The United States And It’s Irish Revolutionaries

John Boyle O'Reilly Irish revolutionary and Fenian prisoner in Australia
John Boyle O’Reilly, Irish revolutionary and Fenian prisoner in British Australia, 1866

Two articles from the United States exploring the Irish Republican heritage of Ireland and the US. First up is the Past Imperfect history blog of the Smithsonian Museum examining one of the most famous prison escapes in history: the Catalpa Rescue of 1876. Carried out by the American-based Clann na nGael (CnaG) and its counterpart in Ireland, the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), the operation freed six Fenian revolutionaries from British captivity in Australia and galvanised world opinion in favour of the cause of Irish freedom.

“The plot they hatched was as audacious as it was impossible—a 19th-century raid as elaborate and preposterous as any Ocean’s Eleven script. It was driven by two men—a guilt-ridden Irish Catholic nationalist, who’d been convicted and jailed for treason in England before being exiled to America, and a Yankee whaling captain—a Protestant from New Bedford, Massachusetts—with no attachment to the former’s cause, but a firm belief that it was “the right thing to do.”  Along with a third man—an Irish secret agent posing as an American millionaire—they devised a plan to sail halfway around the world to Fremantle, Australia, with a heavily armed crew to rescue a half-dozen condemned Irishmen from one of the most remote and impregnable prison fortresses ever built.

To succeed, the plan required precision timing, a months-long con and more than a little luck of the Irish. The slightest slip-up, they knew, could be catastrophic for all involved. By the time the Fremantle Six sailed into New York Harbor in August, 1876, more than a year had passed since the plot had been put into action. Their mythic escape resonated around the world and emboldened the Irish Republican Brotherhood for decades in its struggle for independence from the British Empire.”

From the mid-1800s onwards several Irish-American revolutionary organisations operating in the United States and Ireland (as well as globally) were referred to as Fenians, an umbrella title used both by supporters and opponents. These were the Fenian Brotherhood of America (the FBA and the original Fenian organisation), the Clann na nGael (the CnaG which has survived in various forms into the 21st century), the United Irishmen, the Irish National Brotherhood and the Irish Republican Brotherhood (the original and long-lasting sister-organisation of the Fenian Brotherhood).

Meanwhile the Huffington Post carries a story on New York’s Irish revolutionary links examining the American-related lives of James Connolly, Jim Larkin and Éamon de Valera.

The Battle of Eccles Hill a young soldier of the Irish Republican Army military wing of the Fenian Brotherhood
The Battle of Eccles Hill – a young soldier of the Irish Republican Army, the military wing of the Fenian Brotherhood (FB), lies slain on a roadway during the 1870 invasion of Canada

Out of interest, below is a casualty list of the first known soldiers of a military force styling itself the Irish Republican Army or IRA to die on active service. The thirteen men were slain or mortally wounded while fighting in Canada during the Fenian Invasion of June, 1866, and all were members of the military wing of the Fenian Brotherhood; known variously as the Irish Republican Army, the Army of the Irish Republic, the Irish Army, the Army of Ireland or the IRA.

“Thomas Rafferty, 18th Regiment “The Cleveland Rangers”, Cleveland, Ohio, United States. Died on active service 02-06-1866.

Patrick Buckley, 18th Regiment “The Cleveland Rangers”, Cleveland, Ohio, United States. Died on active service 02-06-1866.

Major John C. Canty [Caunty], 18th Regiment “The Cleveland Rangers”, Cleveland, Ohio, United States. Died on active service 02-06-1866.

Colour-Sergeant Michael Cochrane, James Hugh Haggerty’s Company, Terre Haute, Indiana, United States. Died on active service 02-06-1866.

James John Geraghty [Gerrahty], 18th Regiment “The Cleveland Rangers”, Cleveland, Ohio, United States. Died on active service 02-06-1866.

Captain Donohoe [Donoghue], 19th Regiment “Irish Republic Volunteers”, Cincinnati,  Ohio, United States. Died on active service 02-06-1866.

Lieutenant Edward R. Lonergran, 7th Regiment “The Irish Army of Liberation”,  Buffalo, New York, United States. Died on active service 02-06-1866.

Edward [Richard] Scully, 18th Regiment “The Cleveland Rangers”, Cleveland, Ohio, United States. Died on active service 09-06-1866.

Private John Lynch, 18th Regiment “The Cleveland Rangers”, Cleveland, Ohio, United States. Died on active service 11-06-1866.

Sergeant John Lynch, 18th Regiment “The Cleveland Rangers”, Cleveland, Ohio, United States.  Died of wounds received while on active service 27-07-1866.

Lt. Colonel Michael Bailey, 7th Regiment “The Irish Army of Liberation”, Buffalo, New York, United States. Died of wounds received while on active service 18-01-1868.

S. Thompson, 13th Regiment Memphis Company, Tennessee, United States. Died of wounds received while on active service ?-?-?”

During the Easter Rising of 1916 and the establishment of the Provisional Government of the Irish Republic, several existing Irish revolutionary groups came together to form a new Army of the Irish Republic or Irish Republican Army. These were principally the Irish Volunteers (Óglaigh na hÉireann or ÓnaÉ) and the Irish Citizen Army (Arm Cathartha na hÉireann). This is why the IV/ÓnaÉ is commonly known in the English language as the Irish Republican Army or IRA.

Below is the RTÉ drama-documentary, “The Catalpa Rescue”.

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3 comments

  1. May I recommend “Redemption Falls” by Joseph O’Connor as a fictional Novel that touches on this period for those who may be interested.

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