Instaread summary of The Immortal Irishman The Irish Revolutionary Who Became an American Hero by Timothy Egan
Five out of five stars
The name Thomas Meagher is one that appears very rarely in the history books. He grew up in Ireland in the first half of the nineteenth century and was an outspoken opponent of the oppressive British rule of Ireland. Meagher joined the Young Ireland group that advocated violent opposition to the British. Much of this was due to the potato famine that began in 1845, where the British refused to render aid, leading to mass suffering and starvation.
When an uprising failed in 1848, Meagher was exiled to Tasmania. After promising that he would not try to escape, Meagher was allowed freedom of movement, yet he renounced that pledge and fled to the United States. When the American Civil War began, Meagher took the side of the North and became a Brigadier General in command of the Irish Brigade. This was contradictory to the position of most Irish that were pro-slavery due to the fear of competing with free blacks for jobs. In his last years Meagher was the acting governor of the Montana Territory, a job that was at best difficult and he died under suspicious circumstances.
The strength of this summary is that it puts the life of Thomas Meagher well within the context of the times. Although the Irish were oppressed under the British and were discriminated against when they came to the United States during the famine, they felt it in their economic interests to be pro-slavery and anti-black. In other words to engage in discrimination themselves. This is a very important aspect of that time in history, especially Meagher’s actions in commanding a brigade that suffered horrendous losses in battle. The violent riots against the draft and the repeal of slavery that took place in New York City during the Civil War were largely an expression of Irish opposition.
The best section of the summary appears in the “Author’s Style” section.
“Meagher lived an exciting life as revolutionary, prisoner, escapee, general, and frontier official, so Egan has a lot of material to work with in crafting a page-turner. Still, at times Egan’s style can seem a little too breathless, and the characters a little too flamboyant to be entirely believable. The ‘Immortal Irishman’ presents history as adventure story and Thomas Meagher as a larger-than-life hero, sailing and galloping across the continents. It’s entertaining, but at times it can sacrifice balance and accuracy in pursuit of a good yarn.”
This is an important point to make as there is an enormous difference between true history and the pseudo-history that allows the author to embellish in pursuit of a more engaging story. The fact that this was somewhat the latter was clear as I was reading through the key takeaways.
This book was made available for free for review purposes.