The Fenians, Colonel Kelly & The Manchester Martyrs

  • Conference /

  • Holy Rosary College, Mountbellew, Co Galway
  • Free

Now one hundred and fifty years later the Fenians, Colonel Kelly and the Manchester Martyrs are the subject of a one day conference which will be held in Holy Rosary College, Mountbellew on 11th November.

One hundred and fifty years ago on 18th September 1867 about 50 Irish Fenians attacked a prison van at Hyde Road, Manchester intent on releasing two key Fenian prisoners, Thomas Joseph Kelly and Timothy Deasy. An unarmed police sergeant, Charles Brett was shot dead and 26 men were tried for partaking in the attack. Three men, William Allen, Michael O’Brien and Michael Larkin, also known as the ‘Manchester Martyrs’ were hanged on 23rd November 1867 in front of a crowd in the region of 10,000 people. Colonel Thomas Joseph Kelly was born in Mountbellew in 1833. He attended St Jarlath’s College, Tuam where he came to be influenced by his teacher Michael Joseph McCann, who wrote O'Donnell Abú, (O'Donnell Forever), also known as the Tyrconnel War Song, it is a rousing marching song about the Nine Years War (1594-1603), when O'Neill and O'Donnell challenged Elizabethan rule in Ireland. He became a printer in Loughrea and at the age of eighteen emigrated to New York and worked at Printer’s Union. He joined the National Guard in New York and received some military training, he later joined the Emmet Monument Association, an Irish-American Republican group. He was actively involved in the American War of Independence, enlisting in the 10th Ohio Infantry and eventually attaining the rank of Captain on 17 March 1863. After the war he joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB). He became Deputy Leader of the IRB. After James Stephens was overthrown as Irish Leader of the Fenians Kelly took control of the organisation.  Tomas Joseph Kelly played a significant role in the failed Fenian Rising of 1867. In August 1867 he was declared the Chief Organiser at a secret meeting in Manchester. On 11th September 1867 Kelly and Timothy Deasy were arrested in Manchester. One week later, Kelly and Deasy were being transferred from the courthouse to the county jail on Hyde Road, when their followers tried to free them. Kelly and Deasy escaped to America and Kelly took up employment in the New York Custom House. He continued to be a member of the IRB and died in New York in 1908; he is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.


Now one hundred and fifty years later the Fenians, Colonel Kelly and the Manchester Martyrs are the subject of a one day conference which will be held in Holy Rosary College, Mountbellew on 11th November. Erica Veil is a great-great-granddaughter of Colonel Thomas J. Kelly and will speak about “The Family History and Legacy of Colonel Thomas J Kelly”. Kilconly native, Bride Brady will give a presentation on "Dr Mark Ryan - Kilconly Fenian", while Dr Owen McGee will discuss "American soldier or IRB rebel: understanding the career of Colonel Thomas J. Kelly (1833-1908)". Donnacha De Long will examine “The Boland connection” and Dr Frank Rynne will debate “The Fenians: Transnational Revolutionaries”. Dr Conor McNamara, National University of Galway, Ireland will discuss “Remembering and Forgetting the Fenians: The Fenian Ideal and the Revolutionary Generation of 1916”. Brian Donnelly from the National Archives will provide an insight into “Sources on Fenianism in the National Archives”. Students from Holy Rosary College will speak about “The Fenians, Colonel Kelly and the Mountbellew Connection” and will finish the proceeding of the conference with “The Fenian Galop’- music and songs relating to the Fenians. In addition to this lectures there will be two exhibitions and a display of paintings. Holy Rosary College Students and Mountbellew Heritage & Tourism will have an exhibition relating to the Fenians, Colonel Kelly and The Manchester Martyrs. While students from Coláiste An Chreagáin will showcase an art exhibition with regards to The Fenians, Colonel Kelly and the Manchester Martyrs. There will also be two original paintings on display on the day relating to Colonel Kelly and the Smashing of the Van. These paintings are given courtesy of Marie Cogavin. This conference has been organised by Galway County Council in partnership with Holy Rosary College, Coláiste An Chreagáin, Mountbellew Heritage and Tourism Network, National University of Ireland, Galway, Skehana Heritage and The National Archives. It is an action of Galway County Council’s Decade of Commemoration Strategy 2013-2023.

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