Irish Brigade monument unveiled

October 25, 1997


Staff Writer

SHARPSBURG - Irish eyes were smiling on Saturday at Antietam National Battlefield here, when a monument to the Civil War Irish Brigade was unveiled in front of Bloody Lane and dedicated with the sound of bagpipes in the background.

The 10-foot granite and bronze monument chronicles the bravery of Brigade members - made up mostly of immigrants from New York and Boston who fought for the Union in the bloodiest battle of the Civil War.

Two of the brigade's four regiments suffered 60 percent casualties, and the other two 50 percent. A total of 540 Irishmen were among 23,000 either killed or wounded in the Sept. 17, 1862, battle at Antietam.


On Saturday, a crowd estimated at more than 1,000 gathered at Bloody Lane to celebrate Mass, hear speeches and watch the unveiling. It was a sea of people clad mostly in green, standing in a moment of collective pride.

Perhaps the proudest of them of all was Jack O'Brien, an Upper Marlboro, Md., resident who spearheaded the 11-year drive to have the monument built.

O'Brien and other members of the Irish Cultural Society Foundation fought hard for the right to erect the $150,000 national memorial and to raise the funds to pay for it.

"I'm absolutely delighted," he said as visitors crowded up for a close look at the monument. "I'm just very happy that so many people were able to be here to see this monument to the Irish Brigade dedicated."

Several speakers, including Irish Ambassador to the United States Sean O'Huiginn, addressed the crowd. They spoke of the suffering that brought the immigrants to this country, the patriotism they felt, and the devotion and valor with which they fought for their adopted country.

Irish Brigade 69th Regiment Historian Lt. Col. Kenneth H. Powers spoke of the years it took for the monument to turn from vision into reality.

"In spite of the long fight we did win after all, by God," he said. Cheers erupted from the crowd.

Powers and others talked about the Great Famine that drove people from Ireland, and the "coffin ships" they survived to reach American shores.

As for the 69th regiment, Powers said theirs was a tragic stand at Antietam.

"On the other side of this fence," he said, "the regiment took 60 percent casualties in 20 minutes against hard fighting against a determined Confederate Army."

Ambassador O'Huiginn noted some Irishmen survived the Great Famine only to die at Antietam while fighting for the Union.

"They arrived on these shores destitute. They owned nothing but the human qualities they held in their hearts," he said. "To this country they brought true riches."

Elizabeth Finn of Silver Spring, Md., was one of those who came to honor the Brigade, in her own way. Finn, a retired Army nurse who served in Vietnam, said her parents were Irish immigrants.

"I just had to come to this. It was important to my Irish heritage," she said.

Finn said she had listened to a lecture at Catholic University about the Brigade, and decided to come to Antietam when she learned about the dedication.

Finn said she found the ceremonies to be imbued with a "lot of dignity."

As one man could be heard saying, "It was a fine day for the Irish."

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