The faithful recall ‘Manchester Martyrs’

Some died on the glenside, some died near a stranger
And wise men have told us their cause was a failure
But they fought for old Ireland and never feared danger
Glory O, Glory O, to the bold Fenian men

-- From ‘The Bold Fenian Men’ by Peadar Kearney

Left, Michael Flannery at a 1985 commemoration at Calvary Cemetery's Patriots Plot. Photo by Gerry Regan

Woodside, N.Y. (First publish on 11/27/10) – By May 1970, the contemporary "Troubles," which had begun the previous summer, were hot and getting hotter. The campaign for civil rights for Northern Ireland’s Catholics was in its seventh year. Internment was still a year away, but the British army had been patrolling Catholic neighborhoods for nine months, after the eruption of anti-Catholic violence the previous summer.

Mindful of the rising tensions, here in New York, the triumvirate leading thenew Irish Northern Aid Committee -- Michael Flannery (from the Tipperary side of the parish of Clyduff), John McGowan (from Milltown-Malbay in Clare) and Jack McCarthy (from "Rebel" Cork) -- conducted an Irish republican commemoration that Memorial Day weekend.


All three men served in the Irish Republican Army during Ireland's War for Independence. Nor were any of them found wanting during the Civil War that followed, with the three choosing the anti-Treaty side. The situation at ‘home’ was most distressful, speakers made clear to the hundreds assembled on that clear and warm day, and Mother Ireland was again calling to her "Exiled Children in America."

Standing on that hallowed ground inspired virtually all in attendance. I was reminded of the Fenian Faith, of which Pádraic Pearse had spoken of so eloquently at the grave of O'Donovan Rossa in Glasnevin in 1915: Ireland had made progress toward freedom only through physical force or the threat of physical force; this was the lesson of history.

New York’s supporters of the Irish republican movement hold commemorations at different locations throughout the metro area, as there are so many significant republican sites here. But the Fenian plot at Calvary Cemetery is one place where time stands still, as it surely has for the Irish republicans buried within and nearby.

On Nov. 14, 2010, 40 years after that memorable 1970 commemoration, under the leadership of Cumann na Saoirse Náisiúnta (National Irish Freedom Committee), scores of the faithful again gathered at the Patriots Plot, this time on a crisp, clear Sunday morning.

Right, the Fenian monument and Patriots Plot in Calvary Cemetery. Its inscription reads: "Dedicated to the Memory of the Men of 1865-1867 by the Irish Revolutionary Brotherhood Veterans Association 1907. Color photos at Calvary Cemetery Cumann na Saoirse Náisiúnta / Tom Costello

Séamus Ó Dubhda, who read Forógra na Cáisce, the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, as Gaedhilge (in Irish), had attended in 1970, and shared my clear memories of the emotion of the event. The focus again was on the Fenians, and the Irish Revolutionary Brotherhood, founded in Dublin, on Saint Patrick's Day 1858, at the urging of Irish exiles in New York, most escaped veterans of the 1848 Rising.

‘God Save Ireland,’ cried the heroes

Chairing the commemoration were the artist Brian Mór Ó Baoighill and Siobhán Enright, but the actual management of the ceremonies was entrusted to Maggie Trainor. Speakers invoked the legacy of “The Manchester Martyrs" -- William Philip Allen, Michael Larkin and Captain Michael O’Brien.

Left, Maggie Trainor of Cumann na Saiorse Naisiunta conducting the memorial ceremony.

The three were hanged on the cold damp, foggy morning of Nov. 23, 1867, in Manchester, England. During their show trial, a fourth defendant, Capt. Edward O’Meagher Condon (like O’Brien, a United States citizen and veteran of America’s Civil War) was asked if he had anything to say. He famously replied, “I have nothing to retract – nothing to take back. I can only say ‘God Save Ireland.' ”

"God Save Ireland!" was the immediate and spontaneous cry from the other three, which was reported in the press throughout the world. The drama and emotion of that moment inspired T.D. Sullivan to write the still popular “God Save Ireland,” which became a virtual national anthem for Ireland, until superseded by “Amhrán na bFian” during Easter Week 1916.

