The Mahatma


Never write if you can speak; never speak if you can nod; never nod if you can wink.”

Martin Michael Lomasney

Martin Lomasney was born in Boston Massachusetts, USA, on 3 March 1859. The son of Irish parents, he went through primary grade schooling then turned to shoe shining and errand running in his early teens. He then entered politics and for fifty years was one of the most powerful political leaders Boston has ever seen.

He entered politics during the Tildon-Hayes campaign in 1875 as a worker for the Democrat leader Michael Wells. When Wells died a few years later Martin already had the nucleus of a political following which he organised into the Hendicks Club in 1885 The Club was named after his stalwart friend, Thomas A Hendricks (Vice President under Cleveland). From then on his rise to political master was rapid.

Early in his political career he was introduced to one of the potential dangers of a career in politics. It was while he was serving as an Alderman from 1892 - 1895. Just outside the Aldermanic Chamber in Boston at noon on March 1894, Alderman Martin Lomasney was shot by James H Duncan. Duncan fired five shots from a revolver, one of which struck Martin in the leg. The other four shots fortunately went astray, though one shot went through the clothing of Councilman Boyle, it caused no injury.

Duncan was an oil finisher by trade who owned the house in which he lived in Billerica Street. On 24 January he had been ordered by the Board of Health to vacate the premises. He believed that Martin was responsible for the order. In a conversation with a Policeman after the shooting, when asked why he had shot the Alderman, Duncan said:

“I had good reason for doing it. If you knew as much as I do, you would have done it yourself. He is a villain and anything but a friend of the employed.”

Martin served with distinction in the State Senate in 1895 and for four terms in the State Legislature between 1899 and 1907. However, he never cared much for office and in the main contented himself with the campaigns of his friends. It became his custom to accept the post on the Legislature each third term and to fill the intervening terms with younger men under his patronage.

In most pre-election conferences Martin held the balance of power and it was his habit to remain non-committal until the last possible moment. Even his own counsel were kept guessing as to who was his man for Congress, Mayor, Governor or whatever other post was to be filled. Usually he would then appear, almost like a god out of the electionary machinery, and announce his will and nominee. Consequently Boston always looked to Martin for its spirited contests for nominations.

In the swift revolving world of Boston Democratic Politics full of factions, alliances, feuds and reconciliations, he stood unperturbed. According to one theory, so great was his hypnotic spell and the suggestibility of the voters that he invariably got his way and he was referred to by many as being a benevolent dictator. Called “Czar of Ward Eight”, “Mayor Maker”, etc., he denied that he was a boss. He said:

“A boss gives orders. I don’t. When I want something done I ask for it. Just before the election we send out suggestions to the voters. We don’t tell ‘em how to vote. We just suggest.”

The famous Hendricks Club pre-selection rallies became a political institution and his friends throughout the ranks of both parties were many and varied. They ranged from obscure followers to such men as Senator Henry  Cabot Lodge, who although an avowed political enemy was a close personal friend.

During characteristic moments at these rallies Martin would usually rip loose his collar and tie, and as his fervour increased, deliver a roaring, straight from the shoulder demand for a solid vote for his candidate. Almost always he would invoke repeatedly a love of Ireland, an oratorical trick which from him even drew enthusiasm from the Ward’s Jewish voters

The 1918 elections were full of controversy and as usual, in the middle of it all, was Martin Lomasney. Kane was instrumental in 1919 in getting Martin’s cousin’s father-in-law, John F Fitzgerald (or Honey Fritz as he was known), removed from his seat in Congress on charges of election frauds.

Peter Tague, Kane’s candidate, had been defeated by 238 votes in 1918 by Honey Fritz, Martin’s candidate. Tague had run on stickers in the election after Fitzgerald had defeated him in the primary by only fifty votes. Kane and Tague convinced a congressional investigating committee that along with using mattress voters, Martin Lomasney had seen to it that Tague’s stickers were not gummed. The unsticky stickers fell off the ballots in the ballot box leaving Tague’s ballots blank and void.

It was common knowledge that the mattress voters and ungummed stickers were supplied by Martin who was more interested in beating Tague, his enemy at the time, than in getting Fitzgerald elected. But Fitzgerald was unseated by the Congressional Committee and Tague took his place in the House. After working for Fitzgerald’s grandson in 1946, Kane said proudly: “I kept the grandfather out of the House of Representatives and I put the grandson in.”

The 1925 elections for Mayor were also an energetic affair. There were no less than seven Democratic and three Republican candidates for election. At the Daniel H Coakley rally, Coakley referred to Martin (reported at the time as shrewdest of the Boston Democratic Sages, and who was supporting O’Niell) as an “old faker”. Two women rose in the hall and shouted “Dan Coakley, you lie”. They continued their cries of protest for several minutes while they were fighting their way through the crowd to the exit.

Coakley then challenged Martin to a public debate. “Let him come out and say which of the Democratic candidates he is really for”. Fatally polite, Martin replied “the good Jesuit Fathers taught me when I was a boy not to talk about the dead and I’m not going to do it”. Then Martin characteristically tore of his collar and shouted “They’ve said a lot of things about me, but remember, they’ve never proved anything”.

One of the late President Kennedy’s favourite tales concerned Martin. Kennedy was convulsed by a Lomasney story told one night at a house party by Dave Powers, and he later often repeated it.

