Note on the Fenians

The Fenians (Irish Republican Brotherhood) were originally the Irish Revolutionary Brotherhood, founded in Dublin 1858 by James Stephens a Young Irelander wounded in the 1848 Rising and strongly influenced by French revolutionary ideology and rhetoric. The name 'Fenians' came from the auxiliary American movement to apply to the whole organisation. The Fenians were disillusioned with the corruption and ineptitude of Irish politicians sent to Westminster. Further prompting came with the outbreak of the Indian Mutiny (1857-58) in British India and growing tension with France. The objective of the Fenians was 'Soon or Never' to overthrow the extension of the British State in Ireland and create and independent Irish republic. There was some tension across the Atlantic links and further between the activist role of the Fenians in pursuit of Irish liberation and the movement's role as a social club. The Roman Catholic hierarchy denounced the Fenians, despite the fact they attracted support from the lower clergy. The 1867 Fenian rising was poorly planned and collapsed. Fenian violence served a purpose in that it made English politicians increasingly realise the seriousness of the situation in Ireland if not appreciate the nature of the problem or foresee any workable solution to it. The execution of the 'Manchester Martyrs' prevented the Fenians slipping into ridicule and obscurity. After 1873 the Fenians began to support the campaign for Irish self- government; this allowed the Fenians to work with Parnell and infiltrate cultural nationalist movements such as the Gaelic Athletic Association.

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