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Irish Republican Brotherhood

Irish Republican Brotherhood
Slogan Erin go bragh
Founded 1858
Dissolved 1924
Preceded by Young Ireland
Newspaper The Irish People
Ideology Irish republicanism
Irish nationalism
National affiliation Irish Volunteers (1913–1917)
Irish Republican Army (1917–1922)
Irish Army (1922–1924)
American affiliate Fenian Brotherhood (1858–1867)
Clan na Gael (1867–1924)
Colours Green & Gold

The Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB; John O'Mahony and became known as the Fenian Brotherhood (later Clan na Gael). The members of both wings of the movement are often referred to as "Fenians". The IRB played an important role in the history of Ireland, as the chief advocate of republicanism during the campaign for Ireland's independence from the United Kingdom, successor to movements such as the United Irishmen of the 1790s and the Young Irelanders of the 1840s.

As part of the New Departure of the 1870s–80s, IRB members attempted to democratise the Home Rule League.[2] and its successor, the Irish Parliamentary Party, as well as taking part in the Land War.[3] The IRB staged the Easter Rising in 1916, which led to the establishment of the first Dáil Éireann in 1919. The suppression of Dáil Éireann precipitated the Irish War of Independence and the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1921, ultimately leading to the establishment of the Irish Free State, which excluded the territory of Northern Ireland.


  • Background 1
  • Founding of the IRB 2
    • Organisational structure 2.1
    • Objectives 2.2
    • The oath 2.3
    • Supreme Council 2.4
    • U.S. Branch of the Irish Republican Brotherhood 2.5
  • Nineteenth century 3
    • Establishment reaction 3.1
    • Irish People 3.2
    • Arrests and escapes 3.3
    • Irish National Invincibles 3.4
    • Special Irish Branch 3.5
  • Twentieth century 4
    • Easter Rising 4.1
    • War of Independence, Civil War and dissolution 4.2
  • Presidents (1858–1922) 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
    • Bibliography 7.1
  • External links 8


In 1798 the rebellion, seeking an end to British rule in Ireland and the establishment of an Irish Republic. The rebellion was suppressed, but the principles of the United Irishmen were to have a powerful influence on the course of Irish history.

Following the collapse of the rebellion, the British prime minister William Pitt introduced a bill to abolish the Irish parliament and manufactured a Union between Ireland and Britain. Opposition from the Protestant oligarchy that controlled the parliament was countered by the widespread and open use of bribery. The Act of Union was passed, and became law on 1 January 1801. The Catholics, who had been excluded from the Irish parliament, were promised emancipation under the Union. This promise was never kept, and caused a protracted and bitter struggle for civil liberties. It was not until 1829 that the British government reluctantly conceded Catholic emancipation. Though leading to general emancipation, this process simultaneously disenfranchised the small tenants, known as ‘forty shilling freeholders’, who were mainly Catholics.[4]

Daniel O’Connell, who had led the emancipation campaign, then attempted the same methods in his campaign, to have the Act of Union with Britain repealed. Despite the use of petitions and public meetings which attracted vast popular support, the government thought the Union was more important than Irish public opinion.

During the early 1840s, the younger members of the repeal movement became impatient with O’Connell's over-cautious policies, and began to question his intentions. Later they were what came to be known as the Young Ireland movement. In 1842 three of the Young Ireland leaders, Thomas Davis, Charles Gavan Duffy and John Blake Dillon, launched the Nation newspaper. In the paper they set out to create a spirit of pride and an identity based on nationality rather than on social status or religion. Following the collapse of the Repeal Association and with the arrival of famine, the Young Irelanders broke away completely from O’Connell in 1846.[5]

The blight that destroyed the potato harvest between 1845 and 1849 was an unprecedented human tragedy. An entire social class of small farmers and labourers were to be virtually wiped out by hunger, disease and emigration. The laissez –faire economic thinking of the government ensured that help was slow, hesitant and insufficient. Between 1845 and 1851 the population fell by almost two million.

