By Harry Keaney
SLIGO — On July 4, Americans will, as usual, celebrate Independence Day in typical patriotic fashion — with their family, friends and fireworks, their barbecues, Budweiser and bonhomie. But if the hopes of newly reelected Sligo/Leitrim TD John Perry are realized, such annual festivities would become an annual event too in Perry’s hometown of Ballymote, ideally with busloads of American tourists swelling the crowds.
The centerpiece of the Ballymote celebration would be the commemoration of Carrowkeel native Michael Corcoran, who, as a 22-year-old, left Famine-stricken Sligo for the U.S. in the autumn 1848. Among Sligo emigrants to the U.S., Corcoran is among the greatest. By the time of his death at only 36, he had become a Civil War hero, having joined, and commanded, the famous 69th Regiment, the so-called Fighting 69th, which still exists today, the members of which provide the military escort for the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Fifth Avenue.
Indeed, such was the youthful Corcoran’s reputation that when he was promoted to the rank of brigadier general, he was invited to dinner by the then U.S. president, Abraham Lincoln.
While Corcoran is hardly celebrated in his native county, the Sligo Association of New York and the Irish Brigade Association in the U.S. erected a headstone over his grave in 1989 to ensure that a fitting memorial marked the Carrowkeel man’s final resting place in Calvary Cemetery in Queens. Now, 154 years after he sailed from Sligo Port, moves are at last afoot by Ballymote Enterprise Company to celebrate one of the most famous of American military men in his own hometown.
On Thursday, July 4, in the United States Embassy in Dublin, Perry will present Ambassador Richard Egan with a miniature replica of a life-size statue of General Corcoran on horseback, which, it is hoped, will be unveiled by the governor of New York in Ballymote in the summer of 2003.
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The bronze statue mounted on a stone base, which will be located at the entrance to Ballymote Town Park, is based on the design of a statue that stands outside the State House in Montana of an American Civil War contemporary and friend of General Corcoran’s, General Thomas Francis Meagher, a Waterford native.
Perry also said he hopes the Ballymote monument to General Corcoran would incorporate steel from the remains the World Trade Center as a memorial to the Irish who died in the Sept. 11 attack, and in recognition of the work done by the current 69th Regiment, whose members were among the first to arrive at the Ground Zero scene.
Work on the statue is to start immediately, with the laying of a foundation stone and flag-raising ceremony at Ballymote Town Park on July 5 at 7 p.m. Among the attendance will be Dublin-based 1st Lt. G.R. Lynch, officer commanding of Company C, 69th New York State Volunteers.
The event will also include a talk by Derek Warfield, best known as former leader of the Wolfe Tones and an authority on the Irish songs, ballads and musical history, as well as the lyrical and poetic legacy, of the American Civil War.
Perry said he hopes that this theme, which is so evident in the American Folk Park in Omagh, could be recreated in Ballymote. And not alone would it be a monument to the 69th Regiment, which currently has no base in Ireland, but it could also include reenactments of American Civil War battles, which bring to colorful life that defining period in American history in which the Irish, including the 69th Regiment, played such an integral role. According to Perry, the erection of the Corcoran Memorial in Ballymote will cost in excess of