Captain Michael O’Brien (1837 - 1867)

Michael O’Brien, one of eight children, was born at Ballymacoda, County Cork where his father had rented a large farm but in 1856 the family was evicted. He was described physically as being “a tall squared-shouldered man whose bearing bespoke the American soldier.” In his youth he was apprenticed to a draper in Youghal and later worked as an assistant in one of the large stores in Cork City. O’Brien would eventually emigrate to the United States. O’Donovan Rossa wrote in his book 'Irish Rebels in English Prisons' he had met O’Brien in 1859 and had also known him during his time in America and had found him to be “one of the truest and one of the noblest; as devoted as a lover and as courageous as a lion.”

During the American Civil War O’Brien served as an officer with the 13th New Jersey. When the War ended he returned to Ireland and stayed with his sister Mary in Glenagare, Ladysbridge. He worked for a time in a store in Cork City where he remained until the 1867 Rising.  In his speech to the court he pronounced he was a citizen of the United States of America and that the American Ambassador, Charles Francis Adams, had not done his duty in protecting him from the English Court. In fact, O’Brien’s lawyers had attempted to have Ambassador Adams intervene but O’Brien had been involved with Colonel Richard O’Sullivan Burke in securing weapons in Liverpool for the 1867 Rising.

O’Brien and several other Fenians were arrested and charged with being in possessing a number of rifles belonging to the British government. At that trial O’Brien claimed American protection and although all of the men were acquitted the Secretary to the American Legation wrote to his attorneys in Manchester…”from information received from a reliable source, he (the Ambassador) finds you are the same Michael O’Brien who was tried and claimed American protection in Liverpool in 1867. You received sufficient warning from the American consul at that place not to put yourself again in any danger and Mr. Adams regrets to learn that you have failed to follow that prudent advice.”

Following the rescue, over twenty innocent local Irishmen were arrested for questioning. Ultimately five Fenians were tried and convicted of the alleged murder of Sgt. Charles Brett and sentenced to death by hanging: William Philip Allen, Michael Larkin, Michael O’Brien, Thomas Maguire and Edward O’Meagher Condon. Maguire, actually a Royal Marine home on leave, had nothing to do with the rescue, except the fact he was “Irish” was enough to cause his arrest (English “justice” where the Irish are concerned has changed very little since 1867. Just ask Gerry Conlon of the Guilford Four,  or the Birmingham Five, or so many other recent examples of Irishmen and Irishwomen being put into English jails and prisons, many having never even seen a judge as was the case with “Internment  Without  Trial” and the “Diplock Courts”. 

A number of reporters covering the trial in Manchester believed Maguire to be innocent and petitioned the Home Secretary and a few days before the sentence was to be carried out Maguire received a Queen’s Pardon and was released. Through the intervention of the American Ambassador and an appeal for clemency by the Hon. William H. Seward, the American Secretary of State, two days before the hanging Condon received a reprieve. He was to serve penal servitude for life. Condon was released from prison after serving 11 years and was “banished” for an additional 20 years.

At day break, 23 November 1867, a cold, damp, foggy morning, on a platform attached to the outer walls of New Bailey Prison, on Bridge Street, Salford, Allen, Larkin & O’Brien were publically hanged before a crowd estimated to be between 8,000 to 10,000 and their bodies buried in unmarked graves of quicklime in unconsecrated ground within the prison.

While the sentence had called for “death by hanging”, only the young William Philip Allen died via the hangman’s (Calcraft) rope. Michael Larkin was strangled (murdered) by Calcraft in the scaffold’s pit while Michael O’Brien suffered an agonizing 45 minutes choking to death on his tongue.

New Bailey Prison closed in 1868 and the remains of Allen, Larkin & 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.

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The following is taken from the last letter of William Philip Allen, written on the day before his execution and preserved at the National Museum in Dublin:

Salford New Bailey Prison

November 22, 1867

TO YOU, MY LOVING AND SINCERE DEAR UNCLE AND AUNT,

I suppose this is my last letter to you at this side of the grave. Oh, dear Uncle and Aunt, if you reflect on it, it is nothing. I am dying an honorable death; I am dying for Ireland-dying for the land that gave me birth-dying for the Island of Saints-and dying for liberty. Every generation of our countrymen has suffered; and where is the Irish heart could stand by unmoved? I should like to know what trouble, what passion, what mischief could separate the true Irish heart from its own native isle. Dear Uncle and Aunt, it is sad parting with you all, at my early age; but we must all die some day or another. A few hours more, I will breathe my last, and on English soil. Oh, that I could be buried in Ireland! What happiness it would be to all my friends, and to myself-Where my countrymen could kneel on my grave.” I am dying, thank God! an Irishman and a Christian. Give my love to all friends; same from your ever affectionate nephew.

Pray for us. Good-bye and remember me. Good-bye and may heaven protect you all, is the last wish of your dying nephew.

W.P. Allen

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23 November 2017, four years from now, will mark the 150th anniversary of the execution of Allen, Larkin and O’Brien. As the great-grandnephew of Captain Timothy Deasy, I am leading the effort in the United States, to do whatever is necessary to have the remains of “THE MANCHESTER MARTYRS” repatriated to Ireland, before the sesquicentennial of their 1867 execution and to fulfill William Philip Allen’s dying request “Oh, that I could be buried in Ireland”. Anyone interested in helping to support this effort please contact me at the following-mail address: rjpbateman@gmail.com or: COL (Ret.)  Robert J. Bateman, 16 Rockledge Avenue 3L2, Ossining, New York 10562.

 

“GOD SAVE IRELAND!

 

Contributor:  COL (Ret.)  Robert J. Bateman


cemetery AND grave location

Name:   Woodlands -- Blackley Cemetery                                 PHONE NO.  

ADDRESS:     Victoria Avenue, Blackley, Manchester,  England


WOODLANDS --BLACKNEY CEMETERY


MONUMENT  IN GLASNEVIN  CEMETERY

 IN DUBLIN, IRELAND

 

MONUMENT INSCRIPTION

God save Ireland

Timothy Daniel Sullivan

 

God save Ireland, said the heroes 
God save Ireland, said they all 
Whether on the scaffold high 
Or the battlefield we die 
Oh, what matter when for Erin dear we fall 

High upon the gallows tree swung the noble hearted three 
By the vengeful tyrant stricken in their bloom 
But they met him face to face with the courage of their race 
And they went with souls undaunted to their doom 

God save Ireland, said the heroes 
God save Ireland, said they all 
Whether on the scaffold high 
Or the battlefield we die 
Oh, what matter when for Erin dear we fall 

Climbed they up the rugged stair, rang their voices out in prayer 
Then with England's fatal cord around them cast 
Close beside the gallows tree kissed like brothers lovingly 
True to home and faith and freedom to the last 

God save Ireland, said the heroes 
God save Ireland, said they all 
Whether on the scaffold high 
Or the battlefield we die 
Oh, what matter when for Erin dear we fall 

Never till the latest day shall the memory pass away 
Of the gallant lives thus given for our land 
But on the cause must go, amidst joy and weal and woe 
Till we make our Isle a nation free and grand 

God save Ireland, said the heroes 
God save Ireland, said they all 
Whether on the scaffold high 
Or the battlefield we die 
Oh, what matter when for Erin dear we fall

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The song was written by T. D. Sullivan in 1867. It was inspired by Edmund O'Meager Condon's speech from the dock when he stood trial along with the three Manchester Martyrs (Michael Larkin, William Phillip Allen, and Michael O'Brien). After the three were executed, the song was adopted as the Fenian movement's anthem. 
 

FENIAN OFFICER'S UNIFORM

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Posted 08/20/2015