BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Thomas Keneally, author of "The Great Shame," who those for wa--did
not watch the first segment, give us a quick synopsis of what this
Mr. THOMAS KENEALLY, AUTHOR, "THE GREAT SHAME AND THE TRIUMPH OF THE IRISH IN THE ENGLISH-SPEAKING WORLD": It's an attempt to tell the
story of the great Irish calamity in the 19th century and early 20th
century from the point of view of prisoners sent to Australia for
crimes of protest or for political crimes.
LAMB: And you live where?
Mr. KENEALLY: I live in Australia, and I'm fortunate to have
forbears who were sent to Australia for political reasons. And so
does my wife have people who were ideal within the book; although
ideal with a far greater panorama than merely the ancestral.
LAMB: You said in the first interview that the time period is about
1830 up till about 19...
Mr. KENEALLY: 16.
Mr. KENEALLY: Yes, that's right.
LAMB: What happened in 1916?
Mr. KENEALLY: The Easter uprising. The--the Irish rebelled
from--d--during World War I from within the ranks of
the--of--of--well, of the old IRA and--and other rebel groups, took
over the post office in Dublin, fought a pitch battle against the
British army. And the British then responded with such severity after
the Easter uprising was put down that the entire populous--nationalist
populous anyhow--went the way of the rebels. And there was the
troubles and then the--the treaty, the division of Ireland into the
free state, later the Republic and the North, and everything that's
happened in the 20th century in--in Ireland since grew out of that.
LAMB: Going back to the beginning and the--the prisoners in here,
when--if you lived in Ireland back in--around the famine in 1845 or
so, or even before then, and you were arrested and thrown in jail,
usually how old were you?
Mr. KENEALLY: Well, the--the prisoners I deal with were generally
pretty young, in their early 20s. There were a lot of teen-age
prisoners from--sent to Australia, too. There were kids who committed
crimes deliberately--we have that on good testimony--to be sent to
Australia on convict ships as a means of escaping the--the famine.
There were even a--an obliging barrister, lawyer whom I deal with in
the book, who prosecuted boy children and sent them to Australia as a
means of en--ensuring their survival. You could be anything, however,
from your teen-age years, 14, 16, up to the--the 60s. On my wife's
great-grandmother's ship, there were women's--women in their 60s who
were transported for small theft.
LAMB: And what were the total number of people that were transported
from Ireland to Australia?
Mr. KENEALLY: Probably all up about a third of the convicts. There
were 150,000 convicts--50--50,000 from Ireland--and only a proportion
of those were political or protest criminals. But it--of course,
that--those numbers were swamped by--ultimately by the numbers of free
immigrants. There was free immigration occurring to Australia at the
same time from Ireland. So even during the convict era, probably most
of the Irish in Australia were free settlers, but there was this very
interesting proportion of prisoners and then within those an
interesting proportion of political prisoners.
LAMB: Trace two men, if you would, for me from your book. And the
reason I want to do this is 'cause they both end up opposing one
another, North and South in the Civil War, and the families even
oppose each other in--in an actual--I think, down in Fredericksburg.
You can tell us more about that. Thomas Meagher and John Mitchel.
Mr. KENEALLY: Yes. Thomas Meagher was Jesuit educated, son of the
Lord Mayor of Waterford. He was transported for high treason to Van
Diemen's Land, Tasmania.
LAMB: In--in Australia?
Mr. KENEALLY: In--in Australia. He was at the height of the famine.
These people were--Mitchel and Meagher were both against the shipping
out of the yearly harvest from Ireland to--generally to England,
and--and the harvest was shipped out as a means of maintaining the
market--for market reasons. And they were opposed to the shipping out
of the harvest and tried to prevent it in 1848.
Mitchel was a son of a Presbyterian minister from the border. He was
very famous. He was considered the president of the as-yet unachieved
Irish Republic. Meagher was very important, too, because he brought
back the present Irish flag from France, a tricolor, which is now the
flag which flies over the Republic of Ireland. They're both
transported, and they're both ultimately rescued by American-Irish
organizations, which sent money to Van Diemen's Land, as it was
called, to Tasmania to get these two eminent prisoners out.
LAMB: Let me go back, though, for a second. You say that Thomas
Meagher was from Waterford in the south of Ireland.
Mr. KENEALLY: Mm-hmm. Yes. And was a Catholic, and...
LAMB: How old was he?
Mr. KENEALLY: He was in his mid-20s, very glamorous speaker. He'd
achieved an--an international reputation as an orator in his early
20s, and a very dangerous orator he was, too. He made eloquent
speeches against the shipping out of the--of the Irish harvest while
people were starving. He made very eloquent speeches in favor of an
armed uprising. And for that reason, he was known as Meagher of the
LAMB: And if his father was Lord Mayor of Waterford, would that mean
that he had an allegiance to Britain?
