Today we would label them a “paramilitary organization.” In the years immediately following the American Civil War, life in the Adirondacks was briefly interrupted by the Fenians, also known as the Fenian Brotherhood.
The Fenian Brotherhood was an Irish Republican organization founded in New York in 1858 by John O’Mahoney. Their name is derived from legends about ancient Irish warriors called the Fianna.
Their goal was an Irish Republic free of British rule.
Following the American Civil War, and with an increasing number of members who had served on both sides of that conflict, many Fenians had prior military experience. A plan developed – to invade and hold Canada “hostage” until Britain freed Ireland.
Between 1866 and 1870, a number of invasions of Canada were planned from points in Maine, Vermont, New York, North Dakota and Washington state. Fenians crossing from Buffalo won a victory against Canadian troops at Ridgeway, Ontario, but soon returned to the United States.
In Malone, more than 3,000 Fenians gathered for an anticipated invasion of Canada, just 12 miles to the north. Their expected shipment of arms, however, was confiscated and, as Federal troops approached Malone, the Fenians disbanded.
In the spring of 1870, a second invasion was planned and this time, arms were carefully hidden in barns around Chateauguay, Fort Covington and Hogansburg.
Fenians gathered again in Malone and advanced over the border. In a skirmish with Canadian forces near the Trout River, one Fenian was killed before most retreated.
Agitation and invasion plans continues through the 1870s without success. Although never successful as a strategy for liberating Ireland, the invasions proved to be a catalyst for the formation of the Canadian Confederation.
William L. McKone, President of the Fenian Historical Society, will present a program on the Fenians at the Hancock House in Ticonderoga on August 13, 2016. The evening will feature a concert by “Hair of the Dog,” the well-known Celtic band with a large fan base across the United States and Europe. Opening for the band is the popular local trio “Loose Monkeys.” Learn more about the event here.