Plaque commemorating 1916 to be placed on Washington Monument

Irish republican who played prominent role in American Civil War to be honoured

A plaque commemorating Irishman Thomas Francis Meagher will be the first plaque added to the Washington Monument’s interior since 1982. Photograph: iStock

A plaque commemorating Irishman Thomas Francis Meagher will be the first plaque added to the Washington Monument’s interior since 1982. Photograph: iStock

 

Shortly after 2pm on Thursday, a little piece of Ireland will take its place on the walls of one of America’s most iconic monuments. The 550-foot Washington Monument, which dominates the skyline of the nation’s capital and overlooks the White House, has long been a symbol of the American nation and the values embodied by George Washington.

At a special ceremony, due to be attended by Minister of State Sean Canney on behalf of President Michael D Higgins, a plaque marking the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising and Ireland’s links with America will take its place alongside 193 other commemorative stones dotted around the monument’s interior walls. It is the first time since 1982 that a new plaque has been added to the monument’s interior.

Specifically, the plaque commemorates Irish independence figure Thomas Francis Meagher who rose through the ranks to become a leading figure in the American Civil War in the 1860s, playing a prominent role in the ultimately victorious Union side of the conflict.

Mr Canney said Meagher’s life was a fitting symbol of the contribution Ireland had made to the creation of the modern American state. “Meagher’s life is a symbol of the enduring links between Ireland and America. He is an example of someone who came from Ireland, made his way to America and became a leading figure in American politics, qualifying as a lawyer and leading the Irish brigade in the American Civil War.”

Sentenced to death

Born in Waterford in 1823 and educated at Clongowes Wood College in Kildare and later in England, Meagher was a central figure in the Irish republican movement, and a leader of the Young Irelanders. After being sentenced to death for his role in the 1848 rebellion, he instead was deported to Van Diemens’ Land, modern-day Tasmania. He soon escaped to New York where he married, trained as a lawyer and was involved in the establishment of the Irish News newspaper. At the outbreak of the American Civil War – a war between North and South over slavery – he joined the Union side, rising to the rank of brigadier-general and leading the Irish Brigade.

After the war he moved west to Montana, where he became acting governor of the State. His life was cut short when he drowned after falling overboard on a steamboat in the Missouri, though the circumstances surrounding his death have been contested.

Today’s ceremony is also due to be attended by US congressman Brendan Boyle, whose father hails from Donegal, and Mick Mulvaney, the director of Office and Budget Management under the Trump administration. Support for Irish causes have united Irish-Americans on both sides of the political aisle, and today’s event builds on last year’s 1916 centenary commemoration events. Congressman Boyle said that American independence would not have been possible without the Irish “who fought and died for it”. “This plaque symbolizes the unbreakable bond that will always exist,” he said.

Senator Mark Daly of Fianna Fáil who was also involved in the various US commemorations of the 1916 centenary will also be in attendance.

Gay Vietzke of the National Parks Services said it was an honour to receive such a gift from the people of Ireland which “celebrates the shared heritage of our two nations.”