The rescue of Colonel Kelly and Captain Deasy while they were being conveyed to Salford gaol, near Manchester (September 18th, 1867), is one of the most stirring episodes of the Fenian movement. The accidental shooting of a police sergeant in charge was made the pretext for executing three young men who had taken part in the affair--William Philip Allen, Michael Larkin, Michael O’Brien. They were “tried” and found guilty, November 1st. The conduct of the trial was in strict accord with the traditions of English law when applied to Irish patriots. The behaviour of the crowd which gathered about Salford prison on the night preceeding the day of execution showed how the three Irishmen were victims to the blood-lust of the moment.
The following are the speeches of the ‘Manchester Martyrs’ at their trial.
WILLIAM PHILIP ALLEN
“No man in this court regrets the death of Sergeant Brett more than I do, and I positively say, in the presence of the Almighty and ever-living God, that I am innocent; aye, as innocent as any man in this court. I don’t say this for the sake of mercy: I want no mercy--I’ll have no mercy. I’ll die, as many thousands have died, for the sake of their beloved land, and in defence of it. I will die proudly and triumphantly in defence of republican principles and the liberty of an oppressed and enslaved people. Is it possible we are asked why sentence should not be passed upon us, on the evidence of prostitutes off the streets of Manchester, fellows out of work, convicted felons--aye, an Irishman sentenced to be hanged when an English dog would have got off. I say positively and defiantly, justice has not been done me since I was arrested. If justice had been done me, I would not have been handcuffed at the preliminary investigation in Bridge Street; and in this court justice has not been done me in any shape or form. I was brought up here and all the prisoners by my side were allowed to wear overcoats, and I was told to take mine off. What is the principle of that? There was something in that principle, and I say positively that justice has not been done me. As for the other prisoners, they can speak for themselves with regard to that matter. And now, with regard to the way I have been identified. I have to say that my clothes were kept for four hours by the policemen in Fairfield station and shown to parties to identify me as being one of the perpetrators of this outrage on Hyde Road. Also in Albert station there was a handkerchief kept on my head the whole night, so that I could be identified the next morning in the corridor by the witnesses. I was ordered to leave on the handkerchief for the purpose that the witnesses could more plainly see I was one of the parties who committed the outrage. As for myself, I feel the righteousness of my every act with regard to what I have done in defence of my country. I fear not. I am fearless --fearless of the punishment that can be inflicted on me; and with that, my lords, I have done.”
(After a pause):--” I beg to be excused. One remark more. I return Mr. Seymour and Mr. Jones my sincere and heartfelt thanks for their able eloquence and advocacy on my part in this affray. I wish also to return to Mr. Roberts the very same. My name, sir, might be wished to be known. It is not William O’Meara Allen. My name is William Philip Allen. I was born and reared in Bandon, in the County of Cork, and from that place I take my name; and I am proud of my country, and proud of my parentage. My lords, I have done.”
“I have only got a word or two to say concerning Sergeant Brett. As my friend here said, no one could regret the man’s death as much as I do. With regard to the charge of pistols and revolvers, and my using them, I call my God as witness that I neither used pistols, revolvers, nor any instrument on that day that would deprive the life of a child, let alone a man. Nor did I go there on purpose to take life away. Certainly, my lords, I do not want to deny that I did go to give aid and assistance to those two noble heroes that were confined in that van--Kelly and Deasy. I did go to do as much as lay in my power to extricate them out of their bondage; but I did not go to take life, nor, my lord, did anyone else. It is a misfortune there was life taken; but if it was taken it was not done intentionally, and the man who has taken life we have not got him. I was at the scene of action, when there were over, I dare say, 150 people standing by there when I was. I am very sorry I have to say, my lord, but I thought I had some respectable people to come up as witnesses against me; but I am sorry to say as my friend said--I will make no more remarks concerning that. All I have to say, my lords and gentlemen, is that so far as my trial went, and the way it was conducted, I believe I have got a fair trial.”
