By the end of the eighteenth century some liberal Protestants were empathetic to the discrimination of the Irish Catholics and a few became important leaders. Early Irish settlers in America, predominantly Protestant, were prevalent in the Revolutionary War (1775-1783). In 1778 and 1779 France and Spain, enemies of Great Britain, supported the Americans (to whom, it should be noted, the Penal Laws also applied, except in Pennsylvania and Rhode Island). Banished Irish soldiers had long been active in European armies, so Irishmen could, in some instances, simultaneously defend their adopted homelands while fighting Great Britain from another shore.
Throughout Ireland in the late 18th century people organized and pro-actively prepared to protect themselves if necessary as they also idealistically supported the American quest for freedom. The first widespread political organization, the Volunteers was born, and Great Britain had to face both their demands and the defeats she was suffering across the Atlantic Ocean. The Volunteers made much progress, but only some of the liberal leaders in Ireland were willing to share their power completely with Catholics, and the leaders in the Irish Parliament in communication with the English Parliament remained polite and conservative.
Inspired by the social revolution in France and the success in America, disappointed that the Volunteers had not been able to sway Parliament further, and with a possible war between England and Spain on the horizon, barrister Theobald Wolfe Tone wrote a treatise in 1791, An Argument on Behalf of the Catholics of Ireland. He called for a unification of the Irish Catholics and the “radical” Protestants. He asserted that Ireland had no issue against Spain, and that Ireland herself was unwillingly under British control.
In October 1791, along with Samuel Neilson and Thomas Russell, he formed the Society of United Irishmen in Belfast. After the enlistment of Napper Tandy, the Dublin Society of United Irishmen was formed the following month. The goal of the society was to create 300 Parliamentary representative areas in Ireland with every Irishman allowed to vote. Continual tightening of control on the part of Great Britain, however, caused the middle and upper class group to become increasingly radicalized, and it transitioned into a widespread underground movement that prepared for active rebellion.
Tone was deported to the United States in 1794, from which he traveled to France to seek military help, arriving there in early 1796. In December that year a French army of 12,000-14,000 men in 33 ships attempted to land in southwest Ireland’s Bantry Bay, but delays and sudden bad weather caused them to abandon their invited surprise invasion and they returned home. By 1798, when the 280,000 strong United Irishmen constituency in Ireland were galvanized to fight, the French did not come back to help until too late, with too little presence.
With Britain tipped off that a plan for rebellion had been underway many of the known Irish leaders were arrested, keeping them out of the eventual uprisings in May and June 1798 in Curragh, Tara, Antrim, Ballynahinch, New Ross, Arklow and Vinegar Hill, south of Dublin, where Wolfe Tone arrived with French forces that were captured by the British. Tone was convicted as a traitor and committed suicide before he could be hanged. These battles resulted in the horrific loss of 30,000 lives and the deportation and execution of many.
Joseph Casimir O’Meagher noted that Thomas, the son of William Meagher of Nicholastown, Kilkenny, and Mary Dunne, aunt of a Bishop of Ossory, was “directly implicated in the rebellion of ’98 and fled to America.” He had left home at age 23 and “was lost sight of.” Born in 1731, he would have been 67 at the time of the rebellions. He had been married to “Beauty Kavanagh” of Kilkenny and had two children, the Kilkenny attorney, “handsome Jack Maher” and Joanna, who also emigrated to America. Jack died unmarried in 1855 and had been a very popular host, friends with many in the upper classes. (O’Meagher, pp. 141, 201, 202) One Major William Maher, perhaps the same William, served in the 87th Royal Irish Fusileers, fought in Portugal, and died in Freshford, Kilkenny in 1836 (pg. 139).
