Thomas D'Arcy McGee

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  (Redirected from D'Arcy McGee)
Jump to: navigation, search
For the Quebec riding, see D'Arcy-McGee.
The Honourable
Thomas D'Arcy McGee
Member of the Canadian Parliament
for Montreal West
In office
Succeeded by Michael Patrick Ryan
Personal details
Born (1825-04-13)13 April 1825
Carlingford, Ireland, UK
Died 7 April 1868(1868-04-07) (aged 42)
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Political party Liberal-Conservative
Relations Frank Charles McGee, Great-nephew

Thomas D'Arcy Etienne Hughes McGee, PC, (13 April 1825 – 7 April 1868) was a Canadian politician from Ireland, Catholic spokesman, journalist, and a Father of Canadian Confederation. He fought for the development of Irish and Canadian national identities that would transcend their component groups.

Early life[edit]

Statue on Parliament Hill, Ottawa

Widely known as D'Arcy McGee, he was born on 13 April 1825 in Carlingford, Ireland, and raised as a Roman Catholic. From his mother, the daughter of a Dublin bookseller, he learned the history of Ireland, which later influenced his writing and political activity. When he was eight years old, his family moved to Wexford, where his father, James McGee, was employed by the coast guard. In Wexford he attended a local hedge school, where the teacher, Michael Donnelly, fed his hunger for knowledge and where he learned of the long history of English occupation and Irish rebellion, including the more recent uprising of 1798. In 1842 at age 17, McGee left Ireland with his sister due to a poor relationship with their stepmother, Margaret Dea, who had married his father in 1840 after the death of his mother 22 August 1833. He sailed from Wexford harbour aboard the brig Leo, bound for the United States via Quebec, Canada. On the Leo he wrote many of his early poems, mostly about Ireland. He soon found work as assistant editor of Patrick Donahoe's Boston Pilot, a Catholic newspaper in Boston, Massachusetts. A few years later he returned to Ireland where he became politically active and edited the nationalist newspaper The Nation. His support for and involvement in the Irish Confederation and Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848 resulted in a warrant for his arrest. McGee escaped the country by steamship and returned to the United States.[1]

United States[edit]

In the United States, he achieved prominence in Irish American circles and founded and edited the New York Nation and the American Celt (Boston). He grew disillusioned with democracy and the American republic[why?], and emigrated to Canada in 1857. McGee remained a persistent critic of the US, of American institutions, and of the American way of life. He accused the US of hostile and expansionist motives toward Canada and of desiring to spread its republican ideas over all of North America (see Manifest Destiny). McGee worked energetically for continued Canadian devotion to the British Empire seeing in imperialism the protection Canada needed from all American ills.[2]


In 1857, he set up the publication of the New Era in Montreal, Quebec. In his editorials and pamphlets he attacked the influence of the Orange Order and defended the Irish Catholic right to representation in the assembly. In terms of economics he promoted modernisation, calling for extensive economic development by means of railway construction, the fostering of immigration, and the application of a high protective tariff to encourage manufacturing. Politically active, he advocated a new nationality in Canada, to escape the sectarianism of Ireland. In 1858, he was elected to the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada and worked for the creation of an independent Canada.

McGee became the minister of agriculture, immigration, and statistics in the Conservative government which was formed in 1863. He retained that office in the "Great Coalition", and was a Canadian delegate to the Charlottetown and Quebec conferences of 1864. At Quebec, McGee introduced the resolution which called for a guarantee of the educational rights of religious minorities in the two Canadas.


Moderating his radical Irish nationalist views, McGee denounced the Fenian Brotherhood in America that advocated a forcible takeover of Canada from Britain by the United States. Following the Confederation of Canada, McGee was elected to the 1st Canadian Parliament in 1867 as a Liberal-Conservative representing the riding of Montreal West.

On 5 November 1867 McGee delivered an oration titled "The Mental Outfit of the New Dominion." The address surveyed the literary status of Canada on the eve of the first Dominion Parliament. McGee's views were a combination of Tory principle, revelation, and empirical method. He suggested a national literature inspired by the creativity and ingenuity of the Canadian people.[3]


On 7 April 1868, McGee participated in a parliamentary debate that went on past midnight. Afterwards, he walked to his Sparks St. boarding house at 2:00 AM. While trying to enter the boarding house (the door was locked from the inside and McGee was waiting for the landlady to open the door), McGee was purportedly assassinated with a shot from a handgun by Patrick J. Whelan as the door was being opened.[1] He was given a state funeral in Ottawa and interred in a crypt at the Cimetière Notre-Dame-des-Neiges in Montreal. His funeral procession in Montreal drew an estimated crowd of 80,000 (out of a total city population of 105,000).[4] The government of Canada's Thomas D'Arcy McGee Building stands near the site of the assassination.

