The assassination of the Chief Secretary for Ireland, Lord Frederick Cavendish, and the Under Secretary, Thomas Burke, in Dublin’s Phoenix Park on 6 May 1882 stunned Irish nationalists in Ireland and Britain. In the North East of England, hastily convened meetings of National Land League branches condemned the ‘foul murder’ with the ‘utmost horror and indignation’, and expressed the ‘hope that the stain on our country will be effaced by the speedy bringing to justice of the guilty parties’. Few attending those meetings would have known, however, that John Walsh, the Land League’s organiser for the North of England, who had lived and worked in Middlesbrough for almost thirty years and who was welcomed at League meetings across the region, may also have been deeply involved in the creation, financing and organisation of the group responsible for the Phoenix Park killings, the Irish National Invincibles.
This post will explore the life of John Walsh.
Though John Walsh spent much of his life in the shadows, avoiding the attentions of the British and Irish police, and wrote no memoir from the safety of his exile in New York, it has been possible to assemble his biography from a range of sources, including the previously overlooked interviews he gave to reporters in Le Havre in February 1883 and the contemporary newspaper reports of his work as an Irish nationalist organiser in the North East of England.
John Stephen Walsh was born in Milford, County Cork, in December 1834, the son of an evicted farmer. Moving to England sometime in the 1850s after his parents had died, in 1861 he was living with his three younger brothers and a sister in Spring Street, Middlesbrough, and working as a ‘blast furnace charger’ in an ironworks.
When the Irish Republican Brotherhood first began to recruit in Middlesbrough is not known, but collections were being taken in the town in May 1866 for Fenians imprisoned in Ireland. And the following year, local newspapers ran stories of arms’ caches and Fenians drilling on Teesside. These might be dismissed as simply products of the Fenian ‘scare’ gripping Britain in the wake of the attack in Manchester in 1867 and the subsequent executions, except for the testimony of John Walsh himself, who told the Freeman’s Journal in March 1883 about his arrest, which he said was ‘on the charge of having been implicated in the Manchester rescue’.
Whilst John Walsh, however, misremembered the reason for his arrest, as it had nothing to do with the events of 1867, he correctly remembered that he had been arrested. On 21 November 1870, he and Thomas Boucher, described as being ‘two respectable looking men’, were arrested at Manchester’s Victoria railway station as they boarded a train for Leeds and charged with ‘being Fenians, having in their possession 300 cartridges, and documents in cypher’. After three weeks in detention, however, the two were released after the police offered no further evidence.
Whilst the Manchester police were unable to prove that Walsh was a Fenian, Father Andrew Burns of Middlesbrough’s Roman Catholic mission had no doubt that he was. In May 1870, Burns denounced Fenianism and Fenians from the pulpit and pointed at men in the congregation, prompting some thirty men, including John Walsh, to walk out of Sunday mass. The struggle for control of Middlesbrough’s Catholic Association, soon renamed the Irish Literary Association, lay at the heart of Burns’ denunciation. And the struggle for dominance between Middlesbrough’s advanced Irish nationalists and local Catholic clergy continued, resulting in the formation in 1873 of two rival branches of the Home Rule Association in the town. The exchange of angry open letters between John Walsh and Martin Carr, who supported Father Richard Lacy, later Bishop of Middlesbrough, reveals the depth of the bitterness between the opposing sides. And for St Patrick’s Day in 1874, Middlesbrough’s Irish had the choice of two rival evening celebrations chaired by Lacy in the Theatre Royal and Walsh in the Oddfellows’ Hall.
According to Middlesbrough’s Daily Gazette, then followed ‘several years of quietude’, until a branch of the Land League was formed in Middlesbrough in early 1881. John Walsh, however, had not retired. In August 1875, he attended a meeting of the IRB’s Supreme Council in Dublin as joint representative of the North of England, and it is very likely that he had been a Council member in 1874, if not earlier. When the Supreme Council met in May the following year, however, Walsh was not there. He was in Australia.
The rescue of six Fenian prisoners from Western Australia in April 1876 was celebrated by nationalists across Ireland and the diaspora, and, when the whaler Catalpa safely docked in New York that August with the escaped prisoners on board, the news was greeted with ‘the wildest enthusiasm’.
