Is "Fenian" a banned word in the U.K.?

I was on another message board and a bit of a ruckus broke out over the use of the word “Fenian”. A Scottish poster asserted that it’s against the law to use the word “Fenian”, because of its links to the IRA. General ill-feelings developed and eventually, that thread got closed after substantial editing.

I don’t want to start a board war so I won’t link to it, but I wonder if anyone can shed light on this? Is it true that the use of “Fenian” is somehow illegal? Seems doubtful to me, since the Siin Féin are a recognized political party in Northern Ireland, but would welcome any clarification.

That word is on a Pogues album from 1987, and they’re from England… So I don’t think it’s illegal to use it.

Anyway, I’ve never heard of words being completely illegal; only illegal in certain contexts (fighting words, etc.).

that was my reaction as well - I could see that in a particular context, the use of the word could be seen as inciting violence, or its use could be incendiary enough that a resutling fight might not amount to assault, or so on.

It’s certainly not yet illegal to use it - although, the proposed legislation on “glorifying terrorism” may change that. :frowning:

It’s certainly a rather inflammatory word to use unless you’re sure all of your audience are generally sympathetic to the Irish Nationalist movement.

A search for the word “Fenian” on the Amazon UK website shows 33 books with the word in the title.

And here’s a newspaper review of one of those books, in which the word “Fenian” appears 12 times.

And this is a government website.

Yeah, i’ve been following the progress of that legislation.

It’s worrying stuff.

most people here wouldn’t know what it meant, let alone object to it.

… unless they’re an Irish Catholic Nationalist being insulted by a British (or Irish) [not necessarily Protestant] Unionist.

It’s pretty arcane otherwise.

So, what does it mean?

Arcane enough that someone should post what it means?

Originally, a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood that sought to expel the English from Ireland in the mid 19th c. by revolutionary violence (or if you’re Canadian, one of the Irish-American Civil War veterans who decided to start liberating Ireland by invading Canada in the 1860s)

The Fenian Brotherhood were a bunch of Irish Nationalist revolutionaries in the nineteenth century, operating in Ireland and the United States. They did things like organizing armed raids into Canada, to obtain money, arms, publicity and support for an uprising against the British (this took place, in fact, in 1867, and was pretty much an abject failure). The word is vaguely derived from the Irish Gaelic fianna.

By implication, I suppose, if you’re calling someone a Fenian, you’re saying they’re a terrorist … inflammatory, certainly, but I wonder if, even under Blair’s proposed legislation, it would be possible to stretch a point far enough to call it illegal. I am not aware of any laws under which words are illegal in England (although, in context, some may be deemed to be obscene, or derogatory, or defamatory, and this can lead to civil or criminal penalties … )

Anyway. I’m British, I’ve just used the word “Fenian”, posting from a computer in England … perhaps I should return to this thread tomorrow, just to reassure everyone that I haven’t been seized by Special Branch and dragged off to a New Labour gulag somewhere …

In Scotland, and more so the west coast of scotland, it is (more often than not) a derogatory term for a Roman Catholic. As such it has connotations of sectarianism or religious discrimination and I think is covered by existing legislation, notwithstanding the new legislation mentioned above.

The Irish Famine saw an influx of immigrants to Scotland who settled mainly around the Glasgow area and were a Catholic minority in a largely Protestant country.

Celtic Football (soccer) Club were formed in 1888 in order to support the poor of Glasgow’s east end (mostly the irish catholic immigrants) and to this day still draw the bulk of it’s support from the descendents of this stock.

Rangers F.C., their main city rivals, became identified as the “Protestant” club (and in fact had a ‘no catholics’ signing policy until about 20 yrs ago) probably as a reaction to this.

Since Celtic and Rangers are the two biggest clubs in Scotland, they have more often than not been going head-to-head for domestic honours. This rivalry has seen the term live on and be used as described above and also (and i would say more often) as a derogatory term/insult for Celtic supporters.

In and of itself, not sectarian or bigotted (IMO), but in the context it is used in Scotland, mildly so. There’s generally a number of arrests at Celtic v Rangers (or Auld Firm) derby matches for sectarian offences link . I think about 40 or so Rangers fans were lifted at the last one for singing the cheerful ditty “The Billy Boys”, with the line “up to our knees in fenian blood, surrender or you’ll die”. I’m not sure about Celtic arrests, but i would be very surprised if there had been none.

As a Celtic supporter, I don’t find it that offensive. Some friends (more interested in Irish history & nationalism) view it as a badge of honour, having co-opted it in much the same way as I believe African-Americans have with the word “nigger”.

Woo, my first post…

Also exists, in a somewhat milder form, in the rivalry between Edinburgh teams Hiberians and Hearts of Midlothian

Hibernians, darned finger troubles

There’s a band in Southern California called The Fenians. They seem to have performed in most parts of the US and also in Ireland several times. No mention of performances in the UK, though.

I’ve seen 'em a couple of times. Until this thread I had no idea that their name was so potentially loaded…

I, jokingly, have been called a fenian a few times. It certainly isn’t illegal, although it’s probably not a good idea to call someone that in a few areas in Scotland. “Tim” is another sectarian nickname for Catholics.

Huh. The only other time I’ve seen the term is in White Wolf’s World Of Darkness-Sorcerer. In that, the Fenian are an ancient group combining the lineage of both the Seelie fairies, and the Fianna (the werewolf clan of Ireland)


Thanks for all the comments, everyone. Sounds to me like the poster on the other board was incorrect about the word being ipso facto banned, but subject to the possibility that in the right context, its use might be seen as inciting violence. Is that what you mean, mtk_ about it being “covered by existing legislation”?

And a fine first post it is. If you keep at that standard you’ll be welcome addition to the boards!

Wasn’t George Bernard Shaw a Fenian? It fits his malcontent personna.