9. Oct, 2019


Thomas Francis Meagher-born on the 3 August 1823 – 1 July 1867 was an Irish nationalist and leader of the Young Irelanders in the Rebellion of 1848. After being convicted of sedition, he was first sentenced to death, but received transportation for life to Van Diemen's Land (now Tasmania) in Australia.

In 1852, Meagher escaped and made his way to the United States, where he settled in New York City. He studied law, worked as a journalist, and travelled to present lectures on the Irish cause. He married for a second time in New York. At the beginning of the American Civil War, Meagher joined the U.S. Army and rose to the rank of brigadier general. He was most notable for recruiting and leading the Irish Brigade, and encouraging support among Irish immigrants for the Union. By his first marriage in Ireland, he had one surviving son; the two never met.

Following the Civil War, Meagher was appointed Montana's Territorial Secretary of State by President Andrew Johnson, and served as acting territorial governor. In 1867, Meagher drowned in the swift-running Missouri River after falling from a steamboat at Fort Benton. Some suggestions indicate Meagher may have been murdered by Montana political opponents, a theory that has found little support.


Thomas Francis Meagher was born on 3 August 1823 in Waterford City in what is now the Granville Hotel on the Quay. From the age of two he lived with his family at nearby Number 19, The Mall.

His father, Thomas Meagher (1796–1874), was a wealthy merchant who had retired to enter politics. He was twice elected Mayor of the City, which he represented in Parliament from August 1847 to March 1857. He had lived in the city since he was a young man, having migrated from Newfoundland in present-day Canada.

The senior Meagher was born in St John's, Newfoundland. His father, also named Thomas (1763–1837), had emigrated as a young man from County Tipperary just before the turn of the 18th century. Starting as a farmer, the grandfather Meagher became a trader, and advanced to merchant, and shipowner. Newfoundland was the only British colony where the Irish constituted a majority of the population. The senior Thomas Meagher married a widow, Mary Crotty. He established a prosperous trade between St. John's and Waterford, Ireland. Later, the grandfather placed his eldest son Thomas in Waterford to represent their business interests. The son Thomas became a successful merchant in Waterford, whose economic success was followed by political office.

Thomas Francis Meagher's mother, Alicia Quan (1798–1827), was the second eldest daughter of Thomas Quan and Alicia Forristall. Her father was a partner in the trading and shipping firm known as Wye, Cashen and Quan of Waterford. She died when Meagher was three and a half years old, after the birth of twin girls. (One of the girls also died then; the other at age seven.) Meagher had four siblings; a brother Henry and three sisters. Only he and his older sister Christine Mary Meagher lived past childhood.

Early life and education

Meagher was educated at Roman Catholic boarding schools. When Meagher was eleven, his family sent him to the Jesuits at Clongowes Wood College in County Kildare. It was at Clongowes that he developed his skill of oratory, becoming at age 15 the youngest medalist of the Debating Society. These oratory skills would later distinguish Meagher during his years as a leading figure in Irish Nationalism. Although he gained a broad and deep education at Clongowes, as was typical, it did not include much about the history of his country or matters relating to Ireland.

After six years, Meagher left Ireland for the first time, to study in Lancashire, England, at Stonyhurst College, also a Jesuit institution. Meagher's father regarded Trinity College, the only university in Ireland, as being both anti-Irish and anti-Catholic.

The younger Meagher established a reputation for developed scholarship and "rare talents." While Meagher was at Stonyhurst, his English professors struggled to overcome his "horrible Irish brogue"; he acquired an Anglo-Irish upper-class accent that in turn grated on the ears of some of his countrymen. Despite his English accent and what some people perceived as a "somewhat affected manner", Meagher had so much eloquence as an orator as to lead his countrymen to forget his English idiosyncrasies. He became a popular speaker "who had no compare" in Conciliation Hall, the meeting place of the Irish Repeal Association.

The white in the centre signifies a lasting truce between the 'Orange' and the 'Green', and I trust that beneath its folds the hands of the Irish Protestant and the Irish Catholic may be clasped in generous and heroic brotherhood.

Young Ireland

Meagher returned to Ireland in 1843, with undecided plans for a career in the Austrian army, a tradition among a number of Irish families.

In 1844 he travelled to Dublin with the intention of studying for the bar. He became involved in the Repeal Association, which worked for repeal of the Act of Union between Great Britain and Ireland. Meagher was influenced by writers of The Nation newspaper and fellow workers in the Repeal movement.

The movement became nationwide. At a Repeal meeting held in Waterford on 13 December, at which his father presided, Meagher acted as one of the Secretaries. He soon became popular on Burgh Quay, his eloquence at meetings making him a celebrated figure in the capital. Any announcement of Meagher's speaking would ensure a crowded hall.

In June 1846, the administration of Sir Robert Peel's Tory Ministry fell, and the Liberals under Lord John Russell came to power. Daniel O'Connell tried to lead the Repeal movement to support both the Russell administration and English Liberalism. Repeal agitation was damped down in return for a distribution of generous patronage through Conciliation Hall.

On 15 June 1846, Meagher denounced English Liberalism in Ireland, as he suspected the national cause of Repeal would be sacrificed to the Whig government. He felt the Irish would be "purchased back into factious vassalage." Meagher and the other "Young Irelanders" (the epithet used by O'Connell to describe the young men of The Nation) vehemently denounced any movement toward English political parties, so long as Repeal was denied.

The promise of patronage and influence divided the Repeal Movement. Those who hoped to gain by government positions, also called The "Tail", and described as the "corrupt gang of politicians who fawned on O'Connell" wanted to drive the genuinely ecumenical Young Irelanders from the Repeal Association. Such opponents portrayed the ecumenical Young Irelanders as revolutionaries, factionists, infidels and secret enemies of the Catholic Church. On 13 July, O'Connell's followers introduced resolutions to declare that under no circumstances was a nation justified in asserting its liberties by force of arms.

