Forensic Fashion
(c) 2006-present R. Macaraeg


>Costume Studies
>>1867 Irish fenian
Subjectfenian rebel
Culture: Catholic Irish
Setting: Irish Republican Brotherhood / Fenian Brotherhood, Ireland / Irish diaspora mid-late 19thc
Evolution: ... > 1593 Irish ceithernach 1691 Irish ropaire > 1798 United Irishman croppy > 1867 Irish fenian

Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)

* Kenny 1994 p6-8
"The blight that destroyed the potato harvest between 1845 and 1849 caused a human tragedy of unprecedented proportions.  An entire social class of smallholders and labourers, totally dependent on the crop and lacking the cash with which to purchase alternative food, was virtually wiped out by hunger, disease and emigration.  The laissez-faire economic thinking of the day also ensured that government help was slow, reluctant and insufficient.  Between 1845 and 1851 the population fell by almost two million.  The enduring folk memory of a people starving while livestock and grain continued to be exported, often under military guard, left a legacy of bitterness and resentment among the survivors.  The great exodus of the famine and post-famine years also ensured that such feelings were not confined to Ireland, but spread to England, the United States, Australia and other countries where Irish emigrants gathered.
    "Shocked by the horrors of starvation and influenced by the revolutions then sweeping Europe, the Young Irelanders moved from agitation to armed rebellion in 1848.  The attempt failed utterly, after a minor skirmish at Ballingarry, Co. Tipperary, and a few lesser incidents.  The reasons were three-fold -- inadequacy of military preparations, lack of unity of purpose among the leaders, and the total despondence of the people after three years of famine.  The leaders fled, their followers dispersed.  A last flicker of revolt in 1849 was equally unsuccessful.
    "[....]  It was these younger refugees and escapees who were to provide the leadership for the two republican organisations set up at the end of the 1850s, one in Ireland, the other in America.
    "The republican movement in Ireland was known as the Irish Revolutionary Brotherhood (IRB), and its American equivalent was named the Fenian Brotherhood.  Both bodies were to find their greatest support among the displaced survivors of the famine.  Members of both groups and indeed sympathisers who were not in either organisation were commonly termed 'Fenians' by the contemporary media and commentators."

* Hurley 2007 p318
"The first known mention of a modern organization calling itself the Fenians comes to light during a feud between a faction named the Fenians whose rivals were a faction called the White Cockades.  A white cockade was the old symbol of the Whiteboys, Jacobites and the Stuart cause, and by the early 19th century, the descendants of the Whiteboys had become known as the Caravats, the sworn enemies of the Shanavests.  The Jacobites were the Catholic supporters of the ethnically Gaelic and Catholic Stuart dynasty who found allies in the Bourbon monarchy of France which French Jacobins overthrew.  This early 'Fenian Faction' seems to have been a Shanavest Faction based on the Cork-Tipperary border, and may have been organized by the Gaelic Scholar and co-founder of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, John O'Mahony.  Throughout Fenian literature, it is O'Mahony who is attributed with originally coining the word 'Fenian' from the Irish Fíanna, and according to some of his Fenian contemporaries, it was common knowledge in the area that O'Mahony was chief of his clan, and hence his faction, one of the largest in the region of the Comeragh mountains."

