Thomas Meagher Sr.
It sucked to be under English dominance. English laws were built to destroy Irish culture and assimilate the population into English society while at the same time keeping the Irish poor, uneducated, and oppressed. (Sadly, this sounds strikingly similar to the philosophy behind the Canadian residential school system) Tom Sr. didn’t like it, so he left his beloved Ireland for Newfoundland and made millions as an honest, hardworking businessman. He returned to Ireland and set to work slowly, bringing about reforms for his people. His wealth allowed him to take care of his family and friends and bring up the quality of life for all those around him. It also afforded him the opportunity to become a member of the English parliament. Sure the Irish voices in English politics were by no means equal, but it was not a completely powerless position. It was a voice for change, albeit a small one. Tom lived a consistent, principled life and died respected by both the Irish and the English after a long and productive life.
Thomas Meagher Jr.
Tom Jr. could not stand what the English had done. It was cultural genocide, and then after the potato famine, it was actual genocide. There was more than enough food in Ireland to feed the starving masses, but England had earmarked it for export. Money was more important than Irish lives, and for all of his dads talking in the parliament, not nearly enough was being done. Armed rebellion was the only way forward. Tom Jr’s rebellion was a complete failure. But man, could he ever give a speech! Off to the penal colonies, he goes. England lets him live free on the island of Tasmania just so long as he stays out of trouble. That’s impossible for young Tom. Even marriage can’t settle him down. Eventually, he escapes and makes his way to the U.S.A. Half of Ireland, it seems, now lives in the U.S.A. The English have succeeded in making Ireland a place of such miserable existence for the Irish that millions have left.
Mar is a superhero in America. He is Irelands firebrand who defied England and escaped the penal colonies. He is welcomed with open arms as exiled Ireland’s leader and chief patriot. But the U.S.A. is about to be ripped apart by the civil war. With his mesmerizing speaking ability, Tom Jr. whips up an Irish army to fight on the Union side. They will whip the slave-holding states, and then with all their war experience, they will turn around and whip England and finally achieve Irish independence. The plan fails miserably. Thousands of Irish are slaughtered, and thousands more can’t understand why they are being asked to die, freeing a class of people who, if liberated, will become unwanted completion for the low-paying jobs Irish immigrants had clawed and scratched to obtain. Irish riots nearly burn down New York during the middle of the civil war! After the war, hard-drinking Tom Jr. stumbles out west to create “New Ireland” Not surprisingly, he runs into opposition on the frontier and gets murdered. He dies at age 36, with more enemies than friends, estranged from his father, and having never met his son, who his dad was raising for him. But Tom jr. was the icon for Irish independence. He was a rebel, an escaped convict, a warrior, orator, a celebrity and a poet. And so Tom Jr. gets all the statues made and books written about him while Tom Sr. gets forgotten.
But the question should probably be asked — Whose life was better lived?