«Combat, Memory and Remembrance in Confederation Era Canada: The Hidden History of the Battle of Ridgeway, June 2, 1866 Peter Wronski (Peter Vronsky) ...»
Patrick‘s Day Parades in Nineteenth-Century Toronto: A Study of Immigrant Adjustment and Elite Control,‖ Histoire social/Social History, No. 49, 1992. pp. 57-73 where their mythical chief—Finn or Fionn MacCumhal [Fion Mac Coohal], (the Fingal of Macpherson) is alleged to have died in A.D. 283.4 The legendary origins of the Fianna were already being hotly debated in the 1860s as evidenced by a letter-writer to the Irish Canadian in 1866 who protested, ―there were Fenians in Ireland before Trean Mor, the grandfather of Fion was born.‖5 In a more recent and less mythological dimension, the roots of Fenianism go back to groups like the Whiteboys and Defenders: peasant self-defence associations similar to the early Sicilian rural mafia and to their further transformation in the ‗post-United Irishmen-pre-famine‘ Ribbonmen period into a transnational Irish nationalist underground.6 Whether the Fenians were nationalists, rebels, patriots, assassins, insurgents, bandits, irregulars, freedom fighters, pirates, murderers, martyrs, tribal militia, national revolutionaries, guerrillas or terrorists, depends much upon their historical chronology and an observer‘s pointof-view. The Fenians were the first modern transcontinental national insurgent group in the western world with operational cells in Ireland, England, Canada, United States, South America, New Zealand and Australia and a banking centre in Paris.
1975. p. 7; Alexander Somerville, Narrative of the Fenian Invasion of Canada, Hamilton, ON: Joseph Lyght, 1866 p. iii Irish Canadian, February 14, 1866. The author, ―Oisin‖ also protested, ―the insinuation about excess drinking, in particular, I unqualifiedly pronounce false, and challenge the most inveterate enemy of the Irish race to produce an instance of intoxication referred to in any Irish manuscript relations to the Fenians. Conan Maol, or Bald, was the only man amongst that body who was over-fond of eating; but I never read of him being drunk.‖ Tom Garvin, ―Defenders, Ribbonmen and Others: Underground Political Networks in Pre-Famine Ireland, Past
and Present, No. 96 (Aug., 1982), p. 136; Michael Davitt, The Fall of Feudalism in Ireland, London & New York:
1904, cited in Garvin, p. 136; For transplantation of Ribbonmen to Canada, see: John Matthew Barlow, Fear and Loathing in Saint-Sylvestre: The Corrigan Murder Case, 1855-58, Master‘s Thesis, Simon Fraser University, 1998, pp. 25-38 the ‗B‘s only to their ‗C‘s and so forth. Senior leaders in a city, territory or state were called ‗head centres.‘7 In Toronto and Montreal they infiltrated the leadership of a local militant Irish Catholic anti-Orange Order self-defence movement, the Hibernian Benevolent Society (HBS).8 Steam power gave the Fenians an unprecedented trans-Atlantic mobility; the telegraph linked them together at near internet speed (albeit without its bandwidth); cheap newsprint and steam driven printing presses gave them a mass-media voice; industrialism, an ocean of patriotic small wage earners to fund their cause; and the ascent of global capitalism offered a modern banking system to raise and distribute operational funds across oceans and continents, while the American Civil War would mobilize, arm and militarize tens of thousands of Irish-American patriots.9 While the early Fenians were not as bloodthirsty as today‘s international terrorists, and as some historians point out, they were liberal-democratic-nationalist revolutionaries who strongly opposed clerical interference, and in the early stages of their history before resorting to kidnapping and dynamite bombings, believed in the concept of ‗open and manly warfare‘10 it can be nonetheless said that in the perception of authorities, the majority of the press and the public, the Fenians were regarded in their time in the way al-Qaida is perceived today. The Fenians were broadly seen in the mid-Victorian era as a fanatical religious terrorist movement D‘Arcy, p. 55 n.
Clarke, Brian P. Piety and Nationalism: Lay Voluntary Associations and the Creation of an Irish-Catholic Community in Toronto, 1850-1895, Montreal-Kingston: McGill-Queen‘s University Press, 1993 for an extensive history of the HBS, also: Stacey, Charles P. ―A Fenian Interlude: The Story of Michael Murphy,‖ Canadian Historical Review, 5 (1934), 133-154; W. S. Neidhardt, Michael Murphy, DCB; D‘Arcy, p. 202, n.58, citing Donahoe‘s Magazine, December 1879, p. 539; Peter M. Toner, ―The ‗Green Ghost‘: Canada‘s Fenians and the Raids,‖ Eire-Ireland, vol 16 (1981), p. 29 cites, Phoenix, New York, 24 March 1866; Burton [P.C. Nolan] to McMicken, December 31, 1865, MG26 A, Volume 236, p. 103110-103113 [Reel C1662], LAC; Peter Vronsky, ―The Hibernian Benevolent Society and Fenianism in Toronto‖, www.petervronsky.org/thesis-references For example of international money transfers and Fenian bond sales in France, see: Mitchel to O‘Mahony, March 10, 1866, in Joseph Denieffe, A Personal Narrative of the Irish Revolutionary Brotherhood, New York: Gael Publishing, 1906. p. 219; D‘Arcy, p.82-84 Mark McGowan to Peter Wronski, e-mail, February 3, 2010; David Wilson to Peter Wronski, e-mail, March 2, 2010; David A. Wilson, ―State Security, Civil Liberty And The Fenians In Canada‖, 2008 Irish Studies Symposium, http://www.lac-bac.gc.ca/ireland/033001-1001.01.1-e.html representing a radical fundamentalist Catholicism linked to a Papacy with political ambitions at its conspiratorial centre in Rome. Very similar to the way Muslim immigrant communities are suspected of sympathizing with and supporting and harbouring fanatical Islamic terrorists today, the Irish-Catholic immigrant community dramatically enlarged in Canada by famine migration in the preceding years, was suspected in the 1860s of Fenian allegiances. The clandestine relationship between the Catholic HBS in Canada and Fenians did not help although in the end, no Canadian Fenian circles are known to have participated in the June 1866 attack into Canada.11 Their presence in Canada contributed to the paranoia of a ‗fifth column‘ but it never manifested itself in reality once the invasion occurred. The broader truth, however, was that Fenianism went beyond the question of religious sectarianism: of the 58 Fenians captured on the Niagara Frontier in 1866 and confined to the Toronto gaol, a full third were Protestants (19 Protestants with one prisoner claiming no religious affiliation.)12 Fenianism was a nationalist republican movement and not a Catholic one.
