Documentary Film Series to Tell Tales of the Irish in Montana

December 12, 2016

Promotional flyer for “Her Exiled Children.”MISSOULA – The Friends of Irish Studies in the West, along with the Irish Studies program at the University of Montana, are in the initial stages of planning a series of documentary films called “Her Exiled Children (A Clann Díbeartha): The Irish of America and the Shaping of a New Ireland.”

According to the project’s Indiegogo site, the films are designed to tell the story of the Irish of Montana and America and how they helped change the course of Irish history. The first film’s subject, Thomas Francis Meagher, sought Irish independence. Other films will delve into the history of Marcus Daly, who sought economic independence, and Sean O Sullivan and Seamus Moriarty, who fought to save the Irish culture. Through their lives, filmmakers will show the enduring love and commitment of Irish Americans to Ireland and its people.

“Our hope is that these films will not only record and share a history of the Irish in Montana but will focus nationwide attention on the rich Irish culture of this state, the unique Irish Studies program we have, and, in some small way, help to attract out-of-state students from the greater Irish American community,” said Traolach Ó Ríordáin, UM Irish Studies program director. “So we really have two objectives here: The first is to educate and to encourage the study of the history of the Irish in Montana, and the second is to promote the UM Irish Studies program.”

The first documentary examines the politics of the Irish and how Irish Americans influenced modern Ireland, focusing on Meagher. It is unlikely that there was any Irish American political leader whose life was more closely bound up with the fortunes of Ireland and America than that of Meagher’s. Born in 1823 in Waterford, Ireland, into a prosperous Catholic family, Meagher did not settle for the life of comfort he could have enjoyed. Greatly troubled by British misrule in Ireland, which led to The Great Famine, he decided to dedicate his life to achieving Irish freedom.

He joined the radical Young Ireland movement, in which his considerable oratorical skills enchanted audiences and saw him rise to become one the best known nationalists of his time. He is remembered as the first to fly the Irish tricolor flag. He is also remembered for his role in the Young Ireland Rebellion, for which he was sentenced to death. This sentence was commuted to life in prison and deportation to the penal colony in Tasmania. Meagher then escaped to the United States, where he became the most celebrated Irish nationalist personality of his time. He was a newspaper editor, a lawyer and a public speaker. He joined the Union Army during the Civil War and rose to the rank of brigadier general. 

Following the Civil War, Meagher headed west to Virginia City, where he became the acting governor of Montana Territory. When he arrived, Fenian organizations and Irish Nationalist groups greeted Meagher with enthusiasm. He seemed to have found a constituency as passionate about Irish freedom as he was, but his time in Montana would be short. On July 1, 1867, Meagher disappeared under mysterious circumstances in Fort Benton.

Much has been written about the life of Meagher, but his story has never been told on film. This project is an effort to remedy this in a way that tells not just the biographical life of Meagher but argues that he played a founding role in the creation of a new cultural and political world: Irish America. This is the world that unites the United States and Ireland and enables those on this side of the Atlantic to shape the course of events in Ireland. 

To get involved in the project or for more information, call Ó Ríordáin at 406-243-6359 or email traolach.oriordain@mso.umt.edu. Further details are also available at http://hs.umt.edu/friends-irish-studies/

Contact: Traolach Ó Ríordáin, UM Irish Studies program director, 406-243-6359, traolach.oriordain@mso.umt.edu.