Tearing Away, O’Connor style—The Last Hurrah and Boston Irish-American Political Cultures
Edwin O’Connor, Pulitzer Prize winning novelist, explored the Irish-American experience in the post- WWII generation through the fictional lives of priests and politicians. The Last Hurrah (1956), his more popular and critically acclaimed novel, explores transitions in political behavior and culture from pre-to post-WWII generations of Irish-American politicians, and considers the consequences of that “tearing away.” The novel, commonly assumed to be set in Boston, focuses on the last mayoral campaign of Frank Skeffington, age 72, who is portrayed as a flawed, but great man truly caring for his constituents. He loses the election, thus ending decades in elected office. The defeat is characterized as a “last hurrah” for a dying style of campaigning and politics. It signals an ending to a time when American cities were led by male, Irish-Americans, who were Democrats, Catholics and mindful that many of their constituents expected them to profess support for a united Ireland.
This presentation reviews how Bostonian James Michael Curley, former Mayor, Congressman, Governor and felon, claimed The Last Hurrah as a defacto biography. It focuses on how later politicians used the Skeffington/Curley image nationally and locally to create new, and sometimes conflicting, Boston Irish-American identities. Examining these new identities and how identity conflicts spilled over into dealing with the transatlantic resurgence of interest in Irish issues can offer a fuller picture of what was “torn away” and what remains of the Skeffington/Curley image.