FENIAN SOCIETY. A political association of Irish and Irish-Americans, the object of which was the overthrow of English authority in Ire land, and the establishment of a republic there. It has been said, and is generally supposed. that the movement originated in America. and was transplanted, to Ireland; but, as a matter of fact, the plans for both the Irish and American organi zations were drawn in Paris by a small group of the Irish revolutionary exiles of 1848.
The Irish Society was organized by the efforts of James Stephens. who in 1853 traveled through Ireland, and organized the small centres of dis affection into a powerful conspiracy. It was necessarily secret, and known as the Irish Revolutionary Brotherhood (popularly called I. R. B.). Its aim was to convert the peo ple of Ireland into a soldiery capable of resisting the British Army. Stephens him self was the absolute military head, known as chief organizer (C. O.). He was assisted by four executive officers (one for each Irish province), known as 'Y's' (vice-organizers), and chosen by himself. The •V's' selected 'A's' (col onels), who in turn selected 'B's (captain.) to choose and drill the 'C's' (privates), who were all able-bodied men capable of bearing arms. The political programme of the Brotherhood contem plated the ustabli,hment of an independent re public based on universal suffrage, and peasant proprietorship of the land. The possessions of hostile landlords were to be Confiscated and optional purchase was to be made at fair in other eases. Church property was to be mu ll:seated, and the clergy were to be paid by the State. All religions were to be alike before the law.
The Americium society was organized at the same time by John O'Mahoney, according to the arrangements made in Paris, but did not obtain a really good footing until the arrival of Stephens in 1858. Its principal object was to supply money and arms to the Irish branch. In Amer ica the ability to bear arms was not a necessary qualification for membership. At the head was o'Malmoney, called the head centre, who a ppointed his own central treasurer, assistant treasurer, and central secretaries. He also commissioned
State centres, on the recommendation of delegates from circles. The State centres commissioned district centres, who in their turn organized circles (local associations). The membership dues were nominal, but the society received large sums as voluntary contributions. The Fenian convention, which met in Chicago in October, 1863, made the constitution of the society more democratic, by making the office of head centre elective. The growth of the Fenian Society was very rapid. The American branch quickly spread into Canada, and the Irish branch into western England and Scotland. The funeral of ,Terence McManus, an exile of 1848. who died in San Francisco, gave occasion for demonstrations of mourning in America and Ireland, which greatly increased the number of Fenians. Two newspa pers, The Phoenix in New York, and The Irish People in Dublin, were the official organs of the society. The effort of the Fenians made to win over Irish soldiers in the British Army is claimed to have been successful, but this is denied. Being a secret society in Ireland. it necessarily fell under the ban of the Catholic hierarchy. although the lower clergy sympathized with and in sonic cases participated in the movement. In America the clergy were divided in sentiment.
The Civil War in the United States gave the Fenians a great opportunity to obtain military training. A large part of the Irish soldiers en gaged on both sides in the struggle were Fe nians, and at the end of the war there was a formidable number of trained soldiers ready to fight for Ireland. It was believed in Irish circles that a definite understanding existed between the Federal Government and the head centre to the effect that after the war in America was ended the Fenians should receive material assistance. When the American officers went to Ireland to assist in drilling and leading the expected re cruits, they found the organization not sufficient ly advanced for active military measures.