Brenda O'Connor

Place of birth: Boston, MA.

What is your profession? Educator. I retired after 40 years in Cambridge, Massachusetts Public Schools teaching  grades 3, 4, and 5.

How do you celebrate your Irishness? The Irish have been storytellers for millennia.  Along with an incredible committee, I celebrate my "Irishness" by creating the South Shore Irish Heritage Trail.  It meanders through nine seaside communities striving to tell stories of Irish immigration, challenges faced and overcome, successes and even failures.  Some of these stories are well known but many are not. Stories  begin in 1626 in America's Hometown, Plymouth, MA, and continue  to present time, highlighting stories of Irish American contributions to community and country. The Trail is modeled after The Wild Atlantic Way in Ireland. We preserve, educate, and celebrate the remarkable Irish presence in this most Irish geographical region in the United States. Visit to learn more!

Name a hero you admire and why? Like many, John Hume is one of my heroes. Without him, there would be no Good Friday Agreement.  His work on behalf of Peace in Ireland is legendary, needing no explanation from me. Another hero of mine is my grandmother, Ellen Kelly Donohue. As a young girl she came from Ireland in the late 1800's. Her work as a live-in maid paid her $3.00 a week ($1.00 was sent home to her parents in Curnalee, County Roscommon, another $1.00 was given to the Catholic Church, and 90 cents was put in the bank. The remaining 10 cents was for tea and cake Wednesday afternoons with her friends.) When she married, she had saved enough for the down payment on a six family house. One daughter, my mother, became a nurse. A son, my godfather, received a BA from Harvard and an M.Ed from Boston University.  Her work, like that of other "Bridgets", provided the foundation for future generations to succeed in America. I am indebted to her and all my immigrant forbears. The challenges they faced and overcame make each a hero to me.

Something people would be surprised to know about me... For decades, I commuted from Scituate to Cambridge and back, much of this during Boston's "Big Dig". One Friday afternoon on the Mass Turnpike Extension, a pickup truck hit me at the left rear of the car spinning me around and around - totally out of control.  I ended up under an 18 wheeler. The car was totaled. I walked away with just a couple of black and blues.

Biography: I was born and raised in a wonderful Irish Catholic family, educated in public and Catholic Schools, and had a challenging but loved career in teaching.In retirement, I collaborated with  generous and talented people to form the Scituate West Cork Sister City committee, and then create the South Shore Irish Heritage Trail. Along the way, I married the love of my life, had two children, watched them grow into lovely adults, have been gifted with an adorable, entertaining granddaughter, acquired cherished in-laws, and friends. As an octogenarian I can look back and recognize how blessed I have been.

2024 Heroes of Irish America Awards