* Small 1998 p28-30
"After the relative stagnation of the 1850s, in the next decade the nationalist sentiments aroused by Young Ireland were given a new outlet.  In 1858 James Stephens and John O'Mahony, who had both been 'out' with William Smith O'Brien in 1848, had set up the Fenian movement in Ireland and America.  Having avoided arrest in Ballingary in 1848, Stephens and O'Mahony had fled to Paris, a hotbed of underground revolutionary activity following the aftermath of the revolutions of 1848.  Their experiences in Paris convinced them that greater secrecy and more thorough organization would be needed if a future nationalist revolution was to have any chance of success.  So in 1854 O'Mahony went to New York where, with the help of men like Michael Doheny, he began to organize financial and moral support from the ever-increasing Irish population in America.
    [....]  The Fenians wanted a democratic, independent republic, with votes for all adult males and the separation of church and state.  They also sought reform of landownership and were scathing of aristocratic landlords, whether English or Irish.  From 1859 they were rapidly swearing in new members with the following secret oath:
'I, A.B., in the presence of Almighty God, do solemnly swear allegiance to the Irish Republic, now virtually established, and that I will do my utmost, at every risk, while life lasts, to defend its independence and integrity, and finally, that I will yield implicit obedience in all things, not contrary to the laws of God, to the commands of my superior officers.  So help me God!  Amen.'
    "In keeping with its deliberately shadowy nature, there has always been some uncertainty over the origins of the name of the branch of the Fenians in Ireland.  It was officially known as the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) but was usually referred to simply as 'the organization' or 'the brotherhood' by its members.  To the public at large, Fenian, the name of the more open American branch, did service for the whole phenomenon.  The IRB's rank and file members were usually Irish Catholics from the lower middle and working classes.  In the towns, shopkeepers, artisans, schoolteachers and building workers were prominent, in the country small farmers and laborers were the norm.
    "IRB members were ordinary Irishmen, but they tended to be a step above those in genuine poverty; it was not generally a movement of the very poor.  Largely due to the work of John Devoy, a significant number of members were Irishmen serving in the army -- an ominous development for the government.  These members were organized into cells.  Nine privates reported to a sergeant.  Nine sergeants reported to a captain.  Nine captains reported to a 'center.'  In an attempt to preserve secrecy, privates were not supposed to know the identities of any other members apart from those of their own cell."

de Breffny ed. 1977 p192 (Gearóid Ó Tuathaigh, "The distressed society: The struggle for emancipation and independence, 1801-1918" p171-198)
"In political life the mid-Victorian period witnessed a major struggle between Fenian republicanism and moderate Catholic nationalism within the nationalist camp, punctuated at regular intervals by explosions of Orange triumphalism in the northeast with resulting riot and disorder.  The 1857 Belfast riots were particularly vicious evidence of racial prejudice.  The Fenians, or Irish Republican Brotherhood, was a secret oath-bound society dedicated to the overthrow of the English government of Ireland by force.  It was founded in 1858 by veterans of the Young Ireland rising of 1848 who were determined to erase the memory of that fiasco.  The leaders were all, to some extent, disciples of the Nation of the 1840s.  They were of mixed social origin -- John O'Mahoney sprang from an established landed family in Co. Cork; James Stephens was a civil engineer; John Devoy, a cottier's son; O'Donovan Rosa, a grocer; John O'Leary and Charles Kickham, both shopkeepers' sons.  But the general character of the movement was decidedly working-class and lower-middle-class.  Farm labourers, small farmers, artisans in the towns and cities, shop-boys in Dublin, Cork and other large towns -- these were the backbone of the Fenian rank and file in Ireland.  A significant number of Ribbonmen and other small groups were absorbed into the movement, and the Fenians had considerable success in penetrating and establishing Fenian 'cells' within the British army.  The Fenians could count on massive support from Irish immigrants in English towns and, especially in the USA, immigrants anxious to retain group identity and to avenge the shame of the famine.  Indeed, in financial and organizational terms the American support was crucial.  Numerically the Fenian movement was the best-supported clandestine separatist movement in Irish history.  By 1865 it was estimated that some 80,000 Fenians had been enrolled in Ireland and Britain.  In 1861, the massive funeral of Terence Bellew McManus (an 1848 veteran) showed a wide latent sympathy for the Fenians.  A short-term agricultural crisis between 1860 and 1863 helped to swell the ranks still further."

