THE FENIAN FLAG

 

The Fenians place in Irish History. Fenianism began in Ireland at the end of the ‘Fifties - and at the same time in America. James Stephans who had been a very young man in the ’48 movement, and who had since been a tutor both in Paris and in Kerry, was the founder and great organizer of Fenianism. And from that modest beginning sprang, at first slowly, but after a few years with a rapidity that was magical, one of the greatest of Irish movements, with far reaching consequences. The Irish People, the Fenian organ, was founded in ’63 with John O’Leary as the editor. The Irish People obtained a large circulation - but not so great as did The Nation of Young Ireland days. In autumn ’65 the Government suddenly delivered a great coup - seizing The Irish People, its editors, Stephans and many of the leading figures in the movement in various parts of the country. This was truly a disaster, removing as it did from the direction of the movement some of the wisest heads that guided it. And every one of the hundreds of thousands of the rank and file severely felt the sad blow - from which indeed the movement never recovered - even though Stephans was given back. The other Fenian leaders were tried in December on a charge of high treason and sentenced to penal servitude. The invasion of Canada, which would undoubtedly have been a successful action of the American Government, which, having tacitly encouraged the scheme, and permitted the plans to be ripened, stepped in at the last moment to prevent it. In Ireland, where Stephans had been superseded by Colonel John Kelly, the Rising, arranged for March 5th, ’67, was frustrated by a combination of circumstance. The informer, Corydon, betrayed the plans; and, strangely, a great snow storm, one of the wildest and most protracted with which the country was ever visited made absolutely impossible not only all communications but all movements of men. One of the greatest Irish movements of the century ended apparently in complete failure. Apparently only, for though there was not success of arms, other kinds of success began to show immediately. Within two years after, that terrible incubus upon Ireland, the Established (English) Church was disestablished, and within three years the first Land Act of the century, the Act of ’70 was made law. And Prime Minister Gladstone afterwards confessed that it was the healthy fear instilled in him by the astonishing spirit of the Fenian movement, which forced him to these actions

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