History of the Metropolitan Police
The Fenians and the IRA
The Fenians were 19th Century Irish Nationalists organised in 1858 as the Irish Republican Brotherhood in Ireland, and in 1867 as the Clan na Gael in the US. The name derives from old Irish 'Fianna', legendary Irish warriors whose name became an Irish term for soldiers.
Their activities included the Clerkenwell Bombing in 1867, in which 12 people were killed and 126 injured as the Fenians attempted to rescue two of their members.
Police inspect the scene of the Clerkenwell explosion
They conducted a bombing campaign between 1883 and 1885, of which the Bombing of Scotland Yard was certainly the most embarrassing for the Met.
In 1883 Scotland Yard received an anonymous letter threatening to 'blow Superintendent Williamson off his stool' and dynamite all the public buildings in London on 30 May 1884. On the predicted night, shortly before 9pm, the CID and Special Irish Branch headquarters were indeed successfully bombed, although since the building was empty only neighbours and a cabman were injured by shattered glass. The bomb was concealed in a cast-iron urinal on the corner of a detached building in the centre of Great Scotland Yard which now housed the CID. Williamson's office was completely destroyed. That same night, bombs went off in the basement of the Carlton Club and outside Sir Watkin Wynne's house, and an unexploded bomb was found at the foot of Nelson's column.
Damage caused to Scotland Yard and the Rising Sun public house following the Fenian bombing
The failure of Scotland Yard to protect its own offices, and the subsequent successful explosion of Fenian bombs under London Bridge, in the Tower of London and in the House of Commons the following year did much to lower the reputation of the Metropolitan Police.
The activities of the Fenians led to the formation of Special Branch (Initially the Special Irish Branch) as the first specialist operational Sub-Division of the CID. The Irish Republican Army effectively continued the Fenian's work after the failed Easter Rising of 1916.
The British reaction to the rising shocked the Irish people when the 16 leaders were executed, so whereas the Fenian Irish Republican Brotherhood had been the unpopular extremist wing of the Nationalist movement, it became possible from 1919 for the IRA to command the mass support required for successful guerrilla activity against an occupying power.