Review: The Irish Assassins: Conspiracy, Revenge and the Murders that Stunned an Empire
The brutal deaths of Lord Frederick Cavendish and Thomas Burke, Chief Secretary and Permanent Under-Secretary for Ireland respectively, took place on Saturday 6 May, 1882 in Phoenix Park, Dublin. Both were strolling together after a busy time following their recent appointments. The murders were carried out by the Invincibles, a militant faction of republicans. They were armed with homemade weapons using surgeon’s blades which caused internal wounds, and great blood loss.
Proof of the murders at a criminal trial was achieved by some of the conspirators giving, willingly, evidence against the others. In particular, James Carey, originally one of the more militant members, gave evidence on all the details of the conspiracy. His evidence, and that of the man with a horse-drawn cab who took the conspirators away from the scene, ensured the convictions of five of the attackers, and the latter were all executed subsequently.
Carey and his family moved to live in South Africa but on the journey he was recognised on board the ship and shot dead. A subsequent trial for that later murder led to a conviction, and another execution.
Surprisingly, the first sentence in the book seems rather broadly stated when it asserts that “every reader will know about the age-old hostility between the Irish and the English”. Notably, also, the book concludes, somewhat self-indulgently, with Acknowledgements that cover seven pages with names, it seems, of about 70 people who had assisted the author. There is, in addition, an Author’s Note of five pages, a Bibliography of six pages and also Endnotes of nine pages on other sources.
The title of the book varies according to where you buy it. In the American version, those who were stunned on hearing of the Phoenix Park murders are said to be in “Victorian England”. In the British version, those who were said to be stunned by the same murders are in “an Empire”, by inference, the British Empire.
This is an excellent narrative, modestly priced, of a complex era of British and Irish politics, and associated criminal trials, with an international interest at the time. There are 16 pages of interesting and helpful contemporary photographs and prints.
The Irish Assassins: Conspiracy, Revenge and the Murders that Stunned an Empire by Julie Kavanagh