The Fenians

From 1848 until 1867, writes E.R.R. Green, the romantic nationalists of Ireland, with strong backing from the Irish-Americans, conspired in vain to make their country an “Independent Democratic Republic.”

The Ireland of a century ago provided most of the conditions necessary for the creation of a revolutionary movement. The fabric of society had been torn asunder by the Potato Famine of 1846-7, the worst disaster experienced by a European country in modern times. The potato crop had been the only resource of thousands of Irish people.

For seventy years the country had maintained a rate of population-growth roughly equivalent to that of industrial Britain by subdividing holdings and living on potatoes. When the blight came, there was no alternative to flight or starvation, so that by 1851 the population had fallen from the eight million of 1841 to six-and-a-quarter million. During those ten years nearly a million people had emigrated to the United States, and probably about a third of that number had gone to Great Britain.

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