Hugh Delargy

Hugh Delargy was born in 1908 and, after going to an elementary school, won a scholarship to study in Paris and Rome. During the Depression he worked as a labourer and insurance agent. He was elected as a Labour Councillor in Manchester in 1937 and remained on the Council until 1946. He was an active supporter of the Connolly Club (later the Connolly association) in its early years, speaking in May 1939 at the James Connolly commemoration organised by the Club in London and writing in the August issue of Irish Freedom on National Unity. He was also active in Manchester in both the Irish Prisoners National Aid Society for whom he raised £50 and the Anti-Partition League in Manchester who published his pamphlet, The Last Quarrel.
During the Second World War he served in the Royal Artillery, reaching the rank of Captain.

The Friends of Ireland

Hugh Delargy was elected as a Labour MP for Miles Platting in July 1945, inheriting the seat from JR Clynes For the first time the Labour party had an outright majority in the House of Commons and there were hopes that the new government would act on the Irish question. In December 1945 Delargy established the Friends of Ireland, a group of about 50 Labour MPs, and became its first secretary. Henry McGhee, son of the dock workers leader, took over as secretary in April 1946

The new group said that its primary contacts would be with the Irish TUC and Irish Labour parties, both north and south. In January 1946 Delargy spoke at a rally in Belfast while other MPs from the Friends of Ireland group visited the north and south of Ireland. On his return Delargy was welcomed by a social at Chorlton-on-Medlock Town Hall , organised by Eddie Lenehan and others, at which the entertainment was provided by Tommy Collins and his Ceilidhe band, MacSwiney pipers, Billy Kelly’s troupe of dancers, Kathleen O’Reilly and Margaret Cox.

Following their visit the Friends of Ireland called for an end to partition and said that the Six County government of Basil Brook was completely out of step with the Labour government in Britain and that the unity of North and South could only be achieved by Labour governments in both parts of Ireland. In March Delargy spoke in Dublin at the Mansion House and attacked partition. The group also lobbied the Home Secretary Chuter Ede over the 60 or so Irish prisoners still in jail but he initially refused to reconsider their sentences . Eventually the Home Office made some concessions and the last two prisoners were released from Parkhurst in December 1948.

In 1948 the Irish Free State (established by the treaty of 1921) repealed the 1937 External Relations Act, taking Ireland out of the Commonwealth and declaring it to be a Republic on Easter Monday 1949 (though of course a 26-county Republic). The Labour government responded by passing the Government of Ireland Act , which declared that no change in the status of Northern Ireland could be made without the consent of the government of Northern Ireland. It also decreed that Irish citizens living in Britain would not be treated as foreigners.

In April 1949 the King George VI sent the following message to the President Of Ireland, Sean O’Kelly.

“I send you my sincere good wishes on this day, being well aware of the neighbourly links which hold the people of the Republic of Ireland in close association with my subjects of the United Kingdom. I hold in most grateful memory the services and sacrifices of the men and women of your country who rendered gallant assistance to our cause in the recent war and who made a notable contribution to our victories. I pray that every blessing may be with you today and in the future.” (Signed) GEORGE R.

The Friends naturally opposed the Act but attempts to raise it at the Labour party conference in 1949 were blocked. Labour’s majority was reduced to a handful in the 1950 general election and the Friends group seems to have dissolved with little to show for five years of activity. Partition was still firmly in place, indeed it had strengthened by the Labour government.

The Anti-Partition League

Delargy was initially close to, if not a member of, the Connolly Association but after several years in parliament he moved his support to the Anti-Partition League. This was established by two Irish nationalist MPs in Northern Ireland – Eddie McAteer and Malachy O’Conlon – in November 1945 to bring together Irish nationalists to campaign for a United Ireland. As well as in Ireland, branches were also established in Britain.

The League held a big rally in Manchester in February 1947, a dance in September and a campaign in the autumn during which the nationalist MP Eddie McAteer spoke in Manchester. The Manchester area committee included J E Lyons (chair), Alderman B MacManus (vice-chair) and Mrs S Ogden (treasurer). There was also a branch of the League in Rusholme, where the committee included T Watters, J Garvin, E Lenehan and T Wicksteed. The Central Executive of the League met in Manchester on 11th October. Other branches were formed in Moss Side where the chairman was George Spain, and St Patrick’s, where the dean of St Patrick’s church was elected chair and Hugh Delargy addressed the new branch.

Delargy was elected National Chair at the APL conference in Manchester in June 1948. The conference dinner was provided by the Irish Press, the newspaper founded by Eamon De Valera. That same year De Valera embarked on a campaign of speeches on the partition issue in Britain. In October 1947 he was the guest of Celtic at the annual clash with Rangers and spoke in St Andrew’s Hall.

In November he came to Manchester to attend the annual Manchester Martyrs commemoration, during which he unveiled a tablet in Moston cemetery to the memory of Seamus Barrett, a veteran Manchester Fenian of the1930s, and then went on to addressed a rally at Belle Vue attended by six thousand people who, according to the press, gave him a rapturous welcome. He told his audience that “if you want to be on good terms with your neighbour don’t start by encamping in his garden.” Hugh Delargy also spoke and provoked a great cheer when he described Ireland as “a nation which has suffered more in the cause of justice and freedom than any other nation and heaven.”

In 1949 the Manchester branch of the League called on the Irish to withdraw support from municipal candidates in protest at the Government of Ireland Act introduced by the Labour party. Hugh Delargy resigned from the League at the end of the year when the organisation decided to oppose Labour parliamentary candidates. The League stood four candidates in the 1950 general election in Bootle, Coatbridge, Greenock and Gorbals, (attracting between 2% and 5% of the vote) and a single candidate in the 1951 general election in Bootle, who attracted 1,370 votes, some 2.7% of the vote. The results spelt out that whatever their private political views, the question of partition alone was never going to be of sufficient urgency to attract a mass vote by Irish people in Britain. By the end of the 1950s the League was in terminal decline and in 1962 changed its name to the United Ireland Association. Its organiser Tadgh Feehan took a job in the Irish Embassy.

Hugh Delargy’s seat of Miles Platting was abolished under boundary changes in 1950. He was then elected for Thurrock which he represented until his death in 1976. There is a tablet in his memory in St Mary Roman Catholic cemetery in Kensal Green, London.

