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Third Thursday: When the Irish Invaded Canada

Third Thursday Lecture Series

When the Irish Invaded Canada: The Incredible True Story of the Civil War Veterans Who Fought for Ireland’s Freedom
with Christopher Klein

Just over a year after Robert E. Lee relinquished his sword, a band of Union and Confederate veterans dusted off their guns. But these former foes had no intention of reigniting the Civil War. Instead, they fought side by side to undertake one of the most fantastical missions in military history: to seize the British province of Canada and to hold it hostage until the independence of Ireland was secured.

By the time that these invasions--known collectively as the Fenian raids--began in 1866, Ireland had been Britain's unwilling colony for seven hundred years. Thousands of Civil War veterans who had fled to the United States rather than perish in the wake of the Great Hunger still considered themselves Irishmen first, Americans second. With the tacit support of the U.S. government and inspired by a previous generation of successful American revolutionaries, the group that carried out a series of five attacks on Canada between 1866 and 1871—the Fenian Brotherhood—established a state in exile, planned prison breaks, weathered infighting, stockpiled weapons, and assassinated enemies. Defiantly, this motley group, including a one-armed war hero, an English spy infiltrating rebel forces, and a radical who staged his own funeral, managed to seize a piece of Canada--if only for three days.

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