The Battles of Ridgeway and Fort Erie Commemorated…..By Me



What’s the most important thing about the 2nd of June, 1866 in the context of Irish history? Two victorious battles were fought in succession on that day. They were the Battle of Ridgeway (the first one), the Battle of Fort Erie (the second one), and were the primary components of the Fenian Invasion of Canada. Not only that, but they were the only two victories achieved by Irish nationalists/republicans in their efforts to achieve the freedom of their country between the years 1798 and 1919.

Those responsible for the invasion were mainly Irish, and Irish-American, former soldiers who got their military training during the American Civil War. I certainly did not think that the Irish government would hold an official commemoration for either battle, and I was right (as usual). We can be completely certain about two things:

  • The battles occurred in Ontario, which is a place outside of Ireland. Such places do exist apparently.
  • The battles have been forgotten by the majority of the Irish people.

But why were they forgotten in the first place? Perhaps the main reason is that the battles were not fought in Ireland itself. If that much is true, the stereotypical collective memory of the Irish is not as long as is usually thought. Maybe the Irish in Ireland were completely ignorant of what was happening in North America, but it’s just really hard for me to believe that, even if social media wasn’t almighty at the time.

Some of them must have known what was going on, because there was hardly a family in the country which didn’t have at least one member based in that region during the 19th century. The largest and most prominent Irish nationalist movements on the scene during the 1860’s were:

  1. The Fenian Brotherhood: a group which was founded in the United States, which was based there, and many of whose members had the aforementioned military experience.
  2. The Irish Republican Brotherhood: a group founded in Ireland, which claimed that its members had engaged in widespread infiltration of the British army. If that much was true, there would be no need for this article.

One thing which cannot be denied is that these two groups helped to inspire the people behind the Easter Rising. The ordinary people of Ireland should be aware of that, right? Of course, because they were made aware during a documentary which was broadcast on RTÉ 1 earlier on this year. Liam Neeson even did the voiceover work, for God’s sake.

Needless to say, certain historians already knew this. Let us remember, however, that those guys are a queer lot because, from time to time, they take an interest in the story of the Irish outside of Ireland, who, of course, are not real Irish people…..except when we’re hounding them for tourist money. It is true, without a shadow of a doubt, that Ireland is the centre of the universe, in spite of:

  • The fact that it’s the smaller of the two islands in our little corner of  north-western Europe.
  • The fact it has had no significance whatsoever since its inhabitants abandoned their own language (that’s if we don’t count data protection legislation).
  • Everything that has been said by scientists for the last few thousand years.
  • The indisputable evidence that there are, in fact, such things as foreign people and countries.

So we have three choices:

  1. If the Easter Rising is to be commemorated, lets commemorate the deeds of the Fenians in Canada as well.
  2. If one is forgotten, lets forget the other as well, for the sake of logic if nothing else. When that’s done, a complete ban is to be imposed on the study of history.
  3. A competition can be organized in which a prize can be given to the first person who guesses which of the above two points was intended to be ironic.

In the end of the day, the Fenian raids did constitute an invasion of Canada. What would Kevin Vickers, a Canadian patriot who is also his nation’s current ambassador to the Republic of Ireland, say about such a ceremony? Let’s hope he wouldn’t take it as an insult. We all remember the way in which he dealt with a certain protestor a little while back…..

On the other hand, maybe he’d be happy to take part in a commemoration of the invasion. Bear in mind that it was a crucial period for Canada as a nation, because it was the first time the local people defended their native soil without (first) requesting aid from Great Britain. As for the Irish, isn’t it strange that they frequently commemorate the times they were defeated (at home and abroad), but that they usually remain quiet about the times they were victorious (at home and abroad)? That’s not so much a rhetorical question as an accusation, by the way.

Leagan Gaeilge

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