The anecdote involved an Irishman, just arrived from Ireland, penniless and jobless, who dropped into Lomasney’s headquarters in the West End and watched a few people working on precinct voting lists. The Irishman picked up a broom, swept the floor, found a room with a bed in it and slept there that night. He stayed on in the headquarters for several months. One day Martin asked his name. “Paddy Sullivan”, the Irishman said. Not knowing that Paddy was sleeping in the headquarters, Martin said “You must be the hardest worker we’ve got. You’re always the last one here at night and you’re always here ahead of me in the morning. There’s a vacancy in the House of Representatives of the State Government. I’ll put you into it.”

After a few year as a State legislator, Paddy ran for the Senate with Martin’s backing, and won of course. Four years later, on a day when Martin happened to be in a bad mood, Paddy came to him and said that he wanted a favour. “A favour?” Martin roared. “I made you a State representative and then I made you a Senator, and now you want a favour? What’s the favour for God’s sake?” “Martin,” Paddy said, “ I want you to make me an American citizen”.

The following story about Martin Lomasney is from an article on the democratic processes entitled ‘The Business of Elections’ by Rebecca Mercuri. University of Pennsylvania, 1993.                                         

By the time the voters cast their ballots, each has been subjected to advertising and media blitzes, run the gauntlet of leafleteers, and has somehow sorted through it enough to make a decision. This decision may even be to let someone else decide, as retired Speaker Tip O'Neill notes in his book Man of the House:

The old-timers used to tell stories of how Martin Lomasney, (a Boston Politician) would greet them at the polls on election day. "Here's your ballot," he'd say, "I've already marked it for you. When you get in there, pick up the ballot they give you and give them back this one." When you came out you'd give Martin the clean ballot, and he'd mark it off and give it to the next guy in line.

Another famous election anecdote which has been related about Martin concerns both he and his brother, Joseph B Lomasney, who was also a politician. The story goes that an opponent was making the rounds of Boston polling places. At one place he encountered Joseph swinging the vote of a deaf and dumb man by haranguing him energetically with his hands in deaf and dumb sign language. Despairing of any success there he moved on to another place where he tried to out talk Martin in discussions with Irish voters. Martin won the day by addressing them in their beloved Gaelic.

One person Martin never seemed to get on with was Mayor James M Curley, towards whom Martin was openly antagonistic for many years. On 13 June 1922 a motion, moved by Martin, was passed by the House of Representatives by 121 votes to 66. The motion was to send Attorney-General J Weston Allen for investigation reports of an inquiry by the Boston Finance Commission into the first administration of Mayor Curley. During the debate Martin alleged that the Finance Commission findings contained evidence of graft and maladministration. During the last few campaigns, however, Martin kept conditions between Curley and himself analogous to an “armed truce”.

Although Martin always appeared ready to bolt the regular Democratic organisation, he never did. Possibly this was just another of his ploys. He once advised his fellow politicians to never put anything in writing and never to say yes or no if they could nod or shake their heads.

His final political campaign was in the autumn of 1932 during which he suffered a general physical breakdown. The second attack of pneumonia proved fatal and late on 12 August 1933 he died at the Hotel Bellevue aged 73. Joseph B Lomasney of Brighton (his brother and closest surviving relative), two cousins, and his three physicians were with him at the time of death. Martin had never married.

There is a book titled ‘The Boston Mahatma’ which was written about Martin. There is also a fictional book titled ‘Ward Eight (The Irish-Americans)’ by Joseph Dineen, published in hardcover in 1976. It can apparently be purchased over the internet (at URL

There is a ‘Lomasney Way’ named after him in Boston.

There is also a cocktail named in his honour. 

The ‘Ward Eight’ Cocktail

The ravages of natural selection have left us with only a few dozen recipes unspoiled by the meddlings of time. Selective breeding by liquor companies and society's fickle tastes have created concoctions best avoided. But just as Darwin came across the Galápagos Islands, we discover a classic cocktail that's survived unaltered - the Ward Eight.

The history of the Ward Eight is far less sinister than its name. Back in 1898, mixologist Tom Hussion joined Boston's downtown Locke-Ober Café, and according to Lance Barbakow, manager of the modern-day Locke-Ober, he was followed by his many loyal followers, particularly members of the Hendrick's Club, the political organization of Democrat Martin Lomasney. In November of that year, Lomasney was running for representative in the Massachusetts General Court from Ward Eight. The night before the election, a group of Hendricks Club cronies gathered at the bar and requested that Hussion create a new drink to toast certain victory. Well aware of his customers' staid tastes, Hussion merely added a teaspoon of grenadine to a whiskey sour (three parts bourbon to one part of both orange and lemon juice) and christened it the Ward Eight.

One sad irony, though: Lomasney was an ardent prohibitionist, and when the drought hit, the owner of the Locke-Ober - who begrudgingly honored Prohibition - closed the bar area of the establishment until the early 1950s. Fortunately, the Ward Eight weathered Prohibition much better, and in 1934, the drink was deemed one of the 10 best cocktails of the year by Esquire.

We credit the grenadine with this drink's longevity and its ability to put any imbiber in the winner's circle. A teaspoon is just enough to soften the whiskey's bite and any cheekiness brought on by a victory.”

Written 1983 - Revised 1998

By Stephen James Lomasney

Canberra, A.C.T., Australia

©John Lomasney 2015