Continued from last week When Robert Johnston came to Belfast in 1868 Fenianism as the IRB was known, was at a low ebb. The head of the IRB in Belfast, Frank Roney had been imprisoned and on his release was forced into exile and had headed to America. His successor, William Harbinson, had been arrested and died in prison in September 1867. The loss of these leaders coupled with the abysmal failure of the Fenian rising in Dublin in March 1867 meant that heads were below the parapet. In Belfast, Fenians now infiltrated other organisations making advanced speeches and enrolling men into their ranks. Likewise, the Catholic Institute, founded by Catholic merchants to provide reading rooms for their co-religionists, was utilised by IRB man John Griffith for subversive purposes, much to the irritation of Bishop Dorrian. Robert Johnston’s humble beginnings as a labourer meant he could easily approach people while his success in business gave him the opportunity to travel and meet and mix with the national and American leaders. Gradually he built up the numbers in Belfast and by the end of the 1870s the IRB was back to full strength in the city. Johnston became a frequent visitor to America, visiting Fenian and Clan na Gael leaders in New York, Chicago and as far north as New Brunswick in Canada. He collected samples of mineral ores, dabbled in gold mining and studied the economy of every area he visited. He believed that gold, silver, lead and other minerals might be mined in Ireland. He always advocated the establishment of new industries financed by Irish capital. On one occasion when he gave a speech in Belfast on these lines he had a conversation with a man called Thomas Gallaher.