On this day in 1848, April 14, the Immortal Irishman himself, the great Thomas Francis Meagher returned from France to Ireland with the Tri-Color Flag that would come to be the National Flag of Ireland, hoisted above the General Post Office in Dublin in 1916 when the patriots proclaimed Ireland free! Meagher was given the flag by a group of French ladies. The green was to symbolize the Gaelic tradition of the Irish, the orange for the Protestant followers of William of Orange, and the white was the peace between them. A symbol of a whole Ireland – a united Ireland.
It would be only a few years later Meagher was sent to penal servitude in Tasmania – then escaped and headed to America. He became a general for the Union Army in the Civil War leading the Fighting 69th Irish Brigade. Following the the war he came to Montana where he became the territorial governor. It was in Montana, where he was greeted by many Fenian Irish men and women, he sought to make a home for the exiled sons and daughters of Ireland. Many were coming to the United States following An Gorta Mór, the Great Hunger caused by brutal English policy to take care of the “Irish Problem.” The Irish of America would soon become the strongest advocates for a free Ireland in the world.
Though he passed on in 1867, Meagher’s mark on Montana remains to this day. There are two statues of Meagher – one in Fort Benton where he was last seen, and the one in front of the State Capital in Helena, but more than a statue or two the spirit of Thomas Francis Meagher is alive in the Irish of Motnana.
Montana remains a hub of Irish culture. With numerous activities including multiple festivals and events year around, the dream of Thomas Francis Meagher is alive and well. Boasting the the most Irish city in America, Butte, Montana is a state proud of the rich living culture of the Irish of Montana. Montana also has one of the best Irish Studies Program in the United States at the University of Montana which is also home to the two time NCGAA National Champion Montana Grizzly Hurling Team. From music, dance, theater, history, literature, and even an ongoing oral history project the University of Montana’s Irish studies is as unique as the community of Montana Irish. There are also numerous organizations such as the Montana Gaelic Cultural Society, The Friends of Irish Studies in the West, Her Exiled Children , and many divisions of the Ancient Order of Hibernians (A.O.H.) – including the Anaconda Division. They are the longest continuously meeting group of A.O.H. west of the Mississippi. The Anaconda A.O.H. has met regular since their founding in 1885. Each year the Helena branch of the A.O.H., the Thomas Francis Meagher Division, hoists the Tri-Color Flag high over the state capital – remembering one of her favorite sons. Thomas Francis Meagher could certainly be proud.