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

About these ads

29 thoughts on “The Manchester Martyrs

  1. Pingback: Paul Rose and the Campaign for Democracy in Ulster « Manchester's Radical History

    • Hello I saw your article, which was very good and informative. I am a direct decendent of Timothy Deasy (fathers side)

      I thought that you would like to know that according to family tradition, Timothy did not go back to the USA after the incident. He actually spent the rest of his life in Manchester in ‘hiding’ I believe probably in the Levenshulme area. He definately died in a Nunnery off Stockport Road. No idea where his grave is. I am afraid that I do not know the name of the Nunnery only that it existed.

      I have been told that there was a passage booked on a vessel back to the States. This may be the case but he didn’t leave on it and it may have been a ploy to stop the authorities looking for him here. His decendents for the most part still live in Greater Manchester.
      Hope this helps your research and put the records straight
      Kind regards
      June Kelly

      • June,
        With the utmost respect, as far as I know Deasy escaped from the UK. It would have been to dangerous to hang around England especially after the hanging of the Manchester 3. I think there is some newspaper evidence to support this.

        Regards
        Kieran

  2. Pingback: Manchester and the Death of Terence MacSwiney « Manchester's Radical History

  3. Pingback: Frederick Engels and Mary and Lizzy Burns « Manchester's Radical History

  4. Pingback: William Murphy in Manchester, August 1868 « Manchester's Radical History

  5. I am direct descendant of Michael Larkin. Sad time in English history. Unfair…unjust……unheard of nowadays, to incriminate men and women for just being near a crime scene. Another case of religious hatred and intolerance towards men and women of another faith. And shame on the religious leaders of that time period for their reticent reaction!

  6. According to the priest who attended the condemned men, it was a botched hanging, Allen died instantly, Larkin was dispatched by Calcraft sitting on the body before he actually died and it took a futher time for O’Brien to die, clasping the hand of his priest he thrashed around until he died. Excellent article by the way.

    Kieran

  7. A Chara;
    I enjoyed reading your piece on “The Manchester Martyrs.” Well done!
    As the great-grand-nephew of Captain Timothy Deasy I have been researching, writing and speaking on his amazing “young” life, the IRB and international Fenian Movement for the past 54 years.
    I Have no idea who June Kelly (nee Deasy) is but I’m afraid her “tradition” (history) is not factual. Some days after the rescue at Manchester both COL Kelly and CPT Deasy “escaped” back to the United States. CPT Deasy did return to Ireland to take part in the “Funeral Demonstrations” in Dublin and Cork. Following those events and once again back in the United States Captain Deasy became actively involved in persuing the struggle for the rights of his fellow Irishmen and Irishwomen through political action. He was elected to the Lawrence, Massachusetts City Council in 1872 (the city the Deasy family emigrated to in 1847) and was re-elected in 1874. In 1876 he was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives (of the 33 members elected from Essex county he was the only Irish born!).
    I could go on at length, but surfice to say he did much in his short 41 years. Captain Deasy died in Lawrence, Massachusetts on Friday, December 10, 1880. His funeral, which took place Monday, December 13, 1880 was one of the largest ever held in the city. He is buried at the Immaculate Conception Cemetery in Lawrence in the Deasy/Bateman familty plot.
    Captain Deasy’s brother, Cornelius (my great-grand-father), married Julia Dacey on September 27, 1881 and their daughter, Mary, (my grand-mother)was born August 15, 1883. In 1907, Mary Deasy would marry Joseph F. Bateman (my grand-father), whose family had also come to Lawrence from Clonakilty, Ireland…but that’s another story!!
    Whereas the 144th Anniversary of The Manchester Martyrs will be here next week, I would like to offer my profound thanks to those three young, noble, Irish Fenian Heros who so readily gave up their lives that COL Kelly and Captain Deasy might go free. They will be forever in my thought and prayers.
    “GOD SAVE IRELAND!”
    Bob Bateman
    Past National Historian Ancient Order of Hibernians in America
    Past Director Irish National Caucus
    (bobbateman@verizon.net)

  8. Bob,

    Jusr read your excellent post on the Manchester Martyrs and good that you added some clarification as to where Deasy relocated. We must also remember that there were actually 4 Manchester Martyrs and arguably 5. William Pherson Thompson who was actually Daniel Darragh from Ballycastle, Co. Antrim who died in captivity but luckily were able to transport his body back to Irish soil. The 5th Martyr could be argued Daniel Reddin who died shortly after his release and stated that the prison authorities had used electric shocks on him and that he was basically unable to walk on his release.

    As for that exceptional wit who posted on December 30 2011, get a life. If you object to the ideals expressed by the fenian movement and those that support them, then articulate the reasons why, I would advance the view that the person probably can’t

    Kieran

  9. This is a very good article. Our family believes William Philip ALLEN was an Uncle of our grandmother. I would like to hear from anyone who is descended from his family. I believe his father was Henry Thomas ALLEN. So far I have not been able to prove a connection. I have recently read his speech from the dock and he seems to have been an articulate and passionate young man, and only 19, how sad!

    • Hi Yvonne,

      I have been researching the fenians for several years and and have several newspaper reports from the time of their execution. Allen wrote letters to relatives before his death, one I know of is to his uncle and aunt Hogan, there were others to family members. If you wish to correspond with me directly in order for me to send you any newspaper articles. My new email address is maxwell.kieran@hotmail.co.uk.

