The American Connection
IN EXTRA-PARLIAMENTARY as in constitutional inflexion, Liverpool was the pivot of Irish politics in Britain. A cause of much concern to the authorities, there were persistent fears of violent disturbance and commercial catastrophe, in particular the destruction of shipping and warehouses, either in simultaneous support of a 'rising' in Ireland or as a diversion to hinder the despatch of troop reinforcements across the Irish Sea. The hub of the wider Irish diaspora, Liverpool was also the first point of contact for returning Irish-Americans with their 'republican spirit and military science'.1 The source of funds and arms for separatist physical force endeavour, Irish America also supplied the requisite accentuated anti-British sentiment. 'I have been speaking to persons recently returned from America who tell me that there is a very strong feeling of enmity amongst all classes of the Irish against the British Government' one of the Dublin police officers stationed in Liverpool to keep watch on trans-Atlantic shipping reported: 'That the emigration caused by eviction, the sufferings, deaths, and hardships during the voyage, the disappointments and heartburnings on the other side, are all laid to the charge of the Government … for imaginary causes or otherwise a very bad feeling exists among the Irish.'2
This chapter examines three episodes which illustrate the critical but changing nature of this American connection. The Confederates of 1848 were emboldened by the prospect of the arrival of an Irish Brigade from New York but waited in vain. As if by amends, Liverpool became the centre of operations for the 'Irish-Yankee' officers of the Fenian army, battle-trained in the American Civil War. These were the years of greatest anxiety for the authorities, their fears
1 John Belchem, 'Republican spirit and military science: The “Irish Brigade” and Irish-
American nationalism in 1848', Irish Historical Studies, 29, 1994, pp.44–65.
2 NAD, 3/715/1 Police Reports Box 4, Head Constable McHale, 18 Sept. 1865.