Saturday, August 29, 2009

"History is a guide to navigation in perilous times. History is who we are and why we are the way we are."- David C. McCullough

Thomas Francis Meagher

Eamon De Valera

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I have been reading books written by Irish Authors in preparation of our move to Ireland. Although I began with fiction, I had always intended to learn more about the true history of Ireland. As a descendant as well as a new resident, I felt a responsibility to know at least the basics. As I began to read, I noticed that the threads of history were woven throughout all of the fictional stories. It is almost as if it is difficult, if not impossible, to write a story about Irish people without at least some subtle reference to the history.

Now that I am here, I have begun to investigate the actual events that occurred here, the people involved and the impact that they have on life here today. The more I learn, the more that I regret not knowing these things before. I am also reminded that all nations and peoples have histories and how little I really know about those. But I will stay focused for the moment.

Before I left, my Uncle Brian called me with some guidance and advice. He has spent lots of time here and has made many connections. He is also the most knowledgable person on my mom's side when it comes to our ancestry. One of the places he told me that I had to see was Kilmainham Jail. I have not been yet, but I have read an interesting book about Kilmainham which was written by it's former archivist. It is called "Every Dark Hour" by Niamh O'Sullivan.

Ms. O'Sullivan tells the story of the Jail through the prisoners who were detained there, many of whom were political prisoners. One prisoner, Thomas Francis Meagher, was an Irishman who fought for Irish Independence, and was eventually exiled to Tasmania. After an escape, he fled to the United States where he formed the Irish Brigade, made up of predominantly Irish immigrants who fought in the Civil War. Meagher and the Irish Brigade had a huge impact on major battles in the Civil War, as well as improving the perception of Irish Immigrants.

Another Kilmainham prisoner, Eamon De Valera was born in New York to an Irish mother and a Cuban father. He was raised in Ireland and attended Blackrock College, which is close to where we will live and still has a great reputation for education as well as sports. De Valera or "Dev" was spared execution at Kilmainham probably due to his American citizenship. His political career began in 1908 and ended at his death in 1975.

I hesitated to mention any of these figures in my blog, knowing that a few short sentences could never encompass their contributions. But I decided to write what I did because I only learn history when I discuss history, and because maybe a reader might just be intrigued enough to learn a little more.

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