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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Fenian James Carey Killed by Patrick O’Donnell

james-careyJames Carey, a Fenian and informer most notable for his involvement in the Phoenix Park Murders, is shot and killed by Patrick O’Donnell aboard the Melrose on July 29, 1883.

Carey is born in James Street, Dublin, in 1845. He becomes a bricklayer and builder as well as the leading spokesman of his trade and obtains several large building contracts. During this period Carey is engaged in an Irish nationalist conspiracy, but to outward appearance he is one of the rising men of Dublin. He is involved in religious and other societies, and at one time is spoken of as a possible lord mayor. In 1882 he is elected a town councillor.

About 1861 Carey joins the Irish Republican Brotherhood, soon becoming treasurer. In 1881 he breaks with the IRB and forms a new group which assumes the title of the Irish National Invincibles and establishes their headquarters in Dublin. Carey takes an oath as one of the leaders. The object of the Invincibles is to remove all “tyrants” from the country.

The secret head of the Invincibles, known as No. 1, gives orders to kill Thomas Henry Burke, the under-secretary to the lord-lieutenant. On May 6, 1882, nine of the conspirators proceed to the Phoenix Park where Carey, while sitting on a jaunting-car, points out Burke to the others. At once they attack and kill him with knives and, at the same time, also kill Lord Frederick Cavendish, the newly appointed chief secretary, who happens to be walking with Burke.

For a long time no clue can be found to identify the perpetrators of the act. However, on January 13, 1883, Carey is arrested and, along with sixteen other people, charged with a conspiracy to murder public officials. On February 13, Carey turns queen’s evidence, betraying the complete details of the Invincibles and of the murders in the Phoenix Park. His evidence, along with that of getaway driver Michael Kavanagh, results in the execution of five of his associates by hanging.

His life being in great danger, he is secretly put onboard the Kinfauns Castle with his wife and family, which sails for the Cape on July 6. Carey travels under the name of Power. Aboard the same ship is Patrick O’Donnell, a bricklayer. Not knowing his true identity, O’Donnell becomes friendly with Carey. After stopping off in Cape Town, he is informed by chance of Carey’s real identity. He continues with Carey on board the Melrose for the voyage from Cape Town to Natal. On July 29, 1883, when the vessel is twelve miles off Cape Vaccas, O’Donnell uses a pistol he has in his luggage to shoot Carey dead.

O’Donnell is brought to England and is tried for murder. After being found guilty, he is executed on December 17 at Newgate.


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The Phoenix Park Murders

phoenix-park-murdersLord Frederick Cavendish, newly appointed Chief Secretary for Ireland, and Thomas Henry Burke, the Permanent Undersecretary, are fatally stabbed in Phoenix Park, Dublin, on May 6, 1882 in what becomes known as the Phoenix Park Murders.

Cavendish, who is married to Lucy Cavendish, the niece of British Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone, and has worked as Gladstone’s personal secretary, arrives in Ireland on the day he is murdered. Cavendish and Burke are attacked as they walk to the Viceregal Lodge, which is the out-of-season residence of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. Thomas Myles, resident surgeon at nearby Dr. Steevens’ Hospital, is summoned to render medical assistance to the victims. The then Lord Lieutenant, Lord Spencer, describes suddenly hearing screams, before witnessing a man running to the Lodge grounds shouting “Lord Frederick Cavendish and Mr. Burke are killed.” Responsibility for the assassinations is claimed by a small hitherto unheard-of Republican organisation called the Irish National Invincibles.

The hunt for the perpetrators is led by Superintendent John Mallon, a Catholic man from Armagh. Mallon has a pretty shrewd idea of who has committed the crime and suspects a number of former Fenian activists. A large number of suspects are arrested and kept in prison by claiming they are connected with other crimes. By playing one suspect against another, Mallon gets several of them to reveal what they know.

James Carey, leader of The Invincibles, Michael Kavanagh, and Joe Hanlon agree to testify against the others. Joe Brady, Michael Fagan, Thomas Caffrey, Dan Curley, and Tim Kelly are convicted of the murders and all are hanged by William Marwood in Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin between May 14 and June 9, 1883. Others, convicted as accessories to the crime, are sentenced to long prison terms. The getaway driver, James Fitzharris, is acquitted of murder but is retried as an accessory and convicted.

Only the case of Tim Kelly gives any real difficulty as he is only nineteen and generally said to look much younger. By referring to him as “a child” his defence counsel creates enough unease for two juries to disagree. He is found guilty only after an unprecedented third trial.

Charles Stewart Parnell makes a speech condemning the murders in 1882, which increases his already huge popularity in both Britain and Ireland. He has just enabled some reforms under the Kilmainham Treaty four days prior to the murders. Parnell’s reputation increases in Ireland, being seen as a more moderate reformer who would never excuse such tactics.

However, Parnell’s policy of allying his party to Gladstone’s Liberal Party in 1886 to enable Home Rule is also ultimately defeated by the murders. Gladstone’s Minister, Lord Hartington, is the elder brother of Lord Frederick Cavendish. Infuriated by the manner of his brother’s early death, Hartington splits with Gladstone on the Home Rule bills of 1886 and 1893 and leads the breakaway Liberal Unionist Association which allies itself to Lord Salisbury‘s conservative governments. In the ensuing 1886 general election, the Conservatives and Liberal Unionists sweep the board. This delays Home Rule by twenty-eight years, when the Third Irish Home Rule Bill is passed in 1914 but never effected.

In March 1887, The Times prints letters purportedly from Parnell claiming sympathy with the murderers and that his public denunciation of them was insincere. It emerges that the letters are forgeries written by journalist Richard Pigott. Parnell is personally vindicated by the Parnell Commission in 1888–89.