As the juggernaut that is Stephen Spielberg’s historical drama Lincoln hit Irish cinemas last week, historians across County Longford were remembering the links between the iconic former American President and the midlands region.
The film profiles the life of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States and covers the final four months of his life as he endeavours to have the 13th Amendment to the country’s constitution, which refers to the illegality of slavery, passed by the US House of Representatives. The film references Doris Kearns Goodwin’s biography of the man entitled Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.
Over the past few weeks, the Longford Historical Society have been examining the links between Longford and Lincoln. These include a renowned sculptor and creator of a famous Lincoln landmark whose mother hailed from south Longford, a direct family link between Lincoln and County Longford and Lincoln based literature penned by Longford natives.
The first is the renowned Irish-American Sculptor by the name of Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848-1907) whose mother Mary McGuinness was a native of Ballymahon in south Longford. Saint-Gaudens’ colossal ‘Standing Lincoln’ which dwarfs its surroundings in Lincoln Park, Chicago is often considered one of the finest portrait statues in America. To celebrate Lincoln’s Centennial in 1909, Saint-Gaudens was commissioned to produce another statue, this time a seated figure which sits in Grant Park, also in Chicago.
According to the Longford Historical Society’s recent newsletter, Saint-Gaudens mentions his mother in his memoirs in 1865 soon after Lincoln’s assassination. He describes witnessing Mary McGuinness becoming emotional as Augustus’ father read the news about Lincoln’s death to his family. He says: “Then came the news of Lincoln’s assassination. I recall father and mother weeping as he read of it to us.”
The second link between Lincoln and the county is a direct blood link. David Levi Todd (birth date unknown), the paternal great grandfather of Lincoln’s wife Mary Todd was born in County Longford (exact location unknown) in 1723 before emigrating to Kentucky in the early to mid 1700s. Despite there being no family by the name of Todd believed to be still resident in Longford, studies show a clutch of Todds living in the Clonguish area around 1854.
David Levi’s son was the famed Levi Todd (1756-1807) who became an early American pioneer who helped found present-day city of Lexington, Kentucky.
The third association is through two pieces of literature which were written by a Longford based father and son. The first piece is by Reverend James Shaw (1820-unknown) from Derradd, Kilashee. He served as a Methodist Minister in Illinois and was a prolific writer. His 1867 book ‘Twelve Years in America’ documents the 1860 Republican State Convention when Lincoln was nominated as the party’s presidential candidate along with his funeral five years later. In 1909 Shaw’s son, James H Shaw wrote a popular children’s book entitled ‘Boys’ and girls’ biography of Abraham Lincoln’.
Finally, James Riley (1848-unknown) a native of Tang, near Ballymahon composed ‘Lincoln in his office chair’, a poem which describes the former President as ‘high-browed, rugged and swarthy’.