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Though leading to general emancipation, this process simultaneously disenfranchised the small tenants, known as 'forty shilling freeholders' , who were mainly Catholics. Daniel O'Connell , who had led the emancipation campaign, then attempted the same methods in his campaign to have the Act of Union with Britain repealed.

Why Did the Fenians Attack Canada? – All About Canadian History

Despite the use of petitions and public meetings that attracted vast popular support, the government thought the Union was more important than Irish public opinion. In the early s, the younger members of the repeal movement became impatient with O'Connell's over-cautious policies and began to question his intentions. Later they were what became to known as the Young Ireland movement. During the famine, the social class comprising small farmers and laborers was almost wiped out by starvation, disease and emigration.

The Fenians: An Overview

The Great Famine of the s caused the deaths of one million Irish people and over a million more emigrated to escape it. The waves of emigration because of the famine and in the years following also ensured that such feelings would not be confined to Ireland, but spread to England, the United States, Australia and every country where Irish emigrants gathered.

Shocked by the scenes of starvation and greatly influenced by the revolutions then sweeping Europe, the Young Irelanders moved from agitation to armed rebellion in The attempted rebellion failed after a small skirmish in Ballingary, County Tipperary , coupled with a few minor incidents elsewhere. The reasons for the failure were obvious [ citation needed ]: The Government quickly rounded up many of the instigators. Those who could flee across the seas and their followers dispersed.

…except not really. More like bits and pieces.

The last flicker of revolt in , led by among others James Fintan Lalor , was equally unsuccessful. John Mitchel , the most committed advocate of revolution, had been arrested early in and transported to Australia on the purposefully created charge of Treason-felony. In Paris, they supported themselves by teaching and translation work and planned the next stage of "the fight to overthrow British rule in Ireland. Stephens returned to Ireland and in Dublin on St. Patrick's Day , following an organising tour through the length and breadth of the country, founded the Irish counterpart of the American Fenians, the Irish Republican Brotherhood.

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In the Brotherhood adopted a constitution and rules for general government. This was extended to a Council of ten members at the second congress in Philadelphia, Missouri in January , also with a President to be elected by the Council. Both Fenian factions raised money by the issue of bonds in the name of the "Irish Republic," which were bought by the faithful in the expectation of their being honoured when Ireland should be " A Nation Once Again ". These bonds were to be redeemed "six months after the recognition of the independence of Ireland.

Large quantities of arms were purchased, and preparations were openly made by the Roberts faction for a coordinated series of raids into Canada, which the United States government took no major steps to prevent.

Fenian movement

Many in the US administration were not indisposed to the movement because of Britain's failure to support the Union during the civil war. Roberts' "Secretary for War" was General T. Sweeny , who was struck off the American army list from January to November to allow him to organise the raids. The purpose of these raids was to seize the transportation network of Canada, with the idea that this would force the British to exchange Ireland's freedom for possession of their Province of Canada.


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Before the invasion, the Fenians had received some intelligence from like-minded supporters within Canada but did not receive support from all Irish Catholics there who saw the invasions as threatening the emerging Canadian sovereignty. In April , under the command of John O'Mahony, a band of more than members of the Fenian Brotherhood arrived at the Maine shore opposite the island with the intention of seizing Campobello from the British.

British warships from Halifax, Nova Scotia were quickly on the scene and a military force dispersed the Fenians. In the end, the invasion had been broken by the US authorities' subsequent interruption of Fenian supply lines across the Niagara River and the arrests of Fenian reinforcements attempting to cross the river into Canada.

Fenian Brotherhood

It is unlikely that with such a small force they would have ever achieved their goal. Other Fenian attempts to invade occurred throughout the next week in the St. As many of the weapons had in the meantime been confiscated by the US army, relatively few of these men actually became involved in the fighting. There even was a small Fenian raid on a storage building that successfully got back some weapons that had been seized by the US Army.

Many were eventually returned anyway by sympathetic officers. To get the Fenians out of the area, both in the St. Lawrence and Buffalo, the U. Many of the arms were returned later if the person claiming them could post bond that they were not going to be used to invade Canada again, although some were possibly used in the raids that followed. In December , O'Neill became president of the Roberts faction of the Fenian Brotherhood, which in the following year held a great convention in Philadelphia attended by over properly accredited delegates, while 6, Fenian soldiers, armed and in uniform, paraded the streets.

At this convention, the second invasion of Canada was conceived. The news of the Clerkenwell explosion was a strong incentive to a vigorous policy. Henri Le Caron , who, while acting as a secret agent of the British government , held the position of "Inspector-General of the Irish Republican Army," asserts that he distributed fifteen thousand stands of arms and almost three million rounds of ammunition in the care of the many trusted men stationed between Ogdensburg, New York and St.

Albans, Vermont , in preparation for the intended raid. Please note that our editors may make some formatting changes or correct spelling or grammatical errors, and may also contact you if any clarifications are needed. Fenian Irish secret society. The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. Learn More in these related Britannica articles: Among the exiles both in the United States and in Britain, the Fenian movement spread widely.

Raids by the Fenian s Irish supporters of an uprising against British rule in Canada at the time of confederation symbolized another cause of strain: Relations worsened over the disputed Alaskan panhandle boundary. Foreign relations history of Ireland In Ireland: Articles from Britannica Encyclopedias for elementary and high school students. Help us improve this article! Contact our editors with your feedback. You may find it helpful to search within the site to see how similar or related subjects are covered.

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