The Fenians (ˈfiːnɪənz), both the Fenian Brotherhood
Fenian Brotherhood
The Fenian Brotherhood was an Irish republican organization founded in the United States in 1858 by John O'Mahony and Michael Doheny. It was a precursor to Clan na Gael, a sister organization to the Irish Republican Brotherhood. Members were commonly known as "Fenians"...

 and Irish Republican Brotherhood
Irish Republican Brotherhood
The Irish Republican Brotherhood was a secret oath-bound fraternal organisation dedicated to the establishment of an "independent democratic republic" in Ireland during the second half of the 19th century and the start of the 20th century...

 (IRB), were fraternal organisations dedicated to the establishment of an independent Irish Republic
Irish Republic
The Irish Republic was a revolutionary state that declared its independence from Great Britain in January 1919. It established a legislature , a government , a court system and a police force...

 in the 19th and early 20th century. The name "Fenians" was first applied by John O'Mahony
John O'Mahony
John O'Mahony may refer to:*John O'Mahony , founder of the Irish Republican Brotherhood *John O'Mahony , Irish Fine Gael politician representing Mayo and twice an All-Ireland winner managing the Galway Football Team*Sean Matgamna , also known as John O'Mahony, Trotskyist theorist*Seán O'Mahony ,...

 to the members of the Irish republican
Irish Republicanism
Irish republicanism is an ideology based on the belief that all of Ireland should be an independent republic.In 1801, under the Act of Union, the Kingdom of Great Britain and the Kingdom of Ireland merged to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland...

 group which he founded in the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 in 1858. O'Mahony, who was a Celtic scholar, named the American wing of the movement after the Fianna
Fianna were small, semi-independent warrior bands in Irish mythology and Scottish mythology, most notably in the stories of the Fenian Cycle, where they are led by Fionn mac Cumhaill....

. In Gaelic Ireland
Gaelic Ireland
Gaelic Ireland is the name given to the period when a Gaelic political order existed in Ireland. The order continued to exist after the arrival of the Anglo-Normans until about 1607 AD...

 these were warrior bands of young men who lived apart from society and could be called upon in times of war.

The term Fenian is still used today, especially in Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland is one of the four countries of the United Kingdom. Situated in the north-east of the island of Ireland, it shares a border with the Republic of Ireland to the south and west...

 and Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

, where its original meaning has expanded to include all supporters of Irish nationalism
Irish nationalism
Irish nationalism manifests itself in political and social movements and in sentiment inspired by a love for Irish culture, language and history, and as a sense of pride in Ireland and in the Irish people...

, as well as being used by some as a sectarian term for Irish Catholics
Roman Catholic Church
The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the world's largest Christian church, with over a billion members. Led by the Pope, it defines its mission as spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, administering the sacraments and exercising charity...

. Irish nationalists, while honouring the 19th century Fenians, more often describe themselves as "nationalist" or "republican".


Fenianism, according to O'Mahony, is symbolised by two principles: firstly, that Ireland
Ireland is an island to the northwest of continental Europe. It is the third-largest island in Europe and the twentieth-largest island on Earth...

 has a natural right to independence, and secondly, that that right could be won only by an armed revolution
A revolution is a fundamental change in power or organizational structures that takes place in a relatively short period of time.Aristotle described two types of political revolution:...


The term Fenianism was sometimes used by the British
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland was the formal name of the United Kingdom during the period when what is now the Republic of Ireland formed a part of it....

 political establishment in the 1860s for any form of mobilisation among the lower classes
Working class
Working class is a term used in the social sciences and in ordinary conversation to describe those employed in lower tier jobs , often extending to those in unemployment or otherwise possessing below-average incomes...

 or those who expressed any Irish nationalist sentiments. They warned people about this threat to turn decent civilised society on its head such as that posed by trade union
Trade union
A trade union, trades union or labor union is an organization of workers that have banded together to achieve common goals such as better working conditions. The trade union, through its leadership, bargains with the employer on behalf of union members and negotiates labour contracts with...

ism to the existing social order
Social order
Social order is a concept used in sociology, history and other social sciences. It refers to a set of linked social structures, social institutions and social practices which conserve, maintain and enforce "normal" ways of relating and behaving....

 in England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...