Mr. KENEALLY: No. His father was the first Catholic Lord Mayor of
Waterford for 400 or 500 years, since the reformation. And he--his
father was a beneficiary of Catholic emancipation, which enabled
prominent Catholics to take up roles in government. His father was
also at one stage a member of the House of Commons. And Meagher, like
many of these more eminent prisoners sent to Australia, had stood for
the House of Commons himself, and been--but had been defeated. But
his father was at one stage a member of the House of Commons.
LAMB: Back in those days, was there such a thing as Waterford
Mr. KENEALLY: I--there was Waterford linen. I'm not certain that
the factory had--the crystal factory had begun in the 1840s. I'm not
sure. I may be wrong. That's an area of the story I'm afraid I
didn't go into.
LAMB: Thomas Meagher was sentenced to what? And for what exact
reason? And how--how long did he serve in prison in Ireland?
Mr. KENEALLY: A group of eminent Catholic and Protestant bourgeoisie
and gentry got involved in an uprising in 1848. They tried to raise
the peasantry to oppose the shipping out of the harvest, which had
occurred every year during the famine. They had a very poor
understanding of the peasantry. They didn't know how whipped,
demoralized or starving the peasants were. But these men were
involved in an abortive uprising, and they were charged with high
treason and condemned to death. Meagher was. And a famous Protestant
nobleman called William Smith O'Brien, condemned to death. Mitchel
had already been shipped off to Bermuda, and--from Bermuda to
LAMB: Where--now where--you said the border was where John Mitchel
was from. What border?
Mr. KENEALLY: The present border between north and south,
LAMB: Which county, do you remember?
Mr. KENEALLY: Between Ulster and--and the Northern Ireland and the
rest of Ireland. And in--Newry was in County Down, and it's--it's
where people who--who went to Northern Ireland during the troubles
would be familiar with the--in Newry, the great control point that you
had to go through if you were going to enter the North or leave the
North, great steel walls and a control tower, armed--armed British
soldiers, a control tower in which the number of your car would be
punched. Sometimes your car would be searched.
And it was right on that border that--symbolically very, very
effective in the symbolic sense that John Mitchel, the son of a
Presbyterian minister, came from. And...
LAMB: What was he doing?
Mr. KENEALLY: He was involved in young Ireland also--this movement,
which came to--reached its plans to stage a rebellion in 1848. And he
was transported to Australia for being involved in that as well.
LAMB: What--what--you know, why would they--if they'd been sentenced
to death and all, why were they then shipped off to Australia?
Mr. KENEALLY: Their death sentences were commuted. It was
considered unconstructive to--to hang, draw and quarter them.
Because another Irish hero early in the 19th century, Robert Emmet,
had been hung, drawn and quartered. His body had been--his body had
been--he'd been hung, cut down, his viscera pulled out, his--his
stomach cut open and his bowels pulled out. And then he was torn to
pieces by horses. And this had not been very good PR for the British
empire. And it produced a result that nearly every Irish family in
America called a child Robert Emmet Fitzgerald, Robert Emmet this or
that--Robert Emmet Kelly, Robert Emmet Ryan. So it produced an
opposite effect. It produced the--the martyrdom of Robert Emmet.
And there existed in America, actually a Robert Emmet Memorial
Association, which sounds harmless, but in fact, the Robert Emmet
Memorial Association was a radical group whose objective was the end
of British rule in Ireland. For Robert Emmet had said, `Let no man
write my epitaph. And when Ireland takes a place amongst the nations,
then let my epitaph, my monument be--be written.' And so there existed
this Robert Emmet Epitaph Society. I said--or association--I said
monument earlier, I met epitaph.
Mr. KENEALLY: And so they didn't to make a martyr of Meagher and
Mitchell and--and William Smith O'Brien.
LAMB: OK. Go back again--just try keep putting it in context, 1848,
the famine is over?
Mr. KENEALLY: The height of the famine--the potato crop fell in
the--failed in the fall of 1845. It failed again in 1846. The blight
didn't attack the potatoes in 1848, but not enough had been planted.
People had already eaten their seed crops and so on. And then it
struck again like a curse in 1848. And so, the--the catastrophe was
more or less still in midcourse in 1848.
LAMB: The Civil War started in 1861, and that's what I want to get
between, '48 and '61, Meagher and Mitchel on their way to Australia.
Did they both arrive at the same time?
Mr. KENEALLY: No. They arrived on different ships. Meagher was
transported with a number of other eminent rebels, and he--he escaped
to the US before--before Mitchel. The first Irishman to escape--the
first eminent Irishman to escape from Van Diemen's Land to America was
a man called Terence MacManus, who was greeted like a rock star when
he arrived in San Francisco on a Yankee ship, which helped him escape.
