The Irish Story, one of my favorite Irish history websites, has posted its review of a Dublin conference titled “The Irish National Invincibles, The Phoenix Park Killings and Their Times.” The 1882 stabbing deaths of two senior British officials in Ireland and related events are part of the post-Famine and pre-Rising period of Irish history that is generally unfamiliar to most Irish-Americans. (Maybe many Irish, too?) In his review, John Dorney writes:
The Phoenix Park murders took place against the background of the Land War – a period of intense civil strife in rural Ireland. In 1879 a slump in agricultural prices and a poor harvest had put thousands of small farmers at the risk of eviction, due to not being able to pay their rent, either in cash or in kind, to their landlords. This raised the prospect of mass evictions and even starvation as had occurred in the bitter famine winter of 1847…Tenant farmers organised in the Irish National Land League to withhold rents and resist evictions. There also followed a widespread campaign of sabotage, burning hayricks, maiming cattle, intimidating and on accession even killing rent-collectors, ‘land-grabbers’ and landlords. The British state in Ireland responded with the Coercion Bill, which allowed for detention without trial. The Land War was at once a social and national conflict.
The killings were carried out by the Invincibles, “a militant group within the Irish Republican (or Fenian) Brotherhood, who emerged in response the coercion of the Land League tenant farmer movement,” conference organizer Shane Kenna wrote in a 2012 post for The Irish Story. Five men were executed for the crime, which continued to have political repercussions through the decade and beyond.
My own interest and research in this period continues to grow.