James Stephens, one of the "Men of 1848," (a participant in the 1848 revolt
Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848
The Young Irelander Rebellion was a failed Irish nationalist uprising led by the Young Ireland movement. It took place on 29 July 1848 in the village of Ballingarry, County Tipperary. After being chased by a force of Young Irelanders and their supporters, an Irish Constabulary unit raided a house...

) had established himself in Paris
Paris is the capital and largest city in France, situated on the river Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region...

, and was in correspondence with John O'Mahony in the United States and other advanced nationalists at home and abroad. This would include the Phoenix National and Literary Society, with Jeremiah O'Donovan (afterwards known as O'Donovan Rossa
Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa
Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa , was an Irish Fenian leader and prominent member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood. His life as an Irish Fenian is well documented but he is perhaps known best in death for the graveside oration given at his funeral by Pádraig Pearse.-Life in Ireland:He was born at...

) among its more prominent members, had recently been formed at Skibbereen
Skibbereen , is a town in County Cork, Ireland. It is the most southerly town in Ireland. It is located on the N71 national secondary road.The name "Skibbereen" means "little boat harbour." The River Ilen which runs through the town reaches the sea at Baltimore.-History:Prior to 1600 most of the...


Along with Thomas Clarke Luby
Thomas Clarke Luby
Thomas Clarke Luby was an Irish revolutionary, author, journalist and one of the founding members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood.-Early life:...

, John O'Leary and Charles Kickham
Charles Kickham
Charles Joseph Kickham was an Irish revolutionary, novelist, poet, journalist and one of the most prominent members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood.-Early life:...

 he founded the Irish Republican Brotherhood on 17 March 1858 in Lombard Street, Dublin.

United States

The Fenian Brotherhood
Fenian Brotherhood
The Fenian Brotherhood was an Irish republican organization founded in the United States in 1858 by John O'Mahony and Michael Doheny. It was a precursor to Clan na Gael, a sister organization to the Irish Republican Brotherhood. Members were commonly known as "Fenians"...

, the Irish Republican Brotherhood's US branch, was founded by John O'Mahony and Michael Doheny
Michael Doheny
Michael Doheny was an Irish writer and member of the Young Ireland movement.-Early life:The third son of Michael Doheny, of Brookhill, he was born at Brookhill, near Fethard, Co. Tipperary, and married a Miss O'Dwyer of that county...

, both of whom had been "out" (participating in the Young Irelander's rising) in 1848. In the face of nativist
Nativism (politics)
Nativism favors the interests of certain established inhabitants of an area or nation as compared to claims of newcomers or immigrants. It may also include the re-establishment or perpetuation of such individuals or their culture....

 suspicion, it quickly established an independent existence, although it still worked to gain Irish American
Irish American
Irish Americans are citizens of the United States who can trace their ancestry to Ireland. A total of 36,278,332 Americans—estimated at 11.9% of the total population—reported Irish ancestry in the 2008 American Community Survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau...

 support for armed rebellion in Ireland. Initially, O'Mahony ran operations in the US, sending funds to Stephens and the IRB in Ireland, disagreement over O'Mahony's leadership led to the formation of two Fenian Brotherhoods in 1865. The US chapter of the movement was also sometimes referred to as the IRB. After the failed invasion
Fenian raids
Between 1866 and 1871, the Fenian raids of the Fenian Brotherhood who were based in the United States; on British army forts, customs posts and other targets in Canada, were fought to bring pressure on Britain to withdraw from Ireland. They divided many Catholic Irish-Canadians, many of whom were...

 of Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

, it was replaced by Clan na Gael
Clan na Gael
The Clan na Gael was an Irish republican organization in the United States in the late 19th and 20th centuries, successor to the Fenian Brotherhood and a sister organization to the Irish Republican Brotherhood...



In Canada, Fenian is used to designate a group of Irish radicals, a.k.a. the American branch of the Fenian Brotherhood in the 1860s. They made several attempts (1866, 1870, etc.) to invade some parts of Province of Canada
Province of Canada
The Province of Canada, United Province of Canada, or the United Canadas was a British colony in North America from 1841 to 1867. Its formation reflected recommendations made by John Lambton, 1st Earl of Durham in the Report on the Affairs of British North America following the Rebellions of...

