Skip to main content

Francis B. Gallagher collection of Fenian Brotherhood records

Identifier: MC 14

Scope and Contents

During the 3rd Fenian Convention in Philadelphia in October 1865, members established a fifteen-member senate, which assumed most of the authority previously held by the Brotherhood’s President. The papers in this collection, mostly correspondence, relate to Senator Francis B. Gallagher from Buffalo, New York. Gallagher also served as Treasurer for the Brotherhood's Buffalo district for a time.

A majority of the letters in the collection is between Gallagher and other senators and senior Fenian members, including Fenian President John O’Neill, President William Randall Roberts, Michael C. Murphy, and Dennis O’Sullivan to name a few. James Gibbons, a printer from Philadelphia and one of the original organizers of the Fenian Brotherhood, is another notable correspondent represented in the collection.

Among other things, the correspondence in this collection reveals the internal divisions and bitter politics that undermined the Fenians’ efforts and ultimately their existence. For example, there are letters between Gallagher and President John O’Neill that reveal a souring relationship between the two as Gallagher aligned himself with a growing faction of members who questioned O’Neill’s leadership. They opposed O’Neill’s aggressive military strategy and use of the organization’s treasury.

The bulk of papers in the collection date between 1866 and 1870, the years when the Fenian Brotherhood was at its height. They document the organization’s activities, including its efforts to raise money and acquire arms as well as its failed attempts to invade Canada. Many of the letters and financial papers relate to the Fenians’ first attempted invasion of Canada which was carried out from Buffalo, New York.

The collection has been organized into two series, Francis B. Gallagher papers and Fenian Brotherhood records. The first series includes letters and financial papers, including invoices and receipts for arms, uniforms, and other supplies, related to Gallagher. The second series includes records of the Brotherhood that do not necessarily relate to the Buffalo Senator. These records include correspondence and financial papers as well as administrative records, such as circular letters, financial reports, departmental reports, and meeting minutes.


  • Creation: 1862 - 1870
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1866 - 1870

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research.

Biographical / Historical

With the support of Irish Americans, James Stephens, leader of the Irish Revolutionary Brotherhood (I.R.B.), established the Brotherhood’s American division, the Fenian Brotherhood, in the fall of 1858. With local branches active in cities such as Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago, and New York, the organization grew to over 50,000 members and hundreds of thousands of sympathizers by the end of the Civil War.

Although Stephens had intended that the Fenians would primarily focus on fundraising and supplying arms to help the I.R.B. attain its goal of an independent Ireland, the organization became much more active and aggressive. Functioning as a secret society for the first several years, the Fenians decided to make their cause public, using publications and advertisements to garner support. Also, a strong contingent of its members wanted the Brotherhood to engage in military activities. Rather than merely sending supplies and soldiers to Ireland, they supported the idea of attacking the British by invading Canada. The Fenians made several failed attempts in 1866 and 1870.

British resistance, internal factionalism, and the organization's failed military efforts led to the Fenian Brotherhood’s collapse in 1886. By this time, a significant portion of the organization had already been absorbed by the Irish nationalist organization Clan-na-Gael.


0.4 Linear Feet (; 1 box)

Language of Materials



The Fenian Brotherhood, the American branch of the Irish Revolutionary Brotherhood, was established in 1858 with the goal of establishing an independent Ireland. As well as raising money and gathering arms to send back to Ireland, the Fenians also engaged in military activity against the British, leading two failed invasions of Canada. Factionalism within the organization led to the Brotherhood's decline by the 1880s.

This collection primarily contains the correspondence of Francis B. Gallagher, a Fenian Senator and district treasurer from Buffalo, NY with other senior Fenian officials. Also included are some administrative records, including circular letters, finance reports, and meeting minutes. The papers document the Brotherhood's activities, including its failed invasion of Canada, as well as the internal divisions that led to the organization's demise.

Overview of Arrangement

Series I Francis B. Gallagher papers, 1862-1870

Series II Fenian Brotherhood records, 1862-1870

Other Finding Aids

Information about James Gibbons and a calendar description of his correspondence with Francis B. Gallagher can be found in Clark, Dennis. "Letters from the Underground: the Fenian correspondence of James Gibbons." Records of the American Catholic Historical Society 81 (June, 1970) no. 2.

An earlier finding aid with folder level descriptions as well as a card catalog with item level descriptions are available in hard copy at PAHRC.


Accession number 1990.014

Existence and Location of Copies

This collection is also available on microfilm for use in the repository only.

Digital reproductions of the Francis B. Gallgher collection of Fenian Brotherhood records are available at

At other institutions:

The Fenian Brotherhood Records and O'Donovan Rossa Personal Papers, The Catholic University of America, The American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives, Washington, D.C.

Fenian Brotherhood Papers, 1869-1922, Missouri Historical Society Archives, St. Louis, MO


  • Walker, Mabel Gregory. The Fenian Movement. Colorado Springs: Ralph Myles Publisher, Inc., 1969.
  • Clark, Dennis. "Militants of the 1860's: the Philadelphia Fenians." Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 95 (January 1971) no.1
  • Torn Between Brothers: A look at the internal divisions that weakened the Fenian Brotherhood. (Accessed February 2012).
  • Clark, Dennis. "Letters from the Underground: the Fenian correspondence of James Gibbons." Records of the American Catholic Historical Society 81 (June, 1970) no. 2.
  • D'Arcy, William. The Fenian Movement in the United States: 1858-1886. Dissertation. Ph.D. diss, Catholic University of America, 1947.

Publications note

Materials from this collection, particulary Francis B. Gallagher's correspondence with James Gibbons, was used for the article: Clark, Dennis. "Militants of the 1860's: the Philadelphia Fenians." Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 95 (January 1971) no.1

Francis B. Gallagher's letters, specifically his correspondence with John O'Neill, were analyzed and used for the virtual exhibit, Torn Between Brothers: A look at the internal divisions that weakened the Fenian Brotherhood. (Accessed February 2012).

Processing Information

The collection title was changed from Fenian Brotherhood papers to the Francis B. Gallagher collection of Fenian Brotherhood records to more accurately reflect the collection's content. Some materials were rearranged in order to help researchers find items of interest more readily. Folders were also relabeled.

Francis B. Gallagher collection of Fenian Brotherhood records
Faith Charlton and Bill Rueter
; February 2012
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Catholic Historical Research Center of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia Repository

6719 Calvert Street
Philadelphia PA 19149