The Fenian Brotherhood, a secret society of Irish nationalists, founded the Chicago Irish Republic in 1867. At the time, Chicago had the fourth largest Irish population in the United States and was considered a “hotbed” of militant Fenianism: for example, in 1864 the Chicago Fenians tried to declare war on England; in both 1865 and 1866 they attempted armed invasions of Canada.
Fenianism in America was rife with factionalism–often quite volatile–that split along political, religious, and personal lines. In the first issue of the Irish Republic, the editors wrote, “we have met deadly (secret) opposition from many who ought to be our supporters, but who are not yet able to bear the light of truth and liberty,” a reference to the large number of Irish-Americans who supported the racist policies of the Democratic Party.
The paper was edited by Michael Scanlan, Patrick William Dunne, and David Bell. Scanlan emigrated from Ireland in 1849 and became a popular Fenian poet. Dunne also emigrated in 1849, and was described by Scanlan as “one of the men who nurtured this National Brotherhood in its youth, and led it when grown strong, with a heart to feel, a mind to execute, and a purse ever open to our country’s cause.” Bell had been a Presbyterian minister in Belfast before emigrating to the United States in 1866. Although the Fenian Brotherhood officially allied itself with no religion, Bell’s Protestantism became a constant source of controversy among those who felt that the Protestantism of England and Scotland could never be reconciled with Irish nationalism.
The paper featured news about the Fenian Brotherhood in America, news about the nationalist movement “back home” in Ireland, and news about nationalist movements everywhere. England was one of the most heavily covered subjects, and not just England’s oppression of the Irish, but also its malefactions across the globe. As Scanlan had written, “‘Hatred of England’ is the strongest manner of expressing ‘Love for Ireland’,” and the paper accordingly printed any news that might nurture outrage against, and hatred for, the English. The editors also published book reviews, fiction, poetry, and belles lettres—all focused on developing Irish cultural identity, consistent with contemporary theories on the constitutive role of language and culture in the formation of nationhood.
The Irish Republic’s support of the Republican Party in the United States was controversial, as members of the Fenian Brotherhood, like Irish Americans in general, tended to ally with the Democratic Party. In 1868 the paper moved to New York City, possibly at the invitation of the New York Republican Party, which was hoping to increase support among Irish Americans. Chicago was already considered safely Republican, and the editors might have believed they could help the Republican Party by rallying support among the Irish in New York. New York City was already home to three Irish weeklies, and the Irish Republic was by no means a welcome newcomer. Once established in New York, the editors were drawn into bitter, factional conflicts. The paper moved to Washington, D.C. in 1872, and ceased publication a year later.
The Irish Republic was digitized with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, as part of the National Digital Newspaper Program.