Speaker shares story, local tie to invaders of Canada

PENDLETON — Ask almost anybody in this area who the Fenians were and they probably couldn’t tell you. Anybody that is except Anabeth Radack and the people who attended her talk at the Pendleton Historical Museum on April 24.

The third in a series at the museum, Radeck spoke about the Fenians and their impact on Canada.

Radack who is originally from Anderson, lived in Japan for 30 years. During that time, she taught Spanish and German to students at a dependent school. A dependent is operated by the U.S. Department of Defense. She met her future husband while living in Japan; he taught science and math. They were married in Tokyo.

After retirement they moved to Indiana because their daughter was attending college here. Radack started looking for something to do to fill her time. She volunteered with the Pendleton Garden Club and was with them for 15 years.

While also volunteering at the Madison County Historical Society she came upon the story of the Fenians.

“I study the history of the churches in Madison County,” Radack said. “While reading through a list of priests at St. Mary’s I came upon the name John McMahon. He was imprisoned in during the Fenian invasion of Canada.”

This piqued her curiosity to find out more about the Fenians. She began studying and learned all she could about this secret society.

The Fenians were group of Irishmen who migrated to America during the potato famine in the 1840s.

Their complete title was the Fenian Brothers Circle. The Fenians named themselves for a group of mythical warriors in Ireland, the Fiana.

While all of the Fenians were believed to be Irish, not all were Catholic.

After the Civil War in the United States, the Fenians decided to invade Canada and seize Montreal. The plan was to trade Montreal and other territories back to England for Ireland’s freedom.

Using weapons and uniforms from the Civil War, the Fenians invaded five times from 1866 to 1871.

During the first fight, the Battle of Ridgeway, the Fenians crossed the Niagara River and ambushed the unsuspecting Canadians.

“At this time, the Canadians captured Father John McMahon along with some other Fenians and sentenced them to hang,”

Although McMahon claimed not to be a Fenian, he was not released and his sentence was reduced to 20 years.

He spent two years in prison while the U.S. government negotiated his release.

“The story became worldwide news — a story from Indianapolis about McMahon was reprinted in a Dublin Ireland paper,” Radack said.

The Fenians finally decided they were not going to be able to successfully invade Canada and were dissolved in 1880.

“The attempted invasions caused anti-American feelings among the Canadians,” Radack said. “But it was also a deciding factor in getting Canada to unite as one country and become the Dominion of Canada.”

An interesting side note: In 1868, 62 Fenians were deported to Australia.

“We know of at least one secret society in Anderson and there could have been more,” Radack said. “We will never know who was in the Fenian Society.”

It is believed that John and Patrick McGraw, brothers from Anderson, led the Anderson Fenians to the Canada invasion.

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