History Politics

The Irish National Invincibles And The Phoenix Park Assassinations

The Irish National Invincibles (James Carlyle, Dublin, 3rd March, 1883)

The Irish Story features a fascinating and long overdue reappraisal of the famous Phoenix Park Assassinations, the 1882 killing of two senior British colonial officials by the Irish National Invincibles, a Fenian revolutionary group in 19th century Dublin.

“Arriving in Dublin on 6 May 1882, the Chief Secretary for Ireland, Frederick Cavendish, attended to some formal business in Dublin Castle, the seat of the British government, before walking home to his residence in the Phoenix Park.

He was met by permanent Undersecretary Thomas Henry Burke in a cab on Chesterfield Avenue, just inside the park’s entrance. Joining Cavendish in his walk, the two men were approached by a group of seven men, three in front, two in the middle and two behind.

Passing through the first three, who turned around, they approached the middle two – Joe Brady and Tim Kelly, Brady stabbed Burke while Kelly made for Cavendish – both using surgical knives – killing the two British officials in what was regarded as a brutal assassination. Afterwards the killers made their way from the park at a hurried pace on two cabs, the first driven by Myles Kavanagh, the second cab driven by James Fitzharris, known better as ‘Skin the Goat’. In Dublin they would leave a card into all the major newspapers identifying themselves as the Irish National Invincibles.

The five Invincibles [After their executions by the British colonial authorities in Ireland] were buried in a lonely graveyard in Kilmainham Gaol, intended to be forgotten for all eternity.

Today the five still remain in that lonely yard in Kilmainham, largely forgotten by the majority of the Irish people and unknown to the visitors to the building. Just as other Republican groups did in their wake, the Invincibles were seeking the establishment of the Irish Republic. They were Fenians and working class republicans, aware that the Fenians, involved in the Land War were shooting landlords and landlords agents, and with no great landowners in Dublin, as in the country, they assassinated the two most important British government administrators Ireland and were eventually executed for it in one of the most famous events of nineteenth century Ireland.

There has never been a movement more misunderstood than and as controversial as the Invincibles in Irish history. From a purely historical viewpoint it is important that the Invincibles should be remembered, debated, studied and forensically examined in Irish history, and as the 130 anniversary of their executions draws near, perhaps it is the time for historians to readdress the Invincibles and their relevance within Irish history.

It is my hope that I could work with Irish historians to seek to address the importance of the Invincibles to Victorian Ireland as we approach the 130th anniversary of the execution of the five Invincibles in Kilmainham Gaol. Now is the time for an objective discussion on what they were, who they represented, and essentially what their legacy was in the evolution of Victorian Ireland.”

Read the full article by Shane Kenna.

Grave of James Fitzharris (Skin the Goat)
The Irish National Invincibles – Grave of James Fitzharris (Skin the Goat)

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