 (Southern Ontario
Southern Ontario
Southern Ontario is a region of the province of Ontario, Canada that lies south of the French River and Algonquin Park. Depending on the inclusion of the Parry Sound and Muskoka districts, its surface area would cover between 14 to 15% of the province. It is the southernmost region of...

 and Missisquoi County
Missisquoi County, Quebec
Missisquoi County is a historical county in Quebec. In the early 1980s Quebec abolished its counties. Much of Missisquoi County became the Brome-Missisquoi Regional County Municipality except the southwestern part was transferred to Le Haut-Richelieu Regional County Municipality.The name of the...

) which were a British dominion
A dominion, often Dominion, refers to one of a group of autonomous polities that were nominally under British sovereignty, constituting the British Empire and British Commonwealth, beginning in the latter part of the 19th century. They have included Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Newfoundland,...

 at the time. The ultimate goal of the Fenian raids was to hold Canada hostage and therefore be in a position to blackmail the United Kingdom to give Ireland its independence. Because of the invasion attempts, support and/or collaboration for the Fenians in Canada became very rare even among the Irish
Irish people
The Irish people are an ethnic group who originate in Ireland, an island in northwestern Europe. Ireland has been populated for around 9,000 years , with the Irish people's earliest ancestors recorded having legends of being descended from groups such as the Nemedians, Fomorians, Fir Bolg, Tuatha...

A suspected Fenian, Patrick J. Whelan
Patrick J. Whelan
Patrick James Whelan was a tailor and alleged Fenian sympathizer executed following the 1868 assassination of Canadian journalist and politician Thomas D'Arcy McGee....

, was hanged in Ottawa
Ottawa is the capital of Canada, the second largest city in the Province of Ontario, and the fourth largest city in the country. The city is located on the south bank of the Ottawa River in the eastern portion of Southern Ontario...

 for the assassination
To carry out an assassination is "to murder by a sudden and/or secret attack, often for political reasons." Alternatively, assassination may be defined as "the act of deliberately killing someone, especially a public figure, usually for hire or for political reasons."An assassination may be...

 of Irish Canadian
Irish Canadian
Irish Canadian are immigrants and descendants of immigrants who originated in Ireland. 1.2 million Irish immigrants arrived, 1825 to 1970, at least half of those in the period from 1831-1850. By 1867, they were the second largest ethnic group , and comprised 24% of Canada's population...

 politician, Thomas D'Arcy McGee in 1868, who had been a member of the Irish Confederation
Irish Confederation
The Irish Confederation was an Irish nationalist independence movement, established on 13 January 1847 by members of the Young Ireland movement who had seceded from Daniel O'Connell's Repeal Association. Historian T. W...

 in the 1840s.

The Fenians were a major cause of Canadian Confederation
Canadian Confederation
Canadian Confederation was the process by which the federal Dominion of Canada was formed on July 1, 1867. On that day, three British colonies were formed into four Canadian provinces...

, and although there were several other reasons, there is a lot of evidence that Fenian raids on the territory of Canada West were an important element in forcing the confederates hands to form a more adequate centralised defence.


The Fenians in England and the Empire were a major threat to political stability. In the late 1860s the IRB control centre was in Lancashire. In 1868 the Supreme Council of the IRB, the provisional government of the Irish Republic, was established. The four Irish provinces, Connacht, Leinster, Ulster and Munster, Scotland, the north of England and the south of England, including London, had representatives on the Council. Later four honorary members were co-opted. The Council elected three members to the executive. The President was chairperson, the Treasurer managed recruitment and finance and the Secretary was director of operations.

Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland, Fenian is used by some as a derogatory word for Catholics.


The term Fenian is used similarly in Scotland. During Scottish football matches it is often aimed in a sectarian manner at supporters of the Celtic F.C.
Celtic F.C.
Celtic Football Club is a Scottish football club based in the Parkhead area of Glasgow, which currently plays in the Scottish Premier League. The club was established in 1887, and played its first game in 1888. Celtic have won the Scottish League Championship on 42 occasions, most recently in the...

. Celtic has its roots in Glasgow
Glasgow is the largest city in Scotland and third most populous in the United Kingdom. The city is situated on the River Clyde in the country's west central lowlands...

