One year after the Civil War ended, a group of delusional and mostly incompetent commanders sponsored by bitterly competing groups riddled with spies, led tiny armies against the combined forces of the British, Canadian, and American governments. They were leaders of America’s feuding Irish émigré groups who thought they could conquer Canada and blackmail Great Britain (then the world’s military superpower) into granting Ireland its independence.
The story behind the infamous 1866 Fenian Raids seems implausible (and whiskey-fueled), but ultimately is an inspiring tale of heroic patriotism. Inspired by a fervent love for Ireland and a burning desire to free her from British rule, members of the Fenian Brotherhood – a semi-secret band of Irish-American revolutionaries – made plans to seize the British province of Canada and hold it hostage until the independence of Ireland was secured.
When the Fenian Raids began, Ireland had been subjugated by Britain for over seven hundred years. The British had taken away Ireland’s religion, culture, and language, and when the Great Hunger stuck, they even took away her food, exporting it to other realms of the British Empire. Those who escaped the famine and fled to America were inspired by the revolutionary actions of the Civil War to fight for their own country’s freedom. After receiving a promise from President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William Seward not to interfere with any military plans, the Fenian Brotherhood – which included a one-armed Civil War hero, an English spy posing as French sympathizer, an Irish revolutionary who faked his own death to escape capture, and a Fenian leader turned British loyalist – began to implement their grand plan to secure Ireland’s freedom. They executed daring prison breaks from an Australian penal colony, conducted political assassinations and engaged in double-dealings, managing to seize a piece of Canada for three days.
Today I’m speaking with Christopher Klein, author of the book WHEN THE IRISH INVADED CANADA: The Incredible True Story of the Civil War Veterans Who Fought for Ireland’s Freedom. He brings light to this forgotten but fascinating story in history.
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