World ignores an 'inconvenient truth' about Meagher Day
We have about 66 days left before Christmas Day dawns, so that leaves in or around 138 days counting down to Meagher Day.
No doubt most readers are busy preparing for the first but Enniscorthy councillor Keith Doyle is probably one of very few people around County Wexford getting themselves into a tizzie about the second: 'Until I die, I will be remembering that we had the first Irish flag.'
If everyone was of the same passionate persuasion, then we should be getting set to make March 7 next into a worthy commemoration of the fact (and it is a fact) that the three-coloured design made its debut on Slaneyside on that date in 1848. But the councillor and businessman reports a dismal lack of interest in Meagher Day on the part of both Wexford County Council and his native Town Council.
It is generally indisputable that the tricolour we all now know and stand to attention for dates back 165 years. Inspired by France's blue, white and red, it is believed that the Irish prototype may have been produced by Parisian well-wishers keen to promote republican ideals in Ireland during that tempestuous year of revolutions all over Europe.
In the past, the honour of being first into the field with the green, white and orange was claimed by Tipperary but this claim has been long since been laughed out of court. Back in 1998, Cllr. Doyle put down an Enniscorthy marker which chimed in well with the United Irishmen commemorations going on at that time.
Then serving as urban council chairman, he enlisted Deputies John Browne and Ivan Yates, representing the Catholic (green) and Protestant (orange), traditions symbolised on the flag. At his request, the two TDs held hands to run a tricolour up a pole in the Market Square on March 7 in that year. He felt that this was a satisfactory way of putting County Wexford's claim on the record. He now realises that he did not go far enough.
'I always said it would come back to haunt us that we didn't put a plaque up,' he says ruefully. Enniscorthy has stood still in the Meagher Day stakes and Waterford has taken over. Google the issue and all that the search engine throws up is Waterford, Waterford, Waterford. The rest of the world, it seems would prefer to ignore the inconvenient truth that Wexford has just as much call as the crowd on the other side of the Barrow estuary to bask in the glory of Meagher Day.
It cannot be denied that Thomas Francis Meagher – let's call him TF – was a Waterford man and a great character altogether.
His membership of the Young Ireland movement earned him deportation to Australia after the rising of 1848. He escaped from the penal colony to the United States and had the distinction of being acting governor of Montana, no less, in 1885 and 1886, shortly before his death the following year.
During his Young Ireland phase, TF returned from France to promote the movement in the land of his birth during the first half of 1848. The campaign included use of the freshly minted tricolour, a splendid silk version of which was presented to a meeting of sympathisers in the city of Dublin – but that was in April, some weeks after March 7.
It was on the latter date that Waterford hailed the arrival of the new symbol of Irish unity in the face of oppression by monarchist Britain. It was on the latter date that Enniscorthy also enjoyed a look at the tricolour. The difference is that Waterford now makes a song and dance about the anniversary, with an annual festival, while Wexford has no plaque, no ceremony, no hullabaloo, to Keith Doyle's immense frustration.
'What I have been saying is that we should get equal billing with Waterford,' he says. 'We should be beating our chest over this. My information is that two Enniscorthy men smuggled the flag in from France. It was flown in Enniscorthy first.'
The late Micheál Tóibín, father of writer Colm Tóibín, filed a report with the Uí Cinsealaigh historical society which confirms the connection with the cathedral town. He quoted the 'Freeman's Journal' newspaper which carried a report on the demonstrations of March 7, 1848 inspired by the French Revolution:
'Our town was also lighted by bonfires in the Market Square and other quarters and enlivened by the temperance bands which played through the streets attended by an immense crowd at the head of whom was carried a tricolour flag (the colours green, orange and white) which was frequently saluted by loud and rapturous acclamation.'
Tóibín also quoted a piece that appeared in the 'Wexford Guardian': 'At an early hour in the evening, as if by magic, the town was illuminated by lighted tar barrels, carried on men's shoulders, while several thousand persons of every sect and party marched in procession through the streets, followed by a handsome tricolour flag, composed of orange, white and green colours and a band playing the most joyous and patriotic airs till a very late hour.'