Phoenix Park Murders

A. M. Sullivan
c. 1900
CHAPTER XCII. (continued)

The immediate effect of the high-handed policy the government had entered on by wholesale arrests of “suspects,” and especially by the imprisonment of Parnell and other members of parliament, was to exasperate the public mind to retaliate on the landlords and their satraps.

Consequently for a period—happily brief—it was no longer the shadow, but the substance, of agrarian crime that stalked abroad: proving how false the accusation that the Land League leaders had excited the people to deeds of violence; while they were, on the contrary, the preservers of peace, and it was the first principle of their programme.

This fact Mr. Parnell and others had repeatedly urged on the government without effect, but now the event verified his words, for a state of things resembling the White-boy period began to prevail in the rural districts.

As a retaliatory measure, and probably without designing to sustain so advanced a position, Mr. Parnell at this time issued the famous “No Rent” manifesto, which in its dissyllabic form, and bearing the signature of all the Land League leaders, was readily interpreted by the people as an injunction to pay no more rent until the “suspects” were all set at liberty.

There supervened on this bold stroke of Parnell a regular reign of terror.

Buckshot Forster, the modern Cromwell, revelling in the delight of exercising to the utmost the autocratic powers conferred on him by the Coercion Act, poured his bayonetted police and military on every point where a public meeting was announced to be held or a gathering of the people for any purpose was expected, and filled the land with spies in the pay of the castle.

In this Coercion campaign, his satellite, Clifford Lloyd, whose jurisdiction was in the South, seconded him most ably; and between these worthies, the people—the male portion of them, at least—lived in mortal fear of being hurried off to prison at any hour for a lightly spoken word or an innocent act, construed by some cutthroat spy into a breach of law.

There is a class of men, however, who in excited periods like this cannot be awed into submission by such methods; but who are goaded into madness by the tyrant's lash, and fling defiance in his teeth.

To this category, doubtless, belonged the desperate band of men known as “Moonlighters,” who “made night hideous” in the rural districts of Cork and Kerry at this period by midnight raids on the houses of obnoxious persons and deeds of vindictive cruelty.

The English premier could no longer shut his eyes to the serious consequences of imprisoning the leaders of the people, or of keeping in custody hundreds of men, the hope and mainstay of many a home, on the shadow of a suspicion, or on strength of some paltry accusation, attested by a perjured policeman or spy. A change of policy was decided on.

The suspects were released, and the nation at large was also released from the iron rule of that monster Buckshot Forster, who was superseded in office by Lord Frederick Cavendish as chief secretary.

These auspicious changes seemed to herald a reign of peace, or, at least, a period of more harmonious relations between the people and their rulers; but that evil genius which, in the life of a nation as in that of an individual, steps in to mar its hope and dash to the ground its joyous cup, intruded early on the scene.

The Phoenix Park tragedy, as it may well be called, occurred on the evening of Saturday, May 6, 1882.

Its victims were Mr. Thomas H. Burke, the under-secretary, and Lord Frederick Cavendish, the new chief-secretary.

Undersecretary Burke, on that evening, was walking from the Castle to his lodge or official residence in the Phoenix Park, when he accidentally met Lord Cavendish, who accompanied him in the direction he was going.

When near the Phoenix Monument, they were surrounded by five or six men, armed with knives, who attacked them instantly.

Surprised and unarmed the secretaries made scarcely any resistance, and were stabbed;and hurled to the ground where they expired in a few minutes.

This awful affair, as might well be expected, aroused a fierce feeling of indignation against Ireland in the sister kingdom, more especially for the murder of Lord Cavendish, who was commissioned to be the bearer of an olive-branch, and the herald of an era of tranquility to the oppressed country.

Lord Cavendish's murder, however, it has been almost conclusively shown, was not planned nor intended.

He happened to be in bad company on this occasion and through this accident, shared the fate of his companion—Burke—who, it has been asserted, busied himself unnecessarily in unearthing Fenian fugitives at the time of the Rising, and indicating to the lord-lieutenant the “Suspects” of the Land League period.

This circumstance however, was overlooked in the storm of anger and indignation provoked by the perpetration of the cold-blooded deed; and a clamor was raised in the press, and from platform and pulpit, calling on the government to put a period to the era of assassination and anarchy in Ireland.

The English government responded by framing a measure—the Crimes Act—for a model of which they must have searched among the musty records of the Spanish Inquisition, or sought in the archives of the czar.

It conferred autocratic powers on judges—trial by jury being in abeyance—suppressed public meetings and gagged the press. In a word, it essayed to extinguish the already faint, flickering light of liberty in the land.

The enactment of this measure, however, was not accomplished without meeting determined but, of course, unavailing opposition, from Mr. Parnell and his colleagues.

The powers conferred on the magistrates, the police and the entire Irish executive, were such as afforded the latter facilities for searching any house or premises, at any hour of the day or night; and the Phoenix Park murderers, though for months they eluded search and inquiry, were at length in the toils.

It was discovered that they belonged to a secret society, called the “Irish Invincibles,” presided over by a man styled “Number One” and their mission was the assassination of Castle and other officials of the Crown in Ireland.

Soon after the enactment of the Crimes Act, the Arrears Act was introduced, and notwithstanding the attempts of the House of Lords to neutralize its beneficial features by sundry amendments, it finally became law on August 11, 1882.

