Thomas D’Arcy McGee – Irish Rebel Turned Fenian Opponent

Good article here from the Toronto Globe and Mail on the controversial Thomas D'Arcy McGee.

Thomas D’Arcy McGee – the man who saw beyond Confederation

On April 7, 1868, Thomas D’Arcy McGee was assassinated on the doorstep of his boarding house in Ottawa. In his short, turbulent life – he was just shy of his 43rd birthday – he accomplished more than most men could ever imagine.

He wrote serious history and a multitude of poems, delivered hundreds of speeches, edited newspapers, was elected to Parliament not long after arriving in Canada from Ireland, defended the interests of Irish Canadians as he saw those interests and, in the last great battles of his life, fought for Confederation and against the extremism of the Irish Fenians, who sought the liberation of Ireland by all means, including violence.

The article mentions a two volume set of books on McGee by David A. Wilson. They are available on Amazon here:

Vol. 1: Thomas D'Arcy McGee: Passion, Reason, and Politics, 1825-1857

Vol. 2: The Extreme Moderate, 1857-1868

Tags: Canada, D'Arcy, Fenians, Irish history, McGee, Thomas

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Very interesting…TKS for linking to this story.

Interesting how many revolutionaries as they age (one could argue 'mature') abandon armed struggle for constitutional means of effecting change! Witness Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness.

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise.” F. Scott Fitzgerald

The McGee story was fascinating because his story ran the gamut from the level of commitment to physical and political action; and then a relaxing into a humanist view. It’s unfortunate he was murdered. The mad passions of youth often make for hopelessness blinders made of one option at least until the oppressors involved show the respect necessary to even dream of a political solution. Within recent memory, when Unionists had to meet with “them,” gross prejudices were self-broadcast when public servants refused to “touch” “them” with a handshake or share toilet facilities! Progress came from the efforts of many good men and women of courage and conviction, many of whom died at the hands of a draconian state while they were engaged in peaceful marches. Change also from the rise of electronic news gathering, devoted reporters who shared photographs of atrocities, sharing of information and blasting to the world how dismissive and gross the existing prejudices and cruelties were for some people in their own country! Those who perceive other human beings as subhuman due to cultural conditioning have to be dragged through many wasted years before they are forced by outside eyes to “play nice”. And then one can go the political path. 

Some reports of the aftermath of “Little Big Horn” told of Indians moving among the American dead with an instrument like a knitting needle. It was used to help “open the ears” of the Americans…so they could “listen and hear” better in the next life. Signs & Symbols. When we can get past labels and see each other as fellow travelers on the wheel of life, we’ll be all right. It’s a lifelong struggle with so many heaping helpings of man’s inhumanity to man.

But in the case of McGee he didn't switch from supporting the armed struggle for Irish independence to supporting constitutional means to achieving independence as have Adams and McGuinness. He totally abandoned the independence movement to support something close to the "Free State" status Ireland would actually attain in 1922. McGee actually became an opponent of republicanism. No doubt some would argue that Adams and McGuinness have, in practice, also given up on the republican cause, but they have not done so publically.

Joe, point taken. Why was McGee hated enough by Fenians to want him dead? And was his metamorphosis gradual, or quickened by one or several key events? 

Kath, what have you read or recommend on the subject of achieving reconciliation in Northern Ireland? Have you visited there, engaged the natives? I traveled through Belfast on my bike in June 1974, after riding through Scotland on a break from Trinity. I stayed in a B&B in the Queens University neighborhood, considered then one of the safest neighborhoods in Belfast. I found during my 24 hours there the city to be pleasant -- a British soldier posed for me at a checkpoint and a worried bypasser entered a card store asking who owned the bike with full pannier bags leaning against a lamppost -- he was worried about it holding a bomb. It was, my third undergrad year in Ireland, a real adventure.


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