Unsung Irish : Thomas Francis Meagher August 22, 2007Posted by Rambling Man in The Unsung Irish.
Thomas Francis Meagher (pr. maa-her) was a 19th century Irish nationalist and revolutionary, known here in his home city of Waterford for, amongst other things, first flying the modern Irish tricolour from a building on the city’s Mall.
Born in 1823 and educated in Co.Tipperary, the young Meagher gained an early reputation for speaking in public, regularly drawing large attendances. Returning from a trip to France in 1843 – wherefrom he brought back what was to become the national Irish flag – the young Meagher fell under the influence of Daniel O’Connell.
In 1845, he became a founder member of the Young Ireland group, intent on repealing the Act of Union with Great Britain. The new group, however, favoured a more militant line of action that the likes of O’Connell.
Following the Young Irelander rebellion of 1848, Meagher and a number of colleagues were arrested and tried for treason against the crown. Following his now infamous speech at his trial where he said :
“My lord, this is our first offense, but not our last. If you will be easy with us this once, we promise, on our word as gentlemen, to try to do better next time. And next time —sure we won’t be fools to get caught.”
They were sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered but later had the sentence commuted to transportation to the penal colonies in Van Diemen’s Land. There, given relative freedom on the island, he continued to meet with his rebel companions, including Smith O’Brien and Terence McManus. In 1852, Meagher escaped the authorities and fled to America where he was to begin a new life. He was also to become well known in his new country.
Arriving in New York in 1852, Meagher studied law and journalism and began to be a popular lecturer, regularly giving talks along with his fellow escapee, John Mitchel. Later as a US citizen, Meagher served in the Union Army during the American Civil War.
He led the Irish Brigade and took part in the horrific battles of Antietam and Fredericksburg – his reports of those battles can be seen here and here, respectively. After some disagreements about reinforcements, he resigned from the army and server out the remainder of the war on the quieter Western front.
After the war, he was appointed secretary of the newly formed territory of Montana and soon after become acting governor. While trying to import supplies and weapons into Montana to fight the native Indian skirmishers, he fell into the Missouri river from the steamship G.A. Thompson and drowned. At the time, he was reported as having been drinking and as of having had mental problems.
A gallant looking statue now stands, complete with horse, tricolour and drawn sword, at the entrance of The Mall in his native city of Waterford.