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The Fenians and Irish Canadian Catholics

 

The precise number of Canadian Fenians will never be known, but there was considerable support for revolutionary Irish nationalism among Irish Canadian Catholics. Many of those who supported invasion concealed themselves so well that they were missed by Canadian historians, and hence their stories are not included in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography/Dictionnaire biographique du Canada (DCB/DBC). But among those who worked for a revolution in Ireland was the Toronto cooper and tavern keeper Michael MURPHY:

“Murphy was probably the most important of the small group of Canadian Fenians. His sympathy for the John O’Mahony wing of the Fenian Brotherhood in the United States, which supported revolution in Ireland, was known, and the authorities were aware that he was selling Fenian bonds and making financial contributions to O’Mahony. However, Murphy vigorously denounced the W[illiam] R[andall] Roberts faction of the brotherhood which openly advocated an invasion of British North America as a step towards the liberation of Ireland.”

 

One of Murphy’s chief allies was the editor of the Irish Canadian, Patrick BOYLE, who was highly sympathetic to the O’Mahony wing of the Fenian Brotherhood: 

“Throughout 1865 and 1866 Boyle continued to reject invasion and balanced his advocacy of the reconquest of Ireland by the Fenians with bold statements of his loyalty to Canada. His controversial position and prominence among Irish nationalists strained his relations with the local Catholic clergy, particularly Archbishop John Joseph Lynch*. Their competition became a major focus in the larger struggle between clergy and laity for leadership of the Irish Catholics in Toronto.”

 

Along with the Catholic clergy, Irish Catholic politicians such as John O’CONNOR rejected Fenianism in all its forms:

“In 1870 he published Letters of John O’Connor, esq., M.P., on Fenianism, which presented an impressive attack on the Fenians and emphasized the loyalty of the Canadian Irish; he worked on behalf of the Conservatives in the 1871 provincial campaign; and he devoted a substantial amount of his time to issues of concern to Irish Catholics.”

 

To learn more about the Fenians and their Irish Catholic sympathizers and opponents, please see the following biographies:

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