* Kenny 1994 p34
"The launching of the IRB in 1858 was followed a few months later by the formal setting up of the Fenian Brotherhood in the United States.  Its principal leaders, such as John O'Mahony and Michael Doheny, were committed revolutionaries who were determined that the fiasco of 1848 would not be repeated.  The name, from the legendary warrior of Irish mythology, the Fianna, came eventually to be applied in a general way to republicans on both sides of the Atlantic.
    "The existence of two separate organisations was to cause considerable friction and misunderstanding.  The Irish tended to regard their American colleagues as auxiliaries, whose function was to provide finance and arms.  The Americans, however, were unwilling to accept a subordinate role.  This conflict, never properly resolved, was to surface at intervals right into the 1920s."

* Prassel 1993 p254
"The Fenians kept alive the dream of Irish independence for more than half a century, from the times of Daniel O'Connell to those of Charles Stewart Parnell.  They existed because of support from the United States, which was receiving as many as one hundred thousand emigrants a year from Ireland. Wherever they settled, including the most raucous of western mining towns, Irish freedom remained an issue of great concern.  American contributions of money and men were essential for [the] survival of the Fenian Brotherhood."


* Hurley 2007 p131-138
"[T]o Joyce, an ailpín was any stick or 'hand-wattle' with a knob at the lower end, and an ailpín (or cleith ailpín) was a long shillelagh -- a cudgel used for fighting -- with a knob at the end.  By this definition it sounds as though a shillelagh was as 'knobless' cudgel used specifically for fighting, while an ailpín was a shillelagh with a knob, used specifically for fighting.  The modern Irish scholar Diarmaid Ó Muirithe says that an ailpín is a 'heavy ashplant or blackthorn; a shillelagh' and that a cleith ailpín is a knobbed stick or alpenstock.  Ó Muirithe also describes the four foot cipín -- a trowel like stick used for planting potatoes -- as a word sometimes used euphemistically for a shillelagh.
    "Banim says that the alpeens were wielded with two hands, and at first it is easy to imagine them being held, swung and used like a quarterstaff in a Hollywood movie. But if alpeens were used like quarterstaves, then why does Banim make a distinction between them and shillelaghs?  And if an ailpín is just a knobbed shillelagh, why does Banim say that it was wielded with two hands?  I do not have a definitive answer for this except to say that the sticks hanging in Jack Mullaly's fireplace were, again, short cudgels and long alpeens.  Given the extra weight at the end of the ailpín, it would seem to have been used primarily with two hands held at one end of the stick, gripped and wielded somewhat like a two handed sword.  In Banim's day, there was a kind of hurling match called a 'Scoobeen', and some of the sticks used in scoobeen matches were probably a variation of the ailpín, and would have been swung with both hands from one end.  Banim implies as much when, talking of the ease with which the Irish had often indulged in faction fighting, he lists several examples and then says that:
    "'At the village hurling match, the 'hurlet,' or crooked stick with which they struck the ball, often changed its playful utility.'
    "A euphemistic way of saying that the hurley stick was often used to fight at hurling matches which, in the early 19th century, were often pre-arranged stick-fighting matches for faction fights.
    "Banim does not say what type of wood the alpeens were made of, but the comments of Allanson-Winn suggests that what he calls a blackthorn, is akin to what Banim refers to as an alpeen.  This is supported by Diarmaid Ó Muirithe who says that an ailpín is a 'heavy ashplant or blackthorn'.  It may be that the knobbed end usually found on most blackthorn sticks and ash 'suckers', may have differentiated the alpeen from the 'classic' shillelagh that was knobless (and often made of oak).  Banim says that alpeens should be wielded with both hands and Allanson-Winn suggests using blackthorns in the manner most people today would associate with a quarterstaff:
    "'The blackthorn, being stiff and covered with sharp knots, is a first-rate weapon for defence at very close quarters.  When, therefore, your efforts at distance-work have failed, and you begin to be 'hemmed in,' seize the stick very firmly with both hands, and dash the point and hilt alternately into the faces and sides of your opponents.'
    "It is interesting to note how Allanson-Winn mentions that the blackthorn is covered with 'sharp knots'.   It is possible that blackthorns left unstripped of their 'sharp knots' might also be called alpeens because these knots were considered 'knobs'?  Knobs were definitely a consideration when designing an Irish stick weapon.  William Carleton tells us that:
    "'... if a good root-growing kippeen be light at the fighting-end, or possess not the proper number of knobs, a hole, a few inches deep, is to be bored in the end, which must be filled with melted lead.  This gives it a widow-and-orphan -making quality ...' 
    "As the number of knobs wa sone aspect of judging a weapon, this also suggests that a knobby blackthorn was called an 'alpeen' or 'knobbed' stick.  According to both Irish oral traditions and mythology, the alpeen-blackthorn stick and its relations the cam batacamóg and camán were probably the earliest Irish fighting sticks.  These sticks were ideal for training ancient Irish warriors in swordplay, which suggests that they have existed in Irish culture for at least two millennia.  They seem to have been popular because they were sticks which: were created very simply, out of  their own natural shape; could be used immediately after being cut; and would have been used for purposes other than fighting.  The 3 to 4 foot stick seems to have been the most common stick in the early stages of Irish faction fighting, and the shorter cudgel seems to have become more common when faction fighting was in decline in the second half of the 19th century."

