E

dward O'Meagher-Condon (1835-1915) was born in Mitchelstown, Co. Cork. He emigrated to the United States where he joined the Fenians. He fought in the Federal Army during the American Civil War (1861-65). Condon was an American citizen when the central event in his life happened. This was the rescue of the Fenian prisoners, Kelly and Deasy, from custody in Manchester. O'Meagher Condon was one of the five men charged with the murder of Sergeant Brett on that occasion and was sentenced to death, being saved only because he was an American citizen.

    Colonel Thomas J Kelly and his comrade Captain Deasy arrived in Manchester in the autumn of 1867 on Fenian business and on September 18 they were arrested. They were recognised as Fenians and remanded to Bellevue Goal. They were handcuffed and put into a prison van but unlike the non-political prisoners, they were locked into a separate compartment with a Sergeant Brett and guarded on the outside by twelve policemen.

    The journey to the jail was a short one and the Fenians on the outside had planned to rescue them at the railway line. As the van passed under the railway arch one of the Fenians appeared with a pistol and called on the driver to pull up and to open the door. Sgt Brett refused to open the door when he realised that the Fenians were attempting to rescue Kelly and Deasy. 

    When all attempts to break open the door failed and after calling on those inside to stand back, shots were fired into the lock. Sgt Brett, who refused to move, was shot in the head and fell to the floor. One of the women prisoners grabbed the keys and handed them out. The doors were opened and Kelly and Deasy were taken away by some of the Fenians and were never recaptured. 

    

   The Irish in Manchester (a tenth of the population at the time) suffered at the hands of the British that night as raids took place all over the city and many people were arrested - simply because they were Irish. 

    

    Among those arrested in connection with the ‘Smashing of the Van’ were Michael O’Brien, who was born in Ballymacoda, Co Cork. He was a draper by trade. Michael emigrated to America where, at the outbreak of the Civil War, he enlisted in the Union Army. After the War, when his regiment was disbanded, he returned to Cork. He disappeared on the night before the Fenian Rising and was not heard of again until he was arrested for taking part in the attack on the prison van. 

    

    Another man arrested was William Philip Allen who was born in Tipperary and raised in Bandon, Co Cork where his father was a Bridewell-keeper. William’s father was a Protestant and his mother a Catholic so William was educated in both Protestant and Catholic schools. He was a carpenter by trade. His first visit to Manchester was to visit relatives and on returning home he stayed in Dublin were he became a builder’s clerk. In the summer of 1867 he again went to Manchester 

    

    Michael Larkin was born in 1835 in Co Offaly. His grandfather was James Quirke who was flogged and transported for his part in the 1798 Rising. Michael, who trained as a tradesman, went to London and worked there until the time of his arrest in 1867. He had, like his two companions, a great love of Ireland and he was very conscious of the condition of the Irish at home. All three of them, in their last statements, claimed that they were innocent of the crime for which they were about to die.

    

    On October 28 Michael O’Brien, William Philip Allen, Michael Larkin, along with Condon (under the alias 'Shore') and Thomas Maguire (a private in the British army, an Irishman who was on leave and named by numerous witness’s as the ringleader), and others, stood trial before a Special Commission charged with the ‘murder’ of Sgt Brett. The trial lasted three days and on November 1 the jury returned a guilty verdict. All five protested their innocence. (Thomas Maguire and Michael O’Brien proved they were not even there) and Allen, Larkin and O’Brien were hanged. Condon's statement "I have nothing to regret, to retract, or to take home. I can only say 'God save Ireland,' to which the other prisoners chorussed 'God save Ireland,'" provided T.D.Sullivan with the inspiration to write the ballad of the same name. 

    

    Paul Rose in his book The Manchester Martyrs, A Fenian tragedy, states “This was to be no ordinary execution. The whole might of authority seemed to be determined that the extreme penalty should be exacted.  500 soldiers in and around the prison were augmented by 2,000 ordinary and special constables…a large detachment of troops from the 72nd Highlanders was on duty at the prison and a squadron of the Eight Hussars was stationed at the front in Stanley Street with another battery in reserve within the prison walls … infantry occupied the railway viaduct … Salford railway station was occupied by the reserves of the infantry… New Bailey Street was policed by 500 men drawn from the Manchester, Salford and County forces … all traffic into and out of the area was stopped.” 

 

    Maguire was granted a Queen’s pardon and released. O’Meagher Condon, had his sentence commuted to life imprisonment because he was an American citizen and through the intervention of the American Secretary of State. He spent twelve years in Portland Prison before he was released, in 1878, on condition that he not set foot in Britain for at least twenty years. But for the fact that he was an American citizen he would be regarded, now, as one of the Manchester Martyrs .     

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