Thomas D'Arcy McGee
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Thomas D'Arcy McGee

Thomas D'Arcy McGee was an Irish Catholic editor, journalist and ex-revolutionary. He had a vast energy that was channeled into poetry, literature and politics. The five-foot-three McGee was the most eloquent of the Fathers of Confederation but was also perpetually indebted, and a sporadically heavy drinker.
As a young Irishman, Thomas D'Arcy McGee advocated rebellion against British rule. He later immigrated to Montreal and became a Father of Confederation. (Courtesy of the National Archives of Canada)
As a young Irishman, Thomas D'Arcy McGee advocated rebellion against British rule. He later immigrated to Montreal and became a Father of Confederation. (Courtesy of the National Archives of Canada)

McGee described himself as having "with impudence, volubility and combativeness, the life and soul and fortune of ten thousand lawyers"

He listed his good qualities as "a bold face, a fluent tongue and a love for argument."

He was praised by the first archbishop of New York, Archbishop Hughes, as having "the biggest mind" and being "unquestionably the cleverest man and the greatest orator that Ireland has sent forth in our time."

McGee first came to America in 1842 when he was 17. He was one of an estimated 93,000 Irish who emigrated that year. Two years later he was the editor of the Boston Pilot.

In 1845, he returned to Ireland, where he continued to work as a journalist and became involved with Young Ireland, a group of nationalists who advocated rebellion against England. Eventually, he became a wanted man; the police offered 1,500 pounds for his capture.

He married Mary Theresa Caffrey in 1847 and they moved to Boston after the Irish rebellion of 1848. Their first child, Dorcas, died at the age of three, and another baby, Rose, died of scarlet fever. Of six children, only two survived their father.

After ten years in the United States, McGee was impoverished and still felt like an exile. He decided to move to Canada, a country whose "character is in the crucible." He moved to Montreal in 1857 and started an Irish nationalist newspaper, New Era. He was elected to the Legislative Assembly the same year.

"The one thing needed for Canada is to rub down all the sharp angles, and to remove these asperities which divide our people on questions of origin and religion," he wrote. "The man who says this cannot be done is a blockhead."

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