On March 1st Prime Minister Justin Trudeau officially proclaimed the inaugural Irish-Canadian Heritage Month to recognise the many contributions of the Irish to Canada.
Irish emigrants have had a notable influence on the history of Canada but few have left a greater impact than Thomas D’Arcy McGee.
This exhibition is devoted to his life and politics. It tells, using a variety of media and a range of artefacts, of his transformation from Irish rebel to founding father of the Canadian Confederation. The artefacts include a wanted poster seeking the murderer of McGee, presented by the Canadian National archive, one of only three casts of his hand and Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa’s pipe, which was once owned by Thomas Clarke, the first signatory of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic. The exhibition explains the bitter relationship between D’Arcy McGee and O’Donovan Rossa; between McGee and the Fenians.
The visitor to ‘D’Arcy McGee: Irish Rebel and Canadian Patriot’ will gain an understanding of how the young adventurous genius, appalled at the suffering he witnessed during the Great Famine helped organise the 1848 Rebellion and then escaped to the USA.
It was here he rejected the physical force republicanism of his youth, embraced conservative Catholicism and moved to Canada. In Canada he worked tirelessly and courageously to provide better welfare and education for Irish Catholic immigrants. Initially he clashed bitterly with the Orange Order but then sought compromise and progress through ‘Unity in Diversity’.
The exhibition examines not only Thomas D’Arcy McGee’s political journey and his legacy but also his battle with personal demons, including alcohol. It tells of a man much loved by his wife and family, a man admired for his nation building, a man whose ideas were evident during the Good Friday negotiations in Belfast in 1998; but it also tells of a man despised by many, especially Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, for changing his mind.