The plan to rescue these ‘Fenian soldiers’ using the Catalpa had been devised and financed in the United States by Clan na Gael, the Irish-American revolutionary organisation, but there was a second plan. This plan, unbeknown to Clan na Gael, was independently devised and financed by the Irish Republican Brotherhood, following a smuggled letter from one of the prisoners to the Amnesty Association. And John Walsh was one of the two Fenian agents sent to Australia to effect the rescue.
Sailing from Southampton, the two IRB agents, armed and carrying £1,000, landed at Freemantle on 2 April 1876. There they were told by a sympathetic Catholic priest that Irish-American agents were also in the area planning to free the prisoners. The two groups met and, after mutual suspicions were allayed, a combined plan was devised.
In December 1876, a letter from John Walsh to an unknown recipient described the IRB agents’ role in the escape:
‘We offered ourselves, our money and materials to be placed in any position they thought proper in order to prevent the possibility of failure. The post assigned to us was the cutting of the [telegraph] wires to prevent communication with the warship Conflict at the sound. To remain on land in order to to [sic] able to succour them, in the event of any accident befalling the Catalpa that would prevent her being at the time and place appointed, in which case our friends would be obliged to take to the bush, where they would surely perish without some friendly hands to succour them. This we undertook… If a row took place, we would be in it.’
When the IRB’s Supreme Council met in Dublin on 20 August 1876, John Walsh had still not returned from Australia, and his letter of 21 December suggests that he visited New York before returning to England, where he told ‘a very select [IRB] gathering’ in Liverpool of his adventures in Australia.
Back on Teesside, Walsh publicly immersed himself in the Home Rule and Amnesty movements, speaking at a meeting in Middlesbrough in September 1877 at which Charles Stewart Parnell took the chair, whilst continuing his work as a Fenian organiser, though he was replaced on the Supreme Council in 1878 by Michael Davitt, after Davitt’s release from prison.
Meanwhile in Ireland, severe agricultural depression during the late 1870s led to widespread distress amongst tenant farmers and opposition, often violent, to the landlords, their rents and evictions. This was the Land War and, in October 1879, the Irish National Land League was formed by Michael Davitt to coordinate that opposition. The government’s uncompromising response to the agitation prompted widespread condemnation in Britain. Protesters met and, as arrests and evictions in Ireland mounted, so Land League branches multiplied.
A branch of the Land League was formed in Middlesbrough in early April 1881, with John Walsh as joint secretary and his brother, Patrick, as chairman. And in June, in response to the organisation’s growth, the Central Executive of the National Land League of Great Britain met in London, with T. P. O’Connor in the chair, and appointed John Walsh as ‘organiser for the North of England’.
As organiser, using Newcastle as his base, he toured the North of England encouraging existing Land League branches and facilitating the formation of new branches. Many of the branch meetings attended by Walsh were reported in the local and nationalist press, so, for example, in August 1881, he spoke in Jarrow on ‘the origin, aims and progress’ of the Land League, and at Wallsend on the ‘evils of the present land system’.
More details of his work as organiser were found by police amongst papers he abandoned in Rochdale in February 1883 – travel itineraries, dates and expenses on Land League business; lists of the names and addresses of Land League secretaries (seventy-two in the North East of England); and Land League correspondence. But of more interest to police was the evidence that John Walsh was also an active Fenian organiser. This included an IRB rules booklet and a coded paper, with key, listing the IRB’s strength in the North of England in men, money, short and long ‘Furniture’, and ‘Pills’, which the police interpreted as referring to handguns, long-arms, and cartridges. Some of the correspondence also appeared to cover more than just Land League business; for example, a letter from Thornley’s Land League secretary to Walsh named two men, who might ‘take an interest in the cause’ and who were locally ‘Irishmen of notoriety’.
On 14 November 1881, Bradford police arrested John Tobin in Middlesbrough, where he had been working as a labourer in a steel works on South Bank. The Bradford police had been watching Tobin for some time ‘travelling from town to town carrying a carpet bag’ and suspected him of running guns, and, when his family home in Bradford was searched, fifty revolvers, together with cartridges and IRB documents, were found. Tobin’s landlady in Middlesbrough then helpfully told the Daily Gazette that he had been visited in the lodgings by a man named ‘Welsh, with whom he is supposed to have had “brotherhood” connections’. After Tobin’s arrest, ‘Welsh’, who had been staying at the Cleveland Hotel in Middlesbrough, promptly left the town. This was almost certainly John Walsh, who regularly stayed at the Cleveland Temperance Hotel in Durham Street, when he was visiting Middlesbrough.