The Arrears Act was intended to supplement the Land Act, by remedying a radical defect in the latter.

The small tenants, at the time the Land Act was passed, were most of them in arrear for three years' rent.

The Land Courts could not hear their cases as they were disqualified, and the landlord might evict them summarily.

The Arrears Act was designed to remedy this distressing state of things, and its provisions were, that the tenant should pay one-third the amount he owed the landlord; that the government should also out of the public treasury pay one-third to the landlords; and that the landlords should forego the remaining one-third.

The trials of the Phoenix Park prisoners took place in the spring of 1883, and lasted nearly two months.

In their midst was a Judas named James Carey, whose treachery was of so black a hue that when the sanctimonious hypocrite—the regular church-attendant and meek Christian—presented his saturnine visage on the witness stand, some of the prisoners started back with a shudder, incredulous that he of all men, who had plotted the whole infernal business, who had been their guide and counselor and leader, was there to sell them body and soul.

This he did to save his own dirty skin, and he accomplished his object, so far for awhile—for awhile how brief the sequel will serve to show.

On the evidence of James Carey five of the “Invincible” prisoners were convicted and received the capital sentence.

Their names were Joseph Brady, Daniel Curley, Michael Fagan, Thomas Caffrey and Timothy Kelly.

Their executions took place in Dublin, in the months of May and June, 1883.

Several others received sentence of penal servitude for being implicated in the assassination plot.

Such a blot on the face of creation as James Carey must needs hide from the light of day like the owl, and of all places on earth the government chose for him a most congenial retreat—Newgate prison, hoary and begrimed with the dust and sooty London smoke of centuries, its atmosphere laden with the muttered curses and despairing blasphemies of condemned criminals.

This was the temporary abode of James Carey; better for him had it been his permanent residence; and more appropriate his passage to that higher or lower apotheosis which awaited him by way of the hangman's trap, which on occasion, adorns the courtyard of that gloomy hostlery.

But the government must needs transplant, in one of its distant colonies, this precious sprout, with a view, doubtless, to the propagation of the genus informer, and so they shipped James and his better-half and chicks to Port Elizabeth, in Cape Colony, South Africa.

Cape Town was reached in safety, and here James Carey and family transshipped on board the steamer Melrose, for Port Elizabeth.

Nemesis was on his track in the person of Patrick O'Donnell, a fellow-passenger on board the Melrose.

An acquaintance sprang up between the two men; and O'Donnell, from the descriptions he had heard of Carey's personal appearance, was not slow in recognizing in his compangon de voyage, the notorious informer; and his sensibilities were shocked by the discovery that he had given the hand of friendship to such a wretch.

An altercation between these men on Sunday, July 29, 1883, resulted (according to O'Donnell's statement) in Carey drawing his revolver on O'Donnell, whereupon O'Donnell—as he claims in self-defense—fired his own revolver twice at Carey, with fatal effect.

O'Donnell was immediately placed under arrest, and on the arrival of the Melrose at Port Elizabeth, was taken before a magistrate, who recommitted him for trial in England, as the shooting had taken place on the high seas.

The doom of O'Donnell, tried before an English judge and jury, was a foregone conclusion, and though he had the advantage of the most able counsel that money could procure, and there was no lack of funds for his defense—the Irish World alone having raised upward of fifty-five thousand dollars for this purpose—his conviction was secured.

One of the most eminent lawyers of the New York bar, Gen. Roger A. Pryor, was specially retained and sent to London to assist his English counsel, Mr. Charles Russell, Q.C., and Mr. A. M. Sullivan.

The line of defense adopted was admittedly skillful, and the pleading most able; but reason and rhetoric were alike unavailing to make the least impression on the stolid minds of an English jury, swayed by a strong bias and bound to convict.

His execution took place on the morning of December 17, 1883, at Newgate Prison, London.

At Derrybeg, in the county Donegal, where he was born, a requiem mass was celebrated for the repose of his soul, and a funeral procession in his memory took place on the 24th of January, 1884.

In connection with this latter episode of Irish history, two circumstances are particularly noticeable, namely, that the “taking off” of James Carey evoked not one solitary sigh of regret (outside of his family circle) throughout the wide domain of Christendom, nor has the act of Patrick O'Donnell, whether criminal, or as he claimed in self-defense, brought on him public censure, living or dead.

And the reason is not far to seek.

The lifeless body of the Roman usurper, laid at the foot of Pompey's Pillar, or the blood-dripping head of Holofernes, are not historical objects of pity, and never till the men and women who have rid the world of tyranny, treachery, corruption are held up to universal execration, shall the stigma of murder be set on the fame of Patrick O'Donnell.

The revolutionary “blowing up” idea, which so far back as the year 1867, at the Clerkenwell explosion took practical shape, has been revived again in the present year and following on many abortive attempts, such as those on the Mansion House and elsewhere, has, at length, by the decided impression created on the new government Home-Offices in Whitehall, proved to the world at large that it is a factor in Irish politics by no means to be ignored, and since it is no longer the comparatively easy-going gunpowder of our ancestors, but the newly-found dynamite demon, its possibilities of development and destructiveness are quite incalculable.

O'Donovan Rossa, the implacable enemy of England, who, at his trial, bearded the British lion in his den, is said (with what amount of truth I am unable to say) to be the guiding spirit of this movement.