December 17

Published in On this Day listing

  • 1985 All fifteen Ulster Unionist MPs resigned their seats in the House of Commons in protest at the Anglo-Irish Agreement.
  • 1936 Pope Francis, born Jorge Mario Bergoglio in Flores, Buenos Aires, the eldest of five children of an Italian immigrant accountant (80 today).
  • 1911 The Local Authorities (Ireland) (Qualification of Women) Act allowed women to become members of county and borough councils.
  • 1883 Patrick O’Donnell (45) from Meenacladdy, Gweedore, Co. Donegal, was hanged in Newgate prison, having been convicted of the murder of Invincibles leader and police informer James Carey on board the passenger ship Melrose in July that year.
  • 1883

    Above: Patrick O’Donnell, hanged in Newgate prison, London, on 17 December 1883 for the murder of police informer James Carey.

    Patrick O’Donnell (45) was hanged in Newgate prison, London, for the murder of police informer James Carey. Featuring extreme violence, betrayal and retribution, and, of course, a political crisis, the story of the Phoenix Park murders would surely make for an excellent TV mini-series treatment. Introduction to the murky world of the Invincibles. Joe ‘Bulldog’ Brady, chorister at the nearby Franciscan church, extolling the merits of using surgical knives in an attempt to murder Under-Secretary Thomas Burke. Conversation between Burke, the dull apparatchik, and Chief Secretary Cavendish (who had a speech impediment) as they stroll in the Phoenix Park. The frenzied attack. Brady to the fore, dispatching Cavendish with multiple stabbings. Cutting Burke’s throat as he lies on the ground. Superintendent John Mallon of Dublin Castle on the case, eventually getting father-of-seven James Carey and two others to turn informer. Trial and execution of five, including Brady and Kelly. Brady popular with his guards because of his good humour. His reaction to receiving an ivory crucifix—a token of forgiveness—from Lady Cavendish. Six months later, on board the Melrose, bound for South Africa. The argument between the teetotal Donegal-man O’Donnell and the drunken ‘Mr Powers’, alias Carey, bound for a new life in Natal. Did O’Donnell uncover his true identity? Guns drawn. O’Donnell faster. Carey falls, mortally wounded. O’Donnell arrested. O’Donnell in his cell prior to execution telling his younger brother, Daniel, that he killed Carey in self-defence and was in no way involved with the Invincibles. Finally, perhaps, a windswept winter’s morning in O’Donnell’s native Gweedore. A funeral procession, bearing his empty coffin to Magheragallon cemetery. A riveting story. And no need whatsoever for fictional embellishment. (See HI 9.2, Summer 2001, pp 26–30.)
  • 1867 Henry Harrison, Irish Parliamentary Party MP and author, notably of Parnell vindicated (1931), born in Hollywood, Co. Down.

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