Posts Tagged ‘Thomas Francis Meagher’

St. Patrick’s Day, the flag and Irish America

17/03/2012, 08:00:27 AM

by Kevin Meagher

The green, white and orange of the Irish tricolour, currently fluttering to questionable purpose outside a thousand pubs, has an interesting history.

It was presented to the Irish nation by my illustrious forebear, Thomas Francis Meagher, in Dublin in 1848. Shortly afterwards he, and a gallant band of brothers in the Young Ireland movement, launched one of the many heroic, but ultimately fruitless, insurrections against British rule.

This was midway through the Irish Famine – An Gorta Mor (“The Great Hunger”) in which Ireland’s population fell by a quarter, with a million people starving to death and a million more emigrating to America, Canada, Australia and Britain. Cruel Victorian indifference to the plight of the Irish cast a lingering shadow until Tony Blair’s welcome apology for this disgusting episode in British history back in 1997.

Meagher was sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered for his sedition – a sentence reprieved after public outcry – and instead he and his comrades found themselves transported for life to Van Dieman’s land in what is now Tasmania.

They were meant to remain there for life, checking in once a week with the authorities and expected to eschew thoughts of escape, on their word as gentlemen. Meagher thought better of it (as you would), procured a rescue ship and set sail for America whereupon he became a cause celebre to Irish immigrants who had reached America in less salubrious confines, usually aboard the infamous “coffin ships”. So great were the incidences of typhus among the starving Irish that a third died on the perilous Atlantic crossing. (It is said sharks could be seen following the ships, such were the numbers of corpses thrown overboard).

After starting an Irish newspaper and working as an attorney (he was on the defence team of Congressman Daniel Sickles, who shot his wife’s lover outside the White House and became the first person to successfully mount a defence of temporary insanity) Meagher became embroiled in the American civil war.


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