O n 5 December 1974 he made the following speech in the House of Commons, a few days after the Birmingham bombings

You will be relieved to hear, Mr Deputy Speaker, that I do not propose to speak for more than a few minutes. The Secretary of State will be equally relieved to hear that I have no solution whatever to offer of the Ulster problem. In fact, I had no intention of speaking in the debate or even of listening to it until about lunchtime today. I consider that at this moment speeches made about Northern Ireland—my speeches, certainly —are a complete waste of time. Then why, if I think so, am I speaking now?
I am speaking now because this morning, through the post, I received a pamphlet which no other hon. Member has received. It is a pamphlet about Ulster’s problems called, “The Ulster Quarrel”, price one old penny—from which it may be deduced that it is not a modern pamphlet. In fact, it was written 36 years ago very hurriedly, to coincide with a meeting called in the Manchester Free Trade Hall at which the principal speaker was a young man called Erskine Childers, who died recently as President of the Republic of Ireland.
On reading the pamphlet, I was surprised to see how much of it was up to date. It touched on social problems, which I regret to say have not been mentioned today, which have been the cause of all the horrors and unrest of the last five years. The pamphlet was written with English people in mind. The author was of the opinion that there was some conspiracy of silence about what was going on in the North of Ireland.
When I heard the mistaken speech today of my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr Dalyell), in which he said that a TV and news black-out would assist in solving the Irish problem, I could only reflect that 50 years of silence has helped to create it. We were never allowed to debate Northern Ireland in this House. When we asked questions about injustice, evictions, discrimination and the rest, we were always told that they had nothing to do with us, that they were internal matters which came under the jurisdiction of Stormont.
…… We were told that it was the affair of Stormont and not of this House, in spite of the fact that the Government of Ireland Act said quite specifically that ultimately the responsibility for Northern Ireland rested here. Therefore, the two main parties in this House have a great deal to answer for. They have great guilt on their shoulders for what is happening.
I said that the pamphlet was, in a sense, up to date. We read again from the pamphlet about entry without warrant, detention for any unlimited period, and internment without trial. It was all going on then under the Special Powers Act with the help of the B Specials and the armed police. There was not much difference from what is taking place now.
I can give some of the reasons for the unrest in Northern Ireland. I have quotations here. I said that this was an old pamphlet from men who are now long dead. However, I shall give only three short quotations from three Prime Ministers of Northern Ireland. I start with Lord Craigavon and with his famous slogan Ours is a Protestant Parliament for a Protestant people. I cannot remember one Unionist saying anything to the contrary. Then his successor, Mr Andrews—I believe he was his immediate successor—said when he was Minister of Labour that he had heard a rumour that of the 31 porters at Stormont—porters; God help us—28 were Catholics. He also said: I have investigated this matter and have found that there are 30 Protestants and only one Catholic, and he is there only temporarily. We all remember the third Prime Minister I shall quote, Sir Basil Brooke, later Lord Brookeborough. He said: Many in this audience employ Catholics, but I would not have one about my place. A year later, when he had had opportunity to reflect upon it and when he had read what the newspaper editorials had said about that statement, he said: When I made that declaration I did so after careful consideration. What I said was justified. I recommend people not to employ Roman Catholics. I do not wish to resurrect old bones. The whole point of my speech is that what we are debating now we should have been debating years and years ago, because the same conditions applied then as apply now.
I should like to tell hon. Members, in another way, how these same conditions apply. The pamphlet from which I have quoted was written 36 years ago and was a great success. There were only 5,000 copies of the first printing because it had to be printed in a hurry for the meeting about which I spoke. The first printing sold out in two days. But there was never a second printing, because several hours after the meeting in the Manchester Free Trade Hall, in the early hours of the morning a mysterious explosion occurred, which killed a man on his way to work at the market. After a little while it was established that this explosion had been caused by a bomb set by an organisation of which most people in England then had never heard—the IRA.
Other explosions occurred, and other people were killed by bombs set by the IRA. The IRA did not simply kill all those innocent people. The IRA killed hope and the good will of men who were trying to seek a peaceful solution to the problems. The IRA killed the efforts that men of good will were making to enlist the sympathy of the people of England, from whom the truth was being withheld by Parliament and the Press.
The immense harm which the IRA did then it has multiplied since. No one condemns the IRA more strongly than I do. I have been talking about a pamphlet. I may as well tell the House now, of course, that I wrote it. I was a brash young man in those days. I imagined that I could change people’s opinions. I know better now. No one takes the slightest notice of anything I say. I have no need to be reminded of that. When one has been a Member of the House for 30 years, always in the obscurity of the back benches, one has no need to be reminded that one is of no significance. Nevertheless, it is still one’s duty to say what one thinks, and I am saying that now.
I have no solutions to offer. I felt that Sunningdale was a solution. I am still grateful to any pay homage to the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr Whitelaw) and all those associated with him who negotiated that agreement.
…..The Sunningdale Agreement was accepted by the Labour Party when it came to power, and we all rejoiced. Although I have always been in favour of a united Ireland, I think that there is something in what was said by the hon. and learned Member for Blackpool, North (Mr Mis-Campbell). If by dropping this talk of an Irish dimension we can get peace in Northern Ireland, I might even go that far. Anything for peace, to save lives.
But Sunningdale was scrapped, largely because of a strike which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr Fitt) said in the best speech of the debate so far, had nothing whatever to do with industrial conditions but was a political strike. The Government did not know how to handle that strike. They should have known how to handle it, and they could have handled it.
….I am sorry that I have spoken for longer than I had intended. I am not very optimistic about the Convention—not after Sunningdale—and I have never been optimistic about Northern Ireland. When my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr Dalyell) said that he originally thought that British troops were going to Northern Ireland as part of a fire brigade operation lasting three or four months I could not help recalling that I told the then Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr Callaghan) that the troops would probably be there for several years. I also said then that there should be a separate Minister for Northern Ireland and I was sneered at. Now we have four.
Suppose there is a strike after the Convention. What will the Government do then? Will they be blackmailed once again? We have a right to be told. We have a right—and this has been asked from both sides of the House—to know what is the minimum the Government expect to achieve before the Convention meets. The right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mr Gilmour) mentioned the possibility of violent organisations which are not proscribed being called in for consultation. The hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Mr Dunlop) tackled me over the action of the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr Whitelaw) in consulting the IRA. Are the Government planning to consult these non-proscribed organisations? I am frightened about this, because the last words which were spoken in our 17-hour debate which ended last Friday morning concerned the refusal of the Home Secretary to proscribe in his terrorist Bill the UDA, the UFF and the Red Hand Commandos. Those organisations should have been included and I was in favour of pressing the point in a Division. If there had been one I would have voted for the third time that night against my Government, and I would have done it with a glad heart, because I knew that I was right.
I have always considered my speeches on this subject to be a waste of time. I have no solution to offer, but I should like an answer to my questions. I apologise to the House for having wasted its time.

Article by Michael Herbert

The Connolly Association in Manchester 1938-1962

The Connolly Association – originally the Connolly Club – was founded in 1938 from the ashes of two earlier Irish republican organisations. For nearly thirty years it campaigned from a left-wing perspective for Irish civil rights.

The Connolly Association was originally called the Connolly Club. The organisation emerged from a merger of the London branch of Republican Congress (a political organisation established in April 1934 by left-wing Republicans such as Frank Ryan and Peadar O’Donnell, which called for the creation of a Workers’ Republic) and the Irish section of the League Against Imperialism, an international socialist organisation which had been established in 1927 and disbanded in 1937.

By 1936 the Republican Congress was defunct but activity continued in London leading to the formation of the Connolly Club on 4th September 1938 at a meeting in the AEU Hall, Doughty Street. The first organiser, until his return to Ireland, was Michael McInerney. Other active members in the early years were Jim Prendergast and Patrick Musgrove.

In January 1939 the Club published the first issue of its monthly newspaper Irish Freedom (later renamed the Irish Democrat) which cost twopence. The editorial noted that it was the latest in a long line of papers with the same name and asserted that the demand for Irish freedom “will never be crushed, will never be eliminated except by satisfaction.”