The program began with recitations of "The Bold Fenian Men,” and the Easter Week 1916 Proclamation by Ó Dubhda. J.J. Jacobs spoke about Fenian commander Thomas Kelly, a printer by trade, who emigrated from Mount Bellew, County Galway, in 1851. (The house where Kelly was born is now a pub, named "Kelly's," still in the family.)

Directly, Kelly fell in with 1848 exiles in New York and participated both in the Emmet Monument Association and in the "Irish Brigade" (of Young Ireland) organized within the New York State Militia during the 1850s. He relocated to Nashville, Tenn., and started a Democratic newspaper (and apparently organized for the Fenian Brotherhood among Nashville's many Irish). When the American Civil War broke out, he fell in with a newly organized Irish regiment, the 10th Ohio Infantry, achieving the rank of captain.

When Kelly’s regiment was mustered out, he continued his military service with the Fenian Brotherhood, on both sides of the Atlantic, rising to the rank of colonel. By 1867 Kelly had succeeded James Stephens as Chief Organizer of the Irish Republic. This made him the most wanted man in the British Empire.

‘Smashing of the Van’

Kelly, and the top Fenian in England, Capt. Timothy Deasy (of Clonakilty, County Cork, and of the "Irish 9th" Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry), were captured in Manchester, and then sprung from a prison van by a group of Fenians organized by Condon on Sept. 18, 1867 -- an event known to history as "The Smashing of the Van." Police Sgt. Charles Brett was killed in the effort, when he peered through the key hole of the van's door just as the rescuers fired at the lock to break it.

Right, the reverse side of the IRB Monument in Calvary Cemetery.

The round-up of Irish suspects that followed led to the trial and execution of the Manchester Martyrs. Kelly and Deasy escaped to America. A new granite stone on the grave of Thomas Kelly, in The Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx, was dedicated on May 31, 2008, little over a century after Kelly's death. Timothy Deasy also received a new granite stone on his grave in Immaculate Conception Cemetery in Lawrence, Mass., on Nov. 23, 1992, the dedication organized by Bob Bateman, great-grandson of Timothy’s brother Cornelius – also a Fenian; the principal speaker was Derek Warfield of The Wolfe Tones, himself the grandson of a Fenian.

The successes of the Irish Republican Army from 1917 to 1921 drew sustenance and inspiration, from, in the words of the Easter Proclamation, “the dead generations from which (Ireland) receives her old tradition of nationhood.” This repeated assertion of Irish nationhood, at great personal cost, remains the enduring legacy of the Fenians, the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) in Ireland, and later Clan na Gael in America.

Vic Sackett spoke of the mission of the Fenian Graves Association. Patriot Graves are the hallowed resting places of heroes, and as such due all respect. The proper keeping of such graves is an obligation of the living, not only to the occupants of such graves, but also to our posterity, who might better remember and learn from the example of our heroes. Inspired by the National Graves Association in Ireland, The Fenian Graves Association is preparing a register of the graves of Ireland's patriot dead in the New World

Tomás Ó Coisdealbha spoke of the need for various, continuing activities to tell Ireland's story, not only to the world, but also to keep Irish traditions alive throughout the diaspora.

The penultimate item of business was the laying of a wreath on the Fenian monument by Ian McGowan, archivist and historian of the Winged Fist Organization, successor to the Irish-American Athletic Club, which had provided venues and support to the Irish Revolutionary Brotherhood Veterans Association, which erected the monument in 1907.

McGowan pointed out that the grave of Condon, who later wrote “The Irish Race in America,” was located nearby in Calvary. The commemoration, which was video-recorded by Micheál Ó Coisdealbha, ended with the singing of Thomas Davis’ patriotic masterpiece, "A Nation Once Again." WGT

Related Resources:

Easter Monday 1916: 'They Have Left Us Our Fenian Dad'

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Tags: 19th Century Ireland, Calvary Cemetery, Cemeteries, Clare, Clyduff, Dublin, England, Fenians, Galway, Ireland's War for Independence, More…Irish Freedom Struggle, Manchester, Manchester Martyrs, Michael Flannery, Milltown-Malbay, Mount Bellew, New York,

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