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"Scotch Irish" and "Real Irish" in the Nineteenth-century American South
David T. Gleeson
On September 17, 1861, at the Cathedral of St. Finbar and John the Baptist in Charleston, South Carolina, the bishop of the diocese—Patrick Neison Lynch, a native of County Monaghan—welcomed the troops of the Irish Volunteers into his church. The Volunteers, who were just about to muster into service for the Confederate States of America, were to receive their company flag, which had been made by the students of the local Sisters of Mercy. Bishop Lynch assisted by three other priests, including the noted theologian Dr. James Corcoran, told the soldiers, "Receive it then [the flag]—rally around it. Let it teach you of God—of Erin—of Carolina. Let it teach you your duty in this life as soldiers and as christians, so that fighting the good fight of christians you may receive the reward of eternal victory from the King of Kings."
Captain Edward Magrath, the leader of the Irish unit, thanked the bishop and the "young ladies of the Institution of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy for this beautiful present at their hands." Magrath vowed to protect the flag's honor and that of the ladies who had made it. He then lined his soldiers in front of the altar before the packed Cathedral and reminded them of the pledge they had made to the cause of their "adopted State" and the symbolism of the flag under which they would fight. "Dear Harp of their Country!" he exclaimed, "what associations does the sight not give rise to in the bosoms of Irishmen. . . . True, the sons of Ireland are scattered everywhere. Yes, like the children of Israel, they had sent forth a prayer for a blessing on the land of their birth." Magrath asserted that the quest for Irish freedom matched that of Carolina's. At the end of the ceremony, the flag was waved aloft by Color Sergeant F. L. O'Neill, the company presented arms, and as "martial music pealed through the Church, the choir chanted the hallelujah chorus, and the Company marched under the same escort through the Broad, Bay and Queen Sts. to Hibernian Hall," home of the elite Hibernian Society.1 [End Page 68]
Another company of Irish soldiers, the Meagher Guards—who had changed their name to the Irish Volunteers after Thomas Francis Meagher had taken the Union side—were already in Virginia. Their flag, also made by the nuns and their students, was delivered to them in camp near Suffolk. Captain Edward McCrady, Jr., welcomed the flag and the prayers of Father Corcoran who had led the students and sisters in supplication over it. He warned the men "to endure the trials through which we must all go before we return in peace and honor, carrying with us this banner, its untarnished folds the proof of our virtue and valor."2 Similar scenes were repeated among Irish units throughout the country, in both Union and Confederate armies. The support of Catholic clergy for the respective armies was a key element in Irish recruitment.
The interesting thing about the events in Charleston and in Suffolk, Virginia, however, is that Captains Edward Magrath and McCrady were neither Catholic nor Irish-born. Magrath was the son of an Ulster immigrant and a member of the First (Scots) Presbyterian Church; McCrady, a descendant of colonial Irish migrants, was a member of St. Philips Episcopal Church, the oldest Anglican parish in South Carolina. Both were college educated and came from prominent families. Magrath's older brother, Andrew Gordon, was a former federal judge and a member of the South Carolina secession convention. McCrady's father, Edward McCrady, Sr., was a prominent attorney and also a member of the secession convention. Yet, these Protestant sons of Carolina had no trouble in leading Irish and Irish-American Catholics into battle. In an era where the Know-Nothings had run a serious...