Members of New York’s Irish American community assembled on a hill at Brooklyn’s Green-wood Cemetery last weekend to pay tribute to one of the founders of modern Ireland who also distinguished himself as a New Yorker during the American Civil War. The crowd of two hundred was there for the unveiling of a statue of Brigadier General Thomas Francis Meagher, the commander of the Irish Brigade.
The cemetery staff decided eight years ago that it wanted to commemorate Meagher with statuary. Elizabeth Townsend Meagher, the general’s widow, is buried in her family plot in Green-wood. She lamented on her deathbed that her husband had no grave. When the cemetery’s staff learned of this they decided that a statue to him would be part of the cemetery’s commemoration of the Civil War 150th Anniversary. The bust was dedicated on July 1, the 150th Anniversary of his disappearance in Montana where he was serving as acting governor.
Meagher is credited with designing the modern Irish flag, which he used as the symbol for his 1848 uprising against British rule. He worked with French revolutionary women to design it and he introduced it to Ireland. The Green in the flag represents the Celtic indigenous Irish, the Orange the transplanted Scottish Protestants who came with Cromwell, and the White the need for reconcilation between the two communites if Ireland was to take its place among the nations of the world.
Here in NY each county in Ireland has a society corresponding to its members native county in Ireland, and for more then a century they have carried these large banners in parades. This one is carried in the NY St. Patrick’s Day Parade and it depicts Meagher as a Young Irelander during the 1848 Rebellion. Meagher was from a well-to-do family in Waterford (where Waterford Crystal is made) and he decided to cast in his lot with the poor and try to overthrow British rule. The Great Hunger had already killed off 10% of Ireland’s people and the situation was worsening. Meagher’s rebellion never got off the ground, but he was captured and put on trial, sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered for treason to the British crown.
His sentance of death was commuted to imprisonment in Australia. He escaped from the island continent and came to New York, the City of Refugess.