The Immortal Irishman: The Irish Revolutionary Who Became an American Hero

This rollicking history (384 pages) was published in March of 2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. The book takes you to 19th-century Ireland. David read The Immortal Irishman and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if he didn't recommend it.

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The Immortal Irishman

The Irish Revolutionary Who Became an American Hero

Timothy Egan

Get ready for a raucous romp through history with one of the most colorful and remarkable Irishmen of the 19th century. Meet Thomas Francis Meagher, an unforgettable character who also possessed a great deal of character.

Engage even a little bit with world history, and one of the themes that will emerge almost immediately is colonization. This deeply researched and precisely written book makes something abundantly clear: The English began their long and problematic habit of colonization with the people closest to them, the Irish.

As author Timothy Egan writes in his opening paragraph, ‘For the better part of seven centuries, to be Irish in Ireland was to live in a land not your own.’ England controlled the land, the language, love, and marriage. Irish people couldn’t sing their folk songs or play their music. And all of this deprivation and punishment was in retaliation for their refusal to become English.

Onto this fractured and messy historical stage strode our hero Thomas Francis Meagher. The son of a wealthy man, Thomas is smart, eloquent, and a gifted writer. He’s an idealist and a romantic and a troublemaker. He’s also hungry, thanks to the Irish potato famine — and soon after that, he was radicalized.

Tried for treason at 26, he was sentenced to ‘transportation for life’ — an exile to Tasmania. After high adventure in his new home, he scarpers off to the United States — after an audacious and daring prison break — and that’s where his legend takes on even more epic proportions: the newspaper business, the Civil War, a stake in Montana, and a devastating steamboat mishap.

Meagher’s middle name should have been ‘adventure’ because his real-life escapades read like a novel. Egan takes us along on Meagher’s exploits so we experience the breadth of the Irishman’s life and influence, both in his native land and his adopted home of the US. Detailed, entertaining, and inspiring, this 200-year-old story feels both intimate and fresh.

For the better part of seven centuries, to be Irish in Ireland was to live in a land not your own. You called a lake next to your family home by one name, and the occupiers gave it another. You knew a town had been built by the hands of your ancestors, the quarry of origin for the stones pressed into those streets, and you were forbidden from inhabiting it. You could not enter a court of law as anything but a criminal or a snitch. You could not worship your God, in a church open to the public, without risking prison or public flogging. You could not attend school, at any level, even at home. And if your parents sent you out of the country to be educated, you could not return. You could not marry, conduct trade or go into business with a Christian Protestant. You could not have a foster child. If orphaned, you were forced into a home full of people who rejected your faith. You could not play your favorite sports – hurling was specifically prohibited. You could not own land in more than 80 percent of your country; the bogs, barrens and highlands were your haunts. You could not own a horse worth more than five pounds sterling. If you married an Englishman, you would lose everything upon his death. You could not speak your language outside your home. You would not think in Irish, so the logic went, if you were not allowed to speak in Irish. — Timothy Egan

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