The Fenians, Colonel Kelly and the Manchester Martyrs

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The Fenians, Colonel Kelly and the Manchester Martyrs

One hundred and fifty years ago on 18th September 1867 about 50 Irish Fenians attacked a prison van at Hyde Road, Manchester intent on releasing two key Fenian prisoners, Thomas Joseph Kelly and Timothy Deasy. An unarmed police sergeant, Charles Brett was shot dead and 26 men were tried for partaking in the attack. Three men, William Allen, Michael O’Brien and Michael Larkin, also known as the ‘Manchester Martyrs’ were hanged on 23rd November 1867 in front of a crowd in the region of 10,000 people. Colonel Thomas Joseph Kelly was born in Mountbellew in 1833. He attended St Jarlath’s College, Tuam where he came to be influenced by his teacher Michael Joseph McCann, who wrote O’Donnell Abú, (O’Donnell Forever), also known as the Tyrconnel War Song, it is a rousing marching song about the Nine Years War (1594-1603), when O’Neill and O’Donnell challenged Elizabethan rule in Ireland.

He joined the National Guard in New York

He became a printer in Loughrea and at the age of eighteen emigrated to New York and worked at Printer’s Union. He joined the National Guard in New York and received some military training, he later joined the Emmet Monument Association, an Irish-American Republican group. He was actively involved in the American War of Independence, enlisting in the 10th Ohio Infantry and eventually attaining the rank of Captain on 17 March 1863. After the war he joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB). He became Deputy Leader of the IRB. After James Stephens was overthrown as Irish Leader of the Fenians Kelly took control of the organisation.

Their followers tried to free them

Tomas Joseph Kelly played a significant role in the failed Fenian Rising of 1867. In August 1867 he was declared the Chief Organiser at a secret meeting in Manchester. On 11th September 1867 Kelly and Timothy Deasy were arrested in Manchester. One week later, Kelly and Deasy were being transferred from the courthouse to the county jail on Hyde Road, when their followers tried to free them. Kelly and Deasy escaped to America and Kelly took up employment in the New York Custom House. He continued to be a member of the IRB and died in New York in 1908; he is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.

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