And MacManus held a remarkable place in the history of revolution in
Ireland because not only was he involved in revolution in 1848, but
ultimately on the eve of the Civil War, he would die in San Francisco.
And the Irish Republicans in San Francisco used his body as a
recruiting tool. They displayed his remains in the cathedral in San
Francisco. They shipped it across the isthmus of Panama, took it up
to New York where, again, it served in St. Patrick's Cathedral and in
various armories around the city as a great recruiting tool for a new
Irish Republican body called the Fenian Brotherhood. And then it was
taken to Ireland where his remains served the same purpose. They lay
in state and were used as a recruiting tool for Irish Republicans in
Ireland. The--the Fenian movement sought the violent overthrow of the
British rule in Ireland. It was a forerunner of the IRA. And so
MacManus had that destiny.
The other young men, Mitchel and Meagher, escaped--in Meagher's case
about 1852--and came to New York and found that peculiar system of
Irish poverty combined with Irish political power in New York, found
it fully operational. Mitchel escaped later. When he arrived in
Manhattan in 1853, he was greeted with a 31-gun salute, a salute
reserved for heads of state. He was greeted as if he were really the
president of Ireland. And yet, it's interesting how American politics
began to claim both these men. Democrat politics began to claim them
because they found that a lot of their former friends in young
Ireland, men who had escaped from Ireland instead of being transported
to Van Diemen's Land, had assumed positions of power in the Democrat
Party machine in New York, the machine that was called Tammany Hall.
And so they were immediately subsumed as legal figures into the
Democrat Party. But Meagher was a Union Democrat. He was always
going to stick with the--with the Union. Mitchel said the biggest
issue in America is the condition of the Irish industrial slaves of
the North. `What did the abolitionists ever say about the Irish
industrial slaves whose lives were utterly expandable on the
railroads, on the canal diggings, in--in the--on the wharfs of lower
Manhattan? They say nothing about that. They're fixated on
abolition. But I'm going to concentrate on the--on the appalling
destiny of the Irish industrial slave.'
And he--Mitchel tended to point to instances where--where plantation
owners used this Irish labor to clear really dangerous swamps in the
South, around Louisiana and so on. They used Irish labor rather than
use their slaves because they had an investment in their slaves. So
Mitchel said don't touch slavery, it--it is a British--abolition,
rather--it is a British plot devised to divide the only viable
republic on Earth. So Mitchel ended up going South and ran a Southern
newspaper, and during the Civil War, became an eminent Confederate
newspaper man, a friend of Jeff Davis, whereas Meagher was claimed by
America in a different way. He became a Union general and raised a
brigade of 5,000 Irishmen, nearly all of whom were members of the
Fenian Brotherhood. And led them into battle--a number of battles
during the Civil War.
So the--the plan to use the United States purely as a launching pad
for Irish activism was transmuted into two different attitudes towards
the Civil War and profound involvement because all--what you could
call Meagher's sons. Meagher was still a very young man. He was a
brigadier general in the Union army. He'd--he was a political
general. He happened to have a considerable capacity. But all his
boys--all his Fenian boys were destroyed in the Civil War. And
similarly, Mitchel's own sons from Tasmania, who followed him from
Tasmania, from Van Diemen's Land, they were destroyed in the Civil
War, too. Only one of the three of them survived, and he was badly
wounded. They were sacrificed in this war. So there were two Irish
attitudes towards abolition and towards the preservation of the Union.
And the Irish were fatally split in America over the Civil War.
LAMB: Let me go back just a couple of little things. When you would
travel in those days from Ireland to Australia, how long would it take
Mr. KENEALLY: A hundred--my--my wife's great-grandmother's boat--my
wife great--grandmother was a convict woman, 22-year-old--it took her
129 days at sea, and that was round about the passage at the--of that
time. Later, combination of sail and steam or the clipper ships
reduced that time to about 70 days. But for the convict ships, it was
LAMB: How many convicts would go on each ship?
Mr. KENEALLY: On my wife's great-grandfather's ship, there were
about 218 men; and on her great-grandmother's ship, there 135 convict
women and 30 children.
LAMB: We're talking about Hugh Larkin and Mary Shields?
Mr. KENEALLY: Yes, that's right.
LAMB: And they married where?
Mr. KENEALLY: They ultimately married each other in Australia. They
didn't know each other in Ireland. And I deal with them in the book
merely because unlike Meagher and Mitchel, they were working class.
They were peasant. They were the peasant convicts who contributed a
great deal to Australian society, who have numerous offspring, all of
them law-abiding. And they--they're therefore very interesting people
LAMB: Now in 1848 to 1860 or so, how many people lived in Australia?
