Canadian Genealogy | Fenian Raids of 1866 - 1870

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Alberta

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Unhappy, Ireland Seething in Sedition

Unhappy Ireland Seething in Sedition--The Fenian Brotherhood--Hatching the Plot--The Movement of '65--A Split in the Fenian Camp.


Every student of history is aware that for centuries the condition of affairs in Ireland has not been altogether happy, owing largely to the revolutionary schemes which have from time to time been hatched by so-called "patriots" to "free Ireland from the yoke of the oppressor," as they termed it in their appeals to the people to incite rebellion, but more properly speaking to bring about a repeal of the union between Great Britain and Ireland and establish an Irish nation on Irish soil. Many brave but misguided men have been led to their death by joining in such rebellious conspiracies against constitutional government in years gone by, and still the spirit of discontent and hatred of British rule is kept smouldering, with occasional outbursts of revolt as succeeding leaders appear on the scene to inflame the passions of the people.

Of the Irish troubles of earlier years it is not the purpose of the writer to speak, but rather to deal with events which occurred immediately prior to and during the period involving the Fenian invasions of Canada.

For some time previous to the year 1865 the leader of the revolutionary movement in Ireland was James Stephens. He was a man of considerable influence among his compatriots, possessed of good executive ability, and had great capacity for organization along revolutionary lines. Being an energetic worker and a forcible speaker, he quickly enlisted the cooperation of other "patriots" in promoting the establishment of the Fenian Brotherhood, of which he was chosen the "Head Centre" for Ireland. This organization spread with such rapidity throughout Ireland and America that it soon became one of the most dangerous and formidable revolutionary forces ever known in the history of any country. Its members were oath-bound to use every means to bring about the emancipation of Ireland from the rule of Great Britain, and to encompass the downfall of "the bloody Sassenachs" on every hand. After thoroughly planting the seeds of sedition in Ireland, Head Centre Stephens and his coadjutor General John O'Mahony visited America for the purpose of invoking the aid of their compatriots on this side of the Atlantic. Their idea was to make an attempt to emancipate Ireland by striking a blow for freedom on the soil of the Emerald Isle itself, and if successful to establish their cherished Republic firmly, become recognized as a nation by the different nations of the earth, and thereafter govern their own affairs. On their arrival in the United States the Irish envoys received a most enthusiastic welcome from their countrymen, and receptions were arranged in their honor on their visits to all of the principal cities in the Union. The speeches delivered at these gatherings were of the most fervid and enthusiastic nature, and the hopes of the Irish people rose high in the belief that an Irish Parliament would soon hold a session in Dublin. Money and men were asked for from America by Head Centre Stephens, both of which were freely promised "for the sake of the cause." In due course of time the Irish-Americans contributed over $200,000 in cash, besides an immense quantity of war material, towards making the proposed insurrection a success. Volunteers for active service on Irish soil were numerous, and everything looked rosy for Head Centre Stephens when he left America for Ireland to direct "The Movement of '65." But, alas, his high hopes were doomed to be shattered. The initial steps in the campaign had barely been taken when "dark clouds in the horizon" began to loom up. A small vessel, called the "Erin's Hope." had been dispatched from America with a cargo of rifles, ammunition and other war supplies for the use of the Fenians in Ireland. A company of adventurous patriots were on board to assist their brethren in "the rising," and all were brave and confident of success. They had hoped to run into a secluded bay on the coast of Ireland during the favored hours of night, and land their expedition and supplies. But on arrival at the chosen point the ship was hailed by a British man-of-war and captured without resistance. The officers and crew were consigned to a British dungeon, and the ship and cargo confiscated. A British spy had kept the authorities informed, and the war vessel was at the designated point of landing to gather in the "forlorn hope" of the invaders. Other Irish-Americans who were constantly arriving as passengers by the ocean steamships to take part in the conflict were promptly arrested as they landed on the quays, and the rebellion of 1865 was nipped in the bud. Much dissension and dissatisfaction then arose within the Fenian Councils. A great deal of money had been spent and the attempt had proved a failure. The vigilance of the British authorities was so keen, and arrests so numerous, that the available prisons were soon filled, and the hopeful warriors who so valiantly boasted that they would quickly unfurl the "Sunburst of Erin" on the walls of Dublin Castle were obliged to retire into strict seclusion until an opportunity occurred to be smuggled out of Ireland by their friends and stowed away on ships bound back for America.

The failure of the rising in 1865 caused a serious division among the adherents of the cause in both America and Ireland, and the Fenian Brotherhood was split into two hostile camps thereby. It was considered that Stephens' policy of carrying on the rebellious operations in Ireland was an impossible and suicidal one to the success of the cause. Many Irish-Americans were languishing behind the bars of British prisons, with an uncertain fate awaiting them when they were arraigned for trial, and their comrades in the United States bitterly blamed Stephens and O'Mahony for the fiasco. Consequently the majority in America revolted, and seceded from the Stephens faction, claiming that he had woefully misrepresented the state of affairs that existed in Ireland, both as regarded preparations for a successful issue, and also the enthusiasm that was said to sufficiently dominate the people there to induce them to take up arms when the American contingent arrived.

Col. Wm. R. Roberts, of New York, was the leader of the American secessionists, who declared their belief that "No direct invasion or armed insurrection in Ireland would ever be successful in establishing an Irish Republic upon Irish soil, and placing her once more in her proper place as a nation among the nations of the earth." The forces of Col. Roberts gathered strength daily, and soon usurped control of the Fenian forces in America, much to the chagrin of Stephens and his followers.

Gen. O'Mahony, who Head Centre Stephens had placed in supreme charge of the affairs of the Fenian Brotherhood in America, was charged by Colonel Roberts and his colleagues with having dipped too deep into the treasury and by extravagance and other questionable methods dissipated the funds of the Brotherhood. This widened the breach, and Roberts became the popular idol with the majority of the American Fenians. Yet O'Mahony held on to office with a ragged remnant of his old retainers to support him, until finally Roberts triumphed and became the star around which all of the other Fenian "planets" revolved.


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Troublous Times in Canada, A History of the Fenian Raids of 1866 and 1870

Fenian Raids of 1866 - 1870

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