Support the news

Carroll: 'Whitey' Bulger Exploited The Grievances Of The Boston Irish09:24
Download

Play
This article is more than 8 years old.
The FBI handed out these photos of James "Whitey" Bulger during its efforts to catch the reputed mobster. (AP)
The FBI handed out these photos of James "Whitey" Bulger during its efforts to catch the reputed mobster. (AP)

"The saga of Whitey Bulger can be told as a peculiarly Boston Irish story."

That's the first line of a "The Last Act In An Irish Tragedy," a column by James Carroll that appeared in the Boston Globe recently.

In his provacative piece, Carroll argues that the rise of Whitey Bulger  is "the a story of the Irish shadow," about a local South Boston thug who was able to cloak himself in his "Irishness" and exploit a history of Irish grievances to advance his criminal pursuits.

"Grievances is the key word," Carroll told Radio Boston. Carroll argues that those grievances began with Irish enmity toward the British because of London's role in the devastating potato famine.

"[Bulger] reads the need of the Boston Irish for an outside enemy brilliantly and begins to exploit it."

James Carroll

"Then the Irish who arrive in Boston find a ready-made substitute enemy: the old Brahmin establishment, who could seem like transplanted Brits [with their] accents, their condescension and their assumption that the Irish are the serving class," Carroll said. "That grievance is the first ground on which Whitey Bulger stands."

That grievance would become a "chip on a chip on a chip on the shoulder" of the Irish, according to Carroll.  "And [Bulger] reads the need of the Boston Irish for an outside enemy brilliantly and begins to exploit it," Carroll said.

His column generated a slew of responses — many of them angry and dismissive. One reader called Carroll's column "garbage."

"Don't cloak him in the Irish mystique," wrote one reader. "It's an insult to those of us who are Irish. Whitey (and Billy for the matter) are both rotten people who happen to have a little Irish blood in them. It has nothing to do with being Irish and everything to do with being manipulative, extortionist and a murderer."

In fact, one could argue that the Irish vanquished those ghosts of enmity long before Whitey Bulger's day.  After all, the Boston Irish rose to power long ago; the first Irish Mayor was elected in 1885, and of course a certain Irish senator from Massachusetts became president in 1960.

What do you think? Is there something peculiarly Irish about the Whitey Bulger story? Or is this just a story of an uncommonly savage thug?

Guest:

  • James Carroll, distinguished schohlar in residence at Suffolk University, columnist for the Boston Globe

This segment aired on July 1, 2011.

+Join the discussion
TwitterfacebookEmail

Support the news