The Immortal Irishman: The Irish Revolutionary Who Became an American Hero
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The Irish-American story, with all its twists and triumphs, is told through the improbable life of one man. A dashing young orator during the Great Famine of the 1840s, in which a million of his Irish countrymen died, Thomas Francis Meagher led a failed uprising against British rule, for which he was banished to a Tasmanian prison colony. He escaped and six months later was heralded in the streets of New York — the revolutionary hero, back from the dead, at the dawn of the great Irish immigration to America.
them. “Destroy the rebel army,” Lincoln told Young Napoleon. But once again McClellan did nothing. After a few days’ time, the advantage was lost. The Southerners had reassembled, with upwards of 40,000 fighters around Antietam, behind batteries on high ground and a rail fence protecting a long sunken road in the center. They were dug in and perched above their enemy—the ideal advantage for the kind of formation-leveling, industrial butchery that this continental clash of brothers had become.
mustache and sash covered in dust, and moved forward. “Raise the colors, boys!” he shouted, ordering his men to their feet. “Follow me!” The Notre Dame priest dashed in front of the brigade and shouted out a blanket absolution to an infantry on the run. At least these Irish Catholics would die with clean souls. To get to the rebel line, the soldiers first had to knock down the fence. Balls pinged off wood and splintered rails, tore away kneecaps and shattered skulls. A bullet in the head made a
York Daily Tribune, June 13, 1850. Five Points, Dickens’s description and tourists “slumming,” from “Gangs of New York: Fact vs. Fiction” by Ted Chamberlain, National Geographic News, March 24, 2003, news.nationalgeographic.com. Five Points, more details, no grass or trees, from American Metropolis: A History of New York City by George J. Lankevich, NYU Press, 1998. Depiction of New York in 1852, including population figures and ethnic groups, from The New York Irish, edited by Ronald H. Bayor
declare to the skies, to the English, to God, a single vow: We will not starve. The cry went unanswered: by year’s end, about 400,000 people had perished. English authorities started shipping Irish orphan girls to Australia, there to labor as domestic servants. Trevelyan approved, noting that Australians were less likely to object, because they were “not quite so fond of grievances as the excitable and imaginative Irish.” A warm summer in Ireland had produced a huge harvest in grain, bound once
once, three men on foot at night. Passing the police barracks outside the village of Holycross on August 12, a sergeant thought he recognized Meagher in the darkness. “Fine night, gentlemen,” said the officer. It was them. He made a signal, and six officers grabbed the rebels. Meagher’s pants were ripped and filthy. He was wearing a straw hat, like that of a peasant. For the arrest, the sergeant was rewarded with �100—almost a year’s pay. Bound in chains, Meagher was taken by train to Dublin,