Mr. KENEALLY: During the 1850s, it--under the impact of gold
discoveries, it began to reach a million by the end of the 1850s.
LAMB: In the entire country?
Mr. KENEALLY: In the entire enormous 300--or three million square
miles of Australia.
LAMB: How many are there now?
Mr. KENEALLY: And there are only 19 million there now. We don't
have a Mississippi, you see, we have--and there are great arguments
about how high the Australian population could be--should be.
Environmentalists and conservatives tend to say, `Keep it where it
is.' But that doesn't seem to me to be realistic.
Although we lack a Mississippi and that huge amount of alluvium that
the great river systems of America spread over the plains, nonetheless
we have very populous neighbors, such as Indonesia. And it seems
unrealistic to believe that we should peg it at 19 million. But I
would--if--if I can get beyond environmental concerns for a moment, I
would like a population of 40 million to 60 million for this reason:
That a population of 40 million to 60 million can make movies, write
books, make music without regard to the outside world. You see, if
you make an Australian movie, you have to have some American
distribution deal; and therefore, there's not that total cultural
independence which is desirable. So if our environment could stand
it, I'd like a population of 40 million to 60 million.
LAMB: OK. Go back, though. Australia had a million people. They
moved to 19 million today. Ireland, if I remember correctly, ended up
having about five million then and still has five million today.
Mr. KENEALLY: Yes, indeed. We--that's the story that I tell in the
book through these very--I hope--very human faces. I tell the story
of a decline from 8.2 million in 1841 through the famine, through
misgovernment and through continual immigration in the 19th and 20th
century, down to about five million. So by the turn of the 20th
century, by 1901, say, there was barely half the people in Ireland
who'd been there at the time of the census of 1841. And this is a
great scandal. This is a scandal of misgovernment. It's a scandal
for which, as I think I said the last time we talked, Tony Blair has
very graciously apologized. It was--it happened in no other part of
Europe, this huge depopulation.
LAMB: OK. Let's go then to the United States. Do you have any idea
how many people were here in 1860?
Mr. KENEALLY: I know that there were about--I think there were in
the early 1850s, about 40 million. I think it might have grown to
about 60 million at the time of the Civil War. But I do know this:
that in New York, there were 800,000 when--when Meagher arrived from
his great escape from Tasmania. And of those 800,000, 200,000 were
Irish. So there were the most--they were the first and most populous
immigrant group other than the white Anglo-Saxon Protestants.
LAMB: Not to overdo it, one million to 19 million in Australia, five
million still today all these years later in Ireland, and from about
60 million here up to 270 million people.
Mr. KENEALLY: Yes, it's only under the influence of the great
economic boom that's in progress in Ireland at the moment that you've
got a reversal of the hemorrhaging of population.
LAMB: Go back to the Australian imprisonment. Do they actually put
these folks in prison over there, these young men?
Mr. KENEALLY: No. They restricted them to a district, gave them a
ticket of leave, which on condition that they stayed within a given
district, and that they promise not to try to escape. They had to
report ma--regularly to magistrates and they were subject to police
surveillance. And they did chafe under this imprisonment, but they're
able to go out riding, they're able to--one of them started a
newspaper even in--in Hobart, in the chief Tasmanian port of--of
Hobart. But they--they did dream of--of escape throughout this time.
The working class convicts like my wife's great-grandparents, anything
could happen to them. They could be in a prison. They could be in a
chain gang. They could be in an unchained work gang. But my wife's
protest criminal great-grandfather was sent to a remote sheep station,
a remote sheep ranch where he worked as slave labor. And he seems to
have had a reasonable enough master and he did his time a long
distance from officials. And in a sense, he was lucky. He was not
sent to any of the convict hells that the Irish dreaded.
One of those was Norfolk Island, which happens to be a--was 600 miles
out in the Pacific. It's part of Australia. It was the worst place
to be sent to. And if Hugh Larkin, my wife's great-grandfather, had
offended in New South Wales, he stood a good chance to be sent to
Norfolk Island. Norfolk Island, there were cases of--the--the Irish
had a strong sense of theology. They knew you went to hell if you
suicided. So in Norfolk Island, you had this extraordinary
arrangement by which men--gangs of three men would--Irishmen would
pick straws, and the one who won--the one that picked the long straws
was killed with a shovel or a pick by the one who'd picked the second
longest straw. The second winner was the--the man who was placed
number two in this bizarre lottery stood trial and the third one, the
loser, gave evidence against him. This is a documented case. And
it's an eloquent demonstration of how horrifying the convict system
When Hugh applied to the government of New South Wales to have his
wife sent out to join him--his wife, Esther Larkin, sent out to join
him in New South Wales--and if she'd been able to come, she would've
escaped the famine. So it would have been a great benefit to her.
