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Historians call for commemoration of 'forgotten Irish' in American civil war
Thursday 19 February 2015

Published : Monday, February 16, 2015, 12:33 Irish Times :

At least 170,000 Irish emigrants were involved in the war to end slavery

A group of historians have called on the Government to mark the 150th anniversary of the ending of the American civil war, in which thousands of Irish men fought and died.

A letter has been sent to the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Heather Humphreys, calling on her to remember the “forgotten Irish” who fought in the war, which took place between 1861 and 1865.

Aside from the first World War, the American civil war involved more Irish combatants than any other. An estimated 170,000 Irish emigrants fought in the war, the majority of them on the Union side.

Ms Humphreys acknowledged the involvement of the Irish in the war during a speech at the Tulane University symposium on the Irish famine, which was held in New Orleans last year.

The historians are led by Prof David Gleeson, professor of American history at Northumbria University, who specialises in Irish involvement on the confederate side and Damian Shiels, the author of The Irish in the American Civil War.

They recommend a sesquicentennial (150) commemoration should include an international conference, the first on the Irish in the American civil war.


They also propose a re-enactment/military parade involving both Irish and American units; a concert featuring Irish songs of the American civil war; the unveiling of a memorial to the Irish who served in the war at an appropriate location; and American civil war site visits to places of interest in Ireland.

The historians say such a commemoration would be in line with the programme of events to recognise the Easter Rising and first World War centenaries.

“We feel that in the constitutional charge to ‘cherish the diaspora’, you also have a great opportunity to do something, even though on a smaller scale, really significant around a seminal event in the history of the United States, the Irish diaspora and Ireland itself,” they have written in the letter.

“Irish from all over Ireland and from all religious traditions participated in the war and therefore this commemoration will have cross-Border elements. It will also create closer bonds between the Irish in America and their ancestral homeland.”