Claíomh – Sword – Thomas Francis Meagher 1823 to 1867. Thomas Francis Meagher Statue in front of the State Capital Building in Helena, Montana. The Helena Division of the Ancient Order of Hibernians is named after Thomas Francis Meagher
Thomas Meagher was an Irish Patriot and member of Young Ireland earned the nickname “Meagher of the Sword,” from his infamous Sword Speech. Born in County Waterford, Ireland, on August 3, in 1823, he fought the empirical rule of England in Ireland. Meagher was part of the Young Irelander group. Breaking away from Daniel O’Connell’s Repeal Association, Young Ireland sought to see Ireland free from British rule. This was a free Ireland that included all members of the Irish nation, “Protestant, Catholic, and Dissenter, Milesian and Cromwellian, the Irishman of a hundred generations, and the stranger who is within our gates.” The real drive though was Ireland as a free state – recognized not only within, but around the world as sovereign. His life was that of legend. There have been several books, songs, even plays recounting his life.
In 1848, the Tri-Color was given as a gift to Meagher from a group of French ladies. The green was to represent the Gaelic tradition of the Irish, the Orange for the followers of William of Orange, and the White representing the peace between them. They were sympathetic to the cause of the Irish. The Tri-Color would become the bratach na hÉireann, the Irish National flag, when it was raised over the General Post Office on April 24, 1916 by the volunteers of the Irish Republican Army and heard Pearse read the Poblacht na hÉireann, the Proclamation of the Irish Republic. After he escaped his captivity in Tasmania, he made his way to America where he became a general in the Union Army leading an Irish regiment. He also developed a close relationship with President Abraham Lincoln. It is said after Lincoln was shot and moved from the Ford’s Theater he called for Thomas Francis Meagher.
He amassed the Irish of America at the time into a community. He sought to gather the Irish together. Following the Civil War he made his way to Montana – where he became the acting territory Governor. Meagher brought is great oratory skills to the west with him. Many of the miners, soldiers, and emigrants who were making their way to the Montana Territory at the time were Irish. Meagher saw the opportunity for the Irish to have a destination in Montana. His rousing speeches lifted the hearts of the Irish faithful and the ire of many who were not sympathetic and in many cases down right hostile to Catholics and the Irish. In a speech in Virginia City he said America was now part of the Irish people – the blood spilled at Fredericksburg, Antietam, and Malvern Hill now billowed with Irish graves – “the gallant race, whose blood, shed in torrents for its inviolability and its glory, has imparted a brighter crimson to the Stripes, and made the Stars of that triumphant flagg irradiate with a keener radience.”
Meagher’s home in Virginia City, Montana where he was acting Territorial Governor.
His speeches were met by throngs of enthusiastic Irish. Many of those who moved to Montana were strong in the Fenian movement – there was a Fenian hall a couple miles up the road from Meagher’s home in Virginia City, Montana. Meagher died July 1, 1867 near the statue which sits on the on Levy at Fort Benton, Montana. There are several disputes about what happened to the “Immortal Irishman” on that warm July Day; however, many of the Irish of time held the Vigilantes and Freemason’s (many men were involved with both groups) responsible for the death of Thomas Francis Meagher.
Over the decades since his passing the name Thomas Francis Meagher and the legacy he left behind has been used to bona-fide the action of Irish Nationalists. We are the legacy of Thomas Francis Meagher – we Irish who strive to preserve and promote our culture, promulgate our society, and pass on this rich heritage. Most recently, the Thomas Francis Meagher Association of Helena Montana has formed with the intent of celebrating his life and legacy. You can find more on them at their website – http://meagherfest.org/
The above monument is on the banks of the Missouri River, in Fort Benton, Montana was put up by the National and Montana AOH, Fort Benton, and the people of the Republic of Ireland on June 28, 2009. It reads in part:
Ceannaire mor Eireanach aoibhinn agus onorach
Thomas Francis Meagher
1823 Ireland – 1867 Montana
American Civil War Hero
Acting Governor, Montana Territory