That the people starved while livestock and grain continued to be exported, quite often under military escort, left a legacy of bitterness and resentment among the survivors. The waves of emigration because of the famine and in the years following, also ensured that such feelings were not confined to Ireland, but spread to England, the United States, Australia, and every country where Irish emigrants gathered.[6]

Shocked by the scenes of starvation and greatly influenced by the revolutions then sweeping Europe, the Young Irelanders moved from agitation to armed rebellion in 1848. The attempted rebellion failed after a small skirmish in Ballingary, Co Tipperary, coupled with a few minor incidents else where. The reasons for the failure were obvious, the people were totally despondent after three years of famine, having been prompted to rise early resulted in an inadequacy of military preparations, which caused disunity among the leaders.

The government quickly rounded up many of the instigators, those who could, fled across the seas, and their followers dispersed. A last flicker of revolt in 1849, led by among others James Fintan Lalor, was equally unsuccessful.[7]

John Mitchel, the most committed advocate of revolution, had been arrested early in 1848 and transported to Australia on the purposefully created charge of Treason-felony. He was to be joined by other leaders, such as William Smith O'Brien and Thomas Francis Meagher who had both been arrested after Ballingary. John Blake Dillon escaped to France, as did three of the younger members, James Stephens, John O'Mahony and Michael Doheny.

Founding of the IRB

James Stephens (1824–1901)

After the collapse of the 1848 rebellion James Stephens and John O'Mahony went to Europe to avoid arrest. In Paris they supported themselves through teaching and translation work and planned the next stage of "the fight to overthrow British rule in Ireland."[8] Stephens in Paris, set himself three tasks, during his seven years of exile. They were, to keep alive, pursue knowledge, and master the technique of conspiracy. At this time Paris particularly, was interwoven with a network of secret political societies. They became members of one of the most powerful of these societies and acquired the secrets of some of the ablest and "most profound masters of revolutionary science" which the 19th century had produced, as to the means of inviting and combining people for the purposes of successful revolution.[9]

In 1853, O'Mahony went to America and founded the

  • The Irish Republican Brotherhood, from the BBC History site
  • Irish Nationalism and Anglo-American Naturalization: The Settlement of the Expatriation Question 1865–1872
  • UCD Archives

External links

  • 13 March 2008An Phoblacht
  • Campbell, Christy, Fenian Fire: The British Government Plot to Assassinate Queen Victoria, HarperCollins, London, 2002, ISBN 0-00-710483-9
  • Clarke, Kathleen, Revolutionary Woman: My Fight for Ireland's Freedom, O'Brien Press, Dublin, 1997, ISBN 0-86278-245-7
  • Comerford, R.V., The Fenians in Context, Irish Politics and Society, 1848–82, Dublin, 1885
  • Cronin, Sean, The McGarrity Papers, Anvil Books, Ireland, 1972
  • Denieffe, Joseph, A Personal Narrative of the Irish Revolutionary Brotherhood, The Gael Publishing Co, 1906
  • Encyclopædia Britannica, 1911.
  • Irish Times
  • Kelly, M. J., The Fenian Ideal and Irish Nationalism, 1882–1916, Boydell, 2006. ISBN 1-84383-445-6
  • Kenny, Michael, The Fenians, The National Museum of Ireland in association with Country House, Dublin, 1994, ISBN 0-946172-42-0
  • Lyons, F. S. L., Ireland Since the Famine, Fontana, 1973
  • McGee, Owen, The IRB: The Irish Republican Brotherhood from The Land League to Sinn Féin, Four Courts Press, 2005, ISBN 1-85182-972-5
  • Moody, T.W. and Leon O'Broin, eds., 'The IRB Supreme Council, 1868–78', Irish Historical Studies, xix, no. 75 (March 1975), 286–332.
  • Ó Broin, Leon, Fenian Fever: An Anglo-American Dilemma, Chatto & Windus, London, 1971, ISBN 0-7011-1749-4.
  • O'Donovan Rossa, Jeremiah, Rossa's Recollections, 1838 to 1898 Mariner"s Harbor, NY, 1898
  • O'Leary, John, Recollections of Fenians and Fenianism, Downey & Co, Ltd, London, 1896 (Vol. I & II)
  • Ryan, Dr. Mark F., Fenian Memories, Edited by T. F. O'Sullivan, M. H. Gill & Son, LTD, Dublin, 1945
  • Stanford, Jane, That Irishman: The Life and Times of John O'Connor Power, The History Press, Ireland, May 2011, ISBN 978-1-84588-698-1
  • Whelehan, Niall, The Dynamiters: Irish Nationalism and Political Violence in the Wider World, Cambridge, 2012. ISBN 978-1-107-02332-1