McGee's mausoleum in Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery, Montreal, 1927

Patrick J. Whelan, a Fenian sympathiser and a Catholic, was accused, tried, convicted, and hanged for the crime on 11 February 1869, in Ottawa. He did not make a speech from the gallows as it was reported he would do, but left a letter with the Sheriff regarding the crime. Decades later, his guilt was questioned and many people believe that he was a scapegoat for a Protestant plot.[citation needed] His case is dramatised in the Canadian play Blood on the Moon by Ottawa actor/playwright Pierre Brault. Patrick J. Whelan was hanged in front of an audience of 5,000 people. The assassination of McGee is also a major component of Away, a novel about Irish immigration to Canada by Canadian novelist Jane Urquhart.

McGee funeral procession in 1868

Impact of the assassination[edit]

Toner (1981) argues that the assassination was an important historical marker in Irish-Canadian history. He argues that the Fenian element among the Canadian Catholic Irish was powerful in the 1860s. The reasons for Fenian influence included McGee's failure to rally moderate Irish support before his death, and the fact that no convincing moderate leader replaced McGee after his death. In addition the Catholic bishops proved unable to control the Fenians in either the US or Canada; a final factor explaining the influence of the Fenians was the courting of the Irish Catholic vote by Canadian non-Catholic politicians. Behind all these reasons was Canadian fear of the 'Green Ghost': American Fenianism. After 1870, however, the failure of American Fenian raids into Canada, followed by the collapse of American Fenianism, finally led to the decline of Canadian Fenian power.[5]


A monument to McGee stands at Tremone Bay, in north County Donegal, Ireland near the bay from which he escaped to America in 1848.[6] There is a monument to him in his native Carlingford, County Louth, unveiled during a visit in 1991 by former Prime Minister of Canada Brian Mulroney and Irish Taoiseach Charles Haughey. His parents' grave in the grounds of Wexford's historic Selskar Abbey is marked by a plaque presented by the government of Canada.[citation needed]

On 20–22 August 2012, the inaugural Thomas D'Arcy McGee Summer School was held in Carlingford, Co. Louth, Ireland to commemorate and celebrate his legacy.

On Sparks Street, in downtown Ottawa, the Thomas D'Arcy McGee Building is a prominent government-owned office building. The popular D'Arcy McGee's Pub stands on the corner of Sparks and Elgin Streets. D'Arcy McGee also has several schools named in his honour including: D'Arcy McGee Catholic School (elementary, Toronto Catholic District School Board, Toronto, Ontario) and Thomas D'Arcy McGee Catholic School (elementary, Ottawa-Carleton Catholic School Board, Ottawa, Ontario), D'Arcy McGee High School, Western Québec School Board (Gatineau, Québec) and Thomas D'Arcy McGee Catholic High School in Montreal which closed in 1992 (English Catholic School Board of Greater Montreal)

The Quebec provincial electoral district (riding) of D'Arcy-McGee is named in his honour, as is D'Arcy, British Columbia and two villages in central Saskatchewan: D'Arcy and McGee, located approximately 20 kilometres apart.

In 1986, a Chair of Irish Studies was set up in his honour at St. Mary's University, Halifax. In 2005 the gun that was used to assassinate McGee was bought at an auction for $105,000 by the Canadian Museum of Civilization and is currently part of their collection.

Further reading[edit]

  • Burns, Robin B. "McGee, Thomas D'Arcy" in Dictionary of Canadian Biography online
  • Phelan, E.J. Ardent Exile (1951)
  • Slattery, T.P. The Assassination of D'Arcy McGee (1968)
  • Wilson, David A. Thomas D'Arcy McGee: Passion, Reason, and Politics, 1825–1857, (2007), major scholarly biography
  • Wilson, David A. Thomas D'Arcy McGee: The Extreme Moderate, 1857–1868, (2011)


  1. ^ a b Boylan, Henry (1998). A Dictionary of Irish Biography, 3rd Edition. Dublin: Gill and MacMillan. p. 246. ISBN 0-7171-2945-4. 
  2. ^ J. G. Snell, "Thomas D'Arcy McGee and the American Republic," Canadian Review of American Studies 1972 3(1): 33–44
  3. ^ Germaine Warkentin, "D'Arcy McGee and the Critical Act: A Nineteenth-Century Oration," Journal of Canadian Studies 1982 17(2): 119–127
  4. ^ David A. Wilson, “Thomas D’Arcy McGee: The Extreme Moderate, 1857-1868” (McGill-Queen’s Press, 2011), 384-385
  5. ^ P. M. Toner, "The 'Green Ghost': Canada's Fenians and the Raids," Éire-Ireland When he was hanged, it was in front of 5,000 people and this was also the last time this was done in public in Canada. 1981 16(4): 27–47
  6. ^ Beattie, Darcy McGee Commemoration, 1848, p.5

External links[edit]