The Fenian Rising of 1867 was a rebellion against British rule in Ireland, organised by the Irish Republican Brotherhood.
After the suppression of the Irish People newspaper, disaffection among Irish radical nationalists had continued to smoulder, and during the later part of 1866, IRB leader James Stephens endeavoured to raise funds in the United States for a fresh rising planned for the following year. However the rising of 1867 proved to be poorly organised. There was a brief rising in Co Kerry in February, followed by an attempt at nation-wide insurrection, including the taking of Dublin in early March. Due to poor planning and British infiltration, the rebellion never got off the ground. Most of the leaders in Ireland were arrested, but although some of them were sentenced to death, none were executed. There followed a series of attacks in England aimed at freeing Fenian prisoners, including a bomb in London and an attack on a prison van in Manchester, for which three Fenians, subsequently known as the Manchester martyrs, were executed. A series of raids into Canada by US-based supporters also accomplished very little.
The rising itself was a total military failure, but it did have some political benefits for the Fenian movement. There were large protests in Ireland against the execution of Fenian prisoners, many of whose death sentences were, as a result, reprieved. In addition, the bravery of the three ‘Manchester Martyrs’ on their execution provoked an emotional reaction among the Irish public, 17 monuments were erected in their honour and 26 annual commemorations were held well into the 20th century. An Amnesty Association for Fenian prisoners was established by Isaac Butt, later the founder of the Home Rule League.
The Fenians themselves re-organised after the failure of the rising. In 1873, the Irish Republican Brotherhood adopted a new constitution, which stated that armed rebellion would not be pursued again until it had mass backing from the people. In 1879, the leaders of the IRB, principally John Devoy, decided on a New Departure, eschewing, for the time, physical force in favour of adopting the land question and building a broad nationalist movement. The Fenians, therefore, cooperated with the Land League in the land agitation from the 1870s onwards and in the rise of the Irish Parliamentary Party.
Not all Fenians agreed with this policy however and several breakaway groups emerged that continued to believe in the use of political violence in pursuit of republican objectives. One was the Irish National Invincibles who assassinated the two most important British functionaries in Ireland, Frederick Cavendish and Thomas Henry Burke, respectively Chief and Under Secretaries for Ireland, in Dublin in 1882 (the Phoenix Park Murders). Two other factions, one sponsored by O’Donovan Rossa, the other by the Irish-American Clan na Gael, carried out a bombing campaign in Britain between 1880 and 1887.
In general, the rising was a shambolic affair, but it achieved major significance in Irish folklore.
Some died by the glenside, some died near a stranger
And wise men have told us their cause was a failure
But they fought for old Ireland and never feared danger
Glory O, Glory O, to the bold Fenian men –Peadar Kearney, 1916
Photo: Fenian Men Memorial, Tallaght, Dublin