Remarkable light on a forgotten figure in Waterford’s history 

Remarkable light on a forgotten figure in Waterford’s history 
Thomas Meagher: Forgotten Father of Thomas Francis Meagher by Eugene Broderick (Irish Academic Press, €29.95/£27.99)

Thomas Meagher was described by Daniel O’Connell as “one of the best men that ever lived”. Yet he is only generally remembered as the father of Thomas Francis Meagher, the Young Irelander and later a Brigadier General in the US army of the Union. However, Thomas was a very significant historical figure in his own right.

Thomas was born in Newfoundland in Canada in 1789. His family had emigrated to that place to avail of the riches of its legendary fishing grounds. The family flourished. Initially in the retail business, Thomas’ father later was a ship-owner and active in the transatlantic trade. He transferred his family and the family business to Waterford City in 1817.


Thomas fitted easily into his new environment in Waterford and quickly emerged as the most active member of the family’s firm. In addition, between 1819 and 1825 he became an acknowledged leader of Waterford’s Catholic community.

In his pursuit of religious equality through the campaign for Catholic emancipation he was committed to constitutional and legal methods and the leadership of Daniel O’Connell. He was ever confident in his assertion of the rights of his co-religionists to equal treatment under the law and was a vocal defender of his faith and Church.

The 1826 general election in Waterford was a struggle between the entrenched opponents of Catholic emancipation and the increasingly assertive Catholic Association. Thomas was secretary of the Association in Waterford and had a major role in the defeat of Lord George Beresford, representative of the religious and political establishment.


In the aftermath of the election, with others, he established the Waterford Protecting Association to assist the tenants who were evicted for not voting for the landlords’ candidate. In 1829 his growing stature in the community was evinced when he was selected to act both as secretary and treasurer on a committee to present a memorial to Patrick Kelly, Bishop of Waterford and Lismore.

Following the enactment of the Irish Poor Law in 1838, Thomas served on the Board of Guardians supervising the local workhouse. In nominating him to the Board Fr John Sheehan stated that he was “influenced by a long acquaintance with the gentleman in question and with his charitable disposition and numerous acts of charity and beneficence”.

Thomas stood and was successful in the election to Waterford Corporation in 1842 and was elected mayor by his fellow-electors, thus becoming the first Catholic to hold this office since the seventeenth century. During the Famine (1845-8) he was a tireless member of the various local committees, attempting to assist the poor, the destitute, the ill and the dying.

Thomas served as MP for Waterford City from 1847 to 1857. Entering the House of Commons as an O’Connellite Repealer, he remained a life-long loyal supporter of the ‘Liberator’.