‘Quite A Merry Time:’ A Union Irish Soldier Describes His Last St. Patrick’s Day, 1863

Irish in the American Civil War

On 17th March 1863 David O’Keefe, a cabinet-maker from Co. Cork, celebrated St. Patrick’s Day in Virginia. Some six months previously David had left his adopted home of Reading, Massachusetts, to join the Irish soldiers of the 9th Massachusetts Infantry at the front. He wasn’t a young man- by the time he enlisted he was 44-years-old. The Corkman had taken his wife and young family out of Ireland at the time of the Famine, and now, a decade later, was fighting for the Union. A few days after the festivities, David dictated a letter describing the St. Patrick’s Day events. It would prove to be the last time he celebrated the feast of the patron saint. His letters home are published here for the first time since they were written in 1863. (1)

The 9th Massachusetts Celebrate Mass in 1861 (Library of Congress) The 9th Massachusetts Celebrate Mass in 1861 (Library of Congress)

David O’Keefe had married his wife Catharine…

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