Irish rebel, Aussie convict, US war hero
This day saw the birth of Thomas Francis Meagher, Irish nationalist, and later transported convict, escapee, American Civil War general, and Governor of Montana.
In the 1840s, at the time of the great Irish famine, a party of radical Irish nationalists called the 'Young Irelanders' wrote articles in The Nation and The United Irishman newspapers arguing that the Irish people, if they had an Irish Parliament, could better deal with An Gorta Mor ('the great hunger'), than could British parliamentarians sitting in London so removed from the Irish peasants dying by the hundreds of thousands.
One of the Young Irelanders who came to prominence, at a young age, was Thomas Meagher. Educated in Jesuit colleges, allowing him to receive a better education than most Catholics at the time, Meagher left college in 1843 with a reputation as a great patriot and orator. He took his fervour and oratorical ability to the Loyal National Repeal Association, the nationalist party of 'the Great Liberator', the elderly Daniel O'Connell. However, Meagher was of an impetuous nature and O'Connell's devotion to non-violence could not keep Meagher in O'Connell's ranks. The Young Irelanders had no such reservations about the use of force, and in 1848 Meagher, aged only 23, gave a firebrand speech that earned him the nickname 'Meagher of the Sword'.
Abhor the sword – stigmatize the sword? No, my lord, for at its blow, a giant nation was started across the waters of the Atlantic, … the crippled colony sprang into the attitude of a proud Republic – prosperous, limitless, and invincible!
It must have taken tremendous political, and physical courage for a youth to stand before hundreds of O'Connell's supporters and so defy the great man. Young Meagher's eloquence drew great attention to his cause, and many Irish were stirred by his words.
On April 15, 1848, Meagher presented the tricolor national flag of Ireland to the public for the first time at a meeting of the Young Irelander Party. Earlier that year – the year of revolutions in Europe, he had travelled to Paris with a YI delegation. Inspired by the tricolor French flag, he came up with similar design for the Irish flag, with orange, white and green stripes. The colours symbolized the uniting of the two traditions, Protestant orange, and Catholic green, in one new nation. In 1916, Meagher's flag was revived by the Irish Volunteers, who were Irish soldiers in the American Civil War, and later adopted by Sinn Fein. Today, it is the flag of the Republic of Ireland, though Meagher's version had the orange stripe closest to the staff, while the modern version has the green stripe in that position ...
Categories: ireland, australia, history, biography