An article in the paper countered the myth that the Irish were “job stealers”, arguing that the question of Irish people living in England could be used by:


“Fascist minded people in the same way as the Jewish people have been used by Hitler. In order to take the minds of the British people away from the real cause of the misery existing in England, campaigns are being organised in such places as the Midlands, Coventry, Birmingham etc where unemployment is high, against the Irish.”

The writer finished by urging the Irish to join trade unions or the National Unemployed Workers Movement. The Connolly Club used Irish Freedom to establish its organisation, gradually building up its sales in major Irish centres around Britain

At the onset of the war in September Irish Freedom proclaimed that the Connolly Club stood for “Freedom Unity and Democracy” but that they had no faith in Chamberlain. “We therefore state that the best manner in which we, as Irish workers, can play our part in this grave struggle is to unite our forces, irrespective of party or political differences, to smash the one barrier that prevents our country being able to play a more effective part in the war against fascist aggression, the partition of Ireland.” The paper also published the statement of the Communist Party of Ireland on the war.

At the annual conference of the Connolly Association in the autumn of 1945 the Manchester delegate was Jimmy McGill, a tunnelling worker from Donegal, who was warmly congratulated by delegates on his lively account of branch activities in the city. Jimmy eventually left the building trade to run a second-hand bookshop in Waterloo Place, Oxford Road. The shop was barely heated but the fortunate visitor might find a whiskey bottle in circulation amongst regulars to fend off the cold. Sadly, after his death, Jimmy’s own very extensive collection of books on Irish history did not find its way to a library. The secretary in Manchester in the late 1940s seems to have been Arthur Gracey, who lived on Talbot Road in Old Trafford.

In the immediate post-war period the organisation continued its campaigns on passports, welfare and conditions in hostels where they held a number of meetings. But as the restrictions on travel were lifted and employment conditions improved it switched its focus back to making propaganda for socialism and to raising the question of partition in the British labour movement as well as lobbying for the release of Irish Republican prisoners in Britain. Whilst there were close links with the Friends of Ireland group in parliament, there was little love lost between the Connolly Association and the Anti-Partition League, because the latter echoed the conservative Catholic nationalism of De Valera and was opposed to socialism.

Desmond Greaves became editor of the Irish Democrat in early 1948 . Greaves had been born in 1913 in Birkenhead into a Protestant family which hailed originally from Newcastle, County Down and studied at Liverpool University where he joined the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1934, remaining a member for the rest of his life. He also became interested in Irish politics and sold the paper Republican Congress in Irish districts of Liverpool.

In 1937 he went to London where he became acquainted with leading Communists such as T A Jackson, who had a strong interest in Ireland, having known James Connolly personally. He eventually went on to write the classic Irish history Ireland Her Own. During the war Greaves worked at Woolwich Arsenal and afterwards became chief scientist at Powell Duffryn.

He joined the Connolly Club in 1941 and in 1951 he gave up full-time work to devote himself to the Connolly Association and the Irish Democrat, much of which he wrote himself as well as supervising the printing, distribution and sales. In the course of fifty years of political activity Desmond must have spoken at thousands of meetings, indoors and outdoors, from a packed public hall to a handful of people in a room above a pub.

A voluminous correspondent, he had a huge network of contacts across Ireland and Britain and beyond, which enabled the Connolly Association to wield much more influence than its modest membership might have indicated. In addition to his writing in the Irish Democrat Desmond also wrote pamphlets and somehow found the time to write a number of important history books, most notably The Life and Times of James Connolly, published in 1961, and Liam Mellows and the Irish Revolution, published in 1971. He died suddenly in 1988 whilst travelling back on a train from a meeting, a political activist to the end.

In 1955 the Connolly Association adopted a new constitution which expressed two aims; to win support in Britain for a united independent Ireland and to stand for equal treatment for the Irish in Britain. The organisation also pledged itself to continue to publish and make known “the teachings of the great representatives of Irish democratic republicanism, especially of the socialist James Connolly.” A pamphlet published by the Birmingham branch argued that emigration was not just the result of unemployment and low wages at home in Ireland but also caused by partition hindered industrial development. It stated that:

“…a united Ireland would make it easier to get a united working class and this would make for a higher standard of living, which is the great cause of employment.”

The report at the 1958 conference summed up the organisation’s achievements.

“Month by month members have sold the Irish Democrat. Through this means the policy of the Association have been brought before many thousands of Irish people in Britain and important sections of the trade union and labour movement. In addition to this there is readership in Ireland and other parts of the world, principally Canada and Australia. The various campaigns of the association have been publicised and anti-Irish discrimination has been exposed. Many hundreds of public meetings have been held throughout Britain; thousands of leaflets on special topics have been distributed; MPs have been effectively lobbied and regular branch meetings with talks and discussions have been held in the main centres, principally London and Manchester. London and Manchester remain the two strongholds, and organisational difficulties previously hampering the work because of the lack of premises were overcome by the acquisition of a new central office in London and new premises in Manchester.”

In 1958 the Connolly Association sent the English lawyer John Hostettler over to Belfast to cover the trial of Kevin Mallon and Francis Talbot, two Republicans accused of murdering a member of the RUC in Tyrone. Both men claimed that they had been beaten to obtain confessions. There were three trials associated with the case and Hostettler observed them all. Eventually the two men were acquitted. On his return Hostettler spoke at meetings all over Britain, including in Manchester, about what was going on in the North of Ireland and wrote a pamphlet which laid bare the workings of the Special Powers Act.

The branch in Manchester was active throughout most of the 1950s and into the 60s. Membership was boosted by the collapse of the Anti-Partition League, some of whose leading members, such as Daniel Kilcommins, now joined the Connolly Association. Joe Deighan, originally from the Falls Road, became Secretary of the Manchester Connolly Association and also served as national president of the Association. Tommy Watters was also an active member. Many of the leading members of the branch were also active in the trade union movement. Tommy Watters was a printer and Father of the Chapel, Danny Kilcommins was chairman of his ASW branch while Joe Deighan was a delegate to the Manchester Trades Union Council.

The branch had an office at 94/96 Grosvenor Street, All Saints where there was also a hall which they used for socials. There were regular meetings at these premises for members with guest speakers. In March 1961, for instance, Desmond Greaves spoke on “In Search of Connolly” while John Hostettler spoke on “Human Rights in Northern Ireland and Britain’s Responsibility.”

The branch also held meetings every Sunday at Platt Fields. These ran into trouble in April 1954 when an official from the Manchester Corporation told them to take down the Irish tricolour. They refused, so he tore it down. After protests the council eventually backed down over the issue.

In November 1959 the branch issued a manifesto which called for a good turnout for the annual Manchester Martyrs procession on 29th November and also called for the organisation to be allowed to join the memorial committee. It seems likely that they had been kept off because in the climate of the cold-war politics of the1950s they were seen as too left-wing. The manifesto called for a united front of Irish organisations in Britain, arguing that the Connolly Association had a special contribution to make to the Irish cause because of its working class membership. They also said that the involvement of the branch on the Martyrs Committee would add young people to the commemoration, noting that “the Annual Commemoration in Moston has not deeply impressed itself on the Irish who have recently come from Ireland.”

