Thomas Meagher, from my mother’s side of our family, spent a lifetime fighting. He battled the British in Ireland, the Confederates in America, and sometimes, the generals he was supposed to be fighting on the same side with. Along the way, this fierce patriot also created the flag of Ireland.
Born to an upper class family in Waterford in 1823, Meagher was famous by the age of 23 for leading a political party called the “Young Irelanders" in advocating violence to end British occupation – a move that earned him the name “Meagher of the sword." In 1848, he made a political visit to Paris, where the French tricolor inspired him to design a forerunner of today’s Irish flag.
Later the same year, (during one of the worst parts of the potato famine) he led an uprising against the Brits, which resulted in him being sentenced to be “hung, drawn and quartered." The queen ultimately commuted his sentence, and he was banished to Tasmania instead.
But he wasn’t ready to quit fighting. In 1852, he managed to escape to America, where he joined the Union army, eventually creating the famous “Irish Brigade" in 1861. Constantly at odds with his own Army’s top brass (he was a Democrat and they were Republicans), he resigned as leader of the Irish Brigade in 1863 after it suffered horrible losses at Antietam and Fredericksburg.
Meagher was then appointed as the first governor of Montana. In 1867, he drowned after falling off a Missouri River steamboat. Some accounts said he had been drinking. When my late mother recounted the story of his Irish revolutionary and Civil War accomplishments, she noted that Thomas Meagher was greatly respected but not always liked. Our family suspects that, rather than having fallen to his watery demise, he was pushed overboard!