has repercussions on the local, statewide and even national political stages.  It is televised live on New England Cable News throughout the region to millions of viewers.

Anyone can show up at the breakfast and test their wit in the tough Southie environment. Presidential candidates Al Gore, Mitt Romney and Joe Biden have all stopped by to tell a few jokes and test the political waters. 
And the telephone sitting on the rostrum has taken calls from Presidents Ronald Reagan,  Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

The annual event started out as a luncheon at Dorgan’s Harbor House back in the 1930s, when nationally renowned politicians like Governor James Michael Curley and US House Speaker John McCormack ruled the state’s political establishment. 

In the 1950s and early 1960s, South Boston politicians John E. Powers and Joe Moakley held court at the luncheon each year.   In 1962 there was a dramatic face-down between Senate candidates Ted Kennedy, an untested newcomer, and South Boston native son Eddie McCormack, running for John F. Kennedy’s seat.  Ted won that seat in an upset. 

Dorgan’s burned down in 1974, and the event moved to the Bayside Club on Eight Street, where South Boston state senate president Billy Bulger took it over and turned it to an art form over the next thirty years.

Congressman Lynch served as host master when he was the state senator from South Boston, and now Hart is the master of ceremonies.

For local politicians, it’s a chance to move to a bigger stage and get your face in front of millions of people.

For Boston City Councilor Bill Linehan, a Southie native who started volunteering for local chieftains like Maurice Donahue and Joe Moakley back in the 1960s, the chance to finally get on stage was a dream come true.

“My first breakfast as an elected official was so special,” he recalls.  “I have worked these events over the years, helping to set up, working the doors, a spectator in the room.  And then in 2008 Jack Hart handed me the microphone and said let’s sing some songs.  The first words I spoke were, ‘Ma, I made it!’”

For details on Boston's Irish history, visit


Popular posts from this blog

Boston Hero John Boyle O'Reilly Dies on August 10 in Hull, Massachusetts

John Boyle O'Reilly, one of Boston's most accomplished citizens, died on August 10, 1890 in Hull, Massachusetts, from an accidental overdose of medication.  His sudden death marked the end of an amazing life of heroism, advocacy, leadership and literature that helped transform the city and the nation. Arriving in Boston in 1870, O'Reilly spent the next 20 years reconciling the city's racial and ethnic factions who struggled against one another.  He became editor and then owner of  The Pilot ,  the leading Irish Catholic paper in America, using the paper as a bully pulpit to advance various causes.  He befriended the Yankee establishment while admonishing them for the prejudices.   O'Reilly defended American Blacks who were still looking for post Civil War equality.  He welcomed new immigrants such as Italians, Jews and Chinese, insisting that they get the same privileges as nativist Americans.  Throughout his life he pursued freedom of Ireland from Bri

Boston Mayors of Irish Descent, 1885-2014

Hugh O'Bien Here are the Mayors of Boston Claiming Irish Heritage:  Hugh O’Brien 1885–88 Patrick Collins 1902–05 John F. Fitzgerald 1906–07, 1910–13 James M. Curley 1914–17, 1922–25, 1930–33, 1946–49 Frederick W. Mansfield 1934–37 Maurice Tobin 1938–41, 1941-44 John Kerrigan 1945 John B. Hynes 1950–59 John Collins 1960–68 Kevin H. White 1968–83 Raymond L. Flynn 1984–93 Martin J. Walsh   2014-   Martin J. Walsh is the twelfth  Mayor of Boston to claim Irish ancestry.  The lineage dates back to 1884, when Irish immigrant Hugh O'Brien of County Cork became the first Irish-born mayor elected in Boston, serving four one-year terms (1885-88).  He was followed by Irish-born Patrick Collins (1902-05), also of County Cork, who died in office. John F. Fitzgerald became the first American-born mayor of Irish descent; he served two terms. James Michael Curley served four terms in four different decades. From 1930 to 1993, the

Irish Ship Carrying Famine Refugees sinks off Cohasset in Massachusetts, killing most of the passengers, on October 7, 1849

Illustration by Leonard Everett Fisher A passenger ship called Brig St. John sank off the coast of Cohasset on the morning of Sunday, October 7, 1849, pushed to the brink by a severe nor'easter that rocked the boat for hours before it sank. On board the ship were 127 passengers from Ireland, along with sixteen sailors. The majority of passengers were poor Irish immigrants fleeing the famine. Writer Henry David Thoreau heard about the wreck and traveled from Concord to witness the aftermath. He wrote about it in his book, Cape Cod . "We found many Irish in the cars going to identify bodies and to sympathize with the survivors, and also to attend the funeral which was to take place in the afternoon," Thoreau wrote. "When we arrived at Cohasset, it appeared that nearly all the passengers were bound for the beach, which was about a mile distant, and many other persons were flocking in from the neighboring country."  Illustration by Leonard Everett Fisher On