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Holidays in Costa Rica

The following pages are a scan of an article written by a "tourist in Costa Rica" in 1858 - Thomas Francis Meagher. To set the stage, Costa Rica had recently been invaded by the so called filibusters - a group led by an American, William Walker.

Mr. Walker's checkered history included taking over Nicaragua to try to form a confederation of Central American states with core values based on slavery. There is a fascinating brief history written in a delightfully peculiar style to be found here - . . . a web site all about the Liberia area - William Walker, in a word, was a nut and the Ticos were not having any of it!

Much was brewing to help form modern Costa Rica in the 1850's. For example, a recent Tico Times article tells of the establishment of the state liquor factory/monopoly/one of the early "semi-autonomous government bodies in Grecia - an institution created in this same fascinating decade to raise funds to fight off the invasion(s) from Nicaragua.

But our tale begins in a place we gringos now call Puntarenas - in March 1858 though then it was known as "Punta Arenas". The gringo Walker had already had his sorry ass kicked back to Nicaragua in April 1857.

A digression, Walker was of Scottish descent and Meagher (the author of our "first tourist" article), Irish. At one point in all of his nutty antics, Walker had declared himself president of Nicaragua. Meagher, our author, had later declared himself acting governor of Montana - there are some common threads to weave here.

Around the time of the article came out, Walker was captured by the British navy in what is now known as Belize, handed over to the Honduran goverment and executed as a menace to the region. His gravestone reads:
"WILLIAM WALKER-FUSILADO-12 SEPTIEMBRE 1860." This is when we believe Meagher's lovely article first appeared. We were lucky enough to snag an original on Ebay recently.

President Mora was in charge of Costa Rica during most of this period - 1849 to 1859. Meagher's first hand account of his meeting with Mora in 1858 is fascinating - "a dumpy, sleek, dark featured gentleman in a canary colored embroidered waistcoat his hair brushed stiff up from his forehead - sat the whole of the night in the towering gilt chair, under the crimson silk-damask canopy. From head to foot, his Excellency was one compact smile, cosily framed."

After the author met with President Mora, Mora was overthrown by a coup d'etat - in August 1859 (thank goodness we don't have those any more :-). He shortly launched an attack on Punta Arenas from El Salvador. He was captured probably in the mud of Punta Arenas and shot by firing squad exactly 18 days after William Walker was executed on the 30th September 1860 . . . wherefore art thy crimson silk-damask canopies now! My goodness, the firing squads were busy with invasion prone presidents that month!

Which brings us back to the start of Meagher's tale and a place then called Punta Arenas.

The intrepid tourist, Meagher, was delivered to the mud of Punta Arenas after a 3 day voyage from Panama. He starts like today's tourist with "the trip was delightful . . .".

The first tourist . . .

But first, after all these digressions, I suppose, a little digression on Mr. Meagher would be in order too? Will my readers allow it?

When I found this article I thought Mr. Meagher was a "journalist".

After reading the article in the following pages you will no doubt be stricken by at least two thoughts - how lyrical a writer is this Mr. Meagher and how is it possible that, in what appears to be a few short months travelling our beautiful country, that Mr. Meagher was able to plumb such profound depths in his understanding and exposure to the country.

This required further reading - a synposis of the remarkable life of Thomas Francis Meagher may be found here . . . the catholic Encyclopedia. I also like Wikipedia's description which goes into depth about the strange death of Mr. Meagher when he "fell" off a steamboat on the Missouri river in 1867 just a few years after his remarkable trip to Costa Rica.

It turns out Mr Meagher had a more interesting life than William Walker. You get to wonder what might have happened to the course of Costa Rican history if Juan Santamaria, William Walker, President Mora and Mr. Meagher had met up just a few short years before? Oh to have been a Costa Rican Robber Fly on the wall at such a meeting!

In short Mr. Meagher, an Irishman, was educated by extraordinary teachers - the Jesuits. He was educated at a school that my brother attended not so far back - Stoneyhurst - one wonders about such things. I wonder if the black swans of Stoneyhurst School are direct descendants of the black swans Meagher knew? We know the priests are not.

From there Mr Meagher later went to France to congratulate the new republic in 1848.

Later Meagher was sentenced to death for high treason (I am skipping ahead a bit) but instead was sent to a penal colony on Tasmania later cutting a deal that landed him in New York as a New York lawyer. Sharp cookie! You do wonder sometimes about the gene pool that is attracted to frontiers or to real estate agent jobs in Guanacaste!

A couple of years later found Mr. Meagher "steaming up from Panama to Punta Arenas" as our "first tourist" - and the scanned article that follows recounts the tale beautifully.

On returning to the US, when the US civil war broke out he joined the Union army, fought at Bull Run, organized the Irish Brigade and made himself a brigadier general and lost many of his men at Antietam. From a civil war web site: "The Irish Brigade lost over 4,000 men in killed and wounded; it being more men than ever belonged to the brigade at any one time." General (formerly Costa Rica tourist) Meagher must have been lucky "It was commanded, in turn, by General Thomas Francis Meagher, Colonel Patrick Kelly (killed), General Thos. A. Smyth (killed), Colonel Richard Byrnes (killed), and General Robert Nugent." He survived Antietam perhaps only because his horse was shot out from under him and he had a bad (lucky?) fall.

He quit the Union army and later made himself "acting Governor of Montana" which he wasn't so good at since he upset "everybody". It is supposed he met with foul play on the river boat in the summer of 1867 while going to pick up a weapons shipment being delivered by General Sherman (just name dropping here) for use by the Montana Militia to chase indians around and around.

As I said, William Walker might not have been half so much fun to meet as Mr Meagher in the early 1850's in Costa Rica.

The following pages are scanned from
HARPER' NEW MONTHLY MAGAZINE:
HOLIDAYS IN COSTA RICA 1859 - 1860,
By Thomas Francis Meagher
Author, observer, traitor, wit, brigadier-general, hero, irish and more

see scanned book (LINK NOT ACTIVE CURRENTLY)