When the Irish Invaded Canada: Fenian plan was doomed from the start

Review: Christopher Klein’s describes ‘one of the most fantastical missions in military history’

The Fenian Brotherhood takes possession of St Armand in Canada during the Fenian invasions, June 1866. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The Fenian Brotherhood takes possession of St Armand in Canada during the Fenian invasions, June 1866. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The idea sounds as implausible and foolhardy today as it did more than 150 years ago. Assemble a small army of Irish men at the northern border of the US, conquer Britain’s neighbouring Canadian colonies, then swap them for the real prize – the independence of their long-suffering homeland. The British government, unable to defend its vast North American possessions and fearful of antagonising an already hostile American government, would quickly capitulate – or so the invaders assumed. Centuries of oppression and misrule would end, almost overnight. Ireland, at last, would be free.

What could possibly go wrong? Even a former US president, Thomas Jefferson, had once declared that the capture of Canada was “a mere matter of marching”.

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