Villanova’s Digital Library houses over 450 items relating to the Fenian Brotherhood’s failed invasions of Canada. By providing a historical context for the correspondence and publications I hope to increase their value and use to interested parties, both on campus and in the scholarly community.
When the Irish Revolutionary Brotherhood fought overseas for an independent Ireland they sponsored an organization called the Fenian Brotherhood in the United States. Originally intended to raise funds and materials for activism on Irish soil, the leaders of the Fenian Brotherhood surprised many with their repeated hostilities against British North America. The first leader to propose attacks on Canada reasoned that they would create problems for Britain, but as the aggressive plan divided Fenian membership in two, subsequent military actions seemed more congruent with the desires of Fenian leaders to assert their authority over rivaling factions.
The majority of the papers highlighted in this collection and exhibit come from Fenian Senator Frank Gallagher of Buffalo, New York. Belonging to a specific faction of the Brotherhood, Gallagher’s papers provide more information on some Fenian activity than others. Where those holes presented themselves I filled them with secondary research and primary source material from the Library of Congress, Library and Archives Canada, the New York Times and electronic books housed in Villanova University’s Digital Library, Internet Archive, Project Gutenberg, and Google Books. Villanova’s Digital Library collection on the Fenian Brotherhood, itself, significantly provides evidence on how internal divisions hindered the effectiveness of the organization and eventually led to its dissolution.
Read on to follow the Fenian Brotherhood through its inception, three failed invasions of Canadian soil, one murderous plot to cover up inconsistencies in their treasury, and many schisms in the membership until the organization finally discontinued itself in 1886.
Curated by Jean Turner (Digital Library Intern Spring 2011), with graphic design by Joanne Quinn. Additional and indispensible contributions to the project were made by student scanners and several transcribers including Susan Ottignon and Mimi DiLenge, David Lacy for his work on the technical details, and Laura Bang and Michael Foight for their advice and guidance.