The Irish Invasion

The Fenian raids may appear to be mere skirmishes.

They were minor battle with few casualties, fought for reasons that today appear at once bizarre. However, the incursions by the Fenians were once considered grave threats to the survival of Canada.

The Fenians or the Fenian Brotherhood was based in New York City. This organisation established by Irish immigrants in the mid-18th century, decided that the capture of Canada would lead to one of two following scenarios: the Crown would offer a free Ireland in exchange for an end to Fenian occupation of Canada, or a great number of British troops would be sent to drive out the Fenians, allowing a successful uprising in Ireland. In the morning of June 7, 1866, a group of Fenians entered Quebec and took the town of Pigeon Hill, in the Eastern Townships.

The events that followed, are described in our article Battle for the Eastern Townships. Most of the Fenians who took part in the invasion, were hardened veterans of the American Civil War. There were a number of the raids throughout Canada, namely in Quebec and Ontario, but all of these raids were successfully repelled by local volunteer militias comprised of men with little or no training at all.

The role of the United States government in the Fenian raids has been a subject of debate. The American civil war, which ended the year before the first raid, had produced a period of great tension between British North America and the United States.

In 1866, the President Andrew Johnson had met with the leaders of the brotherhood, and when asked about a possible Fenian seizure of British territory in North America, he said that he would recognize “accomplished facts”.

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