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WILLIE, ALLEN PATRICK – Volume XVI (1931-1940)

National Day for Truth and Reconciliation


Responsible Government

Sir John A. Macdonald

From the Red River Settlement to Manitoba (1812–70)

Sir Wilfrid Laurier

Sir George-Étienne Cartier


The Fenians

Women in the DCB/DBC

The Charlottetown and Quebec Conferences of 1864

Introductory Essays of the DCB/DBC

The Acadians

For Educators

The War of 1812 

Canada’s Wartime Prime Ministers

The First World War

The Assassination of Thomas D’Arcy McGee

No one was a more outspoken enemy of the Fenians than the Irish Catholic politician Thomas D’Arcy McGEE:

“McGee openly opposed the movement, and based his opposition on two grounds: first, he objected to the republican programme for Ireland and urged the Irish to adopt the Canadian model of self-government within the British Empire; second, McGee attacked the Fenian plan to invade British America and called on the Irish in Canada to ‘give the highest practical proof possible that an Irishman well governed becomes one of the best subjects of the law and the Sovereign.’ When he visited Ireland in 1865 as the Canadian delegate to the Dublin International Exposition McGee addressed an audience in Wexford, the town where he had spent his boyhood, and spoke on the Irish immigrant in Canada and the United States. He also described his career as an Irish rebel as ‘the follies of one and twenty.’ This ‘Wexford Speech’ attracted great attention in Ireland, Britain, the United States, and Canada, and McGee was accused of being a turncoat and a traitor to Ireland.”


After McGee was assassinated on 7 April 1868, most Canadians assumed that he was the victim of a Fenian conspiracy. The primary suspect was tailor Patrick James WHELAN:

“Within 20 hours of the murder Whelan was arrested. In his pocket police found a fully loaded .32 calibre Smith and Wesson revolver …. On 9 April Whelan was charged with the murder….

“Everything about ‘the tailor with the red whiskers’ was noted by the newspapers. He first appeared in court wearing a small green rosette, a white vest, and garnet cuff links. On the final day, however, he came dressed in black, and upon hearing the dreaded verdict of guilty said from the dock: ‘Now I am held to be a black assassin. And my blood runs cold. But I am innocent. I never took that man’s blood.’”


Many Irish Catholic nationalists viewed Whelan as an innocent victim of a loyalist lust for revenge, and the more militant Fenians among them felt that McGee had got exactly what he deserved. In contrast, most Canadians denounced Whelan as a Fenian assassin, and regarded McGee as a heroic figure. Among McGee's admirers was John Fennings TAYLOR:

“In 1868, following the assassination of Thomas D’Arcy McGee*, Taylor expanded his biographical sketch of McGee in Portraits into a eulogistic pamphlet, The Hon. Thos. D’Arcy McGee: a sketch of his life and death. Displaying a strong empathy with McGee’s romantic prophecies of a great dominion of the north and the creation of a new nationality, Taylor approvingly incorporated lengthy quotations from McGee’s impassioned speeches on confederation. In this eloquent panegyric, McGee was portrayed as a courageous visionary whose genius for oratory had been a sacred trust bestowed by divine providence to help achieve confederation.”


To learn more about the assassination and its repercussions, please consult the following biographies: 

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