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.
PATRICK STEWARD works in the Mayo Clinic Development Office in Rochester, Minnesota. He obtained a Ph.D. in Irish History at University of Missouri under the direction of Kerby Miller. Patrick additionally holds two degrees from Tufts University and he was a strategic intelligence analyst at the Drug Enforcement Administration in Washington, D.C. early in his professional career.
BRYAN MCGOVERN is an associate professor of history at Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, Georgia. He is author of the widely praised 2009 book John Mitchel, Irish Nationalist, Southern Secessionist and has written various articles, chapters, and book reviews on Irish and Irish-American nationalism.