She never came, in fact. But when he applied...
LAMB: Hugh Larkin left his wife.
Mr. KENEALLY: Yes. Hugh Larkin was transported to Australia...
LAMB: ...and then remarried...
Mr. KENEALLY: ...and left a young wife and two children back in
LAMB: But married M--Mary Shields.
Mr. KENEALLY: And ultimately, he married Mary Shields, that's right.
LAMB: Had he ever divorced, by the way?
Mr. KENEALLY: Never divorced. Convicts had ways of working this
out. They weren't quite as Vaticanized as some modern
Catholics were and they--they tended to look upon Australia as a new
world, a new state of being. And therefore, if they couldn't be
reunited, they were known to remarry. They would remarry.
LAMB: Well, back to your--the three straws. Why would you have
to--why would somebody have to be killed among those three?
Mr. KENEALLY: Well, he wanted to be killed. He wanted to be killed
without doing it himself. He wanted to die, so horrifying was Norfolk
Island. He wanted to die, but he didn't want to do it himself,
because according to Catholic theology, suicides went to hell, and so
he was killed by a friend.
LAMB: How many times did that happen?
Mr. KENEALLY: Well, it's--it's documented on a couple of cases and
the story's told in Robert Hughes' great book, "The Fatal
Shore." And it is documented though the journals of the first Catholic
bishop who used to go to Norfolk Island to hear the confessions of men
who'd been condemned to death, to say Mass, to hear confessions
generally, and he encountered this practice.
LAMB: Now I want to come I want to just take a--just a short
break here and ask you a couple of questions, because we in this
country are going through a time where Frank McCourt has the number
one best-seller, or has had for a number of weeks, both paperback and
hardback, with stories about Ireland. Your book comes along. You
mention Robert Hughes. He's been fairly popular here. Do you know
Mr. KENEALLY: know him very well. I knew him before he was
Frank McCourt. I knew him when he was Malachy McCourt's shyer elder
brother, or quieter elder brother. I taught for a time, if--calling
it teaching is probably to dignify it, but I taught for a time at NYU.
And there was a club there called the Nine First Fridays, which was
made up of Irish-Americans and I was invited--being a notorious
Irish-Australian, I was invited into it. And the Nine First Fridays
had a number of literary people associated with it, generally women
like Mary Higgins Clark and Peggy Noonan. And Frank, at that stage,
was teaching at Stuyvesant High still and looking forward to
retirement on a teacher's salary.
And there was a time I went to New York and attended the Nine First
Fridays and someone said to me, `Did you know Frank's written a little
memoir of his childhood and it's being published by'--at that stage,
it was being published by Little, Brown. I don't know if, though,
they were the ultimate publish--publishers, or not. And I said,
`Yes.' You know, it didn't sound too promising, but here it is.
He writes very well, if I might say so, patronizingly. Of course, he
does--writes very well, and I'd love to have a quarter of his
royalties, but he -writes splendidly about the sense of degradation
that a lot of the Irish had. The sort of degradation, which even as
an immigrant in the 20th century, he brought to his job at the
Biltmore Hotel when he was a waiter or a busboy at the Biltmore Hotel,
this--the stories of which he tells in the new book "'Tis." And there
is a kind of continuity between this book and--and--a--and Frank
I'm not trying to sell my book on the back of my friend Frank, but it
was great to think that--at the time I first knew him, I was the
published writer and, fortunately, I didn't behave with the hubris of
a published writer and we're still friends, now that he's famous. But
I had the honor to read with him at the s--92nd Street Y, when I was
last in New York.
LAMB: What do you think the reason is for the success of all
these Irish books?
Mr. KENEALLY: I think it's time for them. I think it's time for
both a--an unashamed but a non-sentimental look at the--at the Irish.
They--they tended, particularly in America, to be portrayed
sentimentally through St. Patrick's Day and through various Irish
successes, through the sort of Irish-American Hall of Fame.
There's a splendid magazine in New York called Irish America, which
nominates the hundred most famous Irish-Americans every year. And
they're always very prominent people and they are an index of the
success of the Irish in America. But what must never be forgotten is
the degradation--the point--the point of--of degradation--the note of
degradation on which they entered this country, the note of
degradation in which they lived, perhaps, for two or three generations
after arrival, and of course, the most degraded of all, the Irish
convicts to Australia--the Irish peasant convicts to Australia.