“So isn’t it obvious that the Connolly Association should be represented on the Martyrs committee – along with all other Irish organisations who are prepared to help to keep this historic national commemoration going year by year. Our participation would completely rejuvenate the event, increase the attendance by hundreds, and would not alter its fundamental character to the slightest degree – indeed we should get back to what Seamus Barratt and the original committee stood for, not the affair of some of the Irish but the affair of all the Irish.”

In March 1960 four members – Joe Deighan, Daniel Kilcommins, Michael Rabbitt and Michael Crowe – were arrested whilst selling the Irish Democrat on Oxford Road, a place they had been selling in for seven years with no trouble. The police alleged that they were causing an obstruction and next morning visited their houses, though no charges were brought in the end.

In May 1960 the Association joined with other Irish organisations in Manchester in protesting when a Mr McMillans, Park Superintendent, banned Gaelic games from Manchester parks on the grounds that they were “not a recognised game,” even though hurling had been played in Platt Fields for nearly forty years. Manchester Corporation backed down and agreed that Gaelic games could be played once more after a form had been filled in.

The Manchester branch attempted to stir public interest in what was happening in Northern Ireland by organising a protest march against the continued imposition of internment by the Stormont government. This took place on Sunday 18th September 1960 when about a thousand people walked from Platt Fields to All Saints led by the Kerry pipe band and Kathleen O’Reilly’s girl dancers clad in Irish national costume. Some unions sent banners and messages of support were received from a number of local MPs, including Frank Allaun and Konni Zilliacus.

In November 1963 the branch made a significant contribution to the history of the Irish in Manchester when they published a pamphlet entitled The Story of the Manchester Martyrs, researched and written by two members of the association Jimmy McGill and Tom Redmond. In 1966 Desmond Greaves spoke on The Epic of 1916 and What It Means For Us today at a meeting on Easter Sunday in Chorlton Town Hall.

In the summer of 1961 the Connolly Association organised a national march from London to Birmingham as a way of bringing to public attention their campaign on the Six Counties. They called for the repeal of the Special Powers Act, an enquiry into the Government of Ireland Act, an amnesty for Republican prisoners and recognition by the Stormont government of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. There were fourteen marchers (including a number from Manchester) who set off from London on 25th June carrying a banner which read “Ireland One Country”. They included Tom Redmond, Aine Redmond, Sean Redmond, Desmond Greaves and Chris Sullivan. Walking in temperatures in the mid 80s they spoke at meetings along the way and arrived in Birmingham on 2nd July when, to their great relief, it finally rained.

Planning for a second march began immediately, this time organised by the Manchester branch of the Association, which departed from Liverpool on 25th August after an address by Eric Heffer, vice-president of the Trades Council. The marchers this time were Joe Deighan, Desmond Greaves, Danny Kilcommins, Sean and Aine Redmond.

On the way into Manchester the marchers were given a police motor-cycle escort until they reached Platt Fields. After an outdoor meeting in Hulme the marchers headed north to Oldham, making a slight diversion to Moston cemetery where they intended to place a wreath on the grave of Seamus Barrett. On arrival at the gates of the cemetery they found them guarded by a large posse of police who directed them to the far side of the road. A cemetery official informed them that the grave was the property of the Gaelic League, who had not given permission for a wreath to be placed. The marchers made it clear that they would not leave without laying the wreath. The stand-off was resolved when a Brother John was summoned who said that it had already been agreed that they could lay the wreath. And so they did and departed on their way, arriving at their final destination of Nottingham on 3rd September.

The third and most ambitious of the Connolly Association marches took place in the spring of 1962. This time the route was Liverpool to London, a distance of some 250 miles. The march left Liverpool on 30th March arriving in Manchester the following day where there was a public meeting at Chorlton Town Hall at which Tony Coughlan, Desmond Greaves, Sean Redmond and Joe Deighan spoke. Attempts to hold a factory-gate meeting the next day were defeated by the weather so two marchers went the offices of the Guardian on Cross Street to hand in some information about Northern Ireland, none of which was published. When they arrived in Macclesfield they found the town in uproar over rents and the town hall being barricaded for the second night running. The march arrived in London in mid April.

Looking back nearly 30 years later Tony Coughlan reflected that the marches

“were modest enough affairs, a couple of dozen Irish men and women giving up part of their annual holidays to try to show what the British government were permitting Brookeborough and co to get up to in the Six Counties. Even though they were met with indifference and ridicule rather than brickbats, these can truthfully be said to have been the first Irish civil rights marches.”

Article by Michael Herbert

The Irish Self Determination League in Manchester

The Irish Self Determination league was a national organisation set up to rally support in Britain amongst the Irish population for the struggle for Irish independence between 1919 and 1921.

In December 1918 the nationalist party Sinn Fein won a majority of the seats in Ireland in the General Election (73 out of 105). They now implemented their policy of achieving separation from Britain by refusing to go to the Westminster parliament and on 21 January 1919 they met in Dublin and declared an Irish Republic. The British government refused to recognize and attempted to crush the new state with military force. The new government fought back with its own armed forces, the IRA.

In February 1919 Sinn Fein leaders Arthur Griffith, Eoin MacNeill and others addressed a huge and enthusiastic meeting at St. George’s Hall, Liverpool. Following this a conference was held in Manchester at which it was resolved to form the Irish Self Determination League. This was launched on 19th October at a meeting at the Free Trade Hall advertised as starting at 2.30pm, though the hall was full long before that time. At short notice the Palladium Picture House was engaged to cope with the overflow but that in turn was soon filled to capacity and so an impromptu meeting was held in the narrow street between the Free Trade Hall and the Theatre Royal. The Manchester Guardian estimated that some seven thousand people in all had attended the three meetings.

Arthur Griffith MP, S O’Mahoney MP and Sean Milroy (director of Sinn Fein’s operations) received a standing ovation on entering the Free Trade Hall. Griffith said that alone among European nations which answered to the requirements of the principle of self-determination, Ireland was still enslaved. English publicists and politicians had said that the Irish question was insoluble. “The only question in Ireland was whether they could get the burglar out of the house.” England, they countered, could solve the Irish question in five minutes by withdrawing her armed forces and permitting the Irish people the same right which Russia permitted Poland, the right to govern herself. Griffith recounted a recent incident.

“On Thursday last in Dublin, Lord Birkenhead arrived to create a favourable atmosphere for the reconciling of the Irish people and on the night of his arrival we in the Sinn Fein headquarters were served with another notice bidding us to consider ourselves suppressed. They have been telling us for the last three years we have been suppressed. They are adjuring us or assuring us that we cannot be other than suppressed. We have come to take these orders for suppression with a certain thankfulness to have bureaucracy which, for all its malignity and stupidity, seems still to have a sense of humour. Imagine, then, the people who profess to be setting up a committee to reconcile the Irish people using the morning of the visit of the angel of peace Lord Birkenhead to announce to the world and to us that we are suppressed. Well, we refused to be suppressed and we went on with the business we had arranged for the day. Some hours after we had transacted our business 800 soldiers, with many tanks, a number of machine guns and Lewis guns and 200 Dublin policemen, armed with automatic revolvers, came and surrounded the Lord Mayor’s residence. They remained there seven hours when they learned that the Convention they had come to suppress had already met and carried out its business”.

