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The Irish General: Excellent Bio of a Western Man

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As we concluded our visit at the Museum of the Rockies, I came across a book that said it all; The Irish General: Thomas Francis Meagher—Irish Revolutionary, Expatriate, Immigrant, Civil War General, and Montana’s infamous Territorial Governor. I hadn’t expected this kind of book, but it turned out to be just what I was looking for.

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Road below clouds. The Irish General
Long stretch of Montana highway

We’d arrived in Bozeman, Montana on the twenty sixth day of what would be a twenty-eight day road trip. Our cross county trip had meandered through a wide range of lives and landscapes, highlighting the nuances of America and the deep complexities of the American West.

Where did the West begin—the Rockies, the Mississippi, or the Atlantic Coastline? Who could claim the West as their own—the Native American, the emigrant, or the immigrant? 

This remarkable biography gives not only the storied life of a man, but the rich breath of color and curiosity that is the American West. Like the best biographies, this book is a tale of a man and the time in which he lived.

Cowboy in western hills. The Irish General
Lone rider

A Truly Western Life

Thomas Meagher’s life encapsulated the questions and concerns of the West in a way that few lives have. Born in Waterford, Ireland, his journey to Montana followed the trail of what would be the single largest land migration in history. This journey embraced a wide range of the forces that propelled it—poverty, prejudice, and politics.

To follow Meagher’s life is to step behind the curtain of nearly every significant event of the nineteenth century.

He lived the Revolutions of 1848, and the founding of Australia. He lived the wealth and squalor of Industrial New York, the senseless slaughter of the Civil War, and the ugly realities of frontier America. 

Above: A Medal presented to Meagher by the Irish Brigade, the famous all-Irish Union infantry unit.

Wylie’s treatment of Meaghers’ complex, controversial life is an admirable achievement. Though little known today, Meagher was an international figure beloved for his courage, despised for his ethnicity, maligned for his politics, ridiculed for his vices, and loathed for his doggedness.

Many loved him, more hated him, but everyone knew him—creating no small challenge for anyone who would desire to chronicle his life fairly. Wylie achieved this undertaking well, presenting us with the man himself, even in the context of the situations and society that surrounded him. 

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A Clear Picture

Finally, The Irish General reminds us of the messiness of the human experience, and hence the danger of sanitized history. The forces and motives that propel people and societies are multifaceted and frequently changing, requiring us to set aside our personal background, ask questions, and listen carefully.

True history—the kind of history we find Wylies’ book—cultivates a humility that woos us away from our platforms and into conversation with our neighbors.

Meagher’s Cabin in Virginia City, Montana. Meagher sought to bring stability to a territory ensnared with civil and political divisions.

© Copyright 2021 Brian A. Warren

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About the author

Brian Warren is a native of California and has traveled extensively throughout the United States, Canada, and several other countries. He's husband to Jennifer, Dad of six children, and taught middle school history for several years. His special interests include craft beers, the American Old West, and geology. Brian is also an online marketing specialist and cofounder of Dinkum Tribe, a website dedicated to healthy, happy families. Feel free to send Brian a message at [email protected].


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