Today in Celtic History
July 1, 1867

Thomas Francis Meagher.

July 1, 1867


Thomas Francis Meagher, Young Ireland leader, dies


Thomas Francis Meagher aka: "O'Meagher", or "Meagher of the Sword" (August 3, 1823 ? July 1, 1867) was an Irish revolutionary, who also served in the United States Army as a Brigadier General during the U.S. Civil War.

Born in Waterford, County Waterford, Ireland, Meagher (pronounced Mahr) came from an established Catholic Tipperary County family of tailors & vintners. His father, Thomas Meagher (1796?1874), was born in St John's Newfoundland to Thomas Meagher (1763?1837) and Mary Crotty and was a merchant for the "Waterford-Newfoundland" trade. He was an MP for Waterford and its first Roman Catholic Lord Mayor in over two hundred years, thanks to Daniel O'Connell's successful agitation. His wife Alicia Quan (1798?1827) was the second eldest daughter of Thomas Quan and Alicia Forristall.

Young Irelander's

In 1845, he became a founding member of the Young Ireland group, among them William Smith O'Brien, which favoured more aggressive action for home rule than O'Connell was willing to support, causing its split from O'Connell's Repeal party. It was a fiery speech by Meagher supporting armed insurrection as a means of Irish independence that finalized the split with Repeal and earned Meagher the sobriquet "Meagher of the Sword".

Following the incident known as the "Battle of Ballingarry" in August 1848, Meagher, Terence MacManus, Smith O'Brien, and Patrick O'Donohoe were arrested and tried and convicted for sedition, which, due to a newly passed ex post facto law, meant that Meagher and his colleagues were sentenced to be "hanged, drawn and quartered". But it was after his trial Meagher delivered his infamous Speech From the Dock ? second only to Robert Emmet's pre-execution speech in the pantheon of Irish political rhetoric.

Meagher and his colleagues were soon joined in Richmond Gaol, Dublin, by Kevin O'Doherty and John Martin; but the death sentences were commuted to transportation to "the other side of the world," and in 1849 all were transported to Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania, Australia). On July 20th, the day after being notified he was to be transported to Van Diemen's Land, Meagher announced he wished henceforth to be known as Thomas Francis O'Meagher.

In the USA

Meagher arrived in New York City in May 1852. When the question of "honour" was later raised, Meagher agreed to subject himself to a "trial" of American notables and agreed to return to Van Diemen's Land if they held against him. The "jury" (of unknown ethnic extraction) found for Meagher. Meagher served the Union Army as a U.S. citizen. As acting Major he led Company K of the 69th Regiment (which would be known as the "Fighting Irish") of the New York State Militia at Bull Run (1st Manassas). He returned to New York to form the Irish Brigade and led it at as Brigadier-General in the Peninsula Campaign at Fair Oaks, Mechanicsville, Gaines' Mill, Peach Orchard (Allen's Farm), Malvern Hill, Antietam. He resigned in May 1863 over the army's refusal to let him return to New York to raise reinforcements for his battered brigade: 4,000 strong in mid-May 1862, by late May 1863 the brigade had only approximately 500 combat-ready men left.

Suspicious Death

In the summer of 1867 he traveled to Fort Benton, Montana, to receive a shipment of guns and ammunition sent by General Sherman for use by the Montana Militia. Meagher fell ill on the way to Fort Benton, the Missouri River terminus for steamboat travel, stopping six days en route to recuperate. When he reached Fort Benton, he was still ill, but took some time with local politicians and admirers. Some reports state that he spent the afternoon imbibing with his well wishers. Others say that he was simply too ill to drink. Meagher's supposed compatriot, Colonel W. F. Sanders, stated that Meagher appeared to be acting "mentally deranged" and was "loudly demanding a revolver to defend himself against the citizens of Ft. Benton." It was allegedly suggested to the General that he should get some rest, and that is what he allegedly purported to do, reboarding his steamboat, the G. A. Thompson, sometime in the early evening. After about 11:00 PM, according to Sanders, "there was a colored man...the barber...[who] said a man had let himself down from the upper to the lower deck and jumped into the river and gone on down the stream." Sanders goes on to say that "the next day some members of the general staff" said that he, Sanders, must not mention anything about Meagher's mental condition or that the drowning was not an accident in his letter to Meagher's wife. But this Sanders refused to do, and explained everything to Mrs. Meagher as he saw and as he was told by the witnesses. Afterwards, no one seems to have questioned the barber's report as suspicious, or the fact that Sanders had alienated himself from Meagher saying that "the secessionists (then called Democratic)...took charge of Gov. Meagher."

One other witness, a female passenger who had remained on board the steamboat, recalled that she heard a deck-hand yelling "man over-board" at about the same time Meagher disappeared; and several years later at least two people attempted to "admit" that they in fact had something to do with Meagher being murdered. But none of the accounts did lead to any sufficient discovery.

Meagher's death, is still considered to be suspicious, however; and as he was outspoken, there could have been numerous persons who would have wanted to murder him.

Meagher was survived by his second wife, Elizabeth Townsend (1840?1906) the daughter of Peter Townsend (1803?1885) and Caroline Parish of Monroe, Orange County, New York, and at least one child that he had by the first marriage: Thomas Francis Meagher Jr.

He is remembered for his service to Montana with a statue on the front lawn of the Capitol grounds in Helena, Montana, and with another statue in Billings, Montana. The county of Meagher County, Montana was also named in his honor.

What else happened today on July 1

July 1, 1505
Seal granted by Edinburgh Town Council to the Incorporation of Barbers and Surgeons to practice their craft. The organization is now known as the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh.
July 1, 1543
Treaty of Greenwich, between Henry VIII and Earl of Arran, Regent of Scotland, agreeing betrothal of Mary Queen of Scots (aged, 6 months) and Edward Prince of Wales (aged, 6 years). The treaty was repudiated by the Scots Parliament.
July 1, 1681
Despite witnesses against him being discredited, Oliver Plunkett is hanged, drawn and quartered in London
July 1, 1690
Battle of the Boyne; the Jacobite forces (Irish, French, Germans and Walloons) are defeated by the Williamites (Irish, English, Dutch, Germans and Danes). The Williamite victory, being seen as a defeat for Louis XIV, is welcomed by Pope Alexander VIII
July 1, 1701
A public holiday is proclaimed for the inauguration of a statue of William III at College Green, Dublin
July 1, 1782
Proscription Act Repealed, thus allowing again the wearing of tartan and the carrying of weapons (banned as a result of the, 1745 Uprising in support of Bonnie Prince Charlie).
July 1, 1798
Rebels remain in camp at Kilcavan
July 1, 1815
Union Bank of Scotland opened.
July 1, 1836
North of Scotland Bank founded in Aberdeen. It is now part of the Clydesdale Bank.
July 1, 1899
Birth of singer Cavan O’Connor
July 1, 1916
The Somme offensive begins. The 36th (Ulster) Division suffers heavy casualties
July 1, 1924
The Irish Free State Aer Corps is established
July 1, 1937
The, 999 emergency telephone service came into operation for police, fire, ambulance and coastguards.
July 1, 1940
Birth of Craig Brown, former manager of the Scotland football (soccer) team.
July 1, 1999
The Queen officially opened the new Scottish Parliament in its temporary home in the Assembly Hall on The Mound, Edinburgh.