The Fenian Movement

Over the years, Ireland had two general movements, the political one, which Daniel O’Connell operated successfully, because he did not believe in violence and the armed one, who believed the only way that English Government would listen was ‘through the gun and the bullet’. A tenant right movement arose in the years 1850-52, but ended in failure and disillusion. In politics the situation was almost hopeless, the repeal movement had died with O’Connell. The desperate efforts by the Young Irelanders at Ballingarry in 1848 had ended in utter failure. The despair of the 1850s’ was summed up by A.M. Sullivan, the editor of The Nation when he wrote: Repeal is buried. Disaffection has disappeared. Nationality was un-mentioned. Not a shout was raised. Not even a village tenant-right Club survived. The people no longer interested themselves in politics. Who went or who went out of parliament concerned them not. All was silence…….

In 1856, Jeremiah O’Donovan, better known as O’Donovan Rossa (he was born in Rosscarbery), along with some young men from Skibereen, formed The Phoenix National & Literary Society. Its aims were to discuss political and literary subjects. It soon had branches in other parts of the country. The Phoenix Society was to need some encouragement and help to make it a thorough-going political society. The encouragement and help came from America. Two of the Young Ireland rising, namely James Stepehens and John O’Mahony escaped to France in 1848 and both joined the Paris republican body. Later they went to America and founded an Association which later became known as the Fenian Brotherhood. The outbreak of the Civil War in America in 1861, caused a fatal delay in putting Fenian plans for an immediate rising into effect. Once again in Irish armed struggle, there were divisions, above all they came into open conflict with the Catholic Church leaders. Cardinal Paul Cullen – the chief spokesman for the Church’s viewpoint was that ‘republicanism was of its very nature anti-Catholic’. Charles Kickaham, who was the chief writer in the Irish People on the vexed question of clerical opposition to the Fenian movement wrote on its last edition in 16 September 1865, just before  (the government police (RIC) raided and broke up the printing press) wrote as follows: ‘The people for whom God created it must get this island into their own hands. If they do not the Irish nation must disappear from the face of the earth ….. Our only hope is in revolution. But most of the bishops and many of the clergy are opposed to the revolution. It is not then the duty of the Irish patriot be-he priest or layman, to teach the people that they have a right to judge for themselves in temporal matters? That is what we have done…….’  Both Dr. Moriarty, Bishop of Kerry, and Cardinal Cullen were convinced that Ireland could never shake off English rule, and that Irishmen everywhere must accept colonial status. This, however, the Fenians were determined not to do, and despite many setbacks, they went ahead to plan a rising for the year 1867. Kickham, O’Leary and Luby some of main people were imprisoned by the police before the final plans were out. Furthermore, Dublin Castle spies were active and knew in advance most of the plans. The rising was only of limited success from the Irish point of view, it ended with three Fenians, Allen, Larkin and O’Brien, known as the Manchester Martyrs were executed on the 23 November 1867. Preceding the execution was the death of Constable Brett who died from a wound after the Fenian raid on Chester Castle.  In song and in ballad the bold Fenian men have gone down as heroes:

'Twas down by the glenside I met an old woman,
A-plucking young nettles, nor saw I was coming.
I listened awhile to the song she was humming,

Glory -o, Glory-o, to the Bold Fenian Men.

Some died by the glenside, some with the stranger,

And wise men have told us that their cause was a failure.

But they died for old Ireland and never feared danger,

Glory -o Glory -o, to the bold Fenian men.



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