He evidently alluded to the exertions of his counsel and solicitor, whom he thanked. He concluded with a curiously fatalistic reference to his belief in the old saying, “what is decreed a man in the page of life he has to fulfil, either on the gallows, drowning, a fair death in bed, or on the battle-field.”
“So I look to the mercy of God. May God forgive all who have sworn my life away. As I am a dying man, I forgive them from the bottom of my heart. God forgive them.”
“I shall commence by saying that every witness who has sworn anything against me has sworn falsely. I have not had a stone in my possession since I was a boy. I had no pistol in my possession on the day when it is alleged this outrage was committed. You call it an outrage, I don’t. I say further my name is Michael O’Brien. I was born in the county of Cork and have the honour to be a fellow-parishioner of Peter O’Neal Crowley, who was fighting against the British troops at Mitchelstown last March, and who fell fighting against British tyranny in Ireland. I am a citizen of the United States of America, and if Charles Francis Adams had done his duty towards me, as he ought to do in this country, I should not be in this dock answering your questions now. Mr. Adams did not come, though I wrote to him. He did not come to see if I could not find evidence to disprove the charge, which I positively could, if he had taken the trouble of sending or coming to see what I could do. I hope the American people will notice this part of the business.”
The speaker continued reading from a paper he held:
“The right of man is freedom. The great God has endowed him with affections that he may use, not smother them, and a world that may be enjoyed. Once a man is satisfied he is doing right, and attempts to do anything with that conviction, he must be willing to face all the consequences. Ireland, with its beautiful scenery, its delightful climate, its rich and productive lands, is capable of supporting more than treble its population in ease and comfort. Yet no man, except a paid official of the British Government, can say there is a shadow of liberty, that there is a spark of glad life amongst its plundered and persecuted inhabitants. It is to be hoped that its imbecile and tyrannical rulers will be for ever driven from her soil amidst the execrations of the world. How beautifully the aristocrats of England moralise on the despotism of the rulers of Italy and Dahomey--in the case of Naples with what indignation did they speak of the ruin of families by the detention of its head or some loved member in a prison. Who has not heard their condemnations of the tyranny that would compel honourable and good men to spend their useful lives in hopeless banishment?
To have observed this aspect of British foreign policy, at that time, indicates no small degree of intelligence on the part of the speaker. The court recognising this, intervened with a warning “entirely for Mr O’Brien’s sake.” The effort to divert attention from British philanthropy was not successful.
“They cannot find words to express their horror of the cruelties of the King of Dahomey because he sacrificed 2,000 human beings yearly, but why don’t those persons who pretend such virtuous indignation at the misgovernment of other countries look at home, and see that greater crimes than those they charge against other governments are not committed by themselves or by their sanction? Let them look at London, and see the thousands that want bread there, while those aristocrats are rioting in luxuries and crimes. Look to Ireland; see the hundreds of thousands of its people in misery and want. See the virtuous, beautiful and industrious women who only a few years ago--aye, and yet--are obliged to look at their children dying for want of food. Look at what is called the majesty of the law on one side, and the long deep misery of a noble people on the other. Which are the young men of Ireland to respect--the law that murders or banishes their people or the means to resist relentless tyranny, and ending their miseries for ever under a home government? I need not answer that question here. I trust the Irish people will answer it to their satisfaction soon. I am not astonished at my conviction. The Government of this country have the power of convicting any person. They appoint the judge; they choose the jury; and by means of what they call patronage (which is the means of corruption) they have the power of making the laws to suit their purposes. I am confident that my blood will rise a hundredfold against the tyrants who think proper to commit such an outrage. In the first place, I say I was identified improperly by having chains on my hands and feet at the time of identification, and thus the witnesses who have sworn to my throwing stones and firing a pistol have sworn to what is false, for I was, as those ladies said, at the jail gates. I thank my counsel for their able defence, and also Mr. Roberts, for his attention to my case.”