Thomas Francis Meagher
August 3, 1823 - July 1st, 1867
Thomas Francis Meagher was a gallant Irish man who was willing to give up his life for the sake of freedom and equality. He spoke out against the oppressive regime in Ireland at the time and called for all Irish people to stand up together to overcome it. He captured his dream for freedom and unity in our national flag. Frustrated and devastated by the deaths of millions of Irish people during the famine, he and a group of Young Ireland revolutionaries took part in the rebellion of 1848. For this action and his seditious speeches he was convicted of high treason and sentenced to he hung drawn and quartered. The sentence was lessened and he was instead exiled to Tasmania. After 2 years in exile, he escaped and made his way to America (via Brazil) where he eventually became a Brigadier-General in the US Army during the American Civil War. Always true to his principles he fought selflessly for the Union, for the ideals of freedom and equality for all people.
Meagher went to primary school at Mount Sion, the birthplace of the Christian Brothers, founded by Blessed Edmund Rice in 1802. He furthered his education at Jesuit’s College of Clongowes-Wood and at 15, he was the youngest medalist at the Debating Society.
At 16, he wrote a history of the debating society which was presented to O’Connell during a visit. O’Connell made an interesting prediction upon reading the work: “A genius that could produce such a work is not destined to remain long in obscurity.”
He furthered his education at Stonyhurst, Lancashire, England and left with the reputation of being one of the greatest rhetoricians it ever produced. In 1841, Meagher won a silver medal at Stonyhurst for an anti-slavery essay he wrote.
Popular speaker of the Repeal Association, an Irish independence movement.
At 23, he delivered his famous sword speech to the Repeal Association.
Founder member of the Irish Confederation dedicated to Irish independence.
Ran as a candidate in the famous 1848 Waterford by election and won the hearts of the people, sadly most of them were not entitled to vote. He lost marginally to the whigs. Click to read a speech delivered by Meagher during the 1848 Waterford elections. This speech outlines how he reached out his hands to the Orange Order and said ”What strength have I to beat my way towards that bold headland upon which I have sworn to plant the flag I have rescued from the wreck’
Unveiled the Irish Tricolour for the first time in March of 1848 from the Wolfe Tone Club in Waterford City.
Presented the Irish Tricolour in a speech to the citizens of Dublin at a banquet in April 1848.
Sentenced to be hung drawn and quartered for sedition following Young Irelander rebellion.
Delivered his famous defiant speech from the dock
Sentence commuted and banished to Tasmania for life.
Escaped from Tasmania to a hero’s welcome in New York.
Became a prominent lecturer and news paper editor in New York.
At the outbreak of the American Civil War Meagher formed Company K of the New York 69th Infantry regiment. Meaghers Irish Brigade fought with distinction throughout the course of the war and gained praise from friend and foe.
After the war Meagher would become acting governor of Montana and develop the first constitution of Montana a major step towards statehood.
Thomas Meagher senior was born in Newfoundland and the Meagher family traded extensively with St Johns. In 1836 over half the population of Newfoundland was Irish. Ireland and in particular Waterford has strong cultural connections which still exist to this day.
Since the days of Wolfe Tonne Irish nationalists were inspired by the French revolution. In 1848 Thomas Francis Meagher travelled to France to study the principles of the French revolution. The birth of the French state and the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity inspired Meagher and he returned to Ireland with a tricolour flag of orange, white and green.
Following the failed rebellion of 1848 Thomas Francis Meagher and other key members of the Young Ireland movement were banished to Tasmania. Even this transportation to a distant land failed to break the spirit of the movement. Meagher and comrades continued to meet in secret. Remarkably Meagher escaped from Tasmania to America ( via Brazil ) in 1852.
Meagher In America
In America Meagher became a noted lecturer and newspaper publisher. With the outbreak of the American Civil War Meagher felt it was his moral duty to fight on the side of the union.
In a speech at Jones’ Wood in August 1861, Meagher asked his audience to cast party politics aside and to support the President and protect the Constitution. As he said;
1862 would be marked by the rise of the new Irish Brigade and its growing fame for tenacity and bravery at Fair Oaks, Gains Mill, White Oak Swamp, Malvern Hill, Antietam and Fredericksburg. Both Meagher and the Brigade were commended by Union and Confederate generals alike. The brigade was fiercely proud of their green banners and their Irish war cry faugh a ballagh which translates to “clear the way”
After the war Meagher became acting governor of Montana and campaigned for statehood for his adopted home. Meagher County in Montana is named in his honour and he is remembered by organisations such as ‘The Friends and Admirers of Thomas Francis Meagher.’
During President John F. Kennedy’s visit to Ireland in 1963, when he addressed the Houses of Parliament in Dublin. There, while presenting to the Irish people a restored flag of the 69th New York, Kennedy paid tribute to the bravery displayed by the Irish Brigade and, in particular, by its General, Thomas Francis Meagher during one of the bloodiest battles in American history, Fredericksburg, 13 December 1862.
Indeed, Kennedy attributed to Meagher by his unconditional support for the American Constitution in its hour of need, the assimilation of the Irish into American society and in facilitating his own ability to access the highest office in the Republic.