See What Happened Was...
fun stories from history
You know that thing of where your older brother takes your pizza rolls and you’re super mad at him but also too intimidated to confront him directly so instead you try to take your other brother’s Gameboy hoping that that will make your older brother respect you?
No? Just me? Well, if you can’t relate to that, the Irish-American’s of the 1860’s sure can. It’s time to learn about the Fenian Brotherhood.
England has historically been rather possessive of Ireland. Irish people are generally very upset about the English ruling their country. This angst does not just apply to Irish people living in Ireland however—Irish immigrants to America (and their children) continued to be really upset at England. And this was not just idle hatred. They worked to change things.
At this point you may be thinking, “Gee, what can a handful of civilian immigrants living an ocean away do about the liberation of an entire nation during the 1800’s? It’s not like they can just hop across the pond for a hot sec, raise a ruckus and then get back home in time for supper. What did they do, just organize, produce magazines and propaganda, raise money and send it over to their brothers in the homeland?"
….Man, why you gotta steal my thunder like that. Rude.
That’s exactly what the Irish-Americans did. In 1859 a Civil War veteran named John O’Mahoney founded the Fenian brotherhood in New York City with the goal of creating an Ireland free of the influence of the British crown.
As you so perceptively mentioned earlier, it wasn’t feasible for them to go to Ireland themselves and fight. Well, they took stock of their resources and surroundings and thought to themselves, “Hey, we hate England. We can’t attack them, but Canada is right next door. And England owns Canada. So if we invade Canada we can hold them hostage until the British give us Ireland back."
The Fenians began making plans. The US government heard about this and pretty much did nothing—they still had not gotten over the fact that Britain supported the Confederacy during the war.
The first Fenian raid occurred in April of 1866 at Campobello Island, New Brunswick. It was quickly dispersed after the British navy showed up. After this the Brotherhood split into two factions--those who thought invading Canada was a terrible idea (with O’Mahoney), and those who still thought it was still a great plan.
This faction of the Fenians launched another attempt in June of '66. They successfully held off Canadian forces at the Battle of Ridgeway but soon had to fall back to Buffalo due to lack of reinforcements and supplies. Several more, minor raids were attempted by the Brotherhood through 1870 but none of them found much success.
While the purposes of the Fenians were never reached, their attempts at invasions did encourage the Canadians to work towards unification. After successfully fending off these later raids, Canada no longer relied on British military to protect their borders and were one step closer to gaining their own independence. Yaaaaay Canada!