  1. ^ a b McGee, p. 15.
  2. ^ In November 1873, the Home Government Association was reconstituted as the Home Rule League. As with the HGA, Butt was opposed to its membership having any power to dictate policy (cite, McGee, p. 47.). The Irish MPs at Westminster "felt total contempt" for the idea of promoting a radical "democratic movement" in Ireland (Ibid, p. 53.). Charles Doran secretary of the Supreme Council of the IRB, proposed that all MP's should be accountable before "a great national conference ... as to represent the opinions and feelings of the Irish nation" (Ibid, p. 48.).
  3. ^ McGee, pp. 46–60.
  4. ^ Kenny, p. 5.
  5. ^ Kenny, p. 6.
  6. ^ Kenny, pp. 6–7.
  7. ^ Kenny, p. 7.
  8. ^ Ó Broin, p.1
  9. ^ Ryan. Desmond, pp. 43 & 48.
  10. ^ According to tradition, no monument can be erected to Robert Emmet "until Ireland a nation can build him a tomb," therefore, the work of the Association presupposed the freedom of Ireland as a necessary preliminary.
  11. ^ Denieffe, vii
  12. ^ While in London, Stephens had doubts as to whether Ireland was yet ripe for his plans. He posed himself two questions, and only in Ireland could he obtain the answers, the first being: was a new uprising even conceivable and had the time come for a secret revolutionary organisation under his leadership. cite O'Leary pp. 57–8.
  13. ^ Ryan. Desmond, p. 58.
  14. ^ the name of the members were John O'Mahony, Michael Doheny, James Roche and Oliver Byrne. cite O'Leary, p. 80.
  15. ^ Ryan Desmond, p. 87.
  16. ^ A full copy of the letter is available in Desmond Ryan's Fenian Chief pp. 89–90.
  17. ^ O'Leary p. 82.
  18. ^ Ryan. Desmond, pp. 90–91, Ó Broin, p. 1, Cronin, p. 11.
  19. ^ It has been suggested, notably by O'Donovan Rossa, that the original name for the organisation was the Irish Revolutionary Brotherhood, this is a view shared by Joseph Denieffe in his memoirs. It also appears in correspondences of the Fenian Leaders, Devoy's Post Bag being another example. What is certain is that it became the Irish Republican Brotherhood and it lasted in Ireland and among Irish exiles all over the world under that name.
  20. ^ In John O'leary's Fenians and Fenianism, he spells the name "Deneefe" though this is incorrect, cite O'Leary, p. 82.
  21. ^ O'Leary, p. 82.
  22. ^ An Phoblacht 13 March 2008
  23. ^ a b O'Leary, p. 84.
  24. ^ McGee, p. 21.
  25. ^ Ryan. Desmond, p. 318.
  26. ^ Ryan. Desmond, p. 326, also cited by McGee, p. 16.
  27. ^ McGee, p. 16.
  28. ^ Ryan. Desmond, p. 133.
  29. ^ McGee, p. 327.
  30. ^ O’Leary, p. 82.
  31. ^ ... The form of the test, I leave to yourself, merely telling you that the oath of secrecy must be omitted. The clause, however, which binds them to "yield implicit obedience to the commands of superior officers" provides against their babbling propensities, for, when the test in its modified form is administered, you, as the superior official, in the case of the men you enroll, command them to be silent with regard to the affairs of the brotherhood, and to give the same command to the men of the grade below them, and so on. But the test, in its modified form, is not to be administered to any one who considers it a cause of confession...." Rossa, p. 279.
