Dons Dublin: Meagher and the Tricolour

by Don Cameron
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Thomas Francis Meagher, Irish revolutionary, newspaper editor and brigadier general in the Union Army, was born on 23 August 1823 in Waterford. His father, Thomas, a merchant and shipowner, was the Ireland’s first elected mayor (1842-44) since The Reformation, and the family lived in a mansion on the Quay (now the Granville Hotel).

As a boy Thomas attended school at Sion Hill and later went to Clongowes Wood where he excelled in the Debating Society. At 16 he penned a history of the Society which when read by Daniel O’Connell prophetically remarked ‘A genius that could produce such a work is not destined to remain long in obscurity.’

In 1844 he arrived in Dublin and became involved in politics by joining the Repeal Association and abandoned his law study at King’s Inns. He and his fellow Young Irelanders advocated a recourse to arms to achieve freedom and after a stirring speech in 1846 he was referred to as ‘Meagher of the Sword’.

After a visit to Paris where he was impressed with the French Tricolour he had a Green, White and Orange flag made which was unveiled for the first time at a meeting of the Wolf Tone Confederate Club in Waterford on 7th March 1848. After the failed rebellion of July 1848 Meagher, who was originally

condemned to death, was transported to Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania) where he stayed for four years before travelling to New York. During the American Civil War he led his men, The Fighting 69th, with distinction and rose to the rank of brigadier general.

His tricolour did not see the light of day again until the 1916 Easter Rising when it was flown during the fighting. And in years of the Irish Free State (1922-37) the flag was adopted by the Executive Council, and it was eventually confirmed as the national flag in the Irish Constitution which came into being on 29th December 1937.

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