Rare Book Monthly

Articles - April - 2004 Issue

All Politics Is Local: Books of Millie O'Neill and Speaker of the House Thomas P. O&#39Neill Jr.

“Nauset Marsh, Skiffs, Hemenway Landing” photo courtesy Robt. N. Ward,

What we can surmise indirectly is that although Treasures was a “coffee-table” book, it was not resident on an O’Neill coffee table — those books invariably have an identical coffee stain on the front cover. Ever practical, the Speaker used some books to keep hot cups from leaving rings on table tops. One such book-turned-trivet was Brother H. Lewis’ privately printed A Time to Laugh, A Time to Cry, A Short Collection of Original Irish Poetry and Songs inscribed to the Speaker by the author. The Speaker was not a literary critic; the poems were not particularly good, and the only thing that probably kept them from the circular file was the word, “Irish” on the front cover and their usefulness as insulation. A similar fate met a privately printed inscribed paperback on the House of Representatives by James T. Currie.

Considerably more carefully preserved was an original collection of poems in French by Simone Alexandre Renaud, inscribed emotionally, and needing no explanation: "With warmest regards and respect to Honorable Thomas P. O'Neill, Jr. The Majority Leader of the U. S. Congress these Poems of Normandy and of its Liberation by the Heroical Paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division U. S. C-47 whose Victory made of Sainte Mère Église the first Town to be Liberated in France. Simone Alexandre Renaud, Sainte Mère Église, 1975.”

There were also expensive and impersonal volumes — books commemorating institutions and celebrations. For example, the boxes contained a presentation copy printed and bound for the Speaker of A Legacy of Excellence: Mount Auburn Hospital 1867-1986. Someone went to a lot of trouble to create a special printing of the book with a leather binding embossed with the Speaker’s initials for one of many endless political events O’Neill attended in his own district. In fine condition, this book found a place on the Speaker’s shelf, but, like similar tomes, just gathered dust.

We found a lot of books in particular subject areas, all of them purchased new. There were many well-thumbed books on baseball, boxing and golf, humor of all varieties, and American history, particularly related to the founding of the Nation. The Speaker, however, was not a scholar, nor was his wife. Their own books were largely anecdotal, or short and to the point, and with plenty of pictures.

The Speaker was certainly exposed to ample heavy reading, as well as endless ponderous speeches, during his time in public office. No reason to bring the same material to his place on the Cape. One exception was a rare copy of the 689-page Report of the Congressional Committees Investigating the Iran-Contra Affair inscribed to the Speaker by the Chair of the House Intelligence Committee Representative Edward Boland with this tongue-in-cheek inscription: "Tip, I thought you could use a little light reading. I can tell you that I never thought when you made me Chairman of the Intelligence Committee that my name would wind up in a tome like this. Best regards, Eddie."

Rare Book Monthly

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