Murders Touching Ireland’s Bloody Self-Government Campaign


A new militant structure was formed between the IRB and Land League members, with funding from Irish America. The Avengers, as they called themselves, were a tough community, as devoted to everything as “physical strength” as their 20th-century successors, while the Provisional IRA Parnell and the Irish Party at Westminster quietly negotiated a roadmap to internal rule. Gladstone and the Liberals, the Avengers, and their American supporters were convinced that Ireland could only be liberated from British control by violence. This is a familiar argument that persists even now.

In a symbolic assault on the heart of British power in Ireland, the Avengers, led by Patrick Tynan, whom Kavanagh describes as “a visionary, unlikely military hero”, devised a plan to assassinate permanent undersecretary and senior minister Thomas Burke. Irish official resident at Dublin Castle (hence the nickname “Castle Rat”). A team was sent to Phoenix Park to intercept Burke during his evening walk.

The two assassins were the burly Joe Brady, one of Dublin’s slum family of 25 children, and his best friend – and church choir friend – Tim Kelly, who nearly escaped the gallows at the age of 19 for his boyish looks. One of the two getaway drivers was taxi driver James Fitzharris, known as Goatskin, which readers of “Ulysses” will recognize.

This thing had all the hallmarks of a farce, but the ending was tragic.

As Kavanagh’s book amply demonstrates, life is indeed stranger than “works of fiction.” Walking with Burke that May evening in Phoenix Park was Lord Frederick Cavendish, the Liberal Member of Parliament, who, as the younger son of the Duke of Devonshire, was a son of one of the great English families; He was also an ally of Gladstone and married to his beloved niece Lucy. Cavendish had been appointed chief secretary of Ireland, the queen’s second highest representative in the country. He had only been in the country for a few hours, accidentally meeting Burke and taking a stroll with him.

The killers shot. Brady attacked Burke with a 10-inch surgical blade, inflicting terrible wounds, and when Cavendish tried to come to his colleague’s aid, Kelly stabbed him, even though he had no idea who Cavendish was. Both men died on the spot as Brady and Kelly got into a taxi driven by another Invincible, Michael Kavanagh.

More than a dozen Avengers were recruited by Inspector John Mallon, the same police officer who arrested Michael Davitt for rioting a few years ago. Evidence against the murderers was minimal until he agreed to testify against fellow conspirators James Carey and two other Invincibles. Brady, Kelly and three others were convicted and hanged, Goatskin was imprisoned.


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