Ambassador Claire Cronin? Join the club.

Rep would follow rich history of envoys to Ireland from Massachusetts

A REPORT THAT state Rep. Claire Cronin is poised to be named US ambassador to Ireland had the state’s political world buzzing on Wednesday. 

While there was plenty of chatter about Cronin’s possible diplomatic appointment — which was reported by the website IrishCentral — the idea of a US ambassador to Ireland from Massachusetts should hardly be a surprise. If Cronin is nominated and confirmed by the Senate, she would be the 15th US ambassador to Ireland since the Carter administration took office in 1977. Of those, six — or 40 percent — claimed Massachusetts roots. 

“It’s a tribute to the Bay State’s green power,” said Brian O’Connor, a veteran watcher of Massachusetts politics and Irish affairs who served as an aide to Rep. Joseph Kennedy II in the 1980s and 90s. 

When it comes to the percentage of the population with Irish ancestry, Massachusetts claims three of the top 10 counties in the US — Plymouth, Barnstable, and Norfolk. And we run neck and neck with New Hampshire for the top spot in the ranking of states with the greatest share of overall population claiming Irish roots at just under 20 percent. 

But beyond the sheer demographic tilt toward Hibernian heritage, O’Connor said ties to Ireland are baked into the state’s landscape and history.

Massachusetts is a regular stop for the Taoiseach — Ireland’s prime minister — on any trip to the US and was one of the first places Irish republican leader Gerry Adams visited when his visa was approved to travel to the US, O’Connor said. The nonprofit American Ireland Fund maintains an office in Boston, as does the Rian Immigrant Center, formerly known as the Irish International Immigrant Center. 

Irish President Eamon de Valera getting off a train at South Station in Boston. (Undated photo courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection)

Cronin, an Easton Democrat who served as House chair of the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee before being named House majority leader earlier this year, led Joe Biden’s Massachusetts campaign and announced the state’s delegate votes during last summer’s Democratic National Convention. 

She did not return a phone message or email on Wednesday asking about the possible diplomatic nomination.

An attorney who grew up in Brockton, Cronin comes from a family steeped in local politics. In a CommonWealth interview earlier this year she said she’s the third generation of her family to serve in the Massachusetts House. Her election in 2012 followed in the footsteps of a great-uncle who served in the 1920s and an uncle who was in the House in the late 1940s before going on to serve as mayor of Brockton. 

Cronin’s background is as a mediator, which could prove very helpful if she is tapped for the Ireland ambassador’s post. Tensions in neighboring Northern Ireland have been boiling over recently in the worst unrest in years following the 1998 Good Friday Agreement aimed at ending the “Troubles” there. 

Meet the Author

Michael Jonas

Executive Editor, CommonWealth

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

The five US ambassadors to Ireland with Massachusetts ties since the Carter administration are: William Shannon (1977-81), Margaret Heckler (1986-89), William FitzGerald (1992-93), Jean Kennedy Smith (1993-98), and Richard Egan (2001-03).

The state’s strong connections to Ireland reach back to the founding of the independent state there a century ago. In 1919, Eamon de Valera, a leader of the republican fight, came to Boston where he spoke at Fenway Park to a crowd of some 50,000 local supporters of the independence cause. 

The enormous Boston rally and speech by de Valera, who went on to serve as the Taoiseach and president of Ireland, marked an “inflection point” in the relationship between the US and Ireland, according to an account of the event by the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate.