The Irish in the US Civil War numbered an estimated 150,000 on the Union side and 25,000 on the Confederate side. Many were not long off the Famine ships, fighting for their new country and on the Union side against slavery.
Their story has long been absent from history books in Ireland, the incredible number of Medal of Honor awardees, 257 in all, of Irish birth is perhaps the most fitting acknowledgement of how much the Irish gave to America over many wars.
It was said to be General Robert E. Lee of the Confederate Army who labelled the Irish regiment the “Fighting 69th” after seeing how brave they were in battle. To this day the regiment leads off the St. Patrick’s Day parade in New York.
None of this was well known in Ireland and in recent years a decent effort has been made to acknowledge the sacrifice of the Irish in the US Civil War by those in the know, including historian Damian Shiels, and those in power in Ireland.
After all, with every war from the First World War to the Easter 1916 Rebellion being lavishy commemorated, it was high time the sacrifice of Irish emigrants in the American Civil War was acknowledged.
Sligo politician John Perry TD has been particularly active and succeeded in having a new monument built to the Irish of the Civil War era in Ballymote in Sligo. Perry is well known in Irish American circles and his good work is rightly acknowledged.
Ballymote of course is the birthplace of Irish civil war hero Michael Corcoran, who rose to the rank of general and was a confidante of Abraham Lincoln.
Come last Saturday and the Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny and US Ambassador Kevin O’Malley were present for the big unveiling, which occurred on the 150th Anniversary of President Andrew Johnson officially declaring the Civil War over.
Alas, the solemn occasion was undone by a phalanx of protesters attacking Kenny on water charges while others were holding anti-American banners and disrupting the event.
Media reports made clear the protesters cared nothing about what was being remembered or how sacred the memory of the Famine Irish who died on a far foreign field is to so many Irish Americans.
They're entitled to make their protest, but surely would have found a more fitting occasion than the solemn dedication of a memorial for the dead.
They even turned their backs and many sat down when the US national anthem was played.
It was a remarkable display of ignorance and arrogance given the historical tie between the two countries and the importance of the occasion.
Sad to say there are such people in Ireland today to whom clearly nothing is sacred, even gatecrashing an event held to honor the most poor and desperate of Irish people who fled Famine and misrule and ended up fighting against slavery for their new country in the US.
Shame on them for being so uncaring and callous to the memory of the Irish American dead. They have sullied the good name of Ireland for many Irish Americans with such an action. It is at least gratifying to see how many Irish responding to our original story have made clear they want no part of such activities against Irish Americans.
Long let it be so.