On Monday morning, 8 May 1882, Henry Park, a Land League organiser, was arrested by police in Warrington on suspicion of being involved in the Phoenix Park killings in Dublin on the previous Saturday evening. Park was released after his alibi was confirmed, but had the police mistaken Park for another Land League organiser?
On 1 January 1883, Michael Davitt spoke to an ‘overflowing audience’ in Middlesbrough’s Temperance Hall on the ‘National Land Question’. Before Davitt rose to speak, John Walsh proclaimed that Davitt and the Land League had ‘not only saved Ireland from famine but had changed the agricultural peasant from a crouching slave to a man who knew his rights and how to demand them’. This was the last time John Walsh was seen in public in Middlesbrough.
In Dublin, the police investigation into the Phoenix Park killings finally led to arrests and, at Kilmainham on Saturday 17 February 1883, James Carey, having turned Queen’s evidence, implicated the leadership of the Land League in Britain in the ‘Murder Conspiracy’. And claimed that a man named Walsh ‘who came from the North’ was the Invincibles’ organiser. 
Rumours must have been rife on Teesside that weekend and, on the Monday morning, the Daily Gazette dismissed the suggestion that ‘Walsh’ was Patrick Walsh, ‘who fills a responsible position as foreman’ in an iron works or his brother, John, though admitting that John Walsh had been ‘under suspicion’ in the past, as Middlesbrough’s Chief Constable had not been asked by Dublin Castle to arrest either man.
By the time, however, that the Daily Gazette was being read in Middlesbrough that Monday morning, John Walsh was on his way to France. He had left Middlesbrough on 20 January, after ‘some of the secrets of the Fenian Brotherhood’ had been revealed by an informer in Dublin, and on 16 February was lodging in Rochdale, in the guise of a ‘commercial traveller’.
Though a warrant for his arrest as ‘an accessory before the fact to the Phoenix Park murders’ had been written in Dublin on 13 February, John Walsh was probably unaware of this when he hurriedly left Rochdale on 19 February, leaving behind in his lodgings a ‘large leather case and a carpet bag’ containing his Land League and Fenian papers. These were soon being examined in Dublin Castle.
On his way to France, John Walsh spent the night in London at the home of Dr Mark Ryan, who had been a member of the IRB’s Supreme Council, before leaving early the next morning. In France, Walsh, using the name Stephen Hyland (his mother’s maiden name) was arrested by the French police in Le Havre, at the urging of the British government. Walsh was then identified, despite having shaved off his moustache, by a detective sent from Middlesbrough.
Briefly held by the French, John Walsh was first interviewed by a reporter in prison, when he claimed that he and Frank Byrne, the Land League’s secretary, were ‘the victims of a foul conspiracy on the part of the authorities to compromise in their persons the Irish Land League’. Interviewed again on his release, Walsh said that he had had nothing to do with the Invincibles and that the informer James Carey was a ’lying wretch’.
On Saturday 31 March 1883, John Walsh and several ‘other friends’ sailed for New York on the steamer France.
According to his obituary in New York’s Evening World, Walsh took an active, though minor, part in the Irish revolutionary movement in the United States, and worked first for the Irish World newspaper and then as a salesman. He died in New York on 4 March 1891, fortified with ‘the last rites of the Roman Catholic Church’.
His death was noted in the North East of England, with Bishop Auckland’s National League branch expressing regret at the death of a man, ‘who was known and respected by every Irishmen in the North of England’. Whilst in December 1893, masses said in Middlesbrough Cathedral for the Manchester Martyrs and others, included, despite his bitter clashes with Bishop Lacy, the name of ‘John Walsh’.
