It was a long time—and a long way–coming. One hundred and fifty years and a trip around the world, to be precise.

Thomas Francis Meagher (1823-1867) led an extraordinary life. Born in County Waterford, Ireland, he put his life on the line to fight, under arms, for Irish independence (he was known as “Meagher of the Sword” for arguing for, and acting upon, his view that violence against the British was necessary). It was Meagher who helped introduce a new Irish flag, symbol of a Free Ireland. For his revolutionary efforts, he was arrested, convicted of sedition, and sentenced in 1848 to be hung, drawn, and quartered. Soon thereafter, Queen Victoria commuted his death sentence and he was exiled to a penal colony in Tasmania, off Australia. In 1852, he escaped to New York City and Brooklyn and became a leader of the Irish-American community. During America’s Civil War, he led the 69th New York State Militia, then rose to the command of the Irish Brigade, leading it into battle during the Seven Days Campaign at Fair Oaks and Malvern Hill, and later at the Battles of  Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville.

Thomas Francis Meagher, circa 1865.

Thomas Francis Meagher, circa 1865.

General Thomas Meagher, seated, with men of the Irish Brigade that he commanded during the Civil War.

Brigadier General Thomas Meagher, seated, with men of the Irish Brigade who he commanded during the Civil War.

By 1867, Meagher was the acting governor of the Montana Territory. On July 1, 1867, while serving in that position , he disappeared under mysterious circumstances (murdered? kidnapped by vigilantes? fell off a steamer, drunk, into the Missouri River?)–never to be seen again.

In August of 2002, Green-Wood restored and rededicated New York City’s Civil War Monument on its Battle Hill. It occurred to me, soon thereafter, that we at Green-Wood should tell the stories of our Civil War veterans interred here. So, that fall, volunteers launched our Civil War Project by searching the cemetery’s grounds, looking for indications that a veteran was interred: inscriptions, special markers, etc. Much more research–done by hundreds of volunteers–followed. When we started this project, we thought we might find up to 500 veterans. Were we wrong! In the 15 years since we started, we have found 5,000! For each of these, a biography has been written and is posted on Green-Wood’s website. Of these 5,000 veterans, we discovered, much to our amazement, that a remarkable 2,300 of them were in unmarked graves. For these individuals, we have applied to the Department of Veterans Affairs for a gravestone; Green-Wood staff have installed most of them already, and all will be installed free of charge.

One of my early discoveries, as I researched for our Civil War Project 15 years ago, was an obituary in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle for Elizabeth Townsend Meagher, reporting that she was interred at Green-Wood, upon her death in 1906, in her family’s lot. Elizabeth Townsend was a member of the same Townsend family that owned the Townsend Iron Foundry near West Point. It was the Townsends who forged the iron chain that was stretched across the Hudson River during the Revolutionary War, preventing British war ships from passing. As reported in Elizabeth’s obituary, she was the widow of Thomas Francis Meagher. A Protestant, she had converted to Catholicism in order to marry Meagher. During the Civil War, one of the regiments of the Irish Brigade was named in her honor: “Mrs. Meagher’s Regiment.” When, in July of 1867, her husband Thomas disappeared, she went to the Montana Territory and searched for days for his body; it was never found. She lamented to her dying day that he had no final resting place.

In 2008, we applied to the Department of Veterans Affairs for a cenotaph for Thomas Francis Meagher–because he had no grave. That granite marker was unveiled that same year, just feet from his widow’s grave.

This cenotaph, applied for by Green-Wood's Civil War Project and issued by the Department of Veterans Affairs, was installed by Green-Wood staff and unveiled in 2008.

This cenotaph, applied for by Green-Wood’s Civil War Project and issued by the Department of Veterans Affairs, was installed by Green-Wood staff and unveiled in 2008.

In the ensuing years, efforts were made to raise funds for a grand bronze sculpture of General Meagher to be placed near his widow’s grave. But those efforts were to no avail until a year ago, when Peter McKay of the County Waterford Association contacted Green-Wood with a promise to make this dream a reality. It was Peter who hit a home run by selecting Michael Keropian, a fellow of the National Sculpture Society, to sculpt Thomas Francis Meagher’s portrait. The County Waterford Association, under Peter’s leadership, raised the money for the bronze; Green-Wood raised the money for the memorial’s granite base.

The bronze bust of Thomas Francis Meagher, and it brilliant sculptor, Michael Keropian, talking about his work.

The bronze bust of Thomas Francis Meagher, and it brilliant sculptor, Michael Keropian, talking about his work the day before the unveiling, as he was about to install it.

On Saturday, July 1, 2017, the County Waterford Association and The Green-Wood Historic Fund commemorated the 150th anniversary of the disappearance of Irish freedom fighter and Civil War Brigadier General Thomas Francis Meagher with the unveiling of a stunning new bronze at the gravesite of Meagher’s widow, Elizabeth (Libby) Townsend Meager.

Left to right, Peter Mackay of the County Waterford Association, Jeff Richman of Green-Wood (partially hidden), and sculptor Michael Keropian, unveiling the Meagher Memorial.

Left to right, Peter McKay of the County Waterford Association, Jeff Richman of Green-Wood (partially hidden), and sculptor Michael Keropian, unveiling the Meagher Memorial.

The commemoration ceremony featured remarks by Commander of the 69th Regiment, Lieutenant Colonel Don McKay; County Waterford Association President Peter Albert McKay; Green-Wood Cemetery President Richard J. Moylan, Green-Wood Historian Jeff Richman; sculptor Michael Keropian, and others.

Civil War re-enactors and color guards framed the scene.

Civil War re-enactors and color guards framed the scene. Note the portrait on the County Waterford Association banner–that is none other than Thomas Francis Meagher.

The bronze of General Meagher, atop its granite base.

The bronze of General Meagher, atop its solid granite base.

A list of the donors, who made the bronze sculpture and its granite base possible, appears on the back of the monument.

The names of the donors, who made the bronze sculpture and its granite base possible, appear on the back of the monument.

An enthusiastic crowd of approximately 200 people attended the unveiling, including a Meagher descendant, Maureen Roaldsen. The unveiling was followed by a reception in Green-Wood’s Historic Chapel, sponsored by the County Waterford Association and The Green-Wood Historic Fund. After the reception, I led a sold out trolley tour, “The Eminent Irish,” across Green-Wood’s grounds.

The unveiling of the Meagher bronze, atop its granite base, is the culmination of a ten-year effort to raise the necessary funds to honor Thomas Francis Meagher. It is the culmination of his long journey–unveiled on the 150th anniversary of his mysterious disappearance.

2 thoughts on “Finally, A Grand Monument for Irish Patriot Thomas Francis Meagher

  1. Jeff it was a pleasure to be one of the Honor Guards for the unveiling at this event for Gen. Thomas F. Meagher

  2. It is with great interest that I read this story on Thomas Francis Meagher who was a compatriot of my ancestor Col. Michael Doheny. Michael Doheny is buried at Calvary Cemetery and was the author of the book “A Felon’s Track” which further describes the story of events leading up to, and following, the Insurrection of 1848 and the role that Thomas Francis Meagher and Michael Doheny played. I will attach the link to his page on Findagrave which describes his life.
    https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=117156169&ref=acom

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