And that's something I want to look at frontally and, in a way,
celebrate the redemption that the New World brought some of these
people, but -even convicts. I don't want to do it in a sentimental
manner. I try to go into the book in--in the book to go into the
question of Irish anti-Semitism and Irish anti--a--anti-black racism
as well into the look at the racism with which they themselves were
Meagher's men run into battle at Fredericksburg. They go further than
any other--under Marye's Heights, they go further than any other unit
up against that deadly stone wall at Marye's Heights at
Fredericksburg. They're nearly obliterated. Now you can look at this
as a story of Irish gallantry, which it certainly was. You can also
look at it as a--an index of how anxious they were to prove themselves
to the Yankees, to go into battle at The Run, at the Day Rigger Run.
The Irish were also always supposed to fix bayonets, because they were
considered very terrifying when they fixed bayonets. General Hancock
had heard from a Confederate prisoner that Ma--the charge of Meagher's
Irish at the Sunken Road at Antietam had been decisive, but this
business of going to extra lengths of ferocity was also an attempt to
prove themselves to nativist America.
LAMB: Go back to the Fredericksburg thing. I know we're jumping
around a little bit, but John Mitchel's sons were there. I mean,
there's a moment in the book where you have the dividing of
the river, and songs started to be sung on both sides.
Mr. KENEALLY: Yes.
LAMB: Were they Irish songs? Explain that.
Mr. KENEALLY: Yes, indeed.
LAMB: What's that about?
Mr. KENEALLY: Yeah, the--well, first of all, John Mitchel, former
Tasmanian convict, Irish convict escaped from Tasmania, visited his
Confederate sons in Pickett's division in the 1st Virginia, famous...
LAMB: George Pickett.
Mr. KENEALLY: Yeah--George Pickett's division on Marye's Heights the
morning of the battle. And at that stage, he would have seen--he
would've been able to s--to see quite clearly Meagher's brigade on the
plain below. Whether he knew it was Meagher's brigade, we--we don't
LAMB: Did they know each other, by the way, in Australia?
Mr. KENEALLY: But they knew each other. They--they were the best of
friends, both in rebel ranks in Ireland and in--in Tasmania. And
here--they talk about brothers being divided by the Civil War, but
this is perhaps the most graphic case. Two Irish rebels out of the
same sort of womb of rebellion, divided by the--the lines at
Fredericksburg. And Mitchel's sons in the 1st Virginia having a part
in repulsing the Union Army that morning, and a very successful part,
because the Union Army--the Confederate army, suffered minimal
casualties that day and the Union army suffered 13,000 casualties
that--re--in a very short time on the De--December the 13th. So this
is an extraordinarily graphic illustration of the division
between--not only between Americans, but between Irish.
Then the night after the battle, one of Meagher's officers in--by a
campfire, socializing, begins to sing a great song. It's a terrific
song, by the way, if ever you can get some band in an Irish bar to
s--to play it. It's called "Ireland Boys Hurrah." And he began
singing it and the Irish Fenians--it's a Fenian song--Irish
Republican. They call themselves the Fenians. It was taken up by men
all around this campfire. It stretched--according to this officer,
Captain Downing--six miles along the Union front, along the
Rappahannock, and then it was picked up by Confederate Picketts on the
other side of the Rappahannock and sung all the way back along the
river by Fenian--Irish, Irish-Republicans, on both sides of the lines.
So it's interesting how the Irish, even in modern times, have been
very splendidly involved, opposite of--often on opposite sides of the
lines in other people's armies. The story of the wild geese, the
Irish soldiers who'd been leaving Ireland since the 17th century
and fighting in other people's armies. And even in the Falklands--in
the Falklands War in the 1980s, it--it is said on good authority that
the first and last British soldier killed were Irishmen, citizens of
the Republic of Ireland. So the--it--it's only when they're actually
trying to liberate Ireland that things seem to--seem to go astray in
the 19th century. Many of the officers of Meagher's brigade who
survived the war went back to England and Ireland to try to liberate
liberate Ireland and were unsuccessful.
LAMB: By the way, what ultimately happened to Thomas Meagher and John
Mr. KENEALLY: Well, Mitchel was arrested at the end of the war. He
was one of only three Confederates to be arrested an--and he was
imprisoned with Jeff Davis in Fortress Monroe--very interesting
relationship with Jeff Davis, and I can only--I can go into it only
partly in the book. But he then--after being released, he became a
New York newspaperman. And he decided in his 60s that he would defy
the British government. Although he was an undischarged, escaped
felon, he would return to Ireland and he would stand for the seat of
Tipperary and he would defy the British government to prevent him
against the will of--with the--he had enormous support amongst the
Irish people, despite his Confederate career, which rather bewildered
many of them--and he would be elected.
And sure enough, he went back to Ireland. He was elected member for
Tipperary. Disraeli suspended the warrant for the election and called
a new election. He stood again and was elected. But within days of
being elected, he died in the old vicarage home in which he'd grown up
in Newry. And he--he left--he left a son and a grandson. The
grandson became the youngest lord mayor of New York ever.