      Regards
      Kieran Maxwell

      • Hello Kieran, (& Yvonne),

        This topic is of great interest to me. My Great Grandfather, Maurice P. Allen, left Ireland for New York in 1869. The family story is that he was involved in the IRB and fled to escape prosecution. In New York he named his first 3 sons after famous Irish Republicans. We believe that my Grandfather, (William Allen), is named after William Philip Allen. I am curious if my Great Grandfather was a cousin of William Philip Allen. They were both Allen’s, both about the same age, both involved in the IRB, both carpenters, and they didn’t live very far from each other. William Philip Allen was raised in Bandon and my Great Grandfather in Ringaskiddy, (25 miles or so?). I have not been able to make a solid connection though. One thing that is very interesting to me are the letters that William Philip Allen sent from jail. In one of them he mentions two Uncles and two Aunts by name – James, John, May and Ellen. This is intriguing because my Great Grandfather’s family also included Uncles James & John and Aunts Mary and Ellen. I would love to know more about this, but have been hitting dead ends. I see that this post is a couple of years old – hopefully you two still have the same e-mail addresses.

        Any info would be most appreciated.

        Thanks,

        Matthew A. Allen

  10. A Chairde,
    I am trying to research my mother’s family and establish the veracity or not of a family legend. My mother’s great-great-grandfather was a Patrick Boland, who married an Eliza Boland in Manchester in 1845. Both are referred to as famine refugees, him from Roscommon, her from Newbridge, Co. Galway. Eliza is reputed to have been a first cousin of Thomas J. Kelly who was in the police van. The story goes that their young son, Jim, was a look-out or a scout for the IRB contingent when they attacked the van and that someone from the older generation – Kellys or Bolands – must have been involved if he was. Jim Boland went on to become a very prominent member of the IRB in Manchester and then Dublin, his brother Jack also. Jim’s sons were even more prominent – Gerry, Harry and Ned Boland, leading Republicans in the period 1916 to the end of the Civil War.

    So, my question to all those who have researched this area – does this ring any bells? Any Kellys related to Thomas J. implicated? Any Bolands involved?

    • I am chasing a story handed down to me about the Manchester Martyrs! Maybe many Irish people have similar stories!! However, I am gradually piecing together some information.

      My family of O’Neill come from Co Tipperary and many moved to Cork City around 1860. One James O’Neill went to the County of Limerick and wrote many dissident letters but by 1869 he was living in the USA with a brother who had left Co Tipperary 1849.

      When I was in Cork in the early 1990’s I was told by an 85 year old uncle that the family had hidden the Manchester Martyrs at their house.This would have been a Michael O’Neill he was referring to. Only just starting on my Irish Family History at that time, I failed to ask the right questions, and when I returned two years later he had died and nobody else knew the story. I then discovered cousins in America who had a story about James O’Neill having left Ireland “With a price on his head” in 1867. They thought he was involved in some activity cross border raid from Canada to the USA but I think he may have been involved with The Manchester Martyrs. We have one only definite sighting of James living with his brother in 1869 in New York state but he is not to be found on any other American Census and from 1869 onwards there is complete silence.

      So Deasy and Kelly did escape back to America via Cork and Dublin and I am now wondering if my folk were involved in hiding them in Cork. I was always puzzled as to how my folk might be hiding the Manchester Martyrs. Would it have been before or after the incident in Manchester?

      Following the story of William Philip Allen I have discovered from Irish newspaper accounts that William spoke about his mother and I thought a sister Mary and his brother in law James, who had just had a child. I am trying to find out who was William Allen’s sister and who was the James she married?

      Mary

  11. Hi Janet,
    One needs to be careful in taking all accounts of the Manchester rescue as the truth. There are various accounts of how Kelly and Deasy escaped to the US and one has to take these with some reservation.
    However about your family claim that they may have assisted Kelly and Deasy could be a possibility that this has some element of truth. It would be unlikely for anyone to claim that they helped the Manchester men without fear of reprisal or arrest. So the tradiition of helping them was passed on from generation to generation.

    I can if you wish check out your family O’Neill for any fenian credentials, if they were arrested or had to flee the country (Ireland or England). You do know that there were several ‘invasions’ of Canada by the fenaisn in 1866 and 1870. One leading person was a Colonel John O’Neill who became Head Centre for the Fenian Brotherhood.

    If you have any further queries, please contact me directly.

    Kieran Maxwell.

    PS I have been researching the fenian prisoners for a number of years.

    • Hi Kieran
      Can you tell me if their is any anniversary memorial service planned this year in manchester as i would like to attend.

      regards
      david hamilton

  12. Hi Kieran, excellent article on the Manchester Martyrs, very informative and interesting. I was just wondering if there are any plans to reinstate the annual parade since it was cancelled in 1974? Would be great to be involved in keeping their memory alive and to acknowledge the ultimate sacrifice they made for Ireland.

    Kind Regards

    Paul.

    • Hi Paul,

      Unfortunately I have no idea, I am not involved in any commemorative committees but am open to suggestion. I know there are people based in England who are involved in these events but I don’t know who. Many Thanks on your kind comments on my article though it was written some time ago. I don’t recall whether I stated in previous posts but I am researching the fenian prisoners with the hope that it eventually becomes a book but then I said this about 5 years ago when I took an interest in the fenians.

      God Save ireland!!!!

      Kieran

  13. Hi Kieran,

    Thanks for your reply, I live in Manchester myself so i’ll look into if there are any plans for re-introducing a parade as I know there are many people involved in organising the Saint Patrick’s festival every year. Best of luck with the research my friend and wish you every success with the publication of the book. Keep up the good work!

    God Save Ireland!

    Paul.

  14. Pingback: How Friedirch Engels' Radical Lover Helped Him Father Socialism | Past Imperfect

  15. Pingback: Friedrich Engels’ Irish muse | A Blast From The Past

  16. absolute cracking read well done !!! 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.” . .Me thinks she doesn’t like us lol

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s