  32. ^ Ryan Desmond, p. 91.
  33. ^ Authors brackets, Ryan. Desmond, p. 92.
  34. ^ The 1916 Rising:Personalities and Perspectives, National Library of Ireland. Accessed 2010-10-09.
  35. ^ Cronin, p. 14.
  36. ^ Edward MacLysaght, ‘’Irish families – Their Names, Arms and Origins’’, 3rd ed., Dublin, 1972, p 244
  37. ^ McGee, pp. 328–9.
  38. ^ a b c McGee, p. 33.
  39. ^ McGee, pp. 13–14.
  40. ^ Irish Times, 19 February 1867.
  41. ^ Leon Ó Broin, p. 133.
  42. ^ D. Ryan, pp.187–90
  43. ^ O'Leary Vol I, p. 246.
  44. ^ Denieffe, p. 82.
  45. ^ D. Ryan, p. 191.
  46. ^ O’Leary, Vol II, p. 198.
  47. ^ D. Ryan, p. 195.
  48. ^ Campbell, pp. 58–9.
  49. ^ Breslin would go on to play a leading part in the Catalpa rescue of Fenian prisoners in the British penal colony of Western Australia
  50. ^ Ó Broin, pp. 26–7.
  51. ^ Lyons, p.315
  52. ^ Lyons, p. 316.
  53. ^ Clarke K. P.24 & 36
  54. ^ Charles Townshend, Easter 1916: The Irish rebellion, 2005, p. 18; Sean Cronin, The McGarrity Papers: revelations of the Irish revolutionary movement in Ireland and America 1900–1940, 1972, pp. 16, 30; Patrick Bishop & Eamonn Mallie, The Provisional IRA, 1988, p. 23; J Bowyer Bell, The Secret Army: The IRA, rev. ed., 1997, p. 9; Tim Pat Coogan, The IRA, 1984, p. 31
  55. ^ Lyons, p.318-319
  56. ^ Charles Townshend, Easter 1916: The Irish rebellion, 2005; p. 41, Tim Pat Coogan, The IRA, 1970, p. 33; F. X. Martin, The Irish Volunteers 1913–1915, 1963, p. 24, Michael Foy & Brian Barton, The Easter Rising, 2004, p. 7, Eoin Neeson, Myths from Easter 1916, 2007, p. 79, P. S. O’Hegarty, Victory of Sinn Féin, pp. 9–10; Michael Collins, The Path to Freedom, 1922, p. 54; Sean Cronin, Irish Nationalism, 1981, p. 105; P. S. O’Hegarty, A History of Ireland Under the Union, p. 669; Tim Pat Coogan, 1916: Easter Rising, p. 50; Kathleen Clarke, Revolutionary Woman, 1991, p. 44; Robert Kee, The Bold Fenian Men, 1976, p. 203, Owen McGee, The IRB: The Irish Republican Brotherhood from the League to Sinn Féin, 2005, pp. 353–354.
  57. ^ a b c Murray, Daniel (11 November 2013). "To Not Fade Away: The Irish Republican Brotherhood Post-1916". The Irish Story. Retrieved 25 August 2014. 
  58. ^ Ó Broin, Leon (1976). Revolutionary underground: The Story of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, 1858-1924. Dublin: Gill and Macmillan. pp. 195–6. Retrieved 25 August 2014. 
  59. ^ Ó Broin (1976), p. 199
  60. ^ In his book The Singing Flame (pp. 36-7), O'Malley, who was not an IRB member, describes attending an IRB meeting in Limerick in 1922, in which members were ordered to accept the Treaty. He viewed this as an attempt to manipulate the IRA by a secret oath-bound organisation.
  61. ^ Lee, Joseph (1989). Ireland, 1912-1985: Politics and Society. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 99–100.  
  62. ^ Bell, J. Bowyer (1997). The Secret Army: The IRA. Transaction Publishers. p. 46.  
  63. ^ Ó Broin (1976), p. 221


