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The Fenians, both the Fenian Brotherhood and Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), were fraternal organisations dedicated to the establishment of an independent Irish Republic in the 19th and early 20th century. The name "Fenians" was first applied by John O'Mahony to the members of the Irish nationalist organization which he founded in America in 1858. O'Mahony, who was a Celtic scholar, named the American wing of the movement after the Fianna, the legendary band of Irish warriors led by Fionn mac Cumhaill.
The term Fenian is still used today, especially in Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and Scotland, where its original meaning has expanded to include all supporters of Irish nationalism, as well as being a pejorative for Catholics. Irish Nationalists themselves, while honouring the 19th-century Fenians, commonly use other designations for themselves such as "Nationalist" or "Republican", terms also used by the Fenians themselves.


Fenianism, according to O'Mahony, is symbolized by two principles: firstly, that Ireland had a natural right to independence, and secondly, that that right could be won only by an armed revolution.
The term Fenianism was sometimes used by the British political establishment in the 1860s for any form of mobilization among the lower classes or those who expressed any Irish nationalist sentiments. They warned people about this threat to turn decent civilized society on its head such as that posed by trade unionism to the existing social order in England.


James Stephens, one of the "Men of 1848," (a participant in the 1848 revolt) had established himself in Paris, 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 Donovan (afterwards known as O'Donovan Rossa) among its more prominent members, had recently been formed at Skibbereen.
Along with Thomas Clarke Luby, John O'Leary and Charles Kickham he founded the Irish Republican Brotherhood on 17 March 1858 in Lombard Street, Dublin.

United States

The Fenian Brotherhood, the Irish Republican Brotherhood's US branch, was founded by John O'Mahony and Michael Doheny, both of whom had been "out" in 1848. In the face of nativist suspicion, it quickly established an independent existence, although it still worked to gain Irish American 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 of Canada, it was replaced by Clan na Gael.


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 Canada West (Southern Ontario) which was a British dominion 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 amongst the Irish.
A suspected Fenian, Patrick J. Whelan, was hanged in Ottawa for the assassination of Irish Canadian politician, D'Arcy McGee in 1868, who had been a member of the Irish Confederation in the 1840s.
The Fenians were a major cause of Canadian Confederation, although there were several other reasons, there is a lot of evidence that Fenian raids on the territory of Canada West was an important element into forcing the confederates hands to form a more adequate centralized defense.

(Source Wikipedia)