Annual South Boston St. Patrick’s Day breakfast returns, goes virtual

Screenshot of the event, featuring state Sen. Nick Collins and state Rep. Brandy Fluker Oakley

 By James Paleologopoulos
Boston University News Service

BOSTON — Bad jokes, folk music and pitches from mayoral candidates were back on Sunday, as state Sen. Nick Collins hosted a virtual edition of the South Boston St. Patrick’s Day Breakfast.

The annual political event — canceled last year as cases of COVID-19 began to tick upward — returned via prerecorded segments, live feeds and sit-down interviews with Collins, D-Boston, at his home in South Boston.

From Gov. Charlie Baker describing the Irish Potato Famine to U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch reading a poem by W.B. Yeats, politicians marked both St. Patrick’s Day and Evacuation Day as they have for decades. Among them was sitting President Joe Biden, who in a prerecorded video, referred to the Irish as “the only people on earth who are always nostalgic for the future.”

“Folks, we Irish, as you know, we’re dreamers, yet we’re realists,” Biden said. “We’re spiritual, yet we are doubters. We are compassionate, yet we’re demanding; everything in us runs deep.”

Carried by both NESN and WROL, Collins introduced state lawmakers, city council members and members of the Mass. delegation to Washington, D.C.

Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, state Senate President, Karen Spilka, U.S. Senators Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren, U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley and Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins were among the morning’s speakers.

Spilka’s own segment featured Jimmy Tingle, a humorist and actor, who used his time to pitch the audience on various ideas for state government, including toll booths for all out-of-state travelers seeking to enter and leave Massachusetts.

“Welcome to Massachusetts — there’s a cover charge,” Tingle said. “It’s $10 to come into Massachusetts. You want to leave? 20 bucks.”

Interspersed throughout the breakfast was music, both live and recorded, including performances from the Irish folk group, The High Kings. The traditional gags and bad jokes of the decades’ old event also made a return after a year’s hiatus.

“Just to break things up a little bit, I want to throw a joke at you,” Collins said to Lynch after his reading. “What do you call the wife of a hippie? Mississippi.”

Other bits ranged from state attorney general Maura Healey teasing future plans to run [to get exercise] to an entire rendition of “Marley’s Wedding,” redone as “Marty’s Hearing,” complete with city councilor Frank Baker measuring and swiping mayor Marty Walsh’s desk.

Walsh himself recorded a message, ahead of the U.S. Senate voting on his Labor Secretary nomination on Monday. In it, he thanked the numerous people and organizations that have made past St. Patrick’s Day celebrations possible.

He also had words of wisdom for the numerous city councilors and other candidates vying for his job.

“My advice to anyone running for mayor: when you get that one puff piece from the [Boston] Globe about your life story, about how much you overcame and what a good person you are, frame it and put it on the wall,” Walsh said. “Because it’s the last good story that you’ll ever get.”

Following a message from City Council President, Kim Janey, who would become Boston’s acting mayor when Walsh departs, mayoral candidates helped round out the final half of the two-hour broadcast. Councilors Andrea Campbell, Annissa Essaibi George and Michelle Wu made appearances, while State Rep. Jon Santiago and John Barros also plugged their campaigns.

Ireland’s Consul General in Boston, Laoise Moore, was part of the event’s closing speakers. She noted that while there would be no parade following the breakfast due to the pandemic, this year’s virtual iteration would more than suffice.

“Growing up in Ireland, the parade is always the central part of St. Patrick’s Day,” Moore said. “So this year, I found myself asking whether it truly can be a St. Patrick’s Day celebration without [it]. But then I came across the words of another Irish-born diplomat, Shane Leslie, and this is how he defined what St. Patrick’s Day is: ‘St. Patrick’s Day is a day when every Irish man goes out to find another Irish man to make a speech to. I think by that definition, this breakfast — even if it is virtual — more than fulfills the criteria for a proper St. Patrick’s Day celebration.”

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