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Transnational Revolutionaries

The Fenian Invasion of Canada, 1866


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 150th anniversary of the Fenian invasion of Canada.
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Chapter 4 : Imagining Irish Liberty: Carried to Ontario’s Inland Sea


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Imagining Irish Liberty: Carried to Ontario’s Inland Sea

During the second Fenian Congress in Cincinnati, Ohio, January 1865, John O’Mahony had tried to reassure Fenian delegates that the ‘Brotherhood was virtually at war with the British Oligarchy, and that while as yet there was no Fenian army openly in the field—such an army, nevertheless, existed, preparing and disciplining itself for Freedom’s battles, ambushed in the midst of its enemies, watching steadily its opportunity, and biding its time.’1 O’Mahony was speaking specifically of his determination to plan for an uprising in Ireland, echoing James Stephens’ call from Dublin. However, for many in his audience a Fenian army ‘preparing and disciplining itself for Freedom’s battles’ represented something different. In Ohio at the opening of 1865, a growing faction within the American Fenian organization were not thinking about a fight in Ireland; they were, instead, enamored by an elaborately prepared idea of shifting the Fenian focus toward British North America. While not necessarily a novel idea in and of itself, Civil War General Thomas William Sweeny brought (as we will see) an impressive martial strategy to the prospect that underscored the potential of a successful campaign. One of the biggest supporters of Sweeny’s battle plans was William Randall Roberts. A future US Congressman, Roberts arrived in New York in 1830, a 19 year old Corkonian who, as a dry goods merchant, became a self-made millionaire by the 1860s. He, and like-minded Fenians, began...

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