Tuesday, April 7, 1868, Ottawa, Ontario, Dominion of Canada

It’s shortly after six, the sun still working its way over the horizon. I swing the door wide open and I’m about to fire up my forge when I hear a rider approaching. I watch him pull up on his chestnut, practically fall off the horse, and come running into my smithy.

“McGee is dead!”

It doesn’t register right away. It should have, but there’s a shooting or stabbing almost every night in the Lower Town market. The Fenians have been threatening him for years. They want Ireland out from under British rule. We all do. Mr. McGee was one of them. Once. Or was he? It’s complicated.

“You mean??”

“Yes! Thomas D’Arcy!” My visitor strokes his greying beard; there’s a questioning look in his eyes.
But what’s the question? Does he want to know if I’m surprised? Or does he want to know . . . I blurt out, “when?”, the obvious question, the safe one.

“Last night. This morning. The House sat until after two. Shot in the back of the head.” He pauses, I watch as he catches his breath. “At Mrs. Trotter’s where he . . .” Everyone knows when he’s in Ottawa the member for Montreal West lodges at Mary Ann Trotter’s Boarding House on Sparks Street.

“Fenians?” I look away, turning my attention back to my forge.

“Maybe. I don’t know. Probably. They said they’d get him.”

While we inhale the crisp, early morning air and watch a baby mouse skitter across the floor and out the door, I think of the next obvious question: “How did you??”

“I was coming up Elgin, on my way to The Russell, a man came around the corner off Sparks; the look on his face . . . I knew something . . . he said McGee was at Mrs. Trotter’s door, it was locked, he was waiting for her to open it. Blew the back of his head off.”

My visitor, a brakeman on the Grand Trunk, says he has to get to work, the mare needs shoeing, he’ll leave her with me. It takes just a few minutes to walk from my Metcalfe Street shop to Wellington and over Sappers Bridge to the train station on Rideau.

I fire up the forge and heat the iron. It’s routine. It shouldn’t be. But only now is the news . . . my brain, flooded with a heavy weight. The man whose life, whose contradictions, whose many contradictions have been an obsession for me . . . almost an obsession for most of my life . . . His relentless passion for Ireland’s independence, our Catholic rights, Catholic education, his dedication in bringing about our new Confederation . . . Yes, The Traitor, some call him, our youngest Father of Confederation . . .


I heard shock in the brakeman’s voice. But anger? I didn’t hear any anger. Maybe he doesn’t trust me? With us Irish, it’s who’s a Fenian? Who’s loyal to the Crown? Loyal to Victoria, Britain’s Queen. And now Queen of our new Dominion, not yet a year old. It’s complicated. My thoughts go back to the beginning.

Website designed by halicamedia
© Copyright, David Mulholland. No part of this website may be reproduced without permission.