Civil War veterans plot to win Irish independence by kidnapping Canada.
By the end of the American Civil War, the movement for national liberation was moribund in Ireland, where the populace was debilitated, demoralized, and disarmed in the wake of the Great Hunger 15 years earlier. America, however, teemed with refugees from that disaster, resentful of England and now armed and battle-hardened. What could they do for their native land? Union general Thomas Sweeny of the Fenian Brotherhood had an idea: Attack poorly defended Canada, then still a colony of the crown, and trade the captured territory back to Britain in exchange for Irish independence. What could possibly go wrong? Everything, as it turned out. Under several different leaders, Fenians raided Canada from New Brunswick to Manitoba in several incidents between 1866 and 1871. None succeeded in holding Canadian territory for more than 48 hours; their principal accomplishment was to encourage Canadian confederation as an enhancement to national security. Clearly an enthusiast of Irish nationalism, Klein (Strong Boy: The Life and Times of John L. Sullivan, America's First Sports Hero, 2013, etc.) manages to keep a straight face as he narrates this opéra bouffe of delusional and incompetent commanders sponsored by bitterly competing groups riddled with spies, leading tiny armies against the combined forces of the British, Canadian, and American governments. But there was nothing funny about the costs to idealistic working men in the ranks who paid for these follies with their money and, in a few cases, their lives. The author offers a thoroughly researched and engagingly written account of the leaders of America's feuding Irish émigré groups, earnest patriots all, whose clashing egos and strategies kept their groups splintered and weak. He takes the preparations for the hopeless invasions as seriously as did the men involved, although he knows as well as readers that they are all doomed to humiliating failure.
A well-presented, little-known sidebar to the struggle for Irish independence.