Michael O'Brien

Michael O'Brien

Ballymacoda, County Cork, Ireland
Death 23 Nov 1867 (aged 29–30)
Manchester, Metropolitan Borough of Manchester, Greater Manchester, England
Memorial Site* Dublin, County Dublin, Ireland

* A structure erected in honor of someone whose remains lie elsewhere.

Memorial ID 5747057 · View Source
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Irish Nationalist. Along with William Philip Allen and Michael Larkin, he was executed for the killing of a policeman in Manchester, England, in the wake of the failed 1867 Fenian Rising. The three men became popularly known as the "Manchester Martyrs". The son of a poor farmer, his family lost their property in 1856 and he trained as a draper in Cork. Around 1860 he emigrated to the United States and is said to have served in the Union Army during the Civil War, rising to the rank of lieutenant. After the war he returned to Cork. It is not known when he arrived in Manchester or joined the Fenians and the Irish Republican Brotherhood, which took an increasingly militant stance on the question of Irish home rule. Two leaders of the Fenians, Colonel Thomas J. Kelly and Captain Timothy Deasy, had planned to launch an armed uprising against the English in February 1867 with a raid on the arsenal in Chester, but their plans were exposed and they found themselves hunted men. When they were arrested in Manchester seven months later, a local Fenian organizer, Edward O'Meagher Condon, determined to free them. On September 18, 1867, Kelly and Deasy were being transported from the city courthouse to the county jail in a police van under mounted escort; with them were three female prisoners, a juvenile offender, and one guard, Police Sergeant Brett. As it passed under a railway arch, a group of about three dozen men suddenly surrounded the van, shot one horse and seized the rest. The unarmed escort soon fled and the group ordered the immediate release of the Fenians. The lone policeman refused, and after failing to open the van door with hammers and hatchets, one of the rescuers tried to blow open the lock with his revolver. At that moment Sgt. Brett peered through the keyhole to see what was happening, and the gunshot killed him instantly. A woman prisoner finally took the keys from his pocket and passed them to the Fenians through a ventilator in the van roof. Kelly and Deasy escaped and eventually found refuge in the United States. A brief manhunt resulted in 29 arrests, and five men were brought to trial for Brett's murder: Condon, O'Brien, Allen, Larkin, and Edward Maguire. All were convicted, even though the prosecution could not prove which men in the mob were armed or who fired the fatal shot. In his pre-sentencing speech O'Brien was so defiant in proclaiming his innocence that the judge cautioned him to tone down his remarks, to no avail. He referred to British leaders as "imbeciles" and said of his conviction, "I am confident that my blood will rise a hundredfold against the tyrants who think proper to commit such an outrage". The defendants were all sentenced to death. Maguire would be pardoned as a case of mistaken identity, and Condon had his sentence commuted to 10 years because he was an American citizen. O'Brien, Allen and Larkin were hanged at the New Bailey Prison in Salford, and buried in quicklime in its graveyard. The executions aroused much protest in the UK and in Ireland the dead were hailed as patriots and martyrs. Two weeks later a symbolic funeral was held for them in Dublin, in which 60,000 people followed three empty hearses to Glasnevin Cemetery. A memorial to the Fenians was subsequently dedicated there, while their rallying cry at the trial, "God Save Ireland!", was celebrated in poetry and song. New Bailey Prison closed in 1868 and the bodies of O'Brien, Allen and Larkin were transferred to Strangeways Prison Cemetery, where they remained for over a century in unmarked graves. In 1991 their remains were cremated and reinterred at Blackley Cemetery in Manchester. Since then there has been a movement to have them brought back to Ireland for burial in their native soil.

Bio by: Bobb Edwards



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  • Maintained by: Find A Grave
  • Originally Created by: David Conway
  • Added: 7 Sep 2001
  • Find A Grave Memorial 5747057
  • Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for Michael O'Brien (c.1837–23 Nov 1867), Find A Grave Memorial no. 5747057, citing Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin, County Dublin, Ireland ; Maintained by Find A Grave .