's immigrant Catholic Irish population and the club has thus been associated with Irish nationalism. Other Scottish clubs that have Irish roots, such as Hibernian
Hibernian F.C.
Hibernian Football Club are a Scottish professional football club based in Leith, in the north of Edinburgh. They are one of two Scottish Premier League clubs in the city, the other being their Edinburgh derby rivals, Hearts...

 and Dundee United
Dundee United F.C.
Dundee United Football Club is a Scottish professional football club located in the city of Dundee. Formed in 1909, originally as Dundee Hibernian, the club changed to the present name in 1923...

, do not have the term applied to them, however. The term is now firmly rooted within the Old Firm
Old Firm
The Old Firm is a common collective name for the association football clubs Celtic and Rangers, both based in Glasgow, Scotland.The origin of the term is unclear. One theory has it that the expression derives from Celtic's first game in 1888, which was played against Rangers. However, author,...

 rivalry between Celtic and Rangers
Rangers F.C.
Rangers Football Club are an association football club based in Glasgow, Scotland, who play in the Scottish Premier League. The club are nicknamed the Gers, Teddy Bears and the Light Blues, and the fans are known to each other as bluenoses...

, as a rivalry between "orange and green" has been replaced by one between "blue
Rangers F.C.
Rangers Football Club are an association football club based in Glasgow, Scotland, who play in the Scottish Premier League. The club are nicknamed the Gers, Teddy Bears and the Light Blues, and the fans are known to each other as bluenoses...

 and green
Celtic F.C.
Celtic Football Club is a Scottish football club based in the Parkhead area of Glasgow, which currently plays in the Scottish Premier League. The club was established in 1887, and played its first game in 1888. Celtic have won the Scottish League Championship on 42 occasions, most recently in the...



In Australia Fenian is used as a pejorative term for those members of the Australian Labor Party
Australian Labor Party
The Australian Labor Party is an Australian political party. It has been the governing party of the Commonwealth of Australia since the 2007 federal election. Julia Gillard is the party's federal parliamentary leader and Prime Minister of Australia...

 (ALP) who have Australian Republican
Republicanism in Australia
Republicanism in Australia is a movement to change Australia's status as a constitutional monarchy to a republican form of government. Such sentiments have been expressed in Australia from before federation onward to the present...

 views similar to those who support Irish unification
United Ireland
A united Ireland is the term used to refer to the idea of a sovereign state which covers all of the thirty-two traditional counties of Ireland. The island of Ireland includes the territory of two independent sovereign states: the Republic of Ireland, which covers 26 counties of the island, and the...

. Michael Atkinson
Michael Atkinson
Michael John Atkinson , an Australian politician, was the South Australian Attorney-General, Minister for Justice, Minister for Veterans' Affairs, and Minister for Multicultural Affairs in the Rann Labor Government. A day after the 2010 election, he stepped down as Attorney-General and resigned...

, Attorney-General
Attorney General
In most common law jurisdictions, the attorney general, or attorney-general, is the main legal advisor to the government, and in some jurisdictions he or she may also have executive responsibility for law enforcement or responsibility for public prosecutions.The term is used to refer to any person...

 of South Australia
South Australia
South Australia is a state of Australia in the southern central part of the country. It covers some of the most arid parts of the continent; with a total land area of , it is the fourth largest of Australia's six states and two territories.South Australia shares borders with all of the mainland...

, spoke of those members of the ALP who wished to remove the title Queen's Counsel
Queen's Counsel
Queen's Counsel , known as King's Counsel during the reign of a male sovereign, are lawyers appointed by letters patent to be one of Her [or His] Majesty's Counsel learned in the law...

 and other references to the crown as 'Fenians and Bolshevik
The Bolsheviks, originally also Bolshevists , derived from bol'shinstvo, "majority") were a faction of the Marxist Russian Social Democratic Labour Party which split apart from the Menshevik faction at the Second Party Congress in 1903....

s' in a speech given at the ALP Convention in Adelaide
Adelaide is the capital city of South Australia and the fifth-largest city in Australia. Adelaide has an estimated population of more than 1.2 million...

 on 15 October 2006. Irish Catholics have been traditional supporters of the ALP and have influenced the party's platform regarding the monarchy. Atkinson made a further subsequent mention of Fenianism when the title of Queen's Counsel was finally abolished.

External links

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