Editorial first published in March 7th edition of the Waterford News & Star
WATERFORD was abuzz this week in a way that has not been witnessed in quite some time.
Government Ministers were at the resplendent Mount Congreve Gardens for its official opening on Wednesday, the Taoiseach attended the raising of the Tricolour at The Mall to mark its 175th anniversary on Sunday, and at the Clock Tower yesterday the ground was officially broken, commencing work on the highly anticipated North Quays project.
Meanwhile, there was a veritable roll call of international ambassadors at the Granville Hotel on Saturday night for the Thomas Francis Meagher 175 Tricolour Celebration Gala Dinner. Chairperson of the Thomas Francis Meagher Tricolour Committee, Ann Cusack deserves huge credit for an epic weekend of celebration in Waterford city to mark 175 years since the Tricolour was first flown at 33 The Mall – and copper-fasten Waterford’s central role in this most significant aspect of Irish culture and heritage.
The story is inspiring, and still sends shivers down spines today. Thomas Francis Meagher brought a symbolic piece of cloth back to Ireland from France in 1848, which, on March 7 that year, he flew for the first time from the Wolf Tone Confederate Club at 33 The Mall, Waterford City. It was a green, white and orange flag. An Irish nationalist, and leader of the Young Irelanders, Meagher knew instinctively that the Ireland he hoped for had to have, at its heart, peace if it was to succeed. The green represented the Catholic religion and tradition of Ireland, while the orange represented the Protestant. Between the two, the unifying white of peace.
What more potent national symbol could he choose to carry that message than a unifying flag, inspired by the newly adopted French flag.
Unfortunately, Meagher was not rewarded for his actions. For the young Waterford man, horrific hardship and toil lay ahead. History now shows us that it was not the end of this determined, enlightened young man’s story. After being sentenced to a lifetime in Van Diemens land, he managed to escape to America, where he rose to the rank of Brigadier General in the US Army, recruiting and leading the Irish Brigade – the 69th Infantry Regiment of the New York State Militia (the ‘Fighting 69th’ as they are known).
Today, Meagher – as noted by former Ambassador to the U.S. Dan Mulhall, patron of the T.F. Meagher 175 Tricolour Celebration – is celebrated on three continents. His vision was later embraced by the fledgling Irish Free State, with the Tricolour adopted as our national flag in 1922. It has taken many years for the cultural significance of Meagher’s role in choosing and flying the Tricolour to be given the national recognition it deserves. Like Meagher, Ann Cusack has also played a long game, in digging into and championing our Tricolour and its Waterford heritage, crossing continents in pursuit of that endeavour.
So too has Waterford Council CEO Michael Walsh, in successfully bringing forward the North Quays Project.
As Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, surrounded by national and international dignitaries, witnessed the ceremonious raising of the Tricolour in Waterford on Sunday, it was clear a shift had happened. This sense was also very much present at the Clock Tower on Monday and at Mount Congreve Gardens – Waterford is on the march.
The 69th Brigade – who made Ann an honorary Major at Saturday night’s proceedings – provided the ‘Regimental Cocktail’ to mark the occasion, a concoction of whisky and champagne, devised by Meagher himself as he rallied his troops. Ann rallied her troops in a quiet, dignified, but none less powerful way for over a decade, driven by what she knew to be important. Ahead of International Women’s Day on Wednesday, we will give the last mention of this editorial to Ann – she has done Waterford city, the Irish state and our beloved national flag some wonderful service.