The Manchester Martyrsire

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On the 11th September, 1867, two prominent Fenians Colonel Thomas Kelly and Captain Timothy Deasy were arrested in the centre of Manchester on a vagrancy charge. News of their arrest was immediately sent to Mr. Disraeli, the Prime Minister, and it was considered quite a capture. Seven days later, the two prisoners were conveyed from the Court House in Manchester to the County Jail on Hyde Road, West Gorton. The Kelly and Deasy were handcuffed and locked in two separate compartments inside the Police van, with twelve mounted policemen to escorting the van.

On 18 September 1867 about 50 Irish Fenians, led by William Allen, attacked a prison van guarded by a large number of unarmed police at Hyde Road in Manchester, England.

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Their aim was to release two important Fenian prisoners, Thomas J. Kelly and Timothy Deasy. In the course of freeing the men, an unarmed police sergeant, Charles Brett, was shot dead, and 26 men were eventually tried for their part in the attack. Three, William Allen, Michael O’Brien and Michael Larkin, who became known as the ‘Manchester Martyrs’, were hanged in front of an estimated 10,000 people on 23 November 1867 for their part in the raid, and the events surrounding the attack became part of Irish nationalist folklore.

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All three executed men were born in Ireland: William Allen came from Bandon, Co. Cork, and was only eighteen years of age when he died. In a defiant address from the dock he declared, ‘I will die proudly and triumphantly in defence of republican principles and the liberty of an oppressed and enslaved people’. Michael Larkin, 32, came from near Banagher, Co. Offaly, and was a tailor who lived with his wife and family in Manchester. He was ill at the time of the raid and struggled to escape from the scene, and his comrades Larkin and O’Brien were captured while helping to carry him across a nearby railway embankment.

Michael O’Brien, 31, from Ballymacoda, Co. Cork, had previously lived in the United States and gained the rank of lieutenant in the US army. An accomplished revolutionary, he lived under the pseudonym William Gould while in England, and contemporary accounts refer to him by his false identity.

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Their deaths made them martyrs but the courage and eloquence of their speeches from the dock after being condemned to death established them as heroes, their cry of “God save Ireland” inspiring TD Sullivan to write a rebel song of that name which became for more than 50 years Ireland’s unofficial national anthem.
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