Nonetheless, even when fighting in conventional uniformed formations the Fenians were classified as illegal combatants, piratical insurgents fighting a ‗dirty war.‘ Familiar to international terrorism today but entirely new in the emerging telegraph networked world of the mid-nineteenth century was the Fenians‘ global reach, their quasi-independent franchise cell-like structure, their operational reliance on long distance encrypted communications, use of public and press wire announcements, rallies and ‗fairs‘, the launching of deceptive feints and disinformation, auxiliary cultural, educational and recreational programs, organizations and publications, use of long-term sustained intelligence gathering, deployment of ―sleepers‖, public For background to the Hibernian-Fenian nexus in Toronto, see Peter Vronsky, ―The Hibernian Benevolent Society and Fenianism in Toronto‖, www.petervronsky.org/thesis-references Police Department of the City of Toronto, Description of Fenian Prisoners, 9 June 1866, Department of Justice, Numbered Central Registry Files, RG-13-A2, vol. 15, LAC.
and clandestine fund raising, the use of sophisticated financial instruments in the international banking system, and the complexity of the repercussions their acts had on international relations and the dimension of the alarm and fear they raised in the British Empire. The Fenians were the great perceived modern transnational internal threat in the British Empire in the second half of the nineteenth century until supplanted by first the fear of international anarchism followed by that of Imperial German spies. Despite these structural similarities to current terrorist movements, however, there is nothing in this thesis describing the conduct of the Fenian invaders in 1866 towards the civilian population in Canada or towards its officials, combatants and prisoners-of-war and wounded that could be characterized other than gallant and civilized; at least as gallant as an expropriating, foraging insurgent army can afford to be in battle.13 The objective of the Fenian invasion, simply explained, was to trigger a political crisis in British Empire and weaken its hold on Ireland by taking Canada hostage in the hope of triggering hostilities between the United States and Britain. While in the end the plan turned out to be miscalculated and poorly executed, in concept it was not as far-fetched as it may sound at first.
It was intended to work on multiple levels. Historically Britain had to commit over the centuries enormous amounts of resources to control Ireland and suppress rebellion there. But in the wake colonial expansion, the Crimean War, the great Mutiny in India and rising tensions in Europe, these resources were beginning to run thin by the 1860s. One of Britain‘s early responses was to pare down its military commitments in British North America and attempt turn over the responsibility of defence to the colonies themselves.14 Anything the Fenians could now do to keep the British busy with Canada would drain their available resources and political will for putting down the planned rebellion in Ireland, or so the Fenians thought.
Even the Fenians‘ enemy, George T. Denison, came to the same conclusion: Denison, The Fenian Raid, p. 63-64;
also quoted in Somerville, p. 114 C.P. Stacey, Canada and the British Army, pp. 104-116 The Fenians planned on holding Canada hostage, to raise a flag in its territory under which their ships could sail on the high seas without being deemed piratical, and raise increased funding for their planned war of liberation in Ireland from a captive Canadian tax base, and precipitate a political crisis in Britain and Ireland weakening London‘s resolve to hold Ireland.15 In this plan the Fenians were counting on two things—that the United States would recognize their seizure of Canadian territory and that disgruntled Irish Catholics in Canada and French Canadians would rise up in aid of the invading Fenians—or at least would stand by and do nothing. Both of these things were critical miscalculations in the Fenian plan.
The Civil War and the Growth of the Fenian Brotherhood In the first five years after their founding in 1858 in Dublin, the Fenians in Ireland and in Canada attracted very little attention from authorities. When Dublin Castle in Ireland issued an internal report on the Fenians in 1868 they would note in it, ―To trace the history of the Fenian Brotherhood from 1859 to ‘63 would be tedious, as events are lacking to give it interest.‖16 Outside of Ireland, neither Britain nor Canada had a standing domestic intelligence agency to monitor and recognize the rising Fenian threat. Britain not only stopped spying at home after 1848, but with a few exceptions (Ireland being the big one) was decidedly anti-spy.17 Even in their imperial colonies where the British never hesitated to adopt a double standard, domestic spying was scrupulously avoided. As the historian of British domestic intelligence, Sweeny to Roberts, [circa November 1865], Thomas William Sweeny Papers, MssCol 2934: New York City Public Library.
Quoted in Padraic Cummins Kennedy, Political Policing in a Liberal Age: Britain‘s Response to the Fenian Movement 1858-1868, PhD dissertation, Washington University, 1996. p. 88 Christopher Andrew, The Defense of The Realm: The Authorized History of MI-5,London: Penguin Books, 2009 and Secret Service: The Making of the British Intelligence Community, London: Penguin Books, 1989; Bernard Porter, Plots and Paranoia: A History of Political Espionage in Britain 1790-1988, London: Unwin Hyman, 1989 and Origins of the Vigilant State: The London Metropolitan Police Special Branch Before the First World War, London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1987.