A 'Mercenary'

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER XVI (5) start of chapter

The following instance of self-devotion, though not at all of uncommon occurrence, displays in a still more striking manner how ready these humble Irish people—not Scotch-Irish, as the miserable cant of the day has it, but Irish Celts—are to make every sacrifice for those they love. A poor Irish labourer emigrated to America in 1861, in the hope of bettering his condition, and being enabled, by hard work, to bring out his wife and seven children, whom he had been compelled to leave after him in Ireland. It was an unpropitious time for a working man, as the war had just broken out, and employment was scarce in many cities of the Union. All he required was an opportunity to work, his thoughts being for ever turned to the old land in which he left those who, he knew, looked to him as their only hope. For a time he was discouraged and desponding, but he resolved to wait awhile, and take advantage of any opportunity that would offer, through which he might be enabled to achieve his grand object—the bringing out of his wife and family. The opportunity did offer rather unexpectedly, and in this way—a gentleman who preferred the profits of a lucrative business to the risks of war, desired to obtain a substitute, who would take his place, for three years under the banner of the Union; and to secure some one to fight, or possibly die, in his place, he was willing to pay down One Thousand Dollars. The poor Irishman heard of this dazzling offer, and at once accepted it. The money was paid to the substitute, by whom it was thus disposed of: he placed it in the hands of a friend, directing him to send part to Ireland, to bring out his family, and reserve the balance to meet their wants on arrival—saying, if he was killed in battle, or if he died of sickness, he had done the best thing he could for his wife and children. He was quickly marched to the front, where the hot work was going on; but though he was in many a hard-fought battle, and saw death in every shape, he passed scathless through the dread ordeal—steel and lead seemed to have no power to injure him, nor did hunger and hardship break him down. He returned to his family, a bronzed war-worn soldier, and is now a hardworking honest citizen of a New England town. Your scornful 'Special Correspondent' would no doubt have set him down as a base mercenary, who hired himself to butcher his fellow-men; but such was not the opinion of those to whom the facts were known.

The gentleman—an eminent American physician—to whom I am indebted for this strong proof of family affection, says:—'In my professional visits I have met from time to time many instances where a father or a child, a brother or a sister, had made very great efforts and sacrifices to have enough of money to send to Ireland to bring out one or more members of their families. These are noble and beautiful examples of affection and disinterestedness, that have occurred in the obscure and humble life of the Irish emigrant in America, that cannot be surpassed, in my opinion, anywhere by sketches to be found in the biography of individuals or the history of nations.' The civilised world, less scornful or contemptuous than certain traducers of the humble Irish, will endorse that opinion.

The Irish in America, first published in 1868, provides an invaluable account of the extreme difficulties that 19th Century Irish immigrants faced in their new homeland and the progress which they had nonetheless made in the years since arriving on a foreign shore. A new edition, including additional notes and an index, has been published by Books Ulster/LibraryIreland:

Paperback: 700+ pages The Irish in America

ebook: The Irish in America