The Immortal Irishman

My 2016 reading challenge for myself was to read more non-fiction. I just finished The Immortal Irishman by Timothy Egan. The biography follows Thomas Francis Meagher, an Irish revolutionary who was sentenced to exile in Tasmania in his early twenties. Meagher played a key role in the failed 1848 rebellion in Ireland against Britain. Saved from the typical fate of revolutionaries (drawn and quartered), Meagher and his accomplices were sent into exile in the farthest reaches of the British Empire.

From Tasmania, Meagher escaped to New York City, where he began the second biggest role of his life, that of an American hero. Meagher, a staunch supporter of Lincoln, lead one of the most famous brigades in all of the civil war. The Irish Brigade was respected and feared by all they encountered. Meagher’s mysterious disappearance in 1867 is one of the greatest unsolved mysteries of the American West.

Egan tells Meagher’s story well, with slight pacing problems. The entire section of the biography when Meagher was stuck in Tasmania, and then when he was in the American west fighting vigilantes, I was completely bored. The rest of the biography, however, really blew me away. Egan vividly depicted Ireland during the years of the famine, as well as America during the Civil War. I was constantly surprised and entertained by just how much Egan knew about Meagher and, well, everything.

I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in history (American or Irish). So thankful that I followed my dad’s recommendation and got through this hefty biography.

As an Irish soul myself, the final passage of The Immortal Irishman gave me chills: “It is the living, of course, who need these markers of the dead in order to make sense of their place in this world–more than eighty million people with some Irish blood, most of them no longer looking for a country to call home. For them, memory is not an unwelcome burden but the raw material of stories that will always be passed on, in song, verse or tale, the great survival skill of the Irish.”



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