Though his Evening World obituary described him as ‘The Invincible’, John Walsh never publicly admitted that he had been involved in the conspiracy, and he possibly only spoke once in public about the Invincibles. At a meeting in New York, organised by the Irish Aid Society for the ‘Martyrs’ Fund’, Walsh, standing below an Irish harp draped in black, ‘justified the Phoenix Park murders as a fitting climax to the long series of English outrages on the Irish people’.
So was John Walsh an Invincible?
The documents seized by police in Rochdale in February 1883, clearly reveal that John Walsh was not only a Land League but also a leading Fenian organiser. And in 1889 at the Parnell Commission Michael Davitt, though he refused to answer when asked if Walsh had been ‘connected with the Fenian organisation’, did say that ‘John Walsh was always an extreme Irish Nationalist’.
But, in spite of exhaustive police enquiries, the only evidence linking John Walsh with the Invincibles was that of informers, chiefly James Carey, and a self-serving book published a decade after the events by Patrick Tynan. These sources have been thoroughly examined by Corfe and Kenna, and the following account is abstracted from their works.
Tom Corfe’s warning to his readers, however, regarding the evidence on which he based his account of the Phoenix Park killings should be remembered:
‘It is evidence riddled with doubt and untruth, vagueness and confusion, evidence which permits of no definitive account or conclusive explanation, and which leaves much still hidden in mystery.’
The Invincibles’ conspiracy had its origins in the autumn of 1881, when the leadership of the Land League in Ireland, bar Patrick Egan its treasurer, had been arrested and imprisoned. In London, a three-man Directory of the IRB was formed, one of whom was Frank Byrne, secretary of the National Land League of Great Britain. This Directory sent a well-funded John Walsh to Dublin in November 1881 to contact Fenians there ‘in order to establish an assassination society within the Fenian ranks’.
In Dublin, Walsh found four Fenians to head the new group, one of who was James Carey, who had been the IRB’s treasurer in the city, and established a Dublin Directory, swearing in each member and telling them that their aim was ‘to remove all the tyrants of the country’.
In January 1882, Walsh was replaced as the Invincibles’ contact between the London and Dublin Directories by Patrick Tynan, as it was feared that Walsh was known to the police. Before he returned to England, Walsh gave the Dublin Directory £50 in gold and said that the Land League in Britain had voted them £10,000 should it be required.
So was John Walsh involved in the creation, financing and organisation of the Irish National Invincibles and, therefore, an ‘accessory before the fact to the Phoenix Park murders’?
Despite extensive enquiries, the British and Irish police found no evidence at the time that unquestionably linked John Walsh to the Invincibles and hence to the ‘Murder Conspiracy’, and the only evidence against him was the unreliable word of an informer, desperate to escape the gallows. His flight to France in February 1883 may seem an admission of guilt, but John Walsh knew that, even if he escaped the scaffold, how he would be treated in prison. In December 1872, he had told an Amnesty demonstration in Stockton on Tees about the ‘tortures’ inflicted on Irish political prisoners and named the British government as ‘the most unprincipled and unscrupulous in the world’.
Even so, whilst not forgetting Tom Corfe’s warming, it is very probable that John Walsh, this ‘extreme Irish nationalist’, was deeply involved in the creation, financing and organisation of the Invincibles and was, therefore, an ‘accessory before the fact to the Phoenix Park murders’.
 Sunderland Land League branch. Sunderland Daily Echo, 9 May 1882.
 Darlington Land League branch. Northern Echo, 8 May 1882.
 Wallsend Land League branch. Jarrow Express & Tyneside Advertiser, 19 May 1882.
 From an interview with Walsh in Le Havre. Freeman’s Journal, 26 March 1883. His obituary, however, has him born in County Cork in 1826. The Evening World (New York), 7 March 1891. And Shane Kenna has him born in Tipperary in 1826. Shane Kenna, The Invincibles: The Phoenix Park Assassinations and the conspiracy that shook an Empire (Dublin, 2019), p.47. For a detailed biography written by Owen McGee, see Dictionary of Irish Biography: John S Walsh https://www.dib.ie/biography/walsh-john-stephen-a8882
 Ancestry.com: 1861 England Census, Class: RG 9; Piece: 3688; Folio: 9; Page: 11; GSU roll: 543172. John Walsh worked at Bolckow & Vaughan’s ironworks, South Shields Daily Gazette, 5 March 1883, and later at Raylton & Dixon’s shipyard, North East Daily Gazette, 3 March 1883.
