This series of posts was inspired by HTTP://ANSIONNACHFIONN.COM/2014/04/22/THE-FENIAN-FLAME/
What was Fenianism?
Fenianism was the spirit of the Irish nation, that line of Republicanism which for seven generations has been the vehicle of radical protest against exploitation and oppression in Ireland.
In the era of the French Revolution Republicanism was the United Irishmen. In 1848 it was the Young Irelanders, in 1867 the Irish Republican Brotherhood, popularly known as the Fenians.
What was the Fenian Movement?
Fenians were perceived as yesterday’s al-Qaida by the authorities and the majority of press and public.
They were assassins, insurgents, bandits, irregulars, pirates, murderers, tribal militia, guerrillas, terrorists
They were the great modern transnational internal threat in the British Empire in the second half of the 19th century.
Fenians were socially-radical, secular republican revolutionary democrats.
They were part of a wider European tradition with its roots in the French Revolution.
They were an Irish variant of an international militantly secular post-Jacobin republican tradition.
They wanted independence from British rule.
They were nationalists, rebels, patriots, freedom fighters, national revolutionaries, martyrs
When did the Fenian Movement start?
From 1853 onwards John O’Mahony (1848 Young Irelander), led a new American organisation that took its name from the Fianna, a band of Irish warriors of the 2nd and 3rd centuries. Fenianism was founded in Dublin in 1858.
How were Fenians organized?
In quasi-independent franchise-like cells called ‘circles.’ A Fenian circle was like a regiment: a colonel, the ‘centre’ or ‘A’ recruited nine ‘B’s or captains, who recruited ‘C’s or sergeants who each chose nine ‘D’s—the rank and file privates.
Outside the United States in the British Empire, Fenian circles operated clandestinely because by the very nature of what they wanted, if they were prepared to use violence to advance their cause, they had to remain secret.
What do we know about them?
The Fenians were the first modern transcontinental national insurgent group in the western world with operational cells in Ireland, England, Canada, United States, South America, New Zealand and Australia and a banking centre in Paris.
Their global reach was an entirely new phenomenon for their time.
They exploited technological progress to the max:
*steam power gave them an unprecedented trans-Atlantic mobility;
*the telegraph linked them together; they used long-distance encrypted communications,
*cheap newspapers gave them a mass-media voice;
*industrialization gave them patriotic small wage earners to fund their cause;
*the development of a modern banking system enabled them to raise funds publically and clandestinely and to distribute them across oceans and continents,
*the American Civil War mobilized, armed and militarized tens of thousands of Irish-American patriots
*they used public and press wire announcements, rallies and ‘fairs’,
*they launched deceptive feints and disinformation, auxiliary cultural, educational and recreational programs, organizations and publications,
^they sustained long-term intelligence gathering, deployed “sleepers”, and even used funerals to raise support
One of the leaders of the 1848 Rising, who had taken part
in the attack at Ballingarry, was Terence Bellew McManus,
from Fermanagh. He died in America in1861 and was given what amounted to a state funeral by Irish exiles in New York,
His remains ‘lay-in-state’in St Patrick’s Cathedral on 5th Avenue before beingshipped back to Ireland. In Dublin he was given yet another
massive funeral, some 30,000 following his remains to
Glasnevin cemetery, despite the fact that Cardinal Cullen
refused his lying-in-state in any Dublin church. A graveside oration was given by James Stephens, a Kilkenny man and another 1848 survivor, who was now emerging asleader of Irish Republicanism.
What difficulties did they face?
1)Lack of support from the Roman Catholic Church. The power of the local priests was great and their influence within a local community, meant that they could undermine whatever influence the Fenians tried to establish.
2) The wrong circumstances. The peasant movement was helpless; the liberal bourgeoisie were not interested; the few industrial workers did not possess sufficient social weight to play a role as they did in Russia 50 years later.
3) Limited supporters.
Connolly quoting Pigott on the social position of this ‘lower orders movement’: “It is notorious that Fenianism was regarded with unconcealed aversion, not to say deadly hatred, not merely by the landlords and ruling class, but by the Catholic clergy, the middle-class Catholics, and the great majority of the farming classes. It was in fact only amongst the youngest and most intelligent of the labouring class, of the young men of the large towns and cities engaged in the humbler walks of mercantile life, of the artisan and working classes, that it found favour.”
Men of No Property!!
4) Infiltration by British spies.
An planned uprising in 1866 never took place because the government knew about it.
In September 1866, the ‘Irish People’ (Fenian newspaper)was shut down. Editor James Stephens was arrested and sent to prison, escaped and went to America.
Anyone suspected of being involved with the Fenians was arrested. Money sent from America for the Fenians was seized.
British Army units in Ireland that were suspected of being sympathetic to the Fenians were moved out of Ireland.
(to be cont)