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The Irish General

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The Irish General: Thomas Francis Meagher
By Paul R. Wylie. (University of Oklahoma Press, Norman: 2007. Pg. xi, 404. B & W Photos.) ISBN: 978-0-8061-3847-3.

Reviewed by Herbert White - September 12, 2007

The Irish General is the unforgettable story of an unsung Irish-American, Thomas Francis Meagher. Born in Ireland in 1823, Meagher was to play an important role in the 1848 Irish Revolution as a leading member of the Young Ireland movement. Captured by the British, he was exiled to Tasmania. He managed to escape his island prison and made his way to New York and made a name for himself in America. He served in the Union Army, and saw battle on many a bloody field during the American Civil War, rising to the rank of Brigadier General while leading the Irish Brigade. He later went on to become the acting governor of the Montana Territory until his death in 1867, leaving a lasting mark upon the burgeoning territory - and many questions about his leadership.

This comprehensive, and eminently readable, biography of Meagher was written by Paul R. Wylie, an independent scholar and retired Montana attorney. In writing this book, Wylie waded through the mass of information about Meagher, separating out the truth from the fiction about this controversial figure. He was an Irish nationalist, and saw his service in the Union Army as a means of gaining the necessary military training that he would need to continue the fight against the British, back home. He was destined, however, never to return to Ireland. His military career ended somewhat ignobly, with him resigning after being transferred to the western theater and given non-combat duties. He then went on to serve as acting governor of Montana, before his untimely and somewhat mysterious death.

Meagher's life was one full of incongruities, fierce idealism, and a knack for getting into trouble. In The Irish General Wylie has crafted a fascinating account of this eccentric warrior, and he paints one of the most extensive overviews of his life that I've come across, covering his entire life and exploits, both in Ireland and in America.

The Irish General is well suited for use by both general readers and scholars interested in exploring the life of this enigmatic character and the turbulent time he lived in. Wylie has included detailed endnotes and an extensive bibliography that will gratify anyone seeking to delve deeper in Meagher's life.


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