James Connolly


The Manchester Martyrs


From Workers’ Republic, 20 November 1915.
Transcribed by The James Connolly Society in 1997.
Proofread by Chris Clayton, August 2007.

This week we are celebrating another anniversary. But it is of a different order to the anniversary of which we spoke of in our last number. That anniversary was of one of Ireland’s thinkers – a defiant rebel and preacher of rebellion but one whose rebellion never got further than the spoken or written word. A thinker and initiator amidst mindless slaves – a scorner and hater of orthodox formulae amidst men who could not think even of rebellion except according to formula, and who refused to rebel because some of the ingredients of their formula were lacking.

This week our Anniversary is not of thinkers, but of doers, of men who when a duty was to be done did not stop to think, but acted, and by their action violated every rule of prudence, sanity, and caution, and in violating them all obeyed the highest dictates of wisdom and achieved immortality.

THE MANCHESTER MARTYRS! Who were they? A few words will tell.

Two members of the Fenian organisation – Kelly and Deasy – were trapped in Manchester, and lay awaiting trial in an English prison. The Fenians in that city resolved to rescue them. This they did by stopping the prison van upon the road between Manchester and Salford, breaking open the van, shooting a policeman in the act, and carrying off their comrades under the very eyes of the English authorities,

Out of a number of men arrested for complicity in the deed, three were hanged. These three were ALLEN, LARKIN and O’BRIEN – the three Manchester Martyrs whose memory we honour today. Why do we honour them?

We honour them because of their heroic souls. Let us remember that by every test by which parties in Ireland to-day measure political wisdom, or personal prudence, the act of these men ought to be condemned. They were in a hostile city, surrounded by a hostile population; they were playing into the hands of the Government by bringing all the Fenians out in broad daylight to be spotted and remembered; they were discouraging the Irish people by giving them another failure to record; they had no hopes of foreign help even if their brothers in Ireland took the field spurred by their action; at the most their action would only be an Irish riot in an English city; and finally, they were imperilling the whole organisation for the sake of two men. These were all the sound sensible arguments of the prudent, practical politicians and theoretical revolutionists. But “how beggarly appear words before a defiant deed!”

The Fenians of Manchester rose superior to all the whines about prudence, caution and restraint, and saw only two of their countrymen struck at for loyalty to freedom, and seeing this, struck back at the enemy with blows that are still resounding through the heart of the world. The echo of those blows has for a generation been as a baptismal dedication to the soul and life of thousands of Irish men and women, consecrating them to the service of freedom.

Had Kelly and Deasy been struck at in our time, we would not have startled the world by the vehemence of our blow in return; we would not have sent out the call for a muster of our hosts to peril all in their rescue. No, we would simply have instructed our typist to look up the office files and see if they had paid up their subscription in the Cumann Cosanta, and were entitled to their insurance benefit.

Thus we have progressed in the path of civilised methods, far, far away from the undisciplined hatred and reckless fighting of the ’67 men. MORYAH!

ALLEN, LARKIN and O’BRIEN died that the right of their small nationality to independence might be attested by their blood – died that some day an Irish Republic might live. The song of their martyrdom was written by a man who had laboured hard to prevent the fruition of their hopes; the prayer of their last moments has become the hackneyed catch word of every political Judas seeking to betray their cause. Everything associated with them has been stolen or corrupted, except the imperishable example of their ‘defiant deed.’ Of that neither men, devils, nor doubters can deprive us.

Oh, the British Empire is great and strong and powerful compared with Ireland. ’Tis true that compared with Germany the Empire is a doddering old miser confronted with a lusty youth, a miser whose only hope is to purchase the limbs and bodies of others to protect her stolen properties. ’Tis true that the Empire cannot stand up alone to any European power, that she must have allies or perish. ’Tis true that even with allies her military and financial system is cracking at every point, sweating blood in fear at every pore. But still all the stolen property that England possesses our Irish forefathers have helped to steal, and we are helping to defend.

Was it wise then, or commendable, for the men of ’67 to rebel against the Empire that their and our fathers have helped to build or steal? There are thousands of answers to that question, but let the European battlefields of today provide the one all-sufficient answer.

All these mountains of Irish dead, all these corpses mangled beyond recognition, all these arms, legs, eyes, ears, fingers, toes, hands, all these shivering putrefying bodies and portions of bodies – once warm living and tender parts of Irish men and youths – all these horrors buried in Flanders or the Gallipoli Peninsula, are all items in the price Ireland pays for being part of the British Empire. All these widows whose husbands were torn from their sides and forced to go to war, their prayers and tears for the ones who will return no more, are another part of the price of Empire. All those fatherless orphans, who for the last time have heard the cheery laugh of an affectionate father, and who must for years suffer all the bitter hardships of a childhood poorly provided for against want and hunger – all those and their misery are part of the price Ireland pays for Empire. All those shattered, maimed and diseased wrecks of humanity who for years will crowd our poorhouses and asylums, or crawl along our roads and streets affronting our health by their wounds, and our comfort by their appeals for charity – all, all are part of the price Ireland pays for the glory of being an integral part of the British Empire.

And for what do we pay this price? Answer, ye practical ones! Ye men of sense, of prudence, of moderation, of business capacity!

Ireland is rotten with slums, a legacy of Empire. The debt of this war will prevent us from getting money to replace them with sound clean, healthy homes. Every big gun fired in the Dardanelles fired away at every shot the cost of building a home for a working class family. Ireland has the most inefficient educational system, and the poorest schools in Europe. Empire compels us to pay pounds for blowing out the brains of others for every farthing it allows us with which to train our own.

An Empire on which the sun never sets cannot guarantee its men and women as much comfort as is enjoyed by the every-day citizen of the smallest, least military nation in Europe. Nations that know not the power and possessions of Empire have happier, better educated, better housed, better equipped men and women than Ireland has ever known, or can ever know as an integral part of the British Empire.

The British Empire is a piratical enterprise in which the velour of slaves fights for the glory and profit of their masters. The Home Rule Party aspire to be trusted accomplices of that conspiracy, the Manchester Martyrs were its unyielding foes even to the dungeon and the scaffold. Therefore we honour the memory of the Manchester Martyrs. As future generations shall honour them.


Last updated on 28.9.2007