Thomas D'Arcy McGee

From A Compendium of Irish Biography, 1878

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McGee, Thomas D'Arcy, statesman, was born at Carlingford, 13th April 1825. His mother was the daughter of a Dublin bookseller (Mr. Morgan) who participated in the Insurrection of 1798; and all the men both of his father's and his mother's families were United Irishmen, except his father, who was in the coast guard service. When eight years of age his parents removed to Wexford, and there he lost his mother. She had specially stimulated his young mind to a love of Ireland — her poetry, her traditions, her history. At seventeen he had read all that had come within his reach, and seeing little prospect of advancement at home, he emigrated to America. At that period the Irish population in the States were eager in the Repeal movement; and on the 4th July 1842, he made his debut as an orator at a gathering of his countrymen. He obtained an engagement on the Boston Pilot, and two years later became chief editor of that paper — a position of great responsibility for a youth of nineteen.

The fame of his speeches at Repeal meetings crossed the Atlantic, and O'Connell referred to them as "the inspired utterances of a young exiled Irish boy in America." He now accepted an invitation to return to Ireland and assume the editorship of the Freeman; but the Freeman proved too moderate in its tone — too cautious, as it were — and finding that he was not at liberty to change its character and its course, he accepted the offer of his friend, Charles Gavan Duffy, to assist him in editing the Nation in conjunction with Davis, Mitchel, Reilly, and their friends. In such hands the paper became the exponent of the advanced ideas that ultimately led to the separation of the Young Ireland from the O'Connell party. As secretary to the committee of the Confederation, he was one of those deputed to rouse the people to action. For a stirring address at Roundwood, County of Wicklow, he was imprisoned, but soon after succeeded in obtaining his release. In the summer of 1848 he was in Scotland on a mission to his fellow-countrymen, when the abortive rising took place in Ireland. At imminent risk of arrest, he crossed to Belfast, was concealed by Dr. Magran, Bishop of Derry, had an interview with the young wife to whom he had been married but a few months, and, disguised as a priest, escaped to America, landing in Philadelphia the 10th of October.

He immediately started the New York Nation, devoted to the interests of his country. In its columns he openly threw the blame of failure in Ireland on the Catholic priesthood and hierarchy, thereby involving himself in a controversy with Archbishop Hughes. Having abandoned the Nation, in 1850 he commenced in Boston the American Celt. But a change soon came over his mind, and he threw himself unreservedly into the cause of Catholicism, apart from any nationality, believing, as he expressed himself in a letter to his friend Meagher, "that it is the highest duty of a Catholic man to go over cheerfully, heartily, and at once, to the side of Christendom — to the Catholic side — and to resist, with all his might, the conspirators who, under the stolen name of liberty, make war upon all Christian institutions." He continued to edit the Celt in various parts of the States as the exponent of these principles, and to lecture on various questions connected with Ireland and Catholicism.

About 1858 he removed to Montreal, and was returned to the Canadian Parliament, in which he soon took a prominent part. In 1862 he accepted the post of President of the Executive Council; yet found time to write his History of Ireland whilst performing the onerous duties of that office. In 1865 he visited home, and while sojourning with his father in Wexford, gave much offence to his countrymen in America by descanting upon the generally degraded condition of the Irish population in the United States. In 1867 he was sent to Paris as a Canadian Commissioner to the Great Exhibition, and took the opportunity of making a general tour of the Continent. The same year he met his colleagues of the Canadian cabinet in London, to lay before the Imperial Government their plan of federation. Indeed the grand project which united into the Dominion of Canada the scattered provinces of British North America was largely his own, both in conception and the carrying out of its details.

His persistent opposition to the Fenian organization, and his bitter denunciations of the invasions of Canada, led to his assassination at Ottawa on the morning of the 7th April 1868, aged 42, when returning alone from the Legislature. But three weeks before, on St. Patrick's-day, he had been entertained at a public banquet at Ottawa. The assassin was captured, tried, and executed. Mr. McGee will be best remembered in Ireland for his Poems (published in a collected form soon after his death), many of which are very beautiful — his early pieces being almost purely national, his later, purely religious. Besides a Popular History of Ireland (1862), already noticed, he was the author of Lives of Irish Writers (1846), History of the Irish Settlers in North America (1851), Catholic History of North America (1854), and many other works. In the latter part of his life he evinced the most unswerving loyalty to the British Government, and entirely abandoned the revolutionary ideas and projects of his earlier years.

Sources

226. McGee, Thomas D'Arcy, Poems, with Introduction and Biographical Sketch: Mrs. John Sadleir. New York, 1869.
McGee, Thomas D'Arcy, see Nos. 192a, 195, 229.

241. Men of the Time. London, 1856-'75.

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