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The Fenians

Irish Rebellion in the North Atlantic World, 1858–1876

Patrick Steward and Bryan McGovern

Publication Year: 2013

Aspirations of social mobility and anti-Catholic discrimination were the lifeblood of subversive opposition to British rule in Ireland during the mid-nineteenth century. Refugees of the Great Famine who congregated in ethnic enclaves in North America and the United Kingdom supported the militant Fenian Brotherhood and its Dublin-based counterpart, the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), in hopes of one day returning to an independent homeland. Despite lackluster leadership, the movement was briefly a credible security threat which impacted the history of nations on both sides of the Atlantic. Inspired by the failed Young Ireland insurrection of 1848 and other nationalist movements on the European continent, the Fenian Brotherhood and the IRB (collectively known as the Fenians) surmised that insurrection was the only path to Irish freedom. By 1865, the Fenians had filled their ranks with battle-tested Irish expatriate veterans of the Union and Confederate armies who were anxious to liberate Ireland. Lofty Fenian ambitions were ultimately compromised by several factors including United States government opposition and the resolution of volunteer Canadian militias who repelled multiple Fenian incursions into New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario, and Manitoba. The Fenian legacy is thus multi-faceted. It was a mildly-threatening source of nationalist pride for discouraged Irish expatriates until the organization fulfilled its pledge to violently attack British soldiers and subjects. It also encouraged the confederation of Canadian provinces under the 1867 Dominion Act. In this book, Patrick Steward and Bryan McGovern present the first holistic, multi-national study of the Fenian movement. While utilizing a vast array of previously untapped primary sources, the authors uncover the socio-economic roots of Irish nationalist behavior at the height of the Victorian Period. Concurrently, they trace the progression of Fenian ideals in the grassroots of Young Ireland to its de facto collapse in 1870s. In doing so, the authors change the perception of the Fenians from fanatics who aimlessly attempted to free their homeland to idealists who believed in their cause and fought with a physical and rhetorical force that was not nonsensical and hopeless as some previous accounts have suggested.

Published by: The University of Tennessee Press

Cover

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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5

Contents, Illustrations

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pp. v-vii

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Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-x

The authors express their gratitude to several individuals who played critical roles in the publication of The Fenians. This work began as a master’s thesis entitled Green Americans and evolved into a dissertation called Erin’s Hope before it was presented to the University of Tennessee Press in its current format. Green Americans...

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Introduction

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pp. xi-xviii

The history of Irish physical-force republicanism—the desire for complete separation from Great Britain and the willingness to use violence to achieve it—is as old as the late eighteenth century, when the United Irishmen rebelled against British imperialism. Led mostly by middle-class Protestants, but supported by Catholic...

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Chapter 1. The Foundations of Fenianism

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pp. 1-27

The 1858 creation of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) in Ireland and of the Fenian Brotherhood in the United States did not occur in a vacuum. The historical precedent set by nationalist groups like the United Irishmen in the late eighteenth century and Young Ireland in the mid-nineteenth century set the...

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Chapter 2. The Fighting Irish

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pp. 29-47

Contrary to early Fenian expectations that the Civil War would abet the Irish nationalist cause, Southern secession ultimately undermined Stephens and O’Mahony’s efforts to expel the British from Ireland by expediting expatriate assimilation into American society. A de facto Anglo-Confederate alliance gave...

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Chapter 3. Green Americans

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pp. 49-74

Unmitigated Fenian Brotherhood support for the Union army became increasingly illogical as the Civil War progressed. All but relatively few expatriate soldiers and civilians were exploited and underappreciated in the early 1860s. O’Mahony and his colleagues would likely have had more success recruiting Irishmen who...

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Chapter 4. Fenian Renaissance

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pp. 75-105

Although impaired by limited manpower and internal conflict, the transatlantic Fenian movement briefly challenged British suzerainty over Ireland after the culmination of the American Civil War. Contrary to widespread expectations, Fenianism became popular within the global Irish community, because it psychologically...

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Chapter 5. Fenian Fizzle [Includes Image Plates]

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pp. 107-154

John O’Mahony and William Roberts authorized their supporters to launch separate invasions of Canada during the spring of 1866—both of which ultimately failed and irreparably tarnished the global Fenian movement. Recognizing the near-term infeasibility of an IRB-led rebellion so soon after habeas corpus rights...

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Chapter 6. “No Event of Any Importance”

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pp. 155-179

The cadre of expatriates who deposed Fenian leader James Stephens in December 1866 attempted to bolster the Irish nationalist movement over the course of the following year by organizing three ultimately unsuccessful military initiatives. A mid-February attempt to steal firearms from a Lancashire arsenal preceded...

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Chapter 7. Fenianism on the Defensive

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pp. 181-222

The most significant Fenian activity occurred in England and Canada after the failed Erin’s Hope expedition. Increasingly operating on the defensive, IRB members primarily devoted their collective energy to liberating comrades from prison, while other militants enunciated their republican sentiments as defendants in...

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Chapter 8. Last Hurrahs

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pp. 223-234

Although “Fenian” became an enduring and often derogatory synonym for Irish militants, few Civil War–era nationalists were still devoted to their republican cause by the close of the nineteenth century. Some former Brotherhood and IRB members, like Roberts and others, were able to parlay their global notoriety into...

Notes

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pp. 235-282

Bibliography

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pp. 283-306

Index

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pp. 307-315


E-ISBN-13: 9781572339798
E-ISBN-10: 1572339799
Print-ISBN-13: 9781572339194
Print-ISBN-10: 1572339195

Publication Year: 2013

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Subject Headings

  • Fenians -- History.
  • Ireland -- History -- 1837-1901.
  • Nationalism -- Ireland -- History -- 19th century.
  • Irish Americans -- Politics and government -- 19th century.
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