The Manchester Rescue

Justin McCarthy
Chapter XII | Start of Chapter

In England the Fenians got up a plan for seizing Chester Castle, where arms were believed to be stored, moving on to Holyhead, taking possession of any large steamers there, and accomplishing an invasion of Ireland. The plan was brought to the knowledge of the authorities before it was put into action, and it failed. In March, 1867, an attempt at a general rising was hazarded in Ireland, but it, too, proved a complete failure. Numbers of the Fenians were made prisoners, and many arrests took place in England as well as in Ireland. In Manchester a daring and successful attempt was made by a body of Fenians to rescue two prisoners from a prison van, and in the attempt to break the lock of the van by a pistol bullet, a policeman inside who had charge of the prisoners was killed. Three of the Fenians were tried, convicted, and sentenced to death on the charge of murder. An earnest effort was made to save their lives, on the ground that the death of the policeman was the result merely of accident, and not of an attempt to kill, and that although the rescue was an illegal act, the men engaged in it ought not to be treated as common murderers for the one calamity which it unhappily caused. John Bright and John Stuart Mill gave all the weight of their eloquence and their argument to obtain pardon for the condemned Fenians. Algernon Charles Swinburne addressed a noble poetic appeal for mercy to the people of England. These efforts failed. The three convicted men were put to death, and have ever since been known among Irish nationalists all over the world as "The Manchester Martyrs." T. D. Sullivan's "Irish National Anthem" commemorates their martyrdom.