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Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Irish Invade Canada!

No, it's not a belated St. Patrick's Day parade, or even a ceilidh given by a local branch of the Irish Society. The Fenian invasion of Canada actually happened, and it was one factor that contributed to the Confederation of Canada in 1867.

The famine of the min-Nineteenth Century decimated the population of Ireland. Many fled to America, where anti-English sentiments (and Fenian beliefs) ran high. The Fenians believed that English might be turned away from Ireland if one of their colonies was threatened. So, in 1865, they threatened to invade Canada, then known as "British North America." The threats were taken seriously on both sides of the border, where troops were massed and ready for action.

 In April of 1866, a group of Fenians gathered at Campobello Island, New Brunswick, but withdrew in the face of the Canadian Militia, British warships, and American authorities. A month later, about 800 Fenians crossed the Niagara River into Canada, occupying Fort Erie and cutting telegraph lines. The Buffalo and Lake Huron railroads were also severed before the Fenians proceeded inland. Again, the Canadian Militia countered the attack.

In June, the Fenians drove the Canadians back at Ridgeway, Ontario, and suffered many casualties. At Fort Erie, they took on another Canadian Militia and forced them back. The main Canadian forces entered Fort Erie, but the Fenians had already escaped back across the border to the U.S., where they were given a hero's welcome. Later that same month, about 1000 Fenians crossed the Canadian border and occupied Pigeon Hill in Missisquoi County, Quebec. They plundered St. Armand and Frelighsburg, but retreated to the U.S. when the American authorities seized their supplies at St. Alban's.

Thus ended the Fenian invasion of Canada.

Although the raids failed to end British rule in North America or Ireland, they did have serious historical consequences. Canadian nationalism was promoted by the raids, and the fear of American invasion united Upper and Lower Canada in common defense. A few months later, the the provinces came together under the British North America Act of 1867 (also known as Canadian Confederation).

In my new Irish-set historical romance novel, Coming Home, the Fenian invasion plays a minor part in my hero, Cavan Callaghan's effort to convince his friend that another Irish war with the British will not succeed. It's a minor plot point, but I think it makes the story that much more relevant.

Of course Cavan had heard of the Fenians, a loosely organized group of Irishmen dedicated to freeing Ireland from British rule.There'd been plenty of Irishmen in New York who'd spouted such ideas. They'd even attempted to invade Canada, planning to hold the country in ransom for Ireland's freedom, but had been thwarted by the union of Upper and Lower Canada just this year.


Was Brian McDevitt a Fenian?


The union of Upper and Lower Canada may have destroyed that country's usefulness as "ransom," but the cause of Irish freedom lived on.

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4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Fascinating bit of history, Cynthia. I don't recall ever reading about this in US history ... but there's a lot I don't recall :-) Thanks for the insight.
Nancy

Cynthia Owens said...

Hi Nancy, it is fascinating, isn't it? And I don't recall learning this in Canadian history, either. It's little-known details like this I love to include in my stories. Makes it all the more fun for both my readers and myself. Thanks for visiting!

Nancy said...

Cynthia, your post is brings to light facts I've never heard. I love it when authors sprinkle history into their books. I do the same. :)

Congratulations on COMING HOME!

Light,
Nancy Haddock
www.nancyhaddock.com

Cynthia Owens said...

Nancy. I love learning a little bit of "new" history when I read. That's why I put it in my own books. It's fun to track down those elusive little facts, isn't it? Thanks for stopping by, and for the good wishes on "Coming Home."