Pictured: Former Boston Mayor Ray Flynn, with William M Bulger, former President of the Massachusetts Senate

Today’s opening of the final stage of the trial of Boston gangland boss James ‘Whitey’ Bulger Jr is a reminder of just how strange are the connections in life and politics. For ‘Whitey’s’ brother was William M Bulger, the well-known Irish American politician and a former President (or Leader) of the Massachusetts Senate. William Bulger was later forced to resign as President of the University of Massachusetts after it was revealed that he had made contact with his notorious and then fugitive brother (pictured below), who was responsible for dozens of murders and extensive corruption and crime.

Image: File booking photo of former mob boss and fugitive James "Whitey" Bulger, who was arrested in Santa Monica in 2011









In 1994, Bulger was part of a high-level Massachusetts trade and political visit to Ireland, which also included the Governor William Weld, a patrician Republican and the very opposite of Bulger in cultural and political terms. Weld later ran for the US Senate against John Kerry and was even then being spoken of as a possible Republican party candidate for US President. I described the delegation’s visit in my book, An Accidental Diplomat (2001) – extract below. The visit of the Americans occurred just as the Irish Prime Minister, in the midst of handling the early crucial stages of the Northern Irish peace process, was forced to resign over a missing file concerning the extradition of a paedophile priest.

Book Extract:

However, at home, the crisis over the [Albert] Reynolds resignation created more than a few problems. For example, a banquet was to be held in Dublin Castle, in honour of Ron Brown, Clinton’s Trade Secretary, who had been tasked with encouraging investment in Northern Ireland. (Brown was later tragically killed in a plane crash in Croatia.) The Taoiseach was to host the banquet, except that technically there might be no Taoiseach by this particular time. The Taoiseach’s Department proposed that their Secretary, Paddy Teahon, would chair it — a laudable elevation for a Civil Servant — but the US Embassy rejected this, saying that a Prime Minister was required.

Then, in the week leading up to the formation of the Rainbow Coalition we had a visit from the Republican Governor of Massachusetts, William Weld, who was leading a trade delegation and accompanied by the Speaker and Majority Leader of the Massachusetts Senate [William Bulger], both old-style Democrats and red-faced Irish-Americans. It was good to see that bitter disputes were not exclusive to Irish politics, as the Americans brought with them some interesting tensions, which the travelling press pack gleefully seized upon. Weld was then embroiled in a major legislative battle with the Democrats in Massachusetts.

William Weld (pictured below) was a strange fish, whose demeanour seemed to personify the silver-spoon quality of New England Republicans. In the magazine profiles we were sent, much was made of his family lineage, taste in literature and languid air of confidence — he was very tall — and, certainly all the time he was with us, he walked around with a sort of superior quizzicality which was really irritating. But much was made also of his great political skills and he was being spoken of as a possible future Presidential candidate. Except that this was unlikely, since the US Republicans, like the UK Tories, were much more conservative than their electoral base, and they weren’t going to warm to someone like Weld who, though a fiscal conservative, was also a social liberal. ‘Tight money, loose morals,’ the Americans call it. (Weld was later controversially rejected by the Senate as Ambassador to Mexico.)


Some of the entourage he brought were hilariously self-important. The Trade Office people were fine, but there were these clear-eyed Young Republican types who just would not relax. They were like young interns, with hair gelled back and firmly gripped mobiles. One chap called Rick was particularly wired, rushing up to me every so often, and asking, sotto voce, if we could ‘advance this situation’. I could see our Counsellors laughing. After leaving Weld and party to the IBEC office on Baggot Street one morning, Rick and I walked, or goose-stepped, the short distance to Government Buildings. Until we met, as you do in Dublin, a woman I knew out walking her dog. Stopping to talk for a moment — her son was working for the EU in Sarajevo — Rick suddenly burst in, ‘Sorry, but is this in the programme?’ He looked like a panic button had gone off in his head.

Later, just before we closed the door on the Secretary’s Ante Room in Iveagh House where dinner was about to be held, Rick put his finger up and insisted on walking around the table to check again on all the place settings. ‘Yes, they always have salmon,’ he said disdainfully to a fellow robot, casually insulting our Protocol people. Such rudeness was quite at odds with his political masters who, led by Speaker Bolger, had an after-dinner sing song, which went on into the early hours. Even the WASPy Weld joined in. You’d think Rick and the robots would learn from such old-style US conviviality.

Then something happened to Rick. Our dislike of him and his mates had clearly got to the Trade Office people, who didn’t like him much either, and Rick was told to ‘cool it’ for the rest of the trip. Stripped of his phone, he sat slumped in a seat and stared at us, loosening his stripy tie, like a beaten stockbroker. He reminded me of a friend’s story about meeting these Young Republicans in New York. Utter control-freaks by day, they just went bananas on their night off, phoning in the cocaine and the Chinese hookers. From the way Rick’s lip was curling, he looked like he was in the mood to get ugly.

But, for all his studied languidness, Weld himself also had an element of this control neurosis. We were told that he got deeply upset if he was late for anything, but also if he was too early. Rather than go in and sit waiting for someone for two minutes, he would prefer to ‘sit in a car, reading a book’. How much of a book do you read in two minutes?


As it happened he would be made wait but thankfully the cause of it was an inter-American row for which we couldn’t be blamed. At a reception in Heritage House, St Stephen’s Green, the US Ambassador, Jean Kennedy Smith [pictured above, with President Obama] was to come and meet him beforehand in an upstairs room, and then they’d go in together to greet the roomful of guests. Kennedy Smith was the quintessential Boston Democrat, Weld was a Massachusetts Republican. Was this why she was over half an hour late? Or was it just carelessness with timekeeping?

Weld was furious and went on into the reception, mingling with the guests. I started panicking, wondering how Ambassador Kennedy Smith would react. Even though it was a US affair, it was still our Protocol, and our visit. I asked an Embassy official, a foppish chap with a tasselled white silk scarf, but he raised his hands and said ‘Who knows?’ Some odd sorts were working in the US Embassy. When the Ambassador finally arrived, she emerged from the car with an obviously high-spirited man who quietly crept away. She then wanted Weld to leave the reception and come back upstairs to greet her. But Weld, busy mingling, refused. And that was that. It wasn’t until a party later, in the Ambassador’s residence, that they sort of mended fences.

In Derry, Hume gave Weld a tour of his empire. It was also a coup to get meetings with Bruton, Spring and others in the very week a Government was being formed. A useful distraction from the political drama, perhaps, but also a sign of how forthcoming our politicians can be for American visitors. Bruton was ebullient as he waddled out to see us. Pink-faced and power expectant, he would be Taoiseach within days. ‘I just hope these Americans appreciate it,’ said a hassled Private Secretary. As a reward, Weld’s delegation gave us paperweights embossed with the Governor’s crest, and little key-rings in which his favourite fishing flies were preserved in plastic. More for my collection. But I was sort of hoping I might get Rick’s red braces and his now disconnected mobile phone.