The Fenians

Justin McCarthy
Chapter XII | Start of Chapter

At this time a political organization called the Fenian Brotherhood was started in the United States, the name Fenian being taken from the ancient history of Ireland, in which it represented a member of the national militia. The name was happily chosen for its especial purpose, because it appealed to national sympathy, and seemed to bring the Irish exile in America and in England back into association with the traditions of his people.

One of the founders of the Fenian Brotherhood was James Stephens, who had been "out" with Smith O'Brien in 1848, and his leadership of the Fenian movement was a link between the present and the past. The Fenians were organized by secret enrolment, and their declared object was to make Ireland an independent republic. Stephens came to Ireland to carry on the work there, was arrested and committed to prison, but contrived to make his escape by a combination of cleverness and daring. The Irish Fenians in America organized an invasion of Canada in May, 1866, occupied Fort Erie, and at first drove back the Canadian Volunteers; but the invaders were speedily driven back in their turn.