MARY ANGLAND continues her series on famous battles that helped shape the country


The Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) was founded in Dublin in 1858 by James Stephens with the Fenian Brotherhood (later known as Clan na nGael) being formed the same year in America by John O’ Mahony and Michael Doheny. Sometimes, the name ‘Fenians’ was applied to both organisations.

Their aim was quite clear – to establish an independent Irish Republic by armed rebellion. They were similar to the Young Ireland Movement in having a newspaper, The Irish People, to spread their views and shape public opinion.
1865 saw the end of the American Civil War and the Fenians began preparing for a rising. They hoped to recruit battle-hardened Irish veterans from both sides of the American conflict for their insurrection.

They had over 50,000 men willing to fight; and had managed to acquire over 6,000 firearms.

In September 1865, the British closed down The Irish People and arrested many of the Fenian leaders including John O’ Leary, Jeremiah O’ Donovan Rossa, Thomas Clarke Luby and James Stephens himself. The following year, habeas corpus was suspended so that the authorities were able to arrest hundreds more Fenians and hold on to them illegally.

When Stephens was arrested, he was replaced as leader by Thomas Kelly who tried to launch an uprising in early 1867 but it was badly planned and coordinated. It soon died away after a series of what could only be described as skirmishes with the authorities.

The Fenians’ plan for a rebellion was unduly optimistic – they believed that their members in rural areas would stage a countrywide campaign of guerrilla warfare while there would be an uprising in Dublin simultaneously.
They also envisaged being joined by Irish troops who would have mutinied and together, these two forces would take the military barracks in the capital.

However, in February, things got off to a rocky start when the attack on Chester Barracks in England to procure arms for the rising in Ireland was foiled because information about the plan was given to the British by an informer, one of Stephen’s most trusted agents.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own