News & Tall Tales

Bridge to the Castle.

Irish Political Prisoners

The Fenian Movement

The Fenians were members of the so-called Fenian movement in Ireland and elsewhere, though primarily America and England. The Fenians wanted Irish independence from British rule. The Great Famine had a massive impact on Ireland. Some in Ireland believed that the government in London - to solve the "Irish Problem," had deliberately done as little as possible to aid the people of Ireland a form of genocide and these people concluded that the only hope Ireland had for its future was a complete separation from Great Britain.

The Irish Republican Brotherhood.

In 1848, a group of revolutionaries known as Young Ireland launched an ill-prepared uprising against the government. It was a failure. Two of the members of Young Ireland were James Stephens and John O'Mahony. In the eyes of the authorities both had committed a very serious crime. To escape punishment both fled to Paris.

In 1853, O'Mahony went to America in attempts to gain support for another uprising from those who had left Ireland during the Great Famine. Stephens returned to Ireland in 1856.

In Dublin in March 1858, James Stephens formed a secret society that became known as the Irish Republican Brotherhood. Its aim was Independence for Ireland. In America O'Mahony became the leader of a new organization called the Fenian Brotherhood. It took its name from the Fianna who were a band of Irish warriors of the 2nd and 3rd centuries.

The name Fenians became an umbrella term to cover all the groups associated with wanting independence for Ireland.

Attack on the prison van at Manchester 
and the rescue of Fenian leaders

By the very nature of what they wanted, those elements within the Fenian movement who were prepared to use violence to advance their cause, had to remain secret. The Fenian movement quickly attracted thousands of young supporters both in Ireland itself and America.

When one of the 1848 Young Ireland rebels, Terence Bellew McManus, died in America in 1861, his funeral in Ireland was attended by thousands of people.

March 14, 1867, Daily Alta California, San Francisco, California, U.S.A.

The Fenians.

New York, March 13th The Fenian excitement continues intense. A mass meeting will be held at Union Square tonight. It is proposed to raise a million dollars to equip Fenian privateers. Letters from Washington say the Fenian Committee had been cordially received by Congressmen of both parties.

Chicago, March 13th A large Fenian meeting was held last night. President Roberts was present and addressed the meeting, the object of which was to assist the men in Ireland, and to perfect harmony among all parties. Large numbers of men volunteered.

June 15, 1867, Mariposa Gazette,, Mariposa, California, U.S.A.


Montreal, June 4. Parties from the eastern border report that bands of Fenians are prowling about, preparing for a demonstration before the middle of the month. The authorities are fully informed of what is on. Communication is said to have taken place between the Government here and at Washington with a view to concerted action in case anything occurs.

Thursday, January 17, 1870, New York Herald Triple Sheet, New York, New York

Arrival of Escaped Irish Political Prisoners
from Australia

San Francisco, January 25, 1870

The British ship Baringer, from Australia, brings the following escaped political prisoners sent from Ireland to the British penal colonies in 1865 and 1867. Their terms of sentence to transportation to vary from five years to life:

John Kenny, Dennis B. Castman, Dennis Hennessey, Maurice Figenbohm, Patrick Lehy, Thomas Fogarty, David Joyce, John Shehan, Patrick Wall, Michael Moore, David Cumming, Eugene Geary, John Walsh, Patrick Doran and Patrick Dunns.

They say that they suffered indignities such as no other country but England offers to political offenders.

As soon as the vessel reached the harbor, Mr. Smith, the Fenian Head Centre of California, was notified of the fact and committees at once sent on board to escort them to the city.

They were conducted to the Russ House, where rooms were prepared for their reception, and during the afternoon, they were visited by large numbers of our Irish citizens and others, who gave them a warm welcome to American soil.

When it was founded in the late 1850s, the Fenians were organized as a series of secret cells reminiscent of revolutionary societies in Europe. The Fenian Brotherhood was directed by a Head Centre, who was assisted by a Central Council of ten. The Fenian organization in each state was headed by a State Centre, who controlled the local circles. At their National meeting in 1865, American Fenians changed their organizational structure to reflect their political surroundings . . .

By the late 1860s, there were military branches of the Fenian Brotherhood, including a War Department and an Adjutant General's Office . . . San Francisco Fenians argued that emigration "has been steadily depopulating our native land, and, which together with other causes, will, if not soon counteracted, lead to the total extinction of our race."

Ireland was becoming a wilderness, worried the editor of the Irish Republic, and Irish immigrants to the United States were "getting every day absorbed in the great American notion of humanity."

