♫ It’s not easy being green ♫ Happy St. Patrick’s Day, everyone!
Thomas D’Arcy McGee, was a politician, journalist, poet, historian, and orator. He was born in Ireland on April 13, 1825. In 1845, he joined the Young Ireland movement, and participated in the failed 1848 uprising against Britain. Wanted by the law, he disguised himself as a priest and escaped to America. He rapidly became disillusioned with anti-Irish and anti-Catholic sentiments in the United States.
Convinced that Irish Catholics were much better off in Canada, he moved to Montreal in 1857, where he launched the New Era newspaper and became a member of Parliament for Montreal West. McGee supported separate schools for Catholics, fought against both the militant Protestant Orange Order and the Irish revolutionary Fenian movement. He became an avid and eloquent supporter of Confederation. His uncompromising attacks on the Fenians alienated a significant section of his Irish Catholic constituency.
When the Conservatives gained power in 1863, McGee became the minister of agriculture, immigration and statistics.
By 1868, McGee was planning to leave politics, hoping to spend more time on his writing and poetry. However, he was not given the chance.
On April 7, 1868, McGee attended a late-night session in the House of Commons, where he gave a passionate speech in favour of national unity. On his walk back to his rooming house on Sparks Street in Ottawa, he was smoking a cigar and fumbled with his key in the lock. He was greeted by the owner Mary Ann Trotter as she opened the door for him. At that moment, a muzzle flash erupted, and as a .32 calibre bullet tore through McGee’s neck and through his jaw, knocking his dentures out, the politician fell back into the street.
By the next evening, over 40 Canadians, mostly Irish immigrants suspected of Fenian allegiance, had been arrested.
Patrick James Whelan was one of them. He was searched by Sgt. Davis, who produced from Whelan’s front right pocket a .32 Smith and Wesson pistol, with all six rounds still loaded. By April 9, the 28-year old Whelan was the prime suspect and charged with the murder.
He maintained his innocence throughout the proceedings, but the government needed somebody to blame, although the evidence against Whelan was entirely circumstantial. Questions about his guilt continue to be voiced, as his trial was “marred” by political interference, dubious legal procedures, allegations of bribing witnesses and easily discredited testimony.
Ironically, Whelan was defended by Protestant Orangeman John Hillyard Cameron, while the prosecutor was Irish-Catholic James O’Reilly.
Judge: “The sentence of this court is that you, Patrick James Whelan, having been accused and found guilty of the murder of Thomas D’Arcy McGee, be taken from this place to the place from whence you came and be thence removed on Thursday, the tenth day of December, between the hours of nine in the morning and four in the afternoon, to the place of execution, and there be hanged by the neck until your body be dead, and may God have mercy on your soul.”
He was publicly hanged in front of 5,000 spectators on February 11, 1869 at the Carleton County Gaol. His last words were “God save Ireland and God save my soul”.
McGee was given a state funeral on April 7, 1868.
- D’Arcy McGee’s to Host Annual St. Patrick’s Day Party (buffalorising.com)