The Fenian dynamite campaign (1881 to 1885) forms part of the backdrop to my novel, The Bowes Inheritance. During my research I discovered some intriguing nuggets of information.
It appears that both sides in the American Civil War (1861-65) engaged in terrorist tactics, planting landmines and clockwork explosives to deliberately injure civilians and damage property to invoke terror. The American Fenians were only too happy to look back and borrow the idea, and when Mr. Alfred Nobel was good enough to invent dynamite in 1867, an easy means of causing mayhem was born.
A Professor Gaspodin Mezzeroff (who was, in fact, an Irishman but claimed to be Russian), under the instruction of Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, set up the Brooklyn Dynamite School in New York, where he trained students in do-it-yourself bomb making ($30 per 1 month course). The British police became aware of the American Fenians coming into Britain with their deadly ‘infernal machines’ and subsequently monitored the ports. This pushed the bomb making underground with the explosives being put together in kitchens and backrooms throughout the Irish enclaves of Britain.
In 1883, the British Metropolitan Police set up a small unit within the Criminal Investigation Department called The Special Irish Branch, in an effort to curb the Fenian threat. This would later become known as Special Branch. Ironically, it was a Kerryman, by the name of William Melville, who was one of the founding members of The Special Irish Branch and his remit included dealing with anarchists of all nationalities. In 1893 he became Superintendent and ten years later he was secretly recruited to lead a new intelligence section in the War Office, which eventually became known as M05.
Melville, using the alias William Morgan, ran intelligence operations from a flat in London, using his knowledge and contacts from his years running Special Branch. In 1916, MO5 became MI5 and it is speculated that Melville then became the head of the British Secret Service with the code name “M”
… sound familiar?
If you’d like to know more about the Fenian terrorists, get comfortable with a vodka martini (shaken not stirred) and take a peek at Shane Kenna’s book – War in the Shadows.