The Battle of Eccles Hill

By Taylor McClure, Special to The Record

During the 1850s, a strong independence movement emerged in Ireland under the Irish Republican Brotherhood. After years of being under the thumb of British rule and the devastation of the Great Hunger, members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, more widely known as the Fenians, wanted to be free of the British Empire. They decided that they would use any means necessary to accomplish that; including seizing Canada. As emigrants to the United States but loyal to Ireland, the Fenians carried out raids along the Canadian-United States border from 1866 to 1871 in hopes that Great Britain would release the reigns on Ireland to protect their colony. While they failed in their mission, the Fenian raids of 1866 and 1870 were significant for Canada as they were the final push towards Confederation and shaped Canadian identity. With the 150th anniversary of the 1870 raid being marked this year, we start from the very beginning of this significant period in Canada’s history. The Fenians began their raids along the Canadian border in April of 1866 with an attempt to capture Campobello Island in New Brunswick. After this failed, Colonel John O’Neill led a group of men to seize Fort Erie in June. They eventually retreated out of fear of the British army. One group of Fenians, led by Gen. Samuel Spear, also set up forces in Pigeon Hill, a small village now part of Saint-Armand. With their supplies cut off for breaking America neutrality laws, they began to cause chaos among the local population by damaging their homes, taking their valuables, and demanding meal from locals. As the Fenian force quickly started to dwindle, they retreated on June 9, 1866. This was an important moment in Canadian history because the raid had a major influence in Confederation.  See full story in the Tuesday, Jan. 7 edition of The Record.

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