* Hurley 2007 p146-148
"Fás nó Cuireann Meatháin -- these are about the size of walking sticks, between 3 and 4 feet long, and are (usually knobbed) sticks made from the saplings or 'sucker' of different woods, including willow, hazel, ash and blackthorn.  Irish Republican Army veteran Jeremiah Murphy, tells us that in his youth, the Travelling People of Kerry carried a tough ash stick which could deliver devastating blows:
    "'A hardy breed of tramps (itinerants or travelers) frequented the localities of Kerry and Cork.  Most of the men were reservists in the British army and were tough fighters with their fists or the ash plant.  This latter item was an ash sapling about the size of a walking stick, as tough as whalebone and recognized as standard equipment for the tinker or cattle driver.  An application of this around the head was enough to render any opponent unconscious, even a policeman's short truncheon was no match for it.  The tinker's faces bore many scars of neglected cuts and bruises...'
    "Name variations: buinneán sailí, fás coill, fás fuinseoige, fás draighin, (willow shoot, hazel rod, ash-plant, blackthorn stick).
    "Camán nó Iomán nó Camóg nó 'Hurley' -- There are three basic types of hurley stick, all of which were used in Irish stick-fighting:
1.) the ancient or 'natural camAn; 2.) the 'Ulster winter hurling' camán, 3.) the 'Leinster summer hurling' camán.
    "The camán is 3 feet long, made of ash, and is the traditional stick used in the Gaelic Irish game of hurling.  Early camán were made of various woods, such as holly, rowan, sally, box, poplar, blackthorn, whitethorn, larch, willow, hazel elder, elm and furze.  But even from ancient times, it was thought best to use ash.  There were originally many variations in the size and shape of the camán, before the Gaelic Athletic Association began the process of standardization among hurlers on a national level, in the late 19th century.  The ancient or 'natural' camán, was simply a stick cut and used as it was shaped, and was simply a version of the knobbed maide draighin or bata siúil ....  [....]  The 'Ulster winter hurling' camán, is closer in appearance to a modern ice hockey stick, and is essentially the same stick used in the modern sport of shinty, which has a long, thin, flat blade at the end of the stick.  Some of the old camáin had a longer, thicker, wider and more curved end, and this evolved into the modern 'Leinster summer hurling', hurley stick design used in hurling today.
    "In faction fights, a camán might be covered in wire or, like the modern camán, might be reinforced with thick iron bands or ferules on the bos camaín  or 'blade of the camán' to help keep the wood from splitting.  From the descriptions of hurleys used in faction fights, it is difficult to discern which type of Hurley stick is being talked about.  Common name variations: camán, lorga áine or lorg ána, camóg, cam-bata, hurley (bent thing, driving shaft, hurley stick, crooked stick, hurley stick)."