Sean Milroy said that the Irish Republic existed and would continue to exist when Lord French, Mr Ian Macpherson, Lord Birkenhead and the ‘other Empire muddlers’ had passed into oblivion. “There is a new Ireland to-day”, he insisted, “an Ireland which would never be content again to hang on to the hopes of what English politicians would do for her”. The meeting then enthusiastically passed a resolution demanding for Ireland the complete rights of self-determination, the withdrawal of the army of occupation, the reinstatement of Irish newspapers and the release of all political prisoners.

The ISDL quickly gathered momentum and by February 1920 the organisation was able to sell out the Royal Albert Hall for a major meeting, at which the speakers included Art O’Brien, Charlotte Despard, Arthur Griffith, Eoin MacNeill and P J Kelly (President of the ISDL). Kelly called for the release of the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Thomas Kelly, who was being held in Wormwood Scrubs along with over sixty other prisoners who had been deported and jailed in England. In June there was march and rally in Trafalgar Square and a Tory MP protested to the Home Secretary in the Commons about the fact that the flag of the Irish Republic had been carried through the streets of London “under police protection”.

A year after its launch the ISDL had over 200 branches across Britain. It also had its own newspaper the Irish Exile, first published in March 1921 by the London district of ISDL but after November 1921 published by the Central Executive of the League. The last issue appeared in June 1922.

Manchester was a major centre, claiming 7,465 members out of a national membership of nearly 39,000. Among those active in Manchester was Hugh Lee, a councillor in Collyhurst elected as a Liberal in 1919. Lee was from Cavan and came to Manchester at the age of 14 to be apprenticed to his cousin in the grocery trade, later opening his own shop on Rochdale Road. His shift from supporting the Liberal Party to support for the ISDL indicates the rapid political transformation taking place in the Irish community in this period (Lee subsequently became a Councillor for Blackley in the 1930s and 40s, his single shop prospered and became a chain, and he was Lord Mayor between 1945-46).

The ISDL planned a weekend of events for 27th and 28th November 1920 in Manchester, including a national conference on Saturday at the Coal Exchange on Saturday, a march on Sunday morning from Bexley Square to St. Patrick’s church to commemorate the Manchester Martyrs, and a rally on Sunday afternoon at the King’s Hall, Belle Vue to which leading Sinn Fein figures such as Arthur Griffith had been invited.

The ISDL leadership held a meeting with the Chief Constable Sir Robert Peacock on the Friday, at which the police tried to get the meetings called off, but the Irish stood fast and insisted on their right to free speech. The following day the Home Secretary banned the conference, procession and rally from being held in Manchester, citing as an excuse the fear of grave disorder while simultaneously in Dublin police arrested Arthur Griffith and Eoin MacNeill. The Chief Constable sent copies of the order to George Clancy, chair of the Manchester District Committee of the ISDL.

The National Executive of the ISDL, chaired by P J Kelly from Liverpool, met in emergency session in Manchester and announced their intention to proceed with their plans. The Executive attacked the decision of the Home Secretary, stating that “This is evidently the forerunner of the arrest of the leaders in Great Britain.” (The leaders had good grounds to suspect the government might act against them, for in March 1920 Charles Diamond, the editor of the Catholic Herald, had been sent to prison for six months, convicted at the Old Bailey of inciting murder by writing an editorial entitled “Killing No Murder.)

The ISDL evaded the restrictions by moving the site of the conference from Manchester to Salford, where it was held in the Hibernian Hall, Chapel Street. Three hundred delegates attended, representing 234 branches. In his opening remarks P J Kelly said recent events would not deter them. “They have banned our conference and proclaimed our procession and meetings and arrested two of the leaders who were to have been present to address and advise us. These events do not disturb us. We simply go on, calmly, firmly and resolutely performing our allotted task in the glorious work of rebuilding the Irish nation”

He welcomed the recent Labour party policy of “self-determination” and hoped that they mean it. ISDL General Secretary Sean MacRaith reported that 200 new branches had been established in the last six months. A resolution to allow English Catholics to become members of the League as well as those of Irish birth and descent was rejected. The Sunday morning procession was called off by the organisers when it became clear that the police would not permit it to go ahead.

Permission to use public halls was regularly refused for ISDL meetings and the matter was raised on Manchester City Council by Councillor Hugh Lee. After a stormy debate the motion in favour of allowing the use of halls was carried 45 to 15. The Irish National Aid committee worked in conjunction with the ISDL sending large sums to the White Cross and Republican Prisoners Dependents Fund in Dublin. The civil war in Ireland which broke out in the wake of the Treaty quickly reduced the membership of the ISDL and by July 1922 it was practically defunct in Manchester. A remnant of the organization survived and eventually merged into the Connolly Association.

Article by Michael Herbert

Jim Larkin, James Connolly and the 1913 Free Trade Hall meeting

On 16 November 1913 a historic meeting took place at Manchester’s Free Trade Hall in support of the Dublin Lockout, a huge industrial and social struggle which had brought the city of Dublin to a halt. The meeting was addressed by the leaders of the strike, Jim Larkin and James Connolly, and other trade unionists. The hall was packed and thousands gathered in the streets outside.

The last years before the First World War have often portrayed as lost age of peace, social harmony and long drowsy summers swept away by the cataclysm of war. Nothing could be further from the truth. Edwardian society was shaken to its roots by the militant campaign for votes for women, the growth of mass trade unionism and the rise of Irish nationalism which sought independence from Britain.

On of the most significant episodes was the Dublin Lockout of 1913. The lockout began on 26th August after William Murphy, owner of the Dublin United Tramways Company, sacked 100 men for joining the Irish Transport and General Workers Union which, under the leadership of Jim Larkin, had organised most of the unskilled workers in Dublin. Murphy was determined to keep the union off the trams. The temperature was raised when the police began attacking strikers’ demonstrations, killing one man and injuring hundreds. Other employers locked out ITGWU members and by early September some 25,000 workers were on the cobbles. Delia Larkin and Constance Markiewicz organised a vast relief operation to feed strikers and their families from their base in Liberty Hall, the union headquarters.

Larkin had been born of Irish parents on 21st January 1876 in Cumberland Street, Liverpool. At the age of 17 he joined the Independent Labour Party and, after a year away at sea, became a regular worker at the south end of the docks, rising by 1903 to the much sought after position of foreman dock porter and acquiring the nickname “The Rusher” for the pace at which he worked his men. He neither smoked nor drank, nor accepted bribes to give men jobs. Outside work he was an active socialist and became involved in trade unionism after a bitter and unsuccessful thirteen week strike in June 1905 at the end of which Larkin had emerged as a charismatic strike leader with the ability to address large crowds and inspire the union membership. He was quickly taken on by the union as a paid organiser working in Scotland and Ireland until he was sacked in 1908 after a strike in Cork.

The leader of the union Jimmy Sexton, a former Fenian, now feared that Larkin’s activities in Ireland would bleed the union dry. It was also a political conflict. Sexton believed in making gains for the working class within the status quo and indeed eventually became MP for St. Helens in 1918. Larkin’s ultimate objective was to organise the working class for social revolution. In response to his dismissal Larkin now set up the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union and fought the NUDL for the waterfront workers in Ireland.