 The Irishman, 19 May 1866.
 Shields Gazette & Daily Telegraph, 1 October 1867;Dublin Evening Mail, 8 October 1867.
 Freeman’s Journal, 26 March 1883.
 From Bishop Auckland, Thomas Boucher worked at the Weardale Ironworks.South Durham & Cleveland Mercury, 26 November 1870. He was later named as being the Fenians’ head centre in Bishop Auckland.North East Daily Gazette, 3 March 1883.
 Lancaster Gazette, 26 November 1870; South Durham & Cleveland Mercury, 26 November 1870.
 Durham County Advertiser, 2 December 1870.
 Flag of Ireland, 28 May 1870.
 See my earlier blog Middlesbrough’s Irish Literary Association.
 Daily Gazette, 19 August 1873.
 Daily Gazette, 31 October, 4 & 8 November 1873. Carr accused Walsh of being driven by ‘private grievances’. Walsh dismissed Carr as an English convert to Catholicism. Also The Irishman, 8 November 1873
 Flag of Ireland, 28 March 1874; The Irishman, 4 April 1874.
 North East Daily Gazette, 3 March 1883.
 The IRB’s Supreme Council met in the Imperial Hotel in Dublin (destroyed during 1916’s Easter Rising). William McGuinness of Preston was the other North of England representative. T. W. Moody. and Leon Ó Broin, (ed.) ‘The IRB Supreme Council, 1868-78’, Irish Historical Studies, 19.75 (1975), p.326.
 Freeman’s Journal, 22 August 1876.
 John Denvir, The Life Story of Old Rebel (Dublin, 1910, reprinted Shannon, 1972), pp.139-145.
 British soldiers, who had joined the Fenians.
 Keith Amos, The Fenians in Australia 1865-1880 (Sydney, 1988), p.266.
 Denis Florence McCarthy from Cork was the other. Ibid.
 Ibid, p.267.
 ‘Hanrahan’ (John Walsh) to an unknown recipient, 21 December 1876. William O’Brien & Desmond Ryan (eds.), Devoy’s Post Bag 1871-1928 (Dublin, 1948), pp.221-223.
 Moody & Ó Broin, IRB Supreme Council, p.321.
 John Walsh had a low opinion of the Clan na Gael leaders: ‘I saw a good deal while in New York, and tell you candidly I did not feel edified at which I saw – every man there is a Colonel or a General; some of them with their shirts out through the seats of their trousers.’ O’Brien & Ryan, Devoy’s Post Bag, pp.221-223.
 Denver, Old Rebel, pp.143-45.
 Weekly Gazette, 15 September 1877. This was Parnell’s only visit to Middlesbrough. Neil C. Fleming & Alan O’Day, Charles Stewart Parnell and his times. A Bibliography (Oxford, 2011), p.107.
 Owen McGee, The IRB: The Irish Republican Brotherhood from the Land League to Sinn Féin (Dublin, 2005), pp.56-58. According to the Dictionary of Irish Biography, John Walsh had left the IRB by 1880.
 R. V. Comerford, ‘The land war and the politics of distress, 1877-82’, in W. E. Vaughan (ed.), A New History of Ireland, vi, Ireland under the Union, 1870-1921 (Oxford, 2010), pp.26-52.
 Daily Gazette, 26 April 1881. Patrick Walsh was, probably, also a Fenian. When he died in 1892, he was described as a ‘captain of the Old Guard’, and Irish nationalists from across the North of England attended his funeral. United Ireland, 12 March 1892.
 Freeman’s Journal, 22 June 1881.
 Jarrow Express & Tyneside Advertiser, 26 August 1881.
 United Ireland, 27 August 1881.
 John Walsh’s papers were presented by the Chief Constable of Rochdale to the Parnell Commission in 1889. Reprint of the Shorthand Notes of the Speeches, Proceedings and Evidence taken before the Commissioners appointed under the above-named Act (HMSO, London, 1890), vol.4, pp.397-410, 474-487.
 For example, the IRB in Newcastle had 700 men, £350, 136 handguns, two long-arms, and 3,286 cartridges; and Tow Law had 600 men, £290, 87 handguns, no long-arms, and 861 cartridges. Ibid, pp.394-395.