See also

No. Name Assumed office Left office
1. James Stephens 17 March 1858 December 1866
2. Thomas J. Kelly August 1866 11 September 1867
3. J. F. X. O'Brien c. 1869 c. 1872
4. Charles Kickham 15 January 1873 22 August 1882
5. John O'Connor Power 1882 1891
6. John O'Leary 1891 16 March 1907
7. Neal O'Boyle 1907 1910
8. John Mulholland 1910 1912
9. Seamus Deakin 1913 1914
10. Denis McCullough 1915 1916
11. Thomas Ashe 1916 1917
12. Seán McGarry November 1917 May 1919
13. Harry Boland 1919 1920
14. Patrick Moylett September 1920 November 1920
15. Michael Collins 1920 1922
16. Richard Mulcahy 1922 1924

What follows is a list of known IRB presidents. As no formal records exist for the IRB, accurate dates cannot be provided in all cases.

Presidents (1858–1922)

When the Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed on 6 December 1921, it was debated by the Supreme Council, which voted to accept it by eleven votes to four.[58] Those on the Supreme Council who opposed the Treaty included former leader Harry Boland, Austin Stack and Liam Lynch.[59] Anti-Treaty republicans like Ernie O'Malley, who fought during the Civil War against the Treaty, saw the IRB as being used to undermine the Irish Republic.[60] The IRB became quiescent during the Civil War, which ended in May 1923, but it emerged again later that year as a faction within the National Army that supported Minister for Defence Richard Mulcahy against the "Old IRA", which fought against the recruitment of ex-British Army personnel and the demobilization of old IRA men.[61] This came to a head with the Army Mutiny of 1924, in the wake of which Mulcahy resigned and other IRB members of the army were dismissed by acting President of the Executive Council Kevin O'Higgins.[62] The IRB subsequently dissolved itself, although it is not known whether a formal decision was taken, or it simply ceased to function.[63]

[57] said afterwards that the IRB by then was "moribund where not already dead", but there is evidence that it was an important force during the war.Séamus Robinson Volunteers such as [57], who was secretary, and subsequently president, of the Supreme Council.Michael Collins, was under the control of War of Independence The IRB, during the 1919–21 [57] Following the Rising some republicans—notably

War of Independence, Civil War and dissolution

Following the establishment of the Joseph Plunkett, Thomas MacDonagh, and Patrick Pearse, who was co-opted to the Supreme Council in 1915. These men, together with Clarke, MacDermott, Eamonn Ceannt and eventually James Connolly of the Irish Citizen Army, constituted the Military Committee, the sole planners of the Rising.

Easter Rising

in 1916. Easter Rising The latter two were to be the primary instigators of the [55], Sean MacDermott, and Tom Clarke.John MacBride, Patrick McCartan. By 1914 the Supreme Council was largely purged of its older, tired leadership, and was dominated by enthusiastic men such as Hobson, McCullough, Sam Maguire was introduced to the brotherhood by Michael Collins In 1909 the young [54] A younger generation of Ulster republicans aimed to change this, and in 1905 [51] By the start of the 20th century, the IRB was a stagnating organisation, concerned more with Dublin municipal politics than the establishment of a republic according to F. S. L. Lyons.

Michael Collins, the last president of the IRB

Twentieth century

In March 1883 the London Metropolitan Police's Special Irish Branch was formed, initially as a small section of the Criminal Investigation Department, to monitor IRB activity.

Special Irish Branch

In 1882, a breakaway IRB faction calling itself the Irish National Invincibles assassinated the British Chief Secretary for Ireland Lord Frederick Cavendish and his secretary, in an incident known as the Phoenix Park Murders.

Irish National Invincibles

Kickham was caught after a month on the run.[48] Stephens would also be caught, but with the support of Fenian prison warders, John J. Breslin[49] and Daniel Byrne was less than a fortnight in Richmond Bridewell when he vanished and escaped to France.[50]

EXECUTIVE I hereby appoint Thomas Clarke Luby, John O’Leary and Charles J. Kickham, a Committee of Organization or Executive, with the same supreme control over the Home Organization (Ireland, England, Scotland, etc.) I have exercised myself. I further empower them to appoint a Committee of Military Inspection, and a Committee of Appeal and Judgment, the functions of which Committee will be made known to each member of them by the Executive. Trusting to the patriotism and ability of the Executive, I fully endorse their action beforehand, and call on every man in our ranks to support and be guided by them in all that concerns our military brotherhood.
9 March 1864, Dublin