On Sunday 14th September Larkin paid a brief visit to Manchester to speak at an afternoon meeting at Alexandra Park, organised by the Manchester & Salford Trades and Labour Council to protest against events in Dublin. He was not billed to appear as a speaker but an unofficial announcement had been made a few days earlier. Soon after the chair Tom Fox (President of the Trades Council) and other speakers had ascended the platform Larkin appeared in the crowd and was immediately recognised (despite his latest “disguise,” a shaven top lip) and invited onto the platform.

Mr Partridge from the Dublin Trades Council spoke first, declaring that the troubles in Dublin arose not from a strike or simple lock-out, but from a conspiracy between the representatives of the government and the employers to smash trade unionism. He denounced “the drunken frenzy” of the police and, after mentioning some specific cases of brutality, produced from his breast pocket a broken truncheon which, he said, had been shattered on the head of an unoffending citizen and which, he added grimly, the man who used it would not need again for some time to come.

Speaking next Larkin apologised for his intrusion without notice and added that, in spirit, he was still across the channel. He was full of confidence. “When William Martin Murphy and his hired thugs set out to make good their boast that they will beat Larkinism they will fail because to beat Larkinism is to beat the race to which I belong…..I have a divine mission to make men and women discontented, and no one can stop me carrying on the work for which I was born.”

He denounced Murphy, Carson, Redmond and the TUC amongst others and announced that he was out for revolution, “…..they can only kill me and there are thousands more coming after me”. At the end of his speech Larkin said he was immediately returning to Dublin. Alf Purcell moved a resolution protesting against the brutality of the Dublin police and demanding an enquiry into their conduct which was carried to the accompaniment of cheers.

Larkin returned to Manchester on 26th September to send off the steamer Hare with 250 tons of provisions for starving families, in the company of Keir Hardie of Labour Party Fame, Jimmy Sexton and others. He was jailed for sedition in Dublin on 27th October, but released after just 17 days, following protests in Ireland and Britain by leading figures such as Sylvia Pankhurst and George Bernard Shaw. Impatient with the lack of support shown by the British TUC, Larkin and Connolly toured Lancashire in November, calling for more action to support the struggle in Ireland.

On 16th November they spoke in Manchester, accompanied by the leading American socialist Big Bill Haywood with support from the Labour MP Ben Tillett. Before the meeting they visited the Socialist Clarion Cafe on Market Street (where their picture was taken) then walked to the Free Trade Hall which was packed with five thousand people with thousands more standing in the street in the rain unable to get in.

“The working class of Dublin is being slowly murdered” James Connolly told the audience. Connolly had been born in Edinburgh in 1868, his parents emigrating from County Monaghan. He served 7 years in the British army and became a Socialist in 1889 whilst back in Scotland. Moving to Dublin he founded the Irish Socialist Republican Party in 1896. He spent some time in the United States before returning to Ireland to work with Larkin in the ITGWU. He had incidentally visited Manchester several times before in the early years of the century to give lectures on Socialism.

Connolly was followed by Jim Larkin spoke to the packed hall for an hour. The Manchester Guardian described the working-class orator in action. “Larkin is something over forty years of age. His plentiful hair is a dusky grey, and over his forehead, until, disarranged by the straying of his fingers, it stands out like the peak of a cap… Standing with a light poise, turning sharply from side to side, gesticulating with outstretched arms frequently but with restraint, speaking with great vehemence and often with anger he carried the conviction of sincerity.”

After the meeting he drove in a closed car through the crowds to a nearby speaking pitch, then got out and spoke again to several thousand people, publicly challenging his enemies. “Who am I? I am James Larkin, son of James Larkin, the son of Barney Larkin of County Armagh. Ask my accusers for yourselves. Send them over to face me in Dublin.”

The dispute ended in early 1914 “as a drawn battle” in the words of Connolly. In its aftermath it left a politicized working-class in Dublin conscious of its strength. It also led to the formation of the Irish Citizen Army, a workers’ militia originally set up by Connolly to defend people from police violence but which now continued to train and drill after the strike with a membership of a thousand and which played a major role in the Easter Rising in 1916. Larkin went to the United States in late 1914 and did not return to Ireland until 1923. Connolly was shot by a British Army firing squad on 12th May 1916. He was seated in a chair, having been badly wounded during the Rising.

Article by Michael Herbert

Robert Owen

Robert Owen was a manufacturer and social reformer whose ideas on mutuality and co-operation were very influential on the working class movement in the first half of the C19th and helped inspire the Co-operative Movement in the 1840s.

Robert Owen is remembered in Manchester with a statue outside the Co-operative Bank on Corporation Street and a plaque in St Ann’s Square. He argued and worked for social reform and progress but he was not a revolutionary, believing in co-operation between the classes.

Robert was born in Newtown, Wales on 14 May 1771, the sixth child of a local saddler and ironmonger. He left school at the age of nine and spent a year as an assistant in a local haberdashers before being sent to London to join his brother as an apprentice to a draper. After finishing his apprenticeship he came to Manchester in 1787, where he worked as an assistant to a Mr Satterfield , who ran a drapery in St Ann’s Square. It was here that he met Ernest Jones, a young engineer, and went into partnership with him after borrowing £100 from his mother.

The partnership did not last long and Robert set up on his own account in Ancoats as a cotton spinner with three workers. He then took a job as manager of Bank Top Mill on London Road (near the present-day Piccadilly Station) and then started the Chorlton Twist Company with two other men. Robert was already more than just another ambitious businessman. In 1793, aged just 23, he was invited to join the prestigious Manchester Literary & Philosophical Society where he met leading Manchester men such as the chemist John Dalton and the social reformer Dr Percival, and presented a number of papers to the society. When the Manchester Board of Health was set up in 1796 he was invited to join as a representative of the cotton industry.

In 1799 Robert took a step which changed his life when he bought the New Lanark Mills (owned by his father-in-law David Dale) and moved to Scotland to run them. The mills employed 2000 people, including 500 children, many of whom were orphans from poor houses. He now had an opportunity to put his ideas on social reform into practice, introducing a minimum age of 10 for apprentices, improving the housing and sanitation and opening a shop whose profits were used to fund a free village school. He also attempted moral reform, imposing fines for drunkenness and introducing the “silent monitor” – coloured markers which were displayed by each person’s work places and indicated the quality of work; black for bad, blue for indifferent, yellow for good and white for excellent. In 1816 he opened his Institute for the Formation of Character, which, as well as providing education for the young, also ran evening classes and concerts. He said the following at the opening

“What ideas individuals may attach to the term ‘Millennium’ I know not; but I know that society may be formed so as to exist without crime, without poverty, with health greatly improved, with little, if any misery, and with intelligence and happiness increased a hundredfold; and no obstacle whatsoever intervenes at this moment except ignorance to prevent such a state of society from becoming universal.”

These experiments in factory reform attracted a good deal of attention, both at home and abroad, and there were many visitors to New Lanark. However his attempts to convince the government to legislate to reduce working hours and improve factory conditions failed. He published his ideas on educational and social reform, advocating a society run on harmonious co-operative lines and undertook lecture tours to publicise them.