After the rebellions of 1798 an Act of Union was proposed that removed the existence of an Irish Parliament and seemed to suggest the possibility of Catholic emancipation (which did not occur until April 1829, through the leadership of Daniel O’Connell). Hotly debated, the Act of Union, joining Ireland to England in the way Scotland and England were joined in 1707, was narrowly passed in 1800. The O’Meaghers were firmly against it, according to Joseph Casimir O’Meagher, except for those who had ties to those in positions of power, who tended to support it. He listed key members of the clan (O’Meagher, pp. 155, 156), and I have provided further location details and some notes from his extensive ones about some of the individuals:
Dublin, County Fingal • Samuel and William O’Meagher (William, “Attorney of the King’s Bench,” pg. 142) • Francis Meagher (“a distinguished lawyer,” pg. 152) • Thadeus Meagher (“enlisted in the 7th Fusileers so as to avoid the consequence of a fracas in which he had taken part…” and after notable service was buried in 1820 with a military funeral; pg. 141)
County Kilkenny: • John Maher, Freshford (likely the son of William of Tennylenton, whose father was William Meagher (born 1697), Nicholastown, pp 201,202) • John Maher, Nicholastown (Likely brother of Thomas, above, sons of William Meagher). John (born 1728) and his wife Catherine Kearney, of Tipperary, had four children, including Dr. Richard Maher, Waterford, pg. 201) • Meaghers of Kilkenny and Callan, Co. Kilkenny
County Laois (Queen’s): • Meaghers of Clonburr • John and Nicholas Meagher, Ballymorris
County Limerick: • Meagher of Snugboro
County Offaly (King’s) • O’Meaghers of Barnan
County Tipperary: • Dr. Pierce Meagher, Cashel • Nicholas Maher, Thurles (member of Parliament, 1844-1852, brother of Dr. William Maher; related to Valentine and Nicholas of Turtulla, and Major Maher of the 52nd Regiment, Oxfordshire Light Infantry (pg. 142) and to John (born 1778), later of Tullamaine Castle, pp. 138, 142) • Gilbert Meagher, [Loughmore] • Edmond Meagher, Clonmel • William Meagher, Thurles [Dr.?] • Daniel Meagher, Tullow mac James • John O’Meagher, Fethard • John Maher, Tullamaine Castle (Fethard) (ancestors of John, born 1778?) • Patrick Meagher, Slanestown Castle (Rathcool) • James Meagher, Coolquill Castle • Meaghers of Cloneen and Kilbury • Denis O’Meagher, [Kilmoyler] (Denis James O’Meagher, of Toureen and Kilmoyler, “represented the Catholics of Tipperary in the struggle for emancipation,” O’Meagher, pp. 142, 150) • Edward O’Meagher, Marlhill • Francis O’Meagher, Bansha (one Francis Meagher was included in the Banishment Act with Thomas Addis Emmet, Lord Edward Fitzgerald and others in 1798, pg. 141) • Thomas O’Meagher, M.D. • O’Meaghers of Clonyne and Clonakenny • O’Meaghers of Roscrea and Templemore • Brian O’Meagher of Drangan
County Waterford: • Thomas Meagher (perhaps ancestor of “the” Thomas Francis Meagher, Joseph Casimir O’Meagher’s biographical synopsis of whom is archived, unattributed, online.) • Richard Meagher, M.D (see John Maher, Nicholastown, above) • William O’Meagher, Tourine
Counties Carlow and Meath: • Mahers of Co. Carlow and Co. Meath “etc.”
Connolly, S. J., Editor, The Oxford Companion to Irish History, Second Edition, Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 2002.
Foster, R. F., Modern Ireland 1600-1972, London, England: The Penguin Group, 1988.
Mac Annaidh, Séamas, General Editor, Irish History, Fulham, London: Starfire, The Foundry Creative Media Company, Ltd., 2001.
Moody, T.W., and Martin, F. X., Editors, The Course of Irish History, Cork, Ireland: The Mercier Press, 1978.
O’Donnell, Edward T., 1001 Things Everyone Should Know About Irish American History, New York: Gramercy Books, 2002.
O’Meagher, Joseph Casimir, Some Historical Notices of the O’Meaghers of Ikerrin, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., American Edition: NY, 1890.
©2011 Sinéad Ní Mheachair (Janet Maher)
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