January 26, 1870, Sacramento Daily Union, Sacramento, California


Arrival of Fenian Prisoners

San Francisco, January 25th

Shame and Triumph of the Irish in the English-Speaking World.

The ship Barenga, which arrived from New Castle, New South Wales, last night, brought up fifteen escaped Fenian prisoners, who had been sentenced in 1865, 1866 and 1867, for terms varying from five years to life. Their names are: John Kenealy, sentenced for ten years; Dennis B. Castman, seven years; Dennis Hennessy, seven years; Maurice Fitzgibbon, five years; Patrick Leahy, five years; Thomas Fogarty, five years; David Joyce, for life: John Sheehan, seven years; Patrick Wall, five years; Michael Moore, ten years; Daniel Cummins, seven years; Eugene Gary, five years; John Walsh, seven years; Patrick Doran, for life; Patrick Dunne, five years. They were received by Colonel Smith, Head Center of the Fenian Brotherhood, who has provided them with quarters at the Russ House.

June 8, 1870, Sacramento Daily Union, Sacramento, California, U.S.A.


The Chicago Republican gives the following facts concerning the late Fenian leader:

O'Neill is now about thirty-six years old. He was born in the town of Dungannon, Tyrone county, Ireland, in 1835, and came to America when quite a boy. He received a good education, but his military instincts led him into the American army long before the war. He served for eight years in the old Second Dragoons, under Colonel Robert E. Lee. At the breaking out of the rebellion O'Neill took the Union side, and, in command of a mounted infantry company, fought with McClelland from Yorktown to Malvern Hill. He also served under Hunter at the First Bull Run. After the retreat on Harrison's Landing, O'Neill was transferred to the West, and obtained command of a company of cavalry, distinguishing himself by several daring acts, for which he received high commendation from his commanding officers. He was detailed to drive John Morgan, the famed guerrilla, from Kentucky. This O'Neill accomplished in the Spring of 1864, receiving the sword of Morgan upon his surrender in May of that year. The remainder of the war O'Neill served under General Thomas, participating in the battles of Franklin and Nashville. At the latter place the future Fenian General was wounded severely, and was laid up in the hospital at Nashville for several months. After this he was not heard of until one sultry day in the beginning of June, 1866, when the news came over the wires that Colonel O'Neill had invaded Canada at Fort Erie.

Then came the news of the night at Ridgeway, in which he severely whipped a superior number of Canadian volunteers. After accomplishing this feat O'Neill retired on Fort Erie, where he was again attacked by the British from Fort Colborne. This force he also thrashed, capturing nearly 200, and compelled the remainder to flight. On the same night, finding that he was not sustained by General Sweeney, who had the chief command, O'Neill recrossed the river under the noses of the British, Colonel Peacock's three batteries of artillery and 2,500 regular troops, the English officers being hoodwinked by a weak picket line which was thrown out by the Fenian leader to cover his retreat. In the midst of the Niagara the returning Fenians were captured by the United States authorities, and from that time the movement was at an end. On the retirement of Colonel Roberts from the Fenian Presidency, in 1868, John O'Neill was elected President, and since then has labored hard for the movement in which he has just failed on Canadian territory. Hitherto be was considered an able officer, but his recent capture has plucked his honors from him.

General Spear, aged thirty-six years, was in the Fenian raid of IBM. During the rebellion he commanded a brigade in the Army of the Potomac. He is pronounced one of the most efficient officers of the entire Fenian army.

General Gleason also commanded a brigade in the Army of the Potomac. Colonel Lewis had a regiment of Vermont cavalry under his command, and he is by birth an American.

General Donnelly was a native of Ireland, and about thirty-six years of age. During the war he commanded the Fourth Michigan Volunteers. Since he came East he has resided in Providence, Rhode Island, and Utica, New York. He was Civil Engineer in the Locomotive works at Utica. He was considered one of the ablest members of the present Fenian army. He was appointed Speaker of the Fenian Congress at their last session, and has since been appointed Chief of the Staff in the present Fenian organization.

Colonel Boyle O'Riley was formerly Sergeant Major in the British army, but on account of his connection with the Fenian movement he was transported to Australia in 1868. He made his escape to San Francisco, and recently came to this city.

Colonel H. Le Caron is a young man, and he was a Major in an Illinois regiment during the war. He has seen service in the Southwest.

