A NEW book that offers fresh insights into the Fenian movement in Skibbereen was launched at the recent West Cork History Festival.
The author, William Casey, who lives in Church Cross, has had a lifelong interest in history.
‘It is more than a hobby,’ said William, who has invested four years work into researching, writing and scrupulously editing his first book The Cradle of Fenianism.
‘Skibbereen really was the cradle of Fenianism,’ said William, who points out that although the organisation was not established in Skibbereen, it took root here, and spread rapidly to the rest of West Cork and South Kerry.
‘There are multiple reasons why the Fenian movement was so strong in this region, but there are two main reasons, one being the fact that it was a reaction to what happened during the Great Famine,’ he explained.
‘Skibbereen was one of areas worst affected by the famine – it saw a 35% population decline of 37,000 from 1841 to 1851.’
The second reason that Fenianism was so strong here is that it was the place where the Phoenix National and Literary Society was formed.
The society was led by Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, who was born in Rosscarbery, but lived in Skibbereen, where he worked as a merchant. O’Donovan Rossa is perhaps the best remembered member of the society, but William Casey makes the point that there were other members who helped promote the idea that a more radical Irish nationalism was needed.
Fenianism was a revolutionary movement dedicated to the overthrow of British rule in Ireland by force of arms. Since its foundation – as the Irish Republican Brotherhood in Dublin in 1858 – it had as its main aim liberation through a national rising.
The Fenian movement had its rising in March 1867, but it was a complete failure because of poor leadership and lack of resources. In his book, William Casey examines the period from the foundation of the movement to its failed rising – a time when Fenianism was at its most active in Skibbereen.
It is available in local bookshops, priced at €9.95.