Project Title

John O'Neill: Fenian, Emigrant, and Exile

Academic department under which the project should be listed

RCHSS - History & Philosophy

Faculty Sponsor Name

Dr. Bryan McGovern

Abstract (300 words maximum)

In the mid-1800s, in the wake of the Great Famine, over one million Irish citizens came to the United States of America. Historians Thomas Brown and Kerby Miller identified two main theses for Irish-American life. Brown argues that some Irish emigrants utilized nationalist movements to help assimilate into American culture. Miller provides a different perspective, recognizing that some Irish emigrants saw their flight as exile, often blaming England’s oppressive occupation of Ireland for their plight. Irish-American nationalists, including members of the Fenian Brotherhood founded in 1858, illustrate these various theses. Within the Fenian Brotherhood, few members stand out like Fenian military commander and president, John O’Neill. In 2019, Christopher Klein and Thomas Fox published books about O’Neill. However, neither author fully addressed the Brown or Miller theses in the context of O’Neill’s life. This study argues that while O’Neill was human and did not always fit the mold, he epitomizes Miller’s “exile” thesis. Framed in Miller’s “exile” thesis, the paper analyzes O’Neill’s life as a generally typical Irish emigrant including his pre-Famine life, his emigration, his American Civil War service, his Fenian Brotherhood activities, and, to a certain extent, his Irish colonization movement to the Midwest. The study utilizes primary sources including the Fenian newspaper, The Irish Republic, and other Fenian Brotherhood publications, often written by O’Neill himself. This study concludes that while O’Neill is not mentioned in Miller’s extensive study of Irish Americans, O’Neill’s life exemplifies the effect, to the most extreme, that “exile” beliefs had on Irish-American nationalists.

Disciplines

Canadian History | Cultural History | Military History | Social History | United States History

Project Type

Oral Presentation (15-min time slots)

How will this be presented?

Yes, synchronously via Teams

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John O'Neill: Fenian, Emigrant, and Exile

In the mid-1800s, in the wake of the Great Famine, over one million Irish citizens came to the United States of America. Historians Thomas Brown and Kerby Miller identified two main theses for Irish-American life. Brown argues that some Irish emigrants utilized nationalist movements to help assimilate into American culture. Miller provides a different perspective, recognizing that some Irish emigrants saw their flight as exile, often blaming England’s oppressive occupation of Ireland for their plight. Irish-American nationalists, including members of the Fenian Brotherhood founded in 1858, illustrate these various theses. Within the Fenian Brotherhood, few members stand out like Fenian military commander and president, John O’Neill. In 2019, Christopher Klein and Thomas Fox published books about O’Neill. However, neither author fully addressed the Brown or Miller theses in the context of O’Neill’s life. This study argues that while O’Neill was human and did not always fit the mold, he epitomizes Miller’s “exile” thesis. Framed in Miller’s “exile” thesis, the paper analyzes O’Neill’s life as a generally typical Irish emigrant including his pre-Famine life, his emigration, his American Civil War service, his Fenian Brotherhood activities, and, to a certain extent, his Irish colonization movement to the Midwest. The study utilizes primary sources including the Fenian newspaper, The Irish Republic, and other Fenian Brotherhood publications, often written by O’Neill himself. This study concludes that while O’Neill is not mentioned in Miller’s extensive study of Irish Americans, O’Neill’s life exemplifies the effect, to the most extreme, that “exile” beliefs had on Irish-American nationalists.

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