 Letter from Peter Sloan, 35 Swinburne Street, Thornley to John Walsh, 7 June 1882. The two named were James Featherstone, Castle Eden Colliery and Thomas Steward, Trimdon Station. Ibid, p.474.
 Northern Echo, 15 November 1881.
 For Tobin’s trial, Yorkshire Post & Leeds Intelligencer, 8 February 1882; Bradford Observer, 8 February 1882. Also The National Archives: HO 144/89/A10483 Tobin, John; York Assizes; Treason Felony; sentence 7 years penal servitude; January 1882.
 North East Daily Gazette, 15 November 1881.
 North East Daily Gazette, 5 & 9 March 1883.
 South Shields Daily Gazette, 12 May 1882.
 The Nation, 13 May 1882.
 South Shields Daily Gazette, 5 March 1883. This newspaper claimed that before Christmas 1882 ‘a gentleman occupying an important public position in the North of England, and who had special means of becoming acquainted with what Walsh was doing, wrote to the Home Secretary suggesting that two Scotland Yard detective should be instructed to watch Walsh, but the communication was taken no notice of, and no search was made for the founder of the Invincibles’.
 North East Daily Gazette, 3 January 1883.
 North East Daily Gazette, 19 February 1883. See Tom Corfe, The Phoenix Park Murders: Conflict, Compromise & Tragedy in Ireland 1879-1882 (London, 1968), pp.137-40, 142, 248-9, 253; and Kenna, The Invincibles, pp.47-50, 52-53, 142-143.
 North East Daily Gazette, 19 February 1883.
 South Shields Daily Gazette, 5 March 1883.
 Freeman’s Journal, 2 February 1889.
 South Shields Daily Gazette, 5 March. 1883.
 Dr Mark Ryan described Walsh as ‘a big man, over six feet in height, of military appearance, with a thick dark moustache, and he was then about forty-eight years of age’. Ryan, Fenian Memories, p.113. A reporter, who met him in Le Havre, described Walsh as ‘a stern, military-looking man’, but who was rather ‘a mild, quiet-spoken man of intelligence’. The Irishman, 10 March 1883. Whilst his obituary described Walsh as ‘a fine-looking man, with unassuming manners and very popular in Irish political circles’. The Evening World (New York), 7 March 1891.
 South Shields Daily Gazette, 5 March 1883; The Irishman, 10 March 1883.
 France refused to extradite Walsh, possibly remembering the British government’s refusal to extradite refugees from the Paris Commune. Corfe, Phoenix Park Murders, p.249.
 North East Daily Gazette, 22 March 1883.
 Freeman’s Journal, 26 March 1883.
 North East Daily Gazette, 2 April 1883.
 The Evening World (New York), 7 March 1891.
 Interestingly, the Irish World had printed that the Phoenix Park killings had been undertaken by ‘wretches who have done so much to injure the Irish cause’. Corfe, Phoenix Park Murders, p.209.
 North East Daily Gazette, 19 March 1891.
 Northern Echo, 8 September 1891.
 United Ireland, 2 December 1893.
 Frank Byrne, late secretary of the National Land League of Great Britain, also spoke at this meeting. North East Daily Gazette, 4 July 1883. Byrne fled from Dublin to Paris in early February 1883 and thence to New York. Dictionary of Irish Biography: Frank Byrne https://www.dib.ie/biography/byrne-frank-a0060
 Reprint of the Shorthand Notes, vol.7, p.435.
 P.J.P. Tynan, The Irish National Invincibles and their times (New York & London, 1894). Fleeing Ireland with his family to start a new life in South Africa, James Carey was shot dead in July 1883 by a Fenian on board a ship off Cape Town. Corfe, Phoenix Park Murders, pp.258-9.
 Corfe, Phoenix Park Murders, p.135.
 Dictionary of Irish Biography: Frank Byrne.
 Kenna, The Invincibles, p.47.
 Corfe, Phoenix Park Murders, p.140.
 Five Invincibles were executed in 1883 for the Phoenix Park murders. See Kenna, The Invincibles, pp.242-269.
 The Irishman, 21 December 1872.