150th Anniversary of the Manchester Martyrs



COL (Ret.) Robert J. Bateman, NYARG

Past National Historian, AOH (1976 – 1980)

Past Division #8 Historian, Lawrence, MA

Division #18 Historian, Peekskill, N.Y.

(Great-grandnephew of Captain Timothy Deasy)

On the 150th anniversary of their deaths, let us pause to commemorate, the brave Fenian heroes forever known in Irish history as “THE MANCHESTER MARTYRS” .

On the 18th of September 1867, in Manchester, England, Colonel Rickard O’Sullivan Burke, Captain Michael O’Brien, Captain Edward O’Meagher Condon and a rescue party of fifteen other Bold Fenian Men rescued Colonel Thomas Kelly, Chief Executive of the IRB and Captain Timothy Deasy, the Deputy Central Organizer of the Irish Republic and IRB commander for Manchester and Liverpool, who were being transported from Bellvue “Goal” (jail) by British Authorities. The Fenian Officers Burke, Condon, O’Brien, Kelly and Deasy, all American citizens and combat veterans of the American Civil War, were also members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians in America; while Burke, Allen, O’Brien, Condon and Deasy were all from County Cork. The names of the 15 other Fenians who made up the rescue party were Thomas O’Bolger, James Laverty, John Neary, Peter Ryan, William Melvin, Michael Larkin, Timothy Featherstone, Charles Moorhouse, Peter Rice, William Philip Allen, Patrick Bloomfield, John Stoneham, Joseph Ryan and James Cahill.

During the rescue, (“THE SMASHING OF THE VAN”), Sergeant Charles Brett, a Manchester Police veteran of some twenty-five years, was accidentally shot and killed.

Following the successful rescue of Kelly and Deasy, a number of the rescuers and dozens of innocent local Irishmen were arrested and brought to trial for Brett’s “murder”. On 28 October 1867, William Philip Allen, Michael Larkin, Captain Michael O’Brien, Thomas Maguire and Captain Edward O’Meagher Condon were convicted and sentenced to death by hanging.

After Allen, O’Brien and Larkin had made their comments to the court, a manacled Condon in his speech spoke these immortal words, “You will soon send us before God, and I am perfectly prepared to go. I have nothing to regret, or retract, or take back. I can only say ‘GOD SAVE IRELAND’ – and with one step forward his companions rose, and, extending their hand-cuffed hands upward cried out —“GOD SAVE IRELAND!” T.D. (Timothy Daniel) Sullivan, who witnessed the trial, was inspired to write “God Save Ireland,” which became the virtual Irish national anthem. (In November, Thomas Maguire, a Royal Marine home on leave and had nothing to do with the rescue, was pardoned and Captain Condon, because of his American citizenship, and the intervention of the American Ambassador, was given a reprieve – life at hard labour.) After11 years, in response to a unanimous vote of the United States Congress, signed by President Rutherford B. Hayes, Condon was banished for an additional 20 years and released to go to America. Condon now lies in a grave in New York’s Calvary Cemetery.

On 23 November 1867, Allen, Larkin and O’Brien were publicly hanged (“judicial murder”). The bodies of these three martyrs for Ireland were quickly, callously, irreverently and purposely buried in unmarked graves of quicklime in unconsecrated ground within New Bailey Prison. The prison closed in 1868 and the remains of Allen, Larkin and O’Brien were exhumed and re-buried in Strangeways Prison, which opened in 1868. In 1991 the remains were exhumed once again and subsequently re-interred in grave 2711 in Blackley Cemetery, Manchester, along with 57 other hanged prisoners also exhumed from Strangeways. Making repatriation of their remains to Ireland virtually impossible.

We may have brave men, but we’ll never have better

Glory O, Glory O, to the Bold Fenian Men”


— with thanks to Colonel Bob Bateman for the above article. He also says: “I have been invited to give two public lectures on the Manchester Martyrs in Cork City on November 13th and 14th. The first lecture is being hosted by the County Cork Heritage Office and is the be held at the County Hall at 7:00 pm on Monday the 13th. The second is being hosted by UCC and the Cork City Library and is to take place at the City Library on the 14th at 7:00 pm. The Cork Museum has graciously agreed to permit the display of the pistol believed to have been used to blow open the lock of the Van door and which accidentally killed Police Sgt. Charles Brett. Also on display will be the hand-cuffs Captain Deasy was wearing in the Van that fateful day. The pistol was given to Deasy outside the Van by Peter Rice, who it is now known was the Fenian who actually fired the weapon into  the lock. I presented the pistol and hand-cuffs to the Museum in 1971 (see above newspaper photo taken that day).”


Captain Timothy Deasy led the Fenian Rising in Millstreet in March of 1867. A native of Clonakilty, he left Ireland for America during the famine, where he fought in the American Civil War, before returning to Ireland taking part in Fenian activities. After the Manchester Incident he left for Lawrence, Massachutess, where he lived out his days. Read more about Captain Deasy in our other article on him.

The Smashing of the Van in Manchester 1867, leading to the escape of Captain Timothy Deasy

3 thoughts on “150th Anniversary of the Manchester Martyrs”

  1. My great grandfather was Patrick Ryan who is mentioned in this article. Until reading this, I was unaware of the fuller story. I have a reproduction of an article summarizing his Fenian activities and specifically mentioning this event. It was published upon his death and dated January 7, 1922 in the Irish World newspaper. Apparenty Peter Ryan was released after ten days in prison, as he used an assumed name and was not exposed in a line up of the participants.

  2. I have a signed copy of the Phoenix Flame by Desmond Ryan.
    Theres several newspaper cuttings.
    Included is a handwritten note to my grandfather Christy McCarthy (drimnagh, Dublin) by a H.B Allen ?

    He apologises for missing a meeting and writes that he encloses a sighned copy of the Phoenix Flame “as a token of esteem and appreciation for all your ____ to us”
    Yours gratefully and sincerely
    HB Allen.

    Im wondering might this be a son or brother of William P Allen ?
    If anyone has any information , Id be very grateful and could share some other writings from my Grandfathers collection which may interest anyone.


  3. Hello Ollie.
    The known eight children of Thomas and Catherine were: Thomas (b unknown), Jane (b 1840), Susan (b 1845), Mary (died young and was buried in the Kilbrogan Catholic graveyard in Bandon), William Philip (b 1848), John (b 1851), George (b 1854), Joseph (b 1857).
    Best regards.
    John Desmond.

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