Spies, Invasions, and Dynamite: Radical Irish America in the Late 19th Century

Friday, January 4, 2019: 1:50 PM
Wilson Room (Palmer House Hilton)
Gillian O'Brien, Liverpool John Moores University
The story of Henri le Caron is a story of deception, international espionage, betrayal, patriotism and murder. As an Englishman masquerading as a Frenchman, he pledged his loyalty to an Irish Republic while also serving the British Crown. He plotted invasions of Canada and helped launch a ‘dynamite war’ on Britain, all while diligently reporting his own activities to his handler, Robert Anderson, in London.

From 1868 until 1889 Le Caron, a medical doctor and pharmacist who was based in Chicago and small towns across Illinois, reported on the secret operations of radical Irish America, where violent republicanism and constitutional nationalism often existed side by side. Le Caron organised (and simultaneously thwarted) two invasions of Canada in the 1870s and helped foil bomb plots intended to destroy key targets in London (including the Houses of Parliament, Scotland Yard and several Tube stations).

This paper will examine transnational links between Scotland Yard and its spies in the United States and Canada. It will consider why Chicago became the centre of radical Irish America and to what extent this was bound up with developments in the Catholic church. It will analyse why Irish American radicals were considered such a threat to British security and will assess the key roles that Henri le Caron and Robert Anderson played in undermining the plans of secret revolutionary societies such as the Fenians and Clan na Gael.