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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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Introduction : ‘A Hubbub … Where John Bull’s Calves of Canada Live’


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‘A Hubbub … Where John Bull’s Calves of Canada Live’1

In the first week of June 1866, barely a year after the conclusion of the American Civil War, a new conflict was initiated in the United States, this time on the northern border with British North America. Starting on the morning of June 1, a series of raids by the Fenian Brotherhood (Fenians or FB) culminated in a short military confrontation with the British-Canadian authorities. These Fenian raids, widely described as the ‘Invasion of Canada,’ were planned, commenced, and carried out from within the United States in an attempt to achieve one, or both, of two main objectives: namely, seize some territory and there proclaim the Irish Republic, with the future intention of having that territory annexed to the United States; and alternatively, or indeed concomitantly, to try and foment an international war between the United States and Great Britain. The intentions of these raids, motivated by the Fenians’ aspiration to damage the British Empire as severely as possible so as to further the cause of Irish independence, have been overshadowed by the formulation of the invasion as a moment that signaled a historic shift towards Canadian Dominion status. As a history appropriated by Canada, it has been utilized to underscore a sense of domestic independence for that British Commonwealth country. Nonetheless, understanding the significance of the raids from an Irish and Irish American stance reframes and perhaps reclaims the history as...

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