Fenianism / IRB

Fenian Brotherhood
The Fenian Brotherhood, book illustration, provenance unknown

Fenianism – name popularly given to militant Irish republicanism, in opposition to constitutionalism and its limited goal of Irish Home Rule.

"Fenians" were the bogeymen of British politics from the 1860s to the 1910s (when their place in public disdain was usurped by "Sinn Feiners"). The name retains its power to this day: "Fenian" is a usual term of abuse for any nationalist (or indeed Catholic) in Northern Ireland.

Fenian flag
Fenian Flag, 1867
based on the US flag, the 32 stars correspond to the 32 counties of Ireland

The movement derived from two sister organizations, one based in America, the other in Ireland. The Irish Republican Brotherhood was founded in Dublin on St Patrick's Day 1858 with the ultimate aim of achieving an Irish Republic by physical force. Funds were provided by Irishmen in America who, at the same time, founded the Fenian Brotherhood. Although the American and Irish organizations remained separate, the entire republican movement took the name "Fenianism", and advocates were popularly known as Fenians.

Fenian Bond
Fenian Bond for five US dollars
"In the sixties the Fenian leaders in New York discovered a new way of getting money by issuing notes of the Bank of the Republic of Ireland at 50 per cent. discount. Large sums were obtained through many years, and money is obtained even now from sentimental Irish servant women in New York—much of which has, it has been declared, aided the Irish Nationalist movement in the House of Commons" — Ware, Passing English of the Victorian Era, 1909

In Ireland, the Irish Republican Brotherhood was a secret oath-bound society, organized into "circles" (analogous to regiments) headed by "centres" (analogous to colonels). Their objective was based on the two principles: that Ireland had a natural right to independence, and that this right could be won only by armed revolution. Members recognised the Supreme Council of the IRB as the "Provisional Government of Ireland". In America "Irish Republic" bonds were issued to raise funds. The watchword was "Soon or Never".

Punch anti-Fenian cartoon

Denounced by the Irish church and by the Vatican, ridiculed for its early ineptitude (its "rebellion" of 1867 was a miserable washout, as were the later Fenian "raids" into Canada), and reviled for its "dynamiting" campaign in England, it nevertheless maintained a grip on the Irish imagination. Like its constitutionalist counterpart, the Irish Parliamentary Party, it infiltrated all levels of society – cultural, sporting, economic.

Fenian cartoon
Anti-Fenian illustration, "Constitutionalism or Physical Force?" – "legitimate agitation" seeks to thwart a skeletal "dynamitard"
"It had members everywhere, its tentacles went into everything, it maintained a footing in every organization and movement in Ireland which could be supported without doing violence to separatist principles ... Strange and transient Committees and Societies were constantly cropping up, doing this and that specific national work. The IRB formed them. The IRB ran them. The IRB provided the money. The IRB dissolved them when their work was done." — PS O'Hegarty (member of the Supreme Council), quoted in Eleanor Hull, A History of Ireland, 1931.

By 1915 its members had infiltrated the leadership of the Irish Volunteers. It was these "secret" leaders (including Pearse and Connolly) who precipitated the Easter Rising.

Fianna and Fionn
"Finn McCool", leader of the Fianna
Stephen Reid, illustration, The High Deeds of Finn, 1910

Fianna — a legendary group of heroic warriors who "were charged to defend the sovereignty of Ireland against external enemies, both natural and supernatural" – Oxford Dictionary of Celtic Mythology.

"Fenian" is an anglicized form.