It’s April 1866 and John Mahony, a former colonel in the New York State Militia’s 69th Regiment, is at the head of an invading force as it marches towards Campobello Island, New Brunswick. Back then this was part of British North America – what we today know as Canada. Mahony, an Irish-American is leading a band of Fenians, supporters of independence for Britain’s colonial possession, Ireland.
And although this was the first raid into British territory by Irish-American Fenians, it was by no means the last. The next incursion into Canadian territory came on June 1, 1866, in fact. This time, the Irish Republicans invaded the province of Canada West, which today is Southern Ontario. Up to 1,300 men traversed the River Niagara, led by Colonel John O’Neill, another former Union officer.
This attempted invasion was aimed at Canada East – modern-day Quebec – and the operation started on June 7, 1866. General Samuel Spear led around 1,000 Irish patriots into the territory and succeeded in seizing various townships. They were subsequently met by a Canadian force at a place called Pigeon Hill. And like the previous two attempts to take Canadian territory, this essentially ended in failure.