Meagher, on the other hand--instead of returning to Ireland, Meagher
was never comfortable with this new, radical movement called the
Fenian Brotherhood, which, in any case, split in two after the war,
one-half deciding that they would invade Canada and the other half
deciding that they'd invade England, or--and Ireland. And so he went
out to Montana to become governor of Man--Montana, to--he became
acting governor of Montana. And he extended--interestingly, he
extended none of the compassion he'd shown towards the Irish
peasantry. He extended none of that to the Blackfoot. He didn't see
that the American Indians--that the Native Americans were in the same
condition as the Irish peasants--insecure in their land tenure, having
land stripped away from them. And he signed one of the most important
treaties with the Blackfoot, which, of course, the radical
Blackfoot--Blackfoot Indians who were rather like him, did not keep.
The--the--the young bloods off the reservation that we hear about in
cowboy movies were the young Blackfoot in Montana who disobeyed the
treaty and who were some of the opponents of Governor Meagher.
But he was killed, in my opinion, almost certainly by Republican
vigilantes in the Missouri. He would've become senator for Montana
had he lived. And his career as governor of Montana is very
distinguished. I try to rehabilitate it in the book. There's been a
lot of subtle attack upon him in Montana. It's even said that when he
drowned in the Missouri, he was drunk, but there's absolutely no
evidence for that.
LAMB: Is there a big statue of him somewhere out there?
Mr. KENEALLY: There's a huge statue in front of the Montana
Legislature. And he made Montana Democrat. He was very interested in
making Montana Irish and it wasn't all for Catholic devotional
reasons. He wanted--he wanted voters and he knew the Irish would all
vote for him when he--when he stood for the Senate.
LAMB: By the way, those who have watched the first part of this, and
the second part, might be interested in knowing that there was a
six-week gap between the two hours that we taped. And one was taped
in October, the next taped in November. But you went back to
Australia in the middle of all this to fight a little political
Mr. KENEALLY: Yes, I suppose, the family has political genes,
because I had a political prisoner--great-uncle sent to Australia in
the 1860s. He ended up in LA. But we had a movement in Australia
aimed at our becoming a republic. I was the founding chairman of that
movement. I did not get involved in that because I was of Irish
descent. I wasn't trying to make some adjustment to get even with the
Brits for the 19th century. I think that would be very inappropriate.
Australia is, after all, 12,000 miles from Britain and Ireland.
But I wanted Australia to become a republic so it would have greater
international respectability when it spoke so that it--I mean, we're
down there--last train stop on the--in Asia. We are at the terminus
of Asia, if you look at us in the map. It doesn't matter whether
we're an Asian country or not, that's where we're located. And I
wanted to--the--we should become a republic so that we could convey to
our Asian neighbors, some of whom are not nice people, some of whom
are good people--convey to them that we didn't have a white
supremacist delusion about where we were on Earth. We knew we were a
separate community with a separate identity, and a destiny of dealing
with our location on this Earth. And becoming a republic would be a
good way to do that.
We lost the referendum, sadly. The queen was not invoked at all by
the other side, but suspicion and fear were invoked and we won 46
percent of the poll. But I believe that the monarch is not too
happy--the monarch of Great Britain and Australia is not too happy
that she was not invoked, and defense of the monarchy was not invoked,
during the referendum. And I believe that we will become a republic
one day and I hope to live to be buried in the soil of the Republic of
But, again, only insofar as the Irish have this--amongst other
tendencies, they do have--amongst other less-desirable tendencies,
perhaps, they do have a tendency towards equity and democracy, and
it's purely from that inheritance that I hope I'm operating. I'm not
trying to get even for the famine.
LAMB: Now in between the two interviews that we've done, I
interviewed a man named Michael Patrick MacDonald for this show, who
has a book out called "All Souls," and it's about Boston Southie.
It's about being white--he's 33, a member of an 11--I think his mother
had 11 children by three different men over a period of--a number of
years. But in the middle of this book, he referred to the fact that
he'd gone to John Boyle O'Reilly High School.
Mr. KENEALLY: Yes.
LAMB: And because I had read your first book, at--it just leaped out
at me. And who was John Boyle O'Reilly? And why would you name a
high school after him in Boston?
Mr. KENEALLY: Well, John Boyle O'Reilly was one of the prisoners
sent to Australia with my great-uncle. In 1868 they arrived. They
were Irish Republicans involved in an abortive uprising. But O'Reilly
was a British soldier and he rebelled from within the ranks of the
British army, and so he got a life sentence. My uncle, John Keneally,
ultimately of LA, got a 10-year sentence. And he was a very noble
creature. You can see--these men were amongst the first men to be mug
shot in history, and their mug shots are in the book. And you can
tell from the mug shot of Boyle O'Reilly what a noble and handsome and
charismatic creature he is. As a young man then--he's in western
Australia, which is--was--is a--something of an oubliette of a prison
into which men are cast and forgotten, and he escapes on a Yankee
whaler called the Gazelle. His escape is very graphic.
