Irish And Irish-Americans In Helena, Montana, 1864-1916
July 4, 1905, dawned as a bright sunny day in Helena, Montana. Some even said it was due to the “Luck of the Irish.” People, mostly Irish, from all over the state had come to see the unveiling of the Thomas Francis Meagher statue in front of the Montana state capitol building. Lieutenant Governor Edwin L. Norris in addressing the crowd of over 2,500 stated: He [Thomas Francis Meagher] was not native born, but long before he had come to these shores the principles of self-government, freedom and the rights of man had been born in him. Long before that spirit had reached this land the fire of liberty had been burning in Ireland. The fires lighted there served as beacons of liberty: Wherever there has been a meeting in the name or cause of liberty, wherever a sword has been raised for freedom, an Irishman has been found there. In erecting this monument to Gen. Meagher the thanks of the people of this state are due to the Meagher Memorial Association and to the Irishmen and citizens of this state who have assisted in the work. It is our duty to so shape our lives that we will do honor to the principles for which this man fought. It is not necessary for us to draw the sword to follow the example of Meagher but we can honor his memory by living up to the principles he fought for.1 Overlooking the valley, the statue of Thomas Francis Meagher astride a horse and brandishing a sword symbolized the proprietary air with which he was regarded in Helena. In Montana, the Irish have long cherished General Thomas Francis Meagher as their adopted son, not because he was a good politician, but because he represented an Irish success story of the American dream. In spite of being forced to leave Ireland, Meagher became a successful Union general in the United States Army during the Civil War and then was appointed Secretary for the Territory of Montana. Yet he never forgot his homeland nor its struggle for independence from English “tyranny." The Irish of Helena associated their own hardships with those that Meagher had successfully overcome. He personified the difficulties of immigration to the United States. In the political appointment of Meagher, they saw the triumph of an Irishman as a social and political equal to Americans, and yet one who was still willing to fight for Irish freedom. The Irish also identified with the problems of integrating themselves into the established economic structure. Thus, the story of Thomas Francis Meagher parallels the story of the Irish of Helena.