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Thomas Francis Meagher, Irish hero and early Montana leader, focus of Butte exhibit

Posted at 1:22 PM, Mar 11, 2023

BUTTE - With St. Patrick’s Day just around the corner, a new Butte Library exhibit depicts the life of an Irish rabble-rouser, war hero, and one of the founding fathers of Montana who lived a life that reads like an epic novel.

“The name of the thing is the Odyssey of Thomas Francis Meagher. I really think it’s an odyssey when you look back on his life,” said Butte Librarian Shari Curtis.

The odyssey is captured in 24 oil pastel drawings that highlight key points in Meagher’s life that includes the Irish rebellion, his banishment to Australia and his escape, his time as a commander of the Irish Brigade for the Union in the U.S. Civil War to his time as the territorial governor of Montana.

Missoula Artist Stephen Glueckert said it was his mother’s Irish pride that got him interested in Meagher.

“You know, whenever we would visit family in Helena, we would always go by the statue in front of the Capitol and she would always remind us what a great man he was,” said Glueckert.

Meagher was governor of the Montana territory for a short while before his untimely death at age 43 in 1867 when he drowned in the Missouri River. But he had big plans for Montana.

“His idea for Montana was to create this Irish oasis, so people could come from Ireland and be here and still continue on their agrarian lifestyle,” said Curtis.

Some claim Meagher died after falling from a steamboat because he was drunk. Glueckert hopes his exhibit will show Meagher as a dynamic Irish hero.

“We can’t believe the stereotype and I want to dispel that stereotype. You know, he contributed to the state and the vitality of the state and he sought the truth and he sought justice for people,” said Glueckert.

The exhibit is free to the public and is on the third floor of the Butte Library in the Carle Gallery. It runs until mid-April. The artist will be there on March 26 at 2 p.m.