Cover design by Michelle Moloney King
Foreword and History
My mother is a Maher, growing up we’d read the family tree of a Sunday and the only person of real interest was an Irish rebel leader, poet and passionate speech giver – Thomas Francis Meagher. I internalised his plea for Ireland to be seen as an island of talented artisans and to be treated better. He wrote for Ireland and fought for Ireland, and America, 200 years later he has more followers on social media than most! What was it about him that was so special? Why did the Americans adore him so much? Let’s find out why from his own speeches and personal history.
Meagher of The Sword was his nickname due to a speech that is still one of the most famous in Irish history. An eyewitness said: “He warmed on his subject, and the warmth became contagious; until when he rose to the height of his theme there appeared to be but one heart in the meeting, and it beat in accord with the orator.”
The last part of the speech, in particular, where he gave the Young Irelanders’ reasons for not renouncing the possibility of using the sword, would stick in the minds of those listening and earn him his nickname. Read some of these lines now, and imagine the scene in that hall, as a twenty-two year old’s voice rose up and held a massive crowd enthralled. But first, let me tell you a bit about the man.
Thomas Francis Meagher, born in Waterford, Ireland in 1823, an Irish nationalist and leader of the Young Irelanders in the Rebellion of 1848, a revolutionary group formed in the middle of the nineteenth century. Its leaders included William Smith O’Brien, John Mitchel, Thomas Meagher, Charles Gavan Duffy, Thomas Davis and John Dillon. In 1842, the Young Irelanders started a newspaper called The Nation, which called for Irish self-government. However, Meagher was not a military man; he was a politician and a great orator.
In 1845, the potato famine crippled Ireland, and Meagher, like many other Nationalists, blamed the tragedy on continued food exports to Britain, one of the richest nations on earth. The Paris revolution of February 1848 raised unrealistic expectations in famine-ravaged Ireland. And so he travelled to France in 1848 as a delegate for the Young Irelanders and returned with a gift from a small group of French women sympathetic to Irish nationalism: the tricolour. The future national flag of Ireland. Fabric woven with the colours soon to be synonymous with Ireland….
On the Union Speech in Conciliation Hall, February 16th, 1846 Sir, We have pledged ourselves never to accept the Union, to accept the Union upon no terms, nor any modification of the Union. It ill becomes a country like ours; a country with an ancient fame, a country that gave light to Europe whilst Europe's oldest State of this day was yet an infant in civilisation and in arms, a country that has written down great names upon the brightest page of European literature, a country that has sent orators into the senate whose eloquence, to the latest day, will inspire free sentiments, and dictate bold acts, a country that has sent soldiers into the field whose courage and whose honour it will ever be our duty to imitate, a country whose sculptors rank high in Rome, and whose painters have won for Irish genius a proud pre-eminence even in the capital of the stranger, a country whose musicians may be said to stand this day in glorious rivalship with those of Italy, and whose poets have had their melodies re-echoed from the most polished courts of Europe to the loneliest dwellings in the deep forests beyond the Mississippi. It ill becomes a country so distinguished and respectable to serve as the subaltern of England, qualified as she is to take up an eminent position, and stand erect in the face of Europe. It is hers to command, for she possesses the materials of manly power and stately opulence. Education is abroad, and her people are being tutored in the arts and virtues of an enlightened manhood. They are being taught how to enjoy, and how to preserve, the beatitude of freedom. A spirit of brotherhood is having, and breathing through the land. Old antipathies are losing ground, traditional distinctions of sect and party are being now effaced. Irrespective of descent or creed, we begin at last to appreciate the abilities and virtues of all our fellow- countrymen...