BLUE FOR THE UNION & GREEN FOR IRELAND
NOVEMBER 1897 — ADMINISTRATION BUILDING, UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME|
During the last decade of the 19th century Father Corby was ever more active in memorializing the war and strengthening the bond between the surviving veterans. In 1893 he published his Memoirs of Chaplain Life, in 1896 he joined the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, and in 1897 he helped organize at Notre Dame the only post of the Grand Army of the Republic that was composed entirely of priests and brothers. He also joined the Second Corps Veterans Association and was appointed chaplain of the Irish Brigade Association. Besides the green flag of the 63rd New York, a trickle of other Civil War artifacts began to come to Notre Dame. Corby wrote to General St. Clair Mulholland on November 17, 1897, and tried to enlist his help in collecting more Irish Brigade relics. In reply, Mulholland wrote:
. . . I have succeeded in getting the address of half a dozen of the Ex Officers of the Irish Brigade and I expect to see Col. Quinlan in New York this afternoon. I will do my best to get them interested in an “Irish Brigade” Corner of the Military Museum at Notre Dame. . . .
The Irish Brigade Corner never became a reality: just a month later, on December 28, 1897, after a brief illness Father Corby died. As the veterans were summoned to their final roll call, it fell to the next generation to preserve, care for, and honor the flags that their fathers had followed.
MARCH 4, 1914 — WASHINGTON HALL, UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME
The presence at Notre Dame of the 63rd's Second Irish Colors — the so-called “Irish Brigade” Flag — led to the acquisition of at least two other Irish Brigade artifacts: one of General Meagher's swords in 1914 and a second flag in 1943. Great ceremony marked the presentation of the sword, the entire evening being filled with lengthy speeches reminiscent of the flag presentations of 1861 and 1862. Notre Dame poet-priest Father Charles L. O'Donnell even composed an ode for the event, “A Hosting of the Gaels,” whose theme was the reunion of the “Irish Brigade” Flag and the sword of General Meagher. Each speaker took every opportunity to extol the bravery of the Irish soldier and the virtue of the Irish Nation; the Irish Revolution was, after all, just two years away, and the tide of Irish nationalism and patriotic ardor had reached a crescendo. The student weekly did not fail to editorialize on the symbolism and meaning of the sword and, of particular interest to us, the flag:
The Banner of Glory — Perhaps the philosopher is right when he calls the symbolic things primitive. He has only emphasized how close they lie to the heart. Who has ever numbered the priceless, year-stained relics whose associations are set with crystal tears? The “day that is dead” can never come back, but the sight of a symbol floods away the years. We, in receiving Gen. Meagher's sword, are reminded of the gallant soldier who led his men so boldly into death. Side by side with his sabre, Fr. Cavanaugh has told us, shall lie the treasured banner of the Brigade itself. Green with the loved tint of the dear old Isle, red with the blood of America's noblest band, it fills the heart so full that the tongue can not speak. It hovered over the death of patriots on all those bloody places which watered the Union's withering life. It saw the bravery of the men who made the world's most glorious charge at Marye's Heights, it beheld them cut down, so that Gen. Meagher resigned command of the Brigade because it no longer existed. Everyone who loves America can see on this banner the footprints of this country's valor and honor; everyone who loves Ireland can catch from its flutter a whiff of the nation's past — a past which, above that of all other tribes of the earth, has wound its great, glorious cords tight round the warm heart of the world. America and Ireland stand pictured here together, and there is nothing mightier, nothing tenderer.
Divorced from its history of inactivity during the war, by 1914 the Second Irish Colors of the 63rd New York had become an emotion-laden emblem of Irish honor and Irish-American solidarity. What would the thirty-four American-born citizens of New York have thought about their flags, sent home by the steadfastly Democratic Irish soldiers of the brigade at the height of the war, but embraced fifty years later by American pro-Irish nationalists? And what would they have said about the flags, the ones they had used to promote the war to preserve the Union, being invoked half a century later in one of the many small outbursts of Irish patriotism that preceded Ireland's violent separation from Great Britain?
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