Before leaving, Stephens entrusted to Luby a document containing secret resolutions on the Committee of Organization or Executive of the IRB. Though Luby intimated its existence to O’Leary, he did not inform Kickham as there seemed no necessity. This document would later form the basis of the prosecution against the staff of the Irish People. The document read:[47]

Arrests and escapes

American Fenians made plans for a rising in Ireland, but the plans were discovered on 15 July 1865 when an emissary lost them at Kingstown railway station. They found their way to Dublin Castle and to Superintendent Daniel Ryan head of G Division. Ryan had an informer within the offices of the Irish People named Pierce Nagle, he supplied Ryan with an "action this year" message on its way to the IRB unit in Tipperary. With this information, Ryan raided the offices of the Irish People on Thursday 15 September, followed by the arrests of O’Leary, Luby and O’Donovan Rossa. The last edition of the paper is dated 16 September 1865.[46]

[45] The first edition of the [42] In mid-1863 Stephens informed his colleagues he wished to start a newspaper, with financial aid from O’Mahony and the Fenian Brotherhood in America. The offices were established at 12 Parliament Street, almost at the gates of Dublin Castle.

Irish People

Fenianism as a term was then used by the British political establishment to depict any form of mobilisation among the lower classes and, sometimes, those who expressed any Irish nationalist sentiments. They warned people about this threat to turn decent civilised society on its head such as that posed by trade unionism to the existing social order in England.[39] The same term was taken up by members of the Irish Catholic hierarchy, who also began denouncing "Fenianism" in the name of the Catholic religion.[38] One Irish Bishop, David Moriarty of Kerry, declared that "when we look down into the fathomless depth of this infamy of the heads of the Fenian conspiracy, we must acknowledge that eternity is not long enough, nor hell hot enough to punish such miscreants."[40][41]

It was feared that if Britain was given any reason to renew coercion, Catholic interests in both Ireland and England would be undermined. In addition, the small class of Irish Catholic merchants, lawyers and gentry who had prospered under the Union felt anxious for the same reasons. By 1864, the Tories had coined the phrase 'Fenianism' to describe all that was considered potentially bothersome among Irishmen on both sides of the Atlantic.[38]

The Tories, disturbed by the increase in republican propaganda, particularly in America, launched a propaganda campaign in the Irish press to discredit the American Fenians. They presented them as enemies of Catholicism quoting negative comments by some American Catholic bishops. As in Irish-America, likewise Ireland and England, the Catholic hierarchy felt the growth of nationalist politics among Irishmen was essentially dangerous. Therefore, during the 1860s and succeeding decades, the upper or middle classes who controlled the Irish press were very apprehensive in the growth of democratic politics in Ireland, which represented to them a threat of anarchy and revolution.[38]

The movement was denounced by the British establishment, the press, the Catholic Church and Irish political elite, as had been all Irish separatist and Republicanism movements.[37]

Supplement given with the Weekly Freeman of October 1883

Establishment reaction

Nineteenth century

After Stephen’s March 17, 1858 formation of the Brotherhood in Ireland and while the Irish nationalists groups in the United States remained uncohered, Fenian Brotherhood, with which the Irish Republican Brotherhood thereafter exclusively coordinated its activities.[36]

U.S. Branch of the Irish Republican Brotherhood

The IRB was re-organised at a convention in Manchester in July 1867. An 11-man Supreme Council was elected to Govern the movement.[35] They would eventually be representatives from the seven districts in which the organisation was organised: the Irish provinces of Irish Republic (COIR), in succession to Stephens. The arrest and subsequent rescue of Kelly with Timothy Deasy in September 1867 resulted in the execution of the Manchester Martyrs. Kelly escaped to USA and remained associated with the IRB.

