Manchester Martyrs Hanged
There is nothing new about the Anglo-Irish situation. One of the great ironies is that English – and since Henry VIII ’s days Protestant English - claims to overwhelmingly Catholic Ireland can be dated to Nicholas Breakspear , the only British Pope. And the IRA’s campaign on the mainland in the last three decades of the 20th century echoed the earlier one in Victorian England.
During that period, as later, anger rose within the British public at Irish nationalism and its actions, creating a desire for vengeance. The Irish Republican Brotherhood’s foiled plans for a rising in 1867 heightened such feelings. Two leaders of the movement, Thomas Kelly and Timothy Deasy, were arrested in Manchester by chance on September 11, quickly identified as major IRB figures – Kelly, an American Civil War hero, was putative head of the hoped-for republic.
On September 18 the two were being transferred to Belle Vue Gaol, their van guarded by 12 policemen. On the way the van was attacked by upwards of 30 men, some armed. Shots drove the escort away. A bullet fired to break the lock killed Sergeant Brett of the Manchester police, seemingly by accident. Brett was the first Manchester policeman killed on duty. The two Fenians escaped and were never recaptured.
As in our times the outrage led to pressure on police for immediate results: random arrests of Irish residents followed. At the trial of five selected as ‘principal offenders’ dubious witnesses helped secure guilty verdicts – it was so evident that some testimony was false that reporters secured a pardon for one of the men; another, an American, was freed through pressure from the USA. But on November 23 William Philip Allen, Michael Larkin, and Michael O'Brien, movingly courageous when found guilty, were publicly hanged outside Salford Gaol. More than 2000 police backed with soldiers were present to prevent any attempt to free them.
The three are now recalled as The Manchester Martyrs, commemorated with memorials in Ireland and in Moston Cemetery, Manchester. The year after their deaths another Irish republican, Michael Barrett, became the last man to be publicly executed in Britain, his conviction as doubtful as those of the martyrs.
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