EVENTS are taking place in Salford and Manchester today to mark the 150th anniversary of the executions of the so-called ‘Manchester Martyrs’.

On this day in 1867 three Irish republicans – William Larkin, Michael Allen, and Michael O’Brien – were hanged outside Salford’s New Bailey jail.

They had been found guilty of murdering a police officer during an attempt to free fellow Republicans from a prison van.

A monument to the Manchester Martyrs
A monument for the Manchester Martyrs in Co. Offaly, Ireland. ( / Dennis Turner)

The alleged guilt of the men remains a topic of debate, with many republicans still arguing their innocence.

Events taking place today are being organised by republican organisations.

These include a meeting of the Connolly Association at Salford’s Working Class Movement Library, which will commemorate the deaths and look at their political aftermath.

The Irish World Heritage Centre In Cheetham Hill will see Manchester Irish Writers mark the date with a night of poetry and music.

The ‘Manchester Martyrs’ were part of an Irish nationalist group named the Irish Republican Brotherhood. Two of the group’s leaders Thomas Kelley and Timothy Deasy were arrested in September 1867: but a police van attempting to transport them to prison was stopped by around forty brotherhood members who attempted to break the pair free.

It is thought that one of the republicans tried to break the lock of the van by shooting it. However, republicans claim that this happened just as Sergeant Charles Brett was looking through the keyhole from the other side, resulting in the police officer’s death.

The period following the killing saw police officers raid the houses of the Mancunian Irish, heightening tensions between English and Irish people in the city in what became known as the ‘Manchester outrage’.

26 men were arrested in connection with the murder, but only three – Larkin, Allen and O’Brien – were sentenced to death.

The ‘Manchester Martyrs’ executions were the last public hangings in Manchester.

Irish Nationalists argued that there was no evidence that any of the three men fired the gun, saying it could only be proved that they were present during the incident. This belief has led to the men being regarded as heroes in the republican struggle, revered in parts of Ireland.

There are several monuments in tribute to the trio throughout Ireland, but only one in Greater Manchester.

A sculpture proposed to stand on the site of their executions was rejected fifty years ago, highlighting the still-polarising nature of the events even after a century.

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