23 March 2005 Edition

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Michael Barrett (1841-1868) - The forgotten Fenian from Fermanagh: By Fr Joe McVeigh

The last public hanging in England took place in London, outside Newgate Prison (now the Old Bailey) on 26 May 1868. It was the hanging of an Irishman, a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, or the Fenians as they were called. His name was Michael Barrett and he came originally from the townland of Drumnagreshial in the Ederney-Kesh area of County Fermanagh.

Michael was a Fenian and was associated with that organisation in Glasgow, where he had come from his home in Fermanagh to find work.

He was wrongly accused of causing an explosion at Clerkenwell Prison in London in December 1867.

After the public execution in Manchester of the Manchester Martyrs, Allen, Larkin and O'Brien, feelings were running high in the Irish community. There was a bid by some Fenians to rescue two Irish prisoners accused of buying arms and ammunition for the IRB. The bomb blast against the outer wall of the prison wreaked havoc and caused four civilian deaths and many injuries. The rescue team which caused the explosion escaped to America but the police needed to placate the demand for vengeance on the Irish community.

They arrested Michael Barrett and a number of others. Michael was the only one found guilty in a farcical trial. He was sentenced to death by hanging, which was carried out on 26 May 1868.

After hanging for one hour, his body was removed and placed in a grave within the prison. Three days after he was hanged, the Bill outlawing public execution became law.

In 1902, when Newgate Jail was demolished, the remains of all prisoners buried within the prison walls were taken in 50 boxes to the City of London Cemetery in Manor Park, Ilford. They are in plot 340. His remains are in one of six graves numbered from 42928 to 42933.

Queen Victoria was outraged that only one man was executed for the Clerkenwell explosion. She urged that in future, instead of being brought to trial, Irish suspects should be 'lynch-lawed and on the spot'.

The unveiling of a Memorial Cross will take place at the Michael Barrett commemoration in Montiagh, Ederney, County Fermanagh at 12pm sharp on Easter Monday 28 March. Sinn Féin MP Pat Doherty will speak after the unveiling.

This will be followed by a concert in Mahon's, Irvinestown, featuring the legendary Derek Warfield of the Wolfe Tones.

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