Supreme Council

In the presence of God, I, ..., do solemnly swear that I will do my utmost to establish the independence of Ireland, and that I will bear true allegiance to the Supreme Council of the Irish Republican Brotherhood and the Government of the Irish Republic and implicitly obey the constitution of the Irish Republican Brotherhood and all my superior officers and that I will preserve inviolable the secrets of the organisation.[34]

In yet a later version it read:

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 very 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 [or ‘the laws of morality’], to the commands of my superior officers. So help me God. Amen’.[33]

The revised oath ran:

This oath was significantly revised by Stephens in Paris in the summer of 1859. He asked Luby to draw up a new text, omitting the secrecy clause. The omitting of the secrecy clause was outlined in a letter from Stephen's to [32]

I, AB., do solemnly swear, in the presence of Almighty God, that I will do my utmost, at every risk, while life lasts, to make [other versions, according to Luby, establish in’] Ireland an independent Democratic Republic; that I will yield implicit obedience, in all things not contrary to the law of God [‘laws of morality’] to the commands of my superior officers; and that I shall preserve inviolable secrecy regarding all the transactions [ ‘affairs’] of this secret society that may be confided in me. So help me God! Amen.[30]

The original IRB oath, as quoted by Thomas Clarke Luby and John O'Leary, and which is among several versions in James Stephens's own papers, ran:

The oath

The Fenians soon established themselves in Australia, South America, Canada and, above all, in the United States, as well as in the large cities of England, such as London, Manchester, Liverpool, and Glasgow, in Scotland.

It was Stephens “firm resolution to establish a democratic republic in Ireland; that is, a republic for the weal of the toiler,”[28] and that this would require a complete social revolution before the people could possibly become republicans.[1] In propagating republican principles, they felt, the organisation would create this virtual democracy within the country, which would form the basis of an independence movement.[29]

Fenianism therefore, according to O'Mahony is symbolised by two principles: Firstly, that Ireland had a natural right to independence, and secondly, that that right could be won only by an armed revolution.[25] Because of their belief in republicanism, that is, the “common people are the rightful rulers of their own destiny,” the founding members saw themselves as “furious democrats in theory” and declared their movement to be “wholly and unequivocally democratic.”[26] Being a democrat and egalitarian in the mid 19th century was tantamount to being a revolutionary, and was something to be feared by political establishments.[27]

Dublin Castle was the seat of government administration in Ireland and was appointed by the British cabinet and was accountable only to the cabinet, not to the House of Commons and not to the Irish people or their political representatives. Irish MPs could speak at Westminster in protest about the actions of the administration, but its privileges were unchallengeable as Irish representation in the House of Commons was only one sixth of the total and far too small.[24]


The IRB was organised into circles, a "circle" was analogous to a regiment, that the "centre" or A, who might be considered equivalent to a colonel, who chose nine B's, or captains, who in their turn chose nine C's, or sergeants, who in their turn chose nine D's, who constituted the rank and file. In theory an A should only be known to the B's; a B, to his C's: and a C, to his D's; but this rule was often violated.[23]

Organisational structure

Those present in Langan's, lathe-maker and timber merchant, 16 Lombard Street for that first meeting apart from Stephens and Luby were Peter Langan, Charles Kickham, Joseph Denieffe[20] and Garrett O'Shaughnessy.[21][22] Later it would include members of the Phoenix National and Literary Society, which was formed in 1856 by Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa in Skibbereen.[23]

The original oath, with its clauses of secrecy was drawn up by Luby under Stephens' direction in Stephens' room in Donnelly's which was situated behind Lombard Street. Luby then swore Stephens in and he did likewise.

On 23 December Stephens dispatched Joseph Denieffe to America with his reply which was disguised as a business letter, and dated and addressed from Paris. In his reply Stephens outlined his conditions and his requirements from the organisation in America.[16] Stephens demanded uncontrolled power and £100 a month for the first three months.[17] Denieffe returned on 17 March 1858 with the acceptance of Stephens terms and £80. Denieffe also reported that there was no actual organised body of sympathisers in New York but merely a loose knot of associates. This disturbed Stephens but he went ahead regardless and that evening, St. Patrick's Day, the Irish Republican Brotherhood commenced.[18][19]

John O'Mahony (1816–1877)


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