Lusmagh to commemorate 150th anniversary of Manchester Martyrs’ execution

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Lusmagh to commemorate 150th anniversary of Manchester Martyrs’ execution thumbnailMichael Troy from the Lusmagh Larkin Memorial committee presents a commemorative plaque to special guest Joseph O’Neill, author of the book “The Manchester Marytrs”.

AN innovative series of events was unveiled in Lusmagh to commemorate the forthcoming 150th anniversary of the execution of the Manchester Martyrs in particular Michael Larkin, who was a native of the parish.

On Friday night last, a packed community hall in Lusmagh played host to the launch of the series of events, 'Lusmagh Remembers Michael Larkin and the Manchester Martyrs (1867-2017)' and the unveiling of a special exhibition about Michael and the martyrs.

The commemorative events will include a dramatisation of their trial in Manchester and their final days and will run from Thursday, November 23 to Sunday, November 26. There will also be an unveiling of a memorial to Michael Larkin on Sunday, November 26 at Kilmachonna cemetery where his mother and other ancestors are buried.   

 Michael Larkin along with William Allen and Michael O'Brien, who were born in Cork, were all living in Manchester and active Fenians and on Saturday, November 25 1867, after a most dubious trial, they were executed for their part in a successful ambush to free two Fenian leaders Colonel Thomas Kelly and Captain Timothy Deasy from a prison van in which a policeman was shot dead. Their subsequent hanging was also Britain's last public multiple execution.

Welcoming everyone to the event, James Scully outlined how when this idea first appeared it was "greeted with great pride and ambition" and in a few very short weeks, there was a detailed plan put together for this series of forthcoming events.

He then welcomed Margaret Barton, local historical expert on the parish of Lusmagh to the stage where she gave some detail of Michael's life in Lusmagh, in Birr and eventually in Manchester where he was executed. Margaret outlined how Michael was born in the 1830s and lived under the shadow of Cloghan Castle until his family was evicted and they eventually moved to Birr.

Michael himself married a girl called Sarah Dunne and they moved to Manchester where they had four children.

"Given his strong connections with Lusmagh, we said we must do something to commemorate the 150th anniversary of his execution," Margaret said before adding that a group of local volunteers came together to put these plans in place to "commemorate his death and Michael's legacy".

Mr Scully then returned to the stage to welcome Joseph O'Neill, author of the book "Manchester Martyrs", to formally launch both the mini festival and the special exhibition, adorning the walls of the community hall and to also give a short presentation on the Manchester Martyrs.

Mr O'Neill published his book in 2014 and in it he broke the silence of their story to relate in a gripping fashion and riveting detail the dramatic story of how Manchester for a time became the epicentre of resistance to British rule in Ireland. He also traced the story of how the Manchester Martyrs have been commemorated since their deaths, how their memory has been in turn cherished, neglected, and sometimes fought over.

Joseph extended a huge thank you to everyone especially to the organisers for their "extravagant generosity" in inviting him to "enjoy aspects of the festival". Noting the exhibition, the author pointed out that writing his book was "just another way of doing what everyone was doing here.

It's a way of continuing a tradition of commemoration. As all the different facets of this festival demonstrate, a commemoration is not a matter of replicating what has been done in the past. It's not a matter of doing over again what people have done in years gone by. It's a matter of re-interpreting each time and renewing through our own experiences what has been passed down to us."

Recalling how he attended commemorations in the 1950s and 1960s in Manchester for the Martyrs, the Manchester native said this wasn't the case nowadays. "A lot of people would say that it has no place now in the modern world. People, who value it are dinosaurs....they are retrospective. They are backward looking. They are out of step with our times and they have no place in the future."

Later, he went on to say that specifically there were people who believed the Manchester Martyrs shouldn't be honoured. "They criticise what they call un-critical commemoration. They say to dignify the martyrs with a title of martyrs is to misappropriate the term."  

However, the author's answer to whether these men should be remembered was to "learn more about them and not consign them to oblivion. And, if we choose to find out about them, we will find out certain things that are fundamental. The first thing is that we are not glorifying violence. They swore with their dying breath that they weren't responsible for injuring anyone."

According to Joseph, the whole impact they made in the 19th century and the tradition of commemoration which their execution gave rise to, depended entirely on the fact they were "innocent of the crime they were executed for".

He continued if you read the book you will find the Manchester Martyrs were more than "just about that one single incident" and were about the whole tradition of Irish history in the 19th century. "The Manchester Martyrs are to the 19th century what 1916 is the 20th century," he added.

Speaking specifically about Michael, Joseph said that of the three, Michael "uniquely embodied the spirit of the martyrs" and the thing about the Lusmagh native was that he was a "far more understated character", who worked behind the scene.

"And, in the case of the Manchester Martyrs and Michael Larkin in particular, it proves that ordinary people are capable of extraordinary feats of self-sacrifice, idealism and quiet heroism and for the reason alone, I think we should value their memory," he concluded. 

Meanwhile, patrons of the mini festival in Lusmagh were presented with a specially wrapped and signed copy of Mr O'Neill's definitive book before the proceedings drew to a close with everyone looking forward to next month's commemorative events.


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