Colonel Cosgrove is an old United States soldier of much ability, and he served under Sherman in the West. He is about 43 years of age, and is looked on with confidence.

Colonel Starr served in the rebellion in a Kentucky regiment. He took active part in the Fenian raid of 1866, and he is generally considered an able soldier. "His only weakness is a love of women," says his friends.

Colonel Lyddy is Lieutenant Colonel of the Fourth Regiment Fenian Volunteers, New York City.

March 15, 1871, Daily Alta California, San Francisco, California, U.S.A>

Roebuck Denounces Americans
for the Ovations to the Fenian Exiles.

London, March 14th -- Roebuck, in an address at Sheffield, tonight, denounced the liberation of Fenian convicts as a dastardly act, and their reception in America a disgrace to the country and another proof that she is England's bitter enemy.

May 30, 1870, Daily Alta California, San Francisco

The Fenian Council Here Refuse to Receive the Funds Subscribed

In accordance with the announcement made at the mass meeting of Fenians in the city last Saturday evening, a meeting of the Fenian State Central Council was held yesterday afternoon, the object being to receive the different sums subscribed at the last meeting and not paid in. The subscribers were prompt in their attendance, but Colonel Walsh and other members of the Council present, decided that the despatches received in reference to the movement on Canada were not sufficiently encouraging to warrant their accepting the money. The subscribers were, however, quite willing to pay over their different amounts, even in the face of the news received, and would have done so had the Council not refused positively to take it.

June 5, 1871, Daily Alta California, San Francisco, California, U.S.A.

The Fenian Exiles.

The well known Fenian exiles, General Thomas T. Burke and T. C. Luby, will arrive here this evening overland. Arrangements on an extensive scale have been made to give them a grand demonstration of welcome. In Oakland they will be received by the Irish Societies of that city and the Oakland Grenadiers, by whom they will be escorted across the Bay. Here they will be met at the wharf by all the Irish Societies and the Irish Regiment. A grand procession will be formed, which will pass through the principal streets, and wind up in front of the Lick House, where rooms have been engaged for the exiles. Torches and a grand display of fireworks will make the demonstration a very imposing one.

June 16, 1871, Daily Alta California, San Francisco

Ovation to the Irish Exiles

The Irish exiles, General Bourke and Dr. Luby, were the recipients of an ovation last evening, from the Irish Literary and Social Club, of San Francisco. The Club modestly called it a reception, but to the stranger, judging from the never-failing supply wherewith to "fill the flowing bowl," and the attendance, the warm welcome and the cordiality of feeling, the true, open, sincere marks of esteem, and the unbounded confidence of all in the true, unflinching, devoted patriotism of the guests, the reception was one that the exiles, however worthy, can feel proud of.

The members of the Club can also look back on the ovation with pride. The reception took place at the rooms of the Club, No. 14 Third street. The President, Mr. Michael Hannigan, presided, having at his right General Bourke, and at his left Dr. Luby. Many of the most prominent Irishmen in the city, members of the Club and invited guests, were present. Mr. Hannigan presided with all the grace of a veteran.

69th Regiment Poster.
69th Regiment Poster. Civil War

The first was "The Irish Exiles," responded to by Dr. Luby.

It was followed by "The President of the United States," responded to by Captain Oullahan.

Other toasts followed, songs were sung, the national feeling and question of Irish nationality thoroughly discussed, and at an advanced hour in the morning the party adjourned. General Bourke made some touching allusions to the rising of '07, and in an eloquent manner referred to the patriotic conduct of Mr. Isaac Butt, who defended the Fenian prisoners with so much zeal and perseverance.

Speeches of a patriotic character were made also by Colonel Walsh, Rev. Mr. McKown, Captain Stackpole, Mr. Talbot and many others. Dr. Luby holds his views in reserve until Monday evening next, when he will lecture at Platt's Hall.

The Naval Order of the United States has a history dating from 1890. Membership includes a wide range of individuals, many with highly distinguished career paths.

The San Francisco Commandery meets the first Monday of each month at the San Francisco Italian Athletic Club in San Francisco, California and holds two formal dinners each year.

The Project

Maritime Nations, Ships, Sea Captains, Merchants, Merchandise, Ship Passengers and VIPs sailing into San Francisco during the 1800s.




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Sources: As noted on entries and through research centers including National Archives, San Bruno, California; CDNC: California Digital Newspaper Collection; San Francisco Main Library History Collection; and Maritime Museums and Collections in Australia, China, Denmark, England, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Wales, Norway, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, etc.

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