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Transnational Revolutionaries

The Fenian Invasion of Canada, 1866

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David Doolin

The organization of several thousand Irish American men into a military outfit, which then attempted to invade Canada from within the United States, is a significant historical event that remains largely unexplored from an Irish and Irish American perspective. This study offers a fuller exploration of the details behind the Fenian invasion, asking why Irish immigrants were motivated to shape American international policy and examining the ways in which the Fenians defined identity as a transnational phenomenon. By taking a fresh look at the Irish foray, the author reveals new aspects to Irish immigrant negotiations of belonging – a prototypical transnationalism, accompanied by a broad-ranging anti-imperialism.
This book places the Irish American Fenians in their proper context, demonstrating their central importance within American, Irish and Irish American history. Its publication coincides with the 150 th anniversary of the Fenian invasion of Canada.
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Chapter 3 : The Mass Irish in North America and Proliferating Fenianism

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CHAPTER 3

The Mass Irish in North America and Proliferating Fenianism

Nationalism, Transnationalism, and the Irish Diaspora

Throughout the 1800s nationalism for Irish immigrants and their offspring ‘became a means of expressing not only an ethnic but also an international or diasporic sense of Irishness that transcended any simple desire for acceptance in a host land.’1 At home and abroad the Irish were bearing out cruel conclusions following centuries of trauma and shame at the hands of British imperial-colonization. The grim realities of Ireland’s lamentable past helped concentrate a determination to make an assault on the powers that had ravaged the country and sacrificed the people. It was in the late 1850s that the work of an international Irish resistance began in earnest. Subsequently, the development of a large Irish-American diaspora entangled the United States, Ireland, and Britain into a tripartite web of international insurrection, as physical-force nationalists saw violent resistance to British rule as inescapable in order to establish a free republic. In an era that seemed to proffer nothing but failures (the titanic failure of the 1847 potato crop, the failure of the Young Ireland 1848 rebellion, the failure of justness universally), the remnants of a Young Ireland consciousness turned its gaze outward in search for a cure-all strategy. It was in peering abroad that the beacon of radical sedition came into focus. Shipped across the Atlantic Ocean, finding an untrammeled freedom to participate in democratic processes and, importantly,...

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