And I found that researching whaling in--for this book was
fascinating, because there was more than one Captain Ahab.
It--it--and, of course, there--there's a story later in the book
that--which has a Captain Ahab figure. And, of course, you--it was
fascinating to me that you could get these temperance Yankee
Protestants to rescue Irish political prisoners from places like
western Australia. That fascinated me.
John Boyle O'Reilly escaped on Gazelle. He became a pluralist
American, settled in Boston, a--a Democrat, of course. He was heavily
involved in Irish causes, including the purchase of a whaler to send
to Australia to rescue his fellow prisoners. He became a famous
literary man, amongst other things. He became a--a writer of such
eminence that he read from the same platform, in a troika of literary
stars, with Mark Twain and Walt Whitman. He looked after the young
Oscar Wilde, when Oscar Wilde came to Boston. Oscar Wilde did rather
puzzle him, as he puzzled most Americans, but Oscar Wilde's mother is
a figure in the book. She was a great Irish rebel figure. She was a
bourgeois Protestant, flamboyant girl.
Mr. KENEALLY: And--and Speranza, yes. She was a wonderful figure.
In any case, Boyle O'Reilly is interesting. He ended up owning the
Boston Pilot. Grover Cleveland, I think it was, said of him that
the--Massachusetts couldn't be won for the Democrat Party without
Boyle O'Reilly, without his support. He was a friend of some of the
early political--Irish political demagogues of--of Boston, including
Patrick A. Collins, the first Irishman to become mayor of Boston, a
friend of Honey Fitzgerald and--and the--the Kennedy forebearers. But
he also had friends amongst the old high Protestant, Brahman
abolitionists. You know, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and--and Wendell
Phillips, and Lloyd Garrison, and Mariah Lydia Childe. He was turn--the--the Pilot was a paper, which contrary to the kind of south
Boston ethos, espoused the cause of the African-American, the newly
liberated slaves, the Native Americans, cried for--after
Custer's--the Custer massacre out in Wyoming? Wyoming?
Mr. KENEALLY: Montana, yes--called for tolerance, because these
people had lost their land and that's what had caused the conflict,
and it was the same cause of conflict as Ireland's conflicts. And he
published the names of companies which would not employ Irish. But he
published, also, the names of companies which would not employ Jews.
So he's an extraordinary figure for his period.
He had a blind spot about the Chinese. He said, `Chinese will never
be American citizens. They come here for different reasons,' he said.
No--no one's perfect, of course, but he was an extraordinary person
for his period. And he was involved in Irish causes. He went off the
idea of radical Irish activism, but he supported the Irish party in
the House of Commons. He supported home rule, the movement for
self-government for Ireland, and he supported the Land League, which
was a method of civil disobedience which the Irish devised to get
their land back. And the boycott, the famous boycott, which was put
into operation against a land agent called Captain Boycott in County
Mayo, was the beginning of that--wa--wa--was the beginning of the
deliverance of the land back to the Irish away from the landlords.
So he supported a number of extraordinary initiatives and was
considered hugely--a--a hugely significant American-Irishman, hence
there are many statues in his honor in Boston, and a high school.
LAMB: Once again, we're almost out of time, what are you going to do
Mr. KENEALLY: I'm doing a novel. I'm doing the final revisions of a
long novel, which I hope to send to my publisher very soon. There
will no doubt be an arm wrestle about its length, a loving arm
wrestle. And at the end of that arm wrestle, I--I--I expect it to be
out in America sometime in the year 2000.
LAMB: What's this cover? Do you know what this picture is?
Mr. KENEALLY: This is a real photograph of a prisoner being taken
away. It happens to be an English prisoner. But my English
publishers found that picture in a photo library and thought that it
was so eloquent of the sort of scenes which one s--reads about in the
book and in 19th-century Ireland, a picture of separation. That man's
hands are tethered.
LAMB: Now did--how has this worked out for you, this book? What do
you think of--your book tour's over and...
Mr. KENEALLY: Well, the Irish have been very good to it. I--of
course, everyone's buying "'Tis," but I hope that they might then
consider this book, after they've finished reading "'Tis," and it
seems that many of them are. I do hope that it has a long life. My
publishers say they expect it to have a long life. And they're
bringing me back to America all the way from Australia for St.
Paddy's Day, so I hope to be doing more promotion at that stage.
LAMB: Our guest has been Australian Thomas Keneally. This is what
the cover looks like. It's called "The Great Shame" and we thank you
Mr. KENEALLY: Thank you, again.
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