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Torn Between Brothers: A look at the internal division that weakened the Fenian Brotherhood
Torn Between Brothers

Curator's Welcome

Villanova’s Digital Library houses over 450 items relating to the Fenian Brotherhood’s failed invasions of Canada.  By providing a historical context for the correspondence and publications I hope to increase their value and use to interested parties, both on campus and in the scholarly community.  

The Fenian's Progress: A Vision, cover

When the Irish Revolutionary Brotherhood fought overseas for an independent Ireland they sponsored an organization called the Fenian Brotherhood in the United States.  Originally intended to raise funds and materials for activism on Irish soil, the leaders of the Fenian Brotherhood surprised many with their repeated hostilities against British North America.  The first leader to propose attacks on Canada reasoned that they would create problems for Britain, but as the aggressive plan divided Fenian membership in two, subsequent military actions seemed more congruent with the desires of Fenian leaders to assert their authority over rivaling factions.  

The majority of the papers highlighted in this collection and exhibit come from Fenian Senator Frank Gallagher of Buffalo, New York.  Belonging to a specific faction of the Brotherhood, Gallagher’s papers provide more information on some Fenian activity than others.  Where those holes presented themselves I filled them with secondary research and primary source material from the Library of Congress, Library and Archives Canada, the New York Times and electronic books housed in Villanova University’s Digital Library, Internet Archive, Project Gutenberg, and Google Books.  Villanova’s Digital Library collection on the Fenian Brotherhood, itself, significantly provides evidence on how internal divisions hindered the effectiveness of the organization and eventually led to its dissolution.  

Read on to follow the Fenian Brotherhood through its inception, three failed invasions of Canadian soil, one murderous plot to cover up inconsistencies in their treasury, and many schisms in the membership until the organization finally discontinued itself in 1886.    

Curated by Jean Turner (Digital Library Intern Spring 2011), with graphic design by Joanne Quinn.  Additional and indispensible  contributions to the project were made by student scanners and several transcribers including Susan Ottignon and Mimi DiLenge, David Lacy for his work on the technical details, and Laura Bang and Michael Foight for their advice and guidance. 


Posted by Anne Chamberlin on
Fascinating! Up the Irish!
Posted by Michael Ruddy on
This is a marvelous website and the release of the Fenian Papers from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia is a godsend for Fenian research. I noted some rather minor errors in the write up. One example on your page "Head Centres": Lack of information concerning Owen Considine's trip to Ireland with a letter from O'Mahony, Doheny and others proposing the formation of the IRB in Autumn of 1857. [William D'Arcy Fenian Movement in the United States, p.10] This letter was published in Joseph Deneiffe's Recollections of the Irish Revolutionary Brotherhood Gael Magazine New York 1904.
Posted by (Catherine) Carmel Smyth on
I am the great-grand niece of Robert Monteith. I have a few papers left to me by my uncle Patrick Moran. He and I both believed that Robert was not treated fairly by historians, and I am attempting to write a book on his life. Can you help? While I have read much from the National Archives in Dublin, I would appreciate any help you might be able to give me. I am particularly interested in Clan na Gael papers relating to Monteith. Would you have any information on the subject?.

Kind Regards
Posted by Joe Clark on
For those who might be interested in Henri Le Caron's role in the Fenian Brotherhood and beyond:

Posted by john mc cann on

I met Catherine (Carmel) Smyth at the RDS on the Saturday before Easter where I showed her a photo that I have of Capt Monteith which she had not previously seen. Can you pass on my email address to her please as I would lie to email her a copy
John Mc Cann
Posted by Ed O'Shaughnessy on
I am interested in Brevet Brigadier General Michael Kerwin. I have been paying attention to him for years as he is such an interesting character. He was also my great grandfather's patron. In the book The Fenians by Steward and McGovern there are two comments of Kerwin's participation in enterprises that were new to me; P 213, his participation in the purchase of the Catalpa and p. 206, where it states that Kerwin led an Irish Brigade in Flanders during the Franco-Prussian War. Where would I find source sitations?
Posted by Ed O'Shaughnessy on
Part 1 of a two-part treatment of General Michael Kerwin in New York will be published in the autumn of 2021 in the New York Irish History journal. Kerwin left Philadelphia for New York City shortly after the disastrous 1870 invasion of Canada. He was as active there as he had been in the Civil War and in the Fenian Brotherhood. His is quite a story to tell.