Friday 13 April 2018

Friend of my soul, farewell to thee! The death of Thomas D'Arcy McGee

150 years ago today, 80,000 people lined the streets of Montreal to say goodbye to a Father of Confederation, Thomas D'Arcy McGee, who was assassinated on his way home from parliament in the early hours of April 7th, 1868.

Thomas D'Arcy McGee


PH 70/02P
ARCAT Photograph Collection

McGee was born in Ireland in 1825. He first came to the United States in 1842, and quickly became involved in journalism and Irish Catholic affairs. He returned to Dublin for a few years before moving again to New York and Boston. His career as a journalist, orator, and author took off.

As an advocate for Catholic rights, McGee corresponded with the bishops of Toronto. Having decided that he didn't want to raise his children in the United States, in 1856 McGee wrote to Bishop de Charbonnel for advice about moving north:

"My Lord: Disappointed in this country of that religious freedom and equal justice, which was the hope of so many emigrants, I have all but resolved, to make my future home and that of my children, in the valley of the Ottawa, probably at Ottawa city.

"I write to ask the favor of your Lordship's advice - if you will be so kind as to give it me - as to that section of the province. 

"My hope is to bring up my children unstained and unmarked by false systems of education, or miseducation, and as I cannot isolate them thoroughly in this state of society, I am most anxious to take them, with that view, to Canada.

"For myself I possess a sort of half competence, which with a connexion with some Canada publication would yield me a sufficient income. My wants, except in books, are few and easily purchased. But I will not conceal from your Lordship, that being in my 32nd year, and having a passion for political studies, I would fain hope to enter your parliament, and render some service in the battle, which your Lordship is so heroically fighting for the souls of the children of your province. 

"As I expect to be in Montreal about the 25th instant, on a visit to the lower province, may I beg the favor of your Lordship's views, directed for me, to the care of Mr. Sadlier the publisher, of that city. 

"I have the honor to subscribe myself your Lordship's most obedient servant, Thomas D'arcy McGee"

July 10, 1856

C AH01.01
Bishop de Charbonnel Fonds

McGee became involved in Canadian politics, and went on to push for Canadian confederation. Somewhere along the way, he managed to anger the Fenian Brotherhood, who were blamed for his assassination.

After McGee's death, Archbishop Lynch wrote a heartfelt letter of condolence to his widow:

"My Dear Madam,

"Permit me to offer to you and your good children the heartfelt expression of my condolence in this hour of your severest trial and grief. May Almighty God Himself console you, and His Blessed Mother of Sorrows assist you to bear yours! I offered up the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for the repose of the soul of your honored husband and will not forget to include him in in my mementoes of the Holy Mysteries. I join in the universal grief of the people upon the sad death of one of the brightest ornaments of our country and abhor with my whole heart the wicked deed which cut short so valuable a life.

"I am, my dear Madam, with renewed expression of condolence your most humble servant."

April 10, 1868

L AF03.10
Archbishop Lynch Fonds

Lynch saved a clipping from an 1875 newspaper that memorialized McGee:

April 8, 1875

L AF03.11
Archbishop Lynch Fonds

Though his life was relatively short, McGee left a lasting impression on the country. He was a voice for the Irish and for Catholics. His photo was passed down through the family of Fr. Gerald Culliton before it made its way to the archives:

ca. 1867

PH 70/01P
ARCAT Photograph Collection

Fun fact! D'Arcy McGee was quite the poet. You can read his collected works here.

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