Also found in: Dictionary, Wikipedia.



Irish petit bourgeois republican revolutionaries, who were active from the second half of the 19th century to the early 20th century. The Fenians were members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), a group of secret organizations, which was formed in 1858, with centers in the USA and Ireland. In the 1860’s and 1870’s, IRB organizations spread throughout Ireland and Great Britain and became established among Irish immigrants in the USA, Canada, Australia, and other countries.

The Fenians sought to bring about the creation of an independent Irish republic by means of a clandestinely prepared armed rebellion. Their movement reflected the Irish people’s disaffection with British colonial rule—a disaffection made more acute by a British campaign, particularly during the second half of the 19th century, to evict Irish tenants from the land. Yet, because of their conspiratorial activities and their leaders’ tendency to give secondary consideration to the social and economic demands of the peasantry and proletariat, the Fenians failed to win wide support among the Irish people. In March 1867, when they provoked uncoordinated uprisings in various counties of Ireland, the Fenians were quickly defeated.

The First International declared its support of the Fenians, although it criticized their tendency toward conspiratorial activities. From 1867 to 1870 the First International took part in efforts to have the death sentences that had been imposed on participants in the Fenian movement commuted, and it appealed for amnesty for all Fenian prisoners.

The Fenians turned increasingly toward terrorism during the 1870’s and 1880’s. In the USA during the mid-1860’s, the IRB was dominated by a faction that advocated armed attacks on Canada as a way of bringing about war between Great Britain and the USA; such a conflict, they believed, would create favorable conditions for a struggle in Ireland itself. Between the late 19th century and the early 20th century, some Fenians left the IRB to join other organizations fighting for the independence of Ireland. Members of the Fenian movement took part in the Easter Rising in 1916.


Marx, K., and F. Engels. Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 39 (see Subject Index).
Rutherford, J. The Secret History of the Fenian Conspiracy, vols. 1–2. London, 1877.
O’Leary, J. Recollections of Fenians and Fenianism, vols. 1–2. London, 1896.


References in periodicals archive ?
Moreover, the Fenians were not invading British North America anymore.
Does singing about being up to your knees in Fenian blood make you a bigot?
They heard the re-enactment of Pearse's immortal words: "The fools, they have left us our Fenian dead and while Ireland holds these graves, Ireland unfree shall never be at peace".
Although United States government support for the Fenian movement did not materialize, the return to Ireland of naturalized Irish-Americans, Fenians or not, created problems because the British government did not acknowledge that a subject of the Crown could alienate his allegiance-- an issue that went back to the era of the War of 1812.
These two volumes are welcome additions to the Fenian oeuvre as they both shed light on personalities, education and global experiences not untypical of lower and middle ranking Fenians of the 1860s.
The Fenian Problem: Insurgency and Terrorism in a Liberal State, 1858-1874.
Mitchell Snay's work, Fenians, Freedmen, and Southern Whites: Race and Nationality in the Era of Reconstruction (2007), adds a new dimension to the field.
Instead, the continuing influence of republicanism led freedpeople and southern whites to aspire to individual and not collective land holding, while the mostly urban Fenians discussed land ownership primarily to dramatize British oppression.
I pointed to a picture and asked him if those guys were Yankees or Rebels and he said, `No, they are Fenians.
Mr Leggat has the audacity to suggest that the "Billy Boys" song frequently sung by Rangers fans is in fact an anti-terrorist ditty, because it refers to Fenians which he claims is a West of Scotland term for IRA men and their associates.
An 1867 incident in Manchester--the attempt to free two Fenians from a prison van--particularly excited public anger.
Okay, the history books will tell you the Fenians were a political organisation.