Book Report: The Immortal Irishman

The Immortal Irishman: The Irish Revolutionary Who Became an American Hero by Timothy Egan is a great read. This is the story of Thomas Francis Meagher, who was born into privilege in 1823 in Waterford. He was born into a Catholic family in Northern Ireland, which was under British rule at the time. Meagher could have been happy with the status quo and just stayed in Northern Ireland and made money in his family business but because of the conditions in Ireland, especially after the great potato famine, he became an opponent of British rule in Northern Ireland. At that time, the British government had more troops in Ireland than they did in colonial India.

Meagher was sentenced to death and was to be decapitated and then drawn and quartered. Because of an international outcry, his sentence was commuted and, at the age of 26, he was shipped to Tasmania, a British penal colony. He escaped and made his way to America, arriving in New York City in 1852. Meagher became a mentor and was looked on as a savior by some in the Irish community in America at that time.

The American Civil War broke out and, in a move of sheer brilliance, Abraham Lincoln appointed Meagher a general and the commander of the Irish brigade. The brigade’s motto was “Riamh Nar Dhruid O Spairn Lann,” which, translated from the Gaelic, means, “Who never retreated from the clash of spears.” The fighting 69th, as the Irish brigade was known, put a sprig of green in their caps. Meagher was said to have stated to his men, “Many of us are going to die today, but when they recover our bodies they will know we’re Irish.” Robert E. Lee was supposedly the person who nicknamed the fighting 69th because of the way the brigade continued to do its job even though it was facing impossible odds.

After the war, Meagher wanted to get away because the prospect of facing the family members of all the men who died with him during the Civil War was daunting to him. He was looking for a fresh start and President Andrew Johnson appointed him as the first secretary of the territory of Montana. On July 1, 1867, Meagher fell overboard on a steamship into the Missouri River. His body was never recovered, and there are speculations that his death was not an accident—although this has never been proven.

This book translates very well to the fire service because Thomas Francis Meagher gave up a life of privilege to pursue his passion—a better life and world for the people of Ireland. Though after being sent to Tasmania he was never allowed to set foot in Ireland again, he still longed for home. Commitment, sacrifice, duty, tradition, and pride are words we use in the fire service to show our communities, families, and friends why we do what we do. This is a well-written and well-told story that firefighters and fire officers will enjoy. I highly recommend The Immortal Irishman by Timothy Egan.

By Michael M. Dugan

Michael M. Dugan was a 27-year veteran of the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) and served as the captain of Ladder Company 123 in Crown Heights Brooklyn before retiring. As a lieutenant, he served in Ladder Company 42 in the South Bronx. While assigned as a firefighter in Ladder Company 43 in Spanish Harlem, Dugan received the James Gordon Bennett medal in 1992 and the Harry M. Archer Medal in 1993, the FDNY’s highest award for bravery. He is also a former volunteer firefighter in the Halesite (NY) Fire Department. Dugan has been involved with the fire service for more than 40 years. He is an instructor at FDIC and a contributing author to Fire Engineering. He is also on the FDIC and Fire Engineering executive advisory boards. Dugan has been a featured lecturer around the country and at FDIC on topics dealing with truck company operations, building construction, size-up, and today’s fire service.

Pennwell