Irish in American Civil War. Mother and Child Controversy on this day in Irish History

April 12: TODAY in Irish History (by IrishmanSpeaks) Twitter Icon

1861: American Civil War begins,  a war that would not only pit American against American but also Irish against Irish. An estimated 150,000 Irish fought on the Union side while about 40,00o fought for the confederacy. While the majority fought with the Union, many Irish had a strong antipathy to a northern culture which they saw as anti-Catholic and protestant dominated. The most famous Irish regiment was the Fighting 69th, led most famously by the flamboyant, sometimes drunken, Thomas Francis Meagher, often going into battle with an emerald flag and shouting an old Irish war cry “Fag an Bealagh” (Clear the way.)

Over the course of the war, the Irish Brigade would excel in numerous battles, most famously at Marye’s Heights during the Battle of Fredericksburg. During the war, its leaders were General Thomas Francis Meagher, Colonel Patrick Kelly (killed), General Thos. A. Smyth (killed), Colonel Richard Byrnes (killed), and General Robert Nugent.

Brigadier General Thomas Francis Meagher

Brigadier General Thomas Francis Meagher

1951: Ireland’s Minister for Health, Dr. Noel Browne resigns following confrontation with the Catholic hierarchy in Ireland over what became knows as the “Mother and Child” controversy.

Noel browne mother and child controversy

Dr. Noel Browne

Brown attempted to introduce a very basic welfare plan for mothers and children which the Catholic Church somehow saw as being “in direct opposition to the rights of the family.” The planned scheme would provide free maternity care for all mothers and free healthcare for all children up to the age of sixteen! Many in the medical community also opposed the legislation fearing it would impact income levels.

As government resolve faltered in the light of active church opposition, Browne was forced to resign. To some extent, the controversy was a watershed in the relations between Church and State. The Irish Times newspaper published the correspondence between Browne and the Irish bishops which led the paper to editorialize “The most serious revelation, however, is that the Roman Catholic Church would seem to be the effective Government of this country.”

Although the Catholic Church would remain a potent political force in Ireland for another forty years, its powerful grip was waning.


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This history is written by Irish author, business keynote speaker and award winning humoristIrishmanSpeaks – Conor Cunneen. If you spot any inaccuracies or wish to make a comment, please don’t hesitate to contact us via the comment button.

Visit Conor’s YouTube channel IrishmanSpeaksto Laugh and Learn. Tags: Best Irish Gift, Creative Irish Gift, Unique Irish Gifts, Irish Books, Irish Authors, Today in Irish History

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