Leaders Are Readers
B y M i c h a e l M . D u g a n T he Immortal Irishman: The Irish Revolutionary Who Became an American Hero by Timothy Egan is a great read. This is the story of Thomas Francis Meagher, who was born into privilege in 1823 in Waterford. He was born into a Catholic family in Northern Ireland, which was under British rule at the time. Meagher could have been happy with the status quo and just stayed in Northern Ireland and made money in his family
business but because of the conditions in Ireland,
especially after the great potato famine, he became
an opponent of British rule in Northern Ireland.
At that time, the British government had more
troops in Ireland than they did in colonial India.
Meagher was sentenced to death and was to
be decapitated and then drawn and quartered.
Because of an international outcry, his sentence
was commuted and, at the age of 26, he was
shipped to Tasmania, a British penal colony.
He escaped and made his way to America, arriving in
New York City in 1852. Meagher became a mentor
and was looked on as a savior by some in the Irish
community in America at that time.
The American Civil War broke out and, in a move
of sheer brilliance, Abraham Lincoln appointed
Meagher a general and the commander of the Irish
brigade. The brigade’s motto was “Riamh Nar Dhruid
O Spairn Lann,” which, translated from the Gaelic,
means, “Who never retreated from the clash of
spears.” The fighting 69th, as the Irish brigade was
known, put a sprig of green in their caps. Meagher
was said to have stated to his men, “Many of us are
going to die today, but when they recover our bodies
they will know we’re Irish.” Robert E. Lee was supposedly the person who nicknamed the fighting 69th
because of the way the brigade continued to do its job
even though it was facing impossible odds.
After the war, Meagher wanted to get away because
the prospect of facing the family members of all the
men who died with him during the Civil War was
daunting to him. He was looking for a fresh start
and President Andrew Johnson appointed him as the
first secretary of the territory of Montana. On July
1, 1867, Meagher fell overboard on a steamship into
the Missouri River. His body was never recovered,
and there are speculations that his death was not an
accident—although this has never been proven.
This book translates very well
to the fire service because Thomas Francis Meagher
gave up a life of privilege to pursue his passion—a
better life and world for the people of Ireland. Though
after being sent to Tasmania he was never allowed to set
foot in Ireland again, he still longed for home.
Commitment, sacrifice, duty, tradition, and pride are
words we use in the fire service to show our communities, families, and friends why we do what we do. This
is a well-written and well-told story that firefighters and
fire officers will enjoy. I highly recommend The
Immortal Irishman by Timothy Egan.
Michael M. Dugan was a 27-year veteran of the Fire Department
of New York (FDNY) and served as the captain of Ladder Company
123 in Crown Heights Brooklyn before retiring. As a lieutenant, he
served in Ladder Company 42 in the South Bronx. While assigned
as a firefighter in Ladder Company 43 in Spanish Harlem, Dugan
received the James Gordon Bennett medal in 1992 and the Harry
M. Archer Medal in 1993, the FDNY’s highest award for bravery.
He is also a former volunteer firefighter in the Halesite (NY) Fire
Department. Dugan has been involved with the fire service for
more than 40 years. He is an instructor at FDIC and a contributing author to Fire Engineering. He is also on the FDIC and Fire
Engineering executive advisory boards. Dugan has been a featured
lecturer around the country and at FDIC on topics dealing with
truck company operations, building construction, size-up, and
today’s fire service.
Book Report: The Immortal Irishman
A review of Timothy Egan’s book