21 June 2009

Obituary: General Thomas Francis Meagher

[Thomas Francis Meagher drowned in the Missouri River at Fort Benton July 1, 1867, 142 years ago. Just as Fort Benton will finally have a coroner’s inquest into his mysterious death this Friday evening at 7 p. m. in the Ag Center, the River Press now carries his obituary.]

Thomas Francis Meagher was born on the 3d of August 1825, at Waterford, one of the oldest and most renowned cities of Ireland. At the age of eleven he was sent to the Jesuits at Clongowes Wood College, County Kildare, Ireland. He remained there for five years, and was then sent to Stonyhurst College, the celebrated seminary of the English Jesuits in Lancashire, England. Here he devoted himself to his studies, and became a favorite with his fellow students. At the close of his collegiate course at Stonyhurst he carried off the silver medal for rhetoric, and was acknowledged as one of the foremost orators of that school of rhetoric and eloquence.

On leaving Stonyhurst, it was his intention to become an officer in the British army; but O’Connell at that time had raised what was recognized by some as the flag of Irish nationality, and Thomas Francis Meagher three aside his prospects as an officer in the British service, and boldly threw himself into the national cause, as it was magnificently presented to him by that greatest of Irish patriots. In the abortive attempt of ’48, he therefore exposed himself to the power of the British Government; and, after the feeble and futile efforts among the mountains of Tipperary, he was arrested and transported for life, (never again to see his native land) which sentence still held good at the time of his death.

Renouncing his parole, he made his escape from Van Deiman’s Land [Tasmania Island] and arrived in New York on the 27th of June 1852. Immediately on his arrival, the citizens of all parties enthusiastically welcomed him. The Common Council of New York presented him with a complimentary address, and invited him to a public procession and the hospitalities of the city. This he declined in a very eloquent letter, alleging as his principal reason for so doing, that those who had shared the danger and misfortunes of the attempt to free his native land were still in captivity, and that it would be unworthy of him to accept any ovation while they were in exile. For the first three years of his residence in the United States he devoted himself to lecturing before the Literary societies of the great cities North and South and became acquainted with the leading men of both sections.

Early in 1856, he started the “Irish News,” but wishing to have a more active field for the exercise of his talents, he sold out in 1858, and went to Central America. The results of his explorations in that country appeared in a series of charmingly written articles in “Harper’s Magazine.”

On his return from Central America the war of rebellion broke out, and although attached to the South from personal associations of the most cordial character, he still felt and saw that it was his duty to sustain the authority of the United States, and he determined to support it by his presence in the field. Of his brilliant career in the field we are all-cognizant; suffice that the famous Irish Brigade under his command won imperishable laurels all through the Peninsular campaign, and participated in all of the important battles.

For his gallant and devoted services in defense of the National cause, president Johnson placed him on the list of brevets, on the termination of the war. He was appointed Secretary of Montana in 1865, and arrived here in October of that year. Since his arrival in Montana he has prominently identified himself with the material interests of the Territory, ever aiding them with that earnest, impulsive generosity of spirit, which was a marked characteristic of his nature.

Gifted with talents of a high order, and endowed with a liberal education, his efforts on the rostrum or in the study, were among the most brilliant of the day. Rich in the lore of ancient days, a ripe scholar, an observing traveler; uniting with the quick wit of his native land a fervid fancy and identity toned by the pathos of an exile’s life, his forensic appeals were models of beauty and eloquence.

In social life he was courteous, amiable and hospitable, and a welcome guest in every circle. The intelligence of his untimely death spread a shadow of gloom over every heart, and the public tributes of respect are but the exponents of the sincerest sorrow by the people.

[The Montana Post July 6, 1867 carried this original obituary.]

General Meagher second wife, Elizabeth Townsend and a son Thomas Francis Meagher III, by his first marriage, survive him. A statue commemorates General Meagher’s heroic life on the front lawn of the Montana State Capitol in Helena.

[Photo: TFMeagher in Civil War Uniform]

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