Sword of Thomas Francis Meagher

Thomas Francis Meagher was born in 1823 where the present Granville Hotel is situated on Waterford's quays, the son of the first Catholic mayor of Waterford for over 200 years because of the penal laws. He was a successful businessman who had returned from Newfoundland. Unlike his father, Thomas Francis believed in violent resistance to the English connection and was a member of the mid-19th century Young Ireland movement - a group mostly of young Catholic gentry inspired by the broader European movement - which staged an uprising in Co. Tipperary in 1848. He brought the tricolour from Paris to Waterford, flying it in Ireland for the first time in March 1848 from the house on the Mall which housed the Wolfe Tone Club. Meagher and the others were arrested and tried for treason. While in Richmond Prison, Meagher and his friends signed the two books and had his portrait commissioned, which are displayed in Waterford Museum of Treasures. Meagher was transported to Tasmania where he enjoyed considerable liberty and married a daughter of a gentleman named Bennett who had been a 1798 rebel. Meagher escaped to America where he settled in New York, practised law and wrote extensively on Irish issues. His wife died in Waterford in 1854, leaving a son brought up in Waterford; he remarried in 1855.

On the outbreak of war between the northern and southern states in 1861, Meagher founded the 69th New York regiment 'the Irish Brigade' to fight on the side of the Union, famous for its bravery, especially at the battles of Fredericksburg and Antietam where it suffered 40% losses. In later life he was acting Governor of Montana and he died in 1867. This sword is one of a collection of about 17 Meagher objects in Waterford Museum of Treasures, the core of which are the memorabilia presented by Meagher's widow to the Corporation in 1886 including this sword. This is a U.S. army dress sword, made by Tiffany's, New York.

date/period: c.1860/19th century

collection: Waterford City Council

dimensions: 920 length mm

material: sword metal, leather, scabbard metal

inventory no.: 1999.1793

location: Waterford Museum of Treasures exhibition

provenance: Gift in 1886

Further Reading:

  • Eamonn McEneaney (ed), A History of Waterford and its Mayors from the 12th to the 20th Century, Waterford 1995
  • Robert G. Athearn, Thomas Francis Meagher: An Irish Revolutionary in America, Colorado 1949
  • Michael Kavanagh, The Memoirs of General Thomas Francis Meagher, Massachusetts 1892
  • W. Lyons, Brigadier General Thomas Francis Meagher, New York 1886.
  • J. M. Hearne (ed), Thomas Francis Meagher - A Magnificent Obsession, forthcoming

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