“There is but one mode by which man can possess in perpetuity all the happiness which his nature is capable of enjoying, – that is by the union and co-operation of ALL for the benefit of EACH.
Union and co-operation in war obviously increase the power of the individual a thousand fold. Is there the shadow of a reason why they should not produce equal effects in peace; why the principle of co-operation should not give to men the same superior powers, and advantages, (and much greater) in the creation, preservation, distribution and enjoyment of wealth?” (1826)

Disillusioned by the lack of response from government, the church and other factory owners, in 1826 Robert left England for the United States, where he tried to establish a co-operative community in New Harmony, Indiana. Initially settlers flocked to join but, as often happens in such communities, divisions soon arose and in the summer of 1828 he returned to England and also finally severed all connections with New Lanark.

During his absence his ideas on Co-operation had taken hold and there had been a growth in the number of Co-operative societies being formed in Manchester and elsewhere, putting his ideas into practice, often much more radically.

In January 1830 Owen issued An Address to the Operative Manufacturers & Agricultural Labourers in Great Britain & Ireland, in which he told working people that they that they were being deliberately kept in poverty.

“To direct your skill and industry aright, you require education of a superior description to any that has yet been given to you; and, above all things, you should endeavour to obtain this knowledge,” he announced.

Robert started a newspaper in 1832 called The Crisis and opened the National Equitable Labour Exchange in London for the exchange of goods between co-operative societies, issuing Labour Notes valued in hours in exchange for merchandise.

Following the repeal of the Combination Acts in 1824, trade unions were now springing up, and Robert urged that they should unite into one organisation which would elect delegates from all towns and could eventually take over the running of society, although unlike trade union militants, he believed that there was still a place for employers. In Manchester in October 1833 delegates from the building trade, representing thousands of workers, met for a week in Reverend Scholfield’s chapel on Every Street, Ancoats. In February 1834 the Grand National Consolidated Trade Union was formed, and within week claimed half a million members.

Fearing revolution (as had happened recently in France in 1830), a worried government struck back, arresting six agricultural labourers from Tolpuddle in Dorset, and sentencing them to seven years transportation to Australia for contravening the Illegal Oaths act – they are now known as the Tolpuddle Martyrs. The GNCTU collapsed in the summer of 1834.

Robert’s other ventures included setting up The Association of Classes of All Nations in 1835 and in the 1840s establishing a new community at Queenwood farm in Hampshire, which like New Harmony ended in failure. Despite many setbacks he continued to speak and write about his ideas and toured Europe:

“Therefore, the interest of all, that every one, from birth, should be well educated, physically and mentally, that society may be improved in its character, – that everyone should be beneficially employed, physically and mentally, that the greatest amount of wealth may be created, and knowledge attained, – that everyone should be placed in the midst of those external circumstances that will produce the greatest number of pleasurable sensations, through the longest life, that man may be made truly intelligent, moral and happy, and be thus prepared to enter upon the coming Millennium” (1841)

In 1844 the Rochdale Co-operative Society was formed, laying the basis for the modern Co-operative movement which came to dominate working class consumption in many parts of England, especially the north, by the end of 19th century.

In 1857 Robert Owen published his autobiography, although this only goes up to 1823, and he died on 17th November 1858.

Article by Michael Herbert

The Manchester Martyrs

The Manchester Martyrs were three innocent Irishmen hanged in public outside the New Bailey prison in Salford on 23 November 1867. They had been convicted of murdering a police sergeant, killed in the course of a successful raid on Hyde Road, Manchester to free two leading Fenians.

The story of the Manchester Martyrs begins with the founding of the Fenian movement, which encompassed two separate but deeply entwined organisations; the Fenian Brotherhood – founded in New York on 17th March 1858 by John O’Mahon; and the Irish Republican Brotherhood – founded in Dublin by James Stephens, Thomas Luby and others who had taken part in the 1848 Rising.

The Fenians took their name from the Fianna, ancient warriors of Irish myth and legend, and their aim was the establishment of an independent Irish Republic, free from British rule, to be established by an armed uprising. The Fenian Brotherhood was a mass movement which men joined by oaths pledging allegiance to the future Irish Republic, while the IRB was a select and secret organisation which survived until 1922 when it was destroyed by the Irish Civil War.

The Fenians’ bedrock of support was in the United States, where hundreds of thousands of Irish people had emigrated in the wake of the Famine, and where in addition many Irish men served in the Union (and a few in the Confederate) armies of the American Civil War – often in Irish regiments – giving those who survived the bloody conflict valuable military experience. In 1866, for instance, the Fenians made a number of raids across the border into Canada.. They also built up their organisation in Ireland and in Britain. The Royal Irish Constabulary had several detectives permanently based in Lancashire in order to monitor Fenian activities, which they did principally through the traditional device of recruiting informers. RIC detective McHale, based in Liverpool, supported the view that the Fenians had a wide base in England.

“I find the great majority of Irish labourers in this town, London, Manchester, Birmingham, Sheffield, Leeds and Newcastle, as well as those residing in towns of less note through this country, if not actually enrolled members of the brotherhood, are strongly impressed with the spirit of Fenianism, and there is another class of Irish resident in this country, who are in comfortable and easy circumstances…and who have the strongest sympathy with the movement & altho’ not enrolled members would, I am quite certain, give active cooperation if it so happened that there was a rising, or any attempt at rebellion in Ireland. There also numerous young Irishmen…who are Fenians. Many of them joined volunteer corps in order to acquire a knowledge of drill and military movements, for the express purpose of using in the Fenian cause…..”

Some arms shipments were made through Liverpool and by 1865 everything seemed in place for a successful rising in Ireland. Tens of thousands had taken the Fenian oath while Irish regiments in the British army had been infiltrated. At this critical juncture the Fenian leadership hesitated and delayed whilst the British government was alerted to the danger and struck first in September 1865, arresting a number of the most prominent leaders in Ireland, such as O’Leary, Luby and O’Donovan Rossa. They all received long sentences. Early in 1866 the government finally realised the extent of Fenian subversion in the army and rushed through a suspension of Habeas Corpus in one day on 17th February, enabling them to arrest thousands and imprison them without trial. The army court-martialled many soldiers, transporting some to Australia in the last convict shipment ever sent there, reaching Western Australia in 1868. Fenian organisation was fatally weakened and by the time the rising finally took place on 5th March 1867 it was easily defeated, despite some initial successes.

After the failure of the rising the Fenians sent two leading figures in the movement to Britain to rally and reorganise their followers . One was Colonel Thomas Kelly from Galway, who had replaced James Stephens as head of the IRB. Kelly had served in an Ohio regiment during the American Civil War, and had been responsible for rescuing Stephens from Richmond Jail, Dublin in November 1865. The other was Captain Timothy Deasy from Clonakilty, County Cork, who had also served in the American Civil War

Both men were arrested in Manchester on 11th September. This was a major coup for the authorities but Edward O’Meagher Condon, another Irish-American civil war veteran who was in charge of re-organising the Fenians in the north of England, immediately set plans in motion to free the two men, procuring arms from Birmingham and organising a party of men to effect a rescue. The two men were being held at Bellevue gaol on Hyde Road and conveyed to and from court in a horse-drawn police-van.