In fact, the Young Irelanders had not, until then, advocated the use of physical force to advance the cause of repeal and opposed any such policy. The "Peace Resolutions" declared that physical force was immoral under any circumstances to obtain national rights. Although Meagher agreed that only moral and peaceful means should be adopted by the Association, he added that if Repeal could not be carried by those means, he would adopt the more perilous risky but no less honourable choice of arms. When the Peace resolutions were proposed again on 28 July, Meagher responded with his famous "Sword Speech".

Meagher dissented from the Resolutions, not wanting to pledge to the unqualified repudiation of physical force "in all countries, at all times, and in every circumstance". He knew there were times when arms would suffice, and when political amelioration called for "a drop of blood, and many thousand drops of blood". He "eloquently defended physical force as an agency in securing national freedom."

As Meagher carried the audience to his side, O'Connell's supporters believed they were at risk in not being able to drive out the Young Irelanders. O'Connell's son John interrupted Meagher to declare that one of them had to leave the hall. William Smith O'Brien protested against this attempt to suppress legitimate speech and left the meeting with other prominent Young Irelanders in defiance, never to return.

Irish Confederation

In January 1847, Meagher, together with John Mitchel, William Smith O'Brien, and Thomas Devin Reilly formed a new repeal body, the Irish Confederation. In 1848, Meagher and O'Brien went to France to study revolutionary events there, and returned to Ireland with the new Flag of Ireland, a tricolour of green, white and orange made by and given to them by French women sympathetic to the Irish cause.

The acquisition of the flag is commemorated at the 1848 Flag Monument in the Irish parliament. The design used in 1848 was similar to the present flag, except that orange was placed next to the staff, and the red hand of Ulster decorated the white field. This flag was first flown in public on 1 March 1848, during the Waterford by-election, when Meagher and his friends flew the flag from the headquarters of Meagher's "Wolfe Tone Confederate Club" at No. 33, The Mall, Waterford.

Following the incident known as the Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848 or "Battle of Ballingarry" in August 1848, Meagher, Terence MacManus, O'Brien, and Patrick O'Donoghue were arrested, tried and convicted for sedition. Due to a newly passed ex post facto law, the sentence meant that Meagher and his colleagues were sentenced to be "hanged, drawn and quartered". It was after his trial that Meagher delivered his famous Speech From the Dock.

While awaiting execution in Richmond Gaol, Meagher and his colleagues were joined by Kevin Izod O'Doherty and John Martin. But, due to public outcry and international pressure, royal clemency commuted the death sentences to transportation for life to "the other side of the world".

In 1849 all were sent to Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania, Australia). On July 20, the day after being notified of his exile to Van Diemen's Land, Meagher announced that he wished henceforth to be known as Thomas Francis O'Meagher.

Van Diemen's Land

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 better next time.

Meagher accepted the "ticket-of-leave" in Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania), giving his word not to attempt to escape without first notifying the authorities, in return for comparative liberty on the island. A further stipulation was that each of the Irish "gentleman" convicts was sent to reside in separate districts: Meagher to Campbell Town and shortly after to Ross (where his cottages still stand); MacManus to Launceston and later near New Norfolk; Kevin O'Doherty to Oatlands; John Mitchel and John Martin to Bothwell; and O'Brien (who initially refused a ticket-of-leave) to the "Penal Station" on Maria Island and later to New Norfolk. During his time in Van Diemen's Land, Meagher managed to meet clandestinely with his fellow Irish rebels, especially at Interlaken on Lake Sorell.

Marriage and family

On 22 February 1851, in Van Diemen's Land, Meagher married Catherine Bennett, daughter of Bryan Bennett, a farmer who, in 1817, had been convicted of mail robbery and in 1818 transported to Van Diemen's Land. Meagher's fellow exiles disapproved of his marriage because she was a "dead-common girl", or the child of a common criminal. Although his friends believed her social status made them an unsuitable match, Meagher was unperturbed, and his wife and he lived in a house Meagher built on the shore of Lake Sorell. Soon after they were married, Catherine became ill.

Less than a year after his wedding in January 1852, Meagher abruptly surrendered his "ticket-of-leave" and planned his escape to the United States. Meagher sent his "ticket-of-leave" and a letter to the authorities, along with notifying them he would consider himself a free man in twenty-four hours. When he escaped, Catherine was in an advanced stage of pregnancy and stayed behind. Following Meagher's departure from Van Diemen's Land, their son was born, but she died at 4 months of age, shortly after Meagher reached New York City.

The infant son was buried at St. John's Catholic Church, the oldest Catholic church in Australia, in Richmond, Tasmania, Australia. The small grave is next to the church. A plaque notes her father having been an Irish Patriot and member of the Young Irelanders.

Following Meagher's escape, Catherine travelled to London, where she was met by her father-in-law and then they both travelled on to Waterford, in south-east Ireland. On arrival at Waterford railway station, she was welcomed by thousands of citizens, such was her husband's fame in Ireland as a nationalist. However, she was not very well and rested at her father-in-law's home for a short time (where a crowd of 20,000 'serenaded' her). Eventually she was able to spend a short time in the United States with Meagher. She returned to Ireland pregnant and in poor health. She gave birth to Meagher's only child to reach adulthood: Thomas Francis Meagher, named after his father. She died in Ireland on 12 May 1854, at the home of Meagher's father. Meagher never met his son, who was raised by the senior Meaghers and relatives, and remained in Ireland all his life.


next week will be his civil war service