This Day in History – December 13th, 1867

JohnO'Mahony1867Fenian was an umbrella term for the Fenian Brotherhood and Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), fraternal organizations dedicated to the establishment of an independent Irish Republic in the 19th and early 20th century. The name Fenian was first applied by John O’Mahony to the members of the Irish republican group that he founded in the United States in 1848. O’Mahony, who was a Celtic scholar, named the American wing of the movement after the Fianna. In Gaelic Ireland these were warrior bands of young men who lived apart from society and could be called upon in times of war.

The term Fenian is still used today, especially in Northern Ireland and Scotland, where its original meaning has widened to include all supporters of Irish nationalism. It has also been used as a demeaning term for Irish Catholics and Catholics in general in the British Isles. Irish nationalists, while honoring the 19th century Fenians, more often describe themselves as “nationalist” or “republican.”

The Fenians in England and the Empire were a major threat to political stability. In the late 1860s the IRB control centre was in Lancashire. In 1868 the Supreme Council of the IRB, the provisional government of the Irish Republic, was restructured. The four Irish provinces, Connacht, Leinster, Ulster and Munster, Scotland, the north of England and the south of England, including London, had representatives on the Council. Later four honorary members were co-opted. The Council elected three members to the executive. The President was chairman, the Treasurer managed recruitment and finance and the Secretary was director of operations. There were IRB Circles in every major city in England.


In November 1867, three Fenians, William Philip Allen, Michael O’Brian, and Michael Larkin, known as the Manchester Martyrs, were executed in Salford for their attack on a police van to release Fenians held captive earlier that year. In response, the Fenian killed six innocent people by planting a bomb in Clerkenwell, London that exploded on December 13th, 1867.

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