On 18th September Condon’s raiding party attacked the van on its way out of Manchester as it neared a railway bridge on Hyde Road, shooting the off-horse and sending the police escort packing. Then they began to break open the van in the course of which a man named Peter Rice accidentally shot dead Charles Brett, the policeman inside the van. The raiders got Kelly and Deasy out of the van and, despite strenuous efforts by the authorities to recapture them, the Fenian movement successfully smuggled them back to the United States.

The Manchester police arrested some of the rescuers at the scene and dragged in dozens of other Irishmen in the following days as the constabulary ransacked the Irish quarters, enraged by the death of their colleague. The government was equally dismayed. Home Secretary Gathorne-Hardy wrote in his diary, “This at Manchester! What are we coming to…. The Times is as the public will be ready for strong measures. England will never endure that such an event should happen unpunished.” The legal hearings in Manchester began on 27th September. Amongst the lawyers defending the Irishmen was William Prowting Roberts, who lived in Pendleton and had been an active Chartist in the 1840s, when he had even been imprisoned for a time. Roberts had been one of the speakers at the Free Trade Hall meeting on St. Patrick’s Day, 1848.

Twenty eight Irishmen appeared before the stipendiary magistrate and the number eventually rose to fifty. The court was ringed by troops, some of whom actually sat next to the magistrate on the bench. All the prisoners were in shackles and the magistrate refused to order their removal, despite protests from the lawyers. Roberts did his best, gaining the release of some prisoners, but the authorities merely filled the gaps in the ranks with newly arrested men. He was also heckled from the court gallery, which was filled with Manchester’s well-to-do come to watch the spectacle. “How dreadful it is to have to address such a spirit that reigns against these men”, he told the court, “ it paralyses the tongue”. The intimidation even continued outside the court. One evening a mob turned up outside Roberts’ hotel and he had to escape by the back entrance. The Times even devoted an editorial to attacking him, “……the prejudice which Mr. Roberts deprecates is not, we suspect, local as much as national, being no other than a prejudice against organised conspiracies for the defiance of the law and the murder of its authorised agents”. Ernest Jones was another barrister for the men. He had qualified as barrister in 1844 and then joined the Chartist movement, becoming editor of the Northern Star, and also served a term of imprisonment.

The special commission which tried the prisoners started sitting at the Assize Courts in Manchester on 28th October, presided over by Justice Blackburn with the Attorney General Sir Thomas Karslake leading for the prosection. W P Roberts and the other defence lawyers petitioned in an attempt to get the trial moved to London but this was rejected. Manchester was filled with police and troops during the five days of the proceedings. Twenty-six Irishmen were tried, with five of them being found guilty of murder, seven of riot and assault while the remainder were convicted of lesser offences.

The sentence of death on Edward O’Meagher Condon was commuted because of his American citizenship. Another condemned man Thomas Maguire, a Royal Marine home on leave who had been swept up by the police in their raids, was given a free pardon after the press reporters at the trial got together and petitioned the Home Secretary, declaring their belief in his innocence. It was plain that he had played no part in the raid or the death of the policemen, having only just come back to Manchester after ten years away. And yet many witnesses had sworn on oath that Maguire had been a participant. What reliance could now be placed on the evidence given against the other three men?

There was a vociferous campaign for clemency for the three condemned men by Irish and English radicals. On 18th November a deputation went to the Home Office to present a memorial from a meeting held at Clerkenwell Green the previous day. The Home Secretary Gathorne Hardy refused to see them so the men forced their way into the Home Office and held an impromptu “indignation” meeting before leaving just in time to avoid the police. In Manchester a number of citizens met at the Trevelyan Hotel in Corporation Street and drew up a petition which asked the queen to exercise her prerogative of mercy “…..on the ground that the British government can always afford to exercise clemency even to its worst and most misguided prisoners, although not sentenced for a political crime, but solely for the high crime or murder, may be regarded in a sense as political criminals…..” Like all others this petition was turned down. Queen Victoria wrote in a letter to Sir Stafford Northcote at this time that the Irish “are really shocking, abominable people – not like any other civilised nation.”

The campaign for clemency failed and the sentences were carried out in public on 23rd November outside the New Bailey prison on Bridge Street where Allen, Larkin and O’Brien were hanged at day break on a platform built on the walls. Below them was a large, jeering crowd and hundreds of police and the army, ready to prevent any possible rescue attempt. Few Irish attended, having been told by their priests to go to Mass and pray for the souls of the condemned.

After the execution the bodies of the three men were swiftly buried in quicklime in the prison grounds. Frederick Engels wrote to Karl Marx predicting that “yesterday morning the Tories, by the hand of Mr Calcraft, accomplished the final act of separation between England and Ireland. The only thing that the Fenians still lacked were martyrs. They have been provided by Derby and G Hardy. Only the execution of the three has made the liberation of Kelly and Deasy the heroic deed which will now be sung to every Irish babe in the cradle in Ireland, England and America”.

In Ireland tens of thousands paraded in mock funeral processions in Dublin, Cork, Limerick and many other towns, with participants and spectators dressed in mourning and wearing green ribbons and rosettes and other items. Newspapers remarked upon the large numbers of young women who marched in contingents in the parades, something new in Irish political life. Many of the women wept as they walked and in Cork an eyewitness described the women “keening” when the procession reached St Jerome’s cemetery, “the occasion of the gathering rendered this wild cry of sorrow sadly impressive and moving.” As the processions gathered momentum across the country across the country the Lord Lieutenant issued a proclamation banning all future ceremonies under the Party Processions and Party Emblems Act.

Annual commemorations of the executions became part of Nationalist political life, with marches in many Irish towns every November, often in the dramatic form of a torchlight procession.

Many years later Edward O’Meagher Condon returned to Manchester to a hero’s welcome. On 26th September 1909 he crossed the Atlantic from the United States and was received in triumph when he arrived at Exchange Station in Manchester, accompanied by the MP John Dillon and John O’Callaghan, secretary of the United Irish League of America. The party made their way to the Grand Hotel on Aytoun Street, accompanied by a large crowd and the Michael Davitt and Thomas Davis branches of the UIL in Manchester in a torchlit procession. The following day Condon visited the various scenes associated with the events of 1867 and in the evening there was a great meeting at the Free Trade Hall to welcome both him and those who had accompanied him on the visit. Condon was pictured in the papers seated alongside O’Callaghan, F L Crilly (Secretary of the United Irish League of Great Britain) and Stephen Gwynne (MP for Galway).

A veteran Manchester Fenian, Seamus Barrett, formed a Manchester Martyrs Memorial Committee at the beginning of the twentieth century which put up the monument in Moston Catholic cemetery, unveiled by James Stephens, the former Fenian leader. Thereafter an annual commemoration was held, involving a parade from Bexley Square, Salford to St. Patrick’s Church on Livesey Street, where Mass was said. Afterwards the parade, led by an Irish pipe band, would proceed to the Shamrock Hall on Rochdale Road or to Moston cemetery. In 1974 the march was cancelled, following the Birmingham pub bombings, and the memorial was extensively vandalised and defaced. In recent years it has been restored.

Article by Michael Herbert