Smashing of the Van
September 18th, 1867
On the 11th of September Colonel Thomas Kelley along with his fellow Fenian, Captain Timothy Deasy were arrested in Manchester by the city police for loitering. They were soon identified as leaders of the Fenian movement in Dublin and remanded for trial a week later.
On the way from the police barracks to Bellvue Prison, the van (a black Maria horse drawing carriage) carrying the men was intercepted by a group of armed Fenians. These men held up the van and scared off the police escort, leaving only the sergeant locked in the van with Capt. Deasy and Col. Kelley. This police officer was unintentionally killed when the Fenians blew the lock off of the door of the van.
During the escape from the city, four of the rescue party sacrified themselves to throw the police off the trail of the two high ranking Fenians. These men were arrested on the spot and charged with the killing of the sergeant. Their names were William Phillip Allen, Michael Larkin, Michael O'Brien, and Edward O'Meaghar Condon.
Despite all the efforts of the Fenian's counsel, Ernest Jones, the court found the men guilty of murder and they were all sentenced to death. Condon's sentence was overturned because of the fact that he was an American citizen. He served a short prison term and was deported to the US. The other three were set to be hanged on the 23rd of November 1867 despite the fact that none of them fired the unlucky shot that killed the police sergeant.
In the week following these executions, there was widespread horror and protest. Even people who were against the actions and methods of the Fenian movement, such as '48 rebel John Martin, spoke out against this injustice. Great funeral processions marched thru the city and long streams of people followed the men's coffins thru the streets. These mass funerals and events with the Land League focused the minds of the popular masses on the injustice of English rule in Ireland.
Out of this incident came one of the most famous songs about freedom. "God Save Ireland"
, penned by TD Sullivan remained the adopted national anthem of the Irish people until the Soldier's Song
took its place after Easter Rising of 1916
**More on this period here: Specific Incidents of the 1867 Fenian Rising