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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 150 th anniversary of the Fenian invasion of Canada.
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Not everyone saw the failures of the 1866 invasion as a signal that the idea of striking a blow at the British Empire on the North American continent was defunct. And, indeed, the Fenians were far from finished despite the public relations debacle they had on their hands. At the conclusion of 1866, all factions of the Fenian Brotherhood managed to maintain a strong base of support and their activities continued. The emergent Fenian Brotherhood after the Canadian invasion framed their intentions to win Irish freedom even more explicitly as an international conspiracy1 over the next decade especially. As an organization the Fenian Brotherhood would later be absorbed into a new amalgamation of Irish transnational intrigue emanating from New York City under the guise of Clan Na Gael.2 And Clan Na Gael would become involved with the legacy of the IRB in Ireland leading up to, and during, the 1916 Easter Rising: that revolutionary attempt credited with the eventual independence achieved by southern Ireland from British rule. In the meantime, the Fenians were still a force to be reckoned with within the United States after the 1866 failed attempt to interfere with Britain’s possessions in Canada. The post-invasion fallout brought Irish ← 299 | 300 → issues back to the forefront of debates within the United States, surrounding both domestic and foreign policy in an age of American reconstruction. The impact that the Fenians and their invasion threats had for politics in the US were noticeable. For some Irish Americans vying...

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