Stephen Bannon: ‘a veteran worker in the cause’.

On Monday 19 February 1883, newspaper readers across the north of England were presented with verbatim reports from the courthouse in Kilmainham, where, on the previous Saturday, James Carey, after turning Queen’s evidence, described the plot to murder Lord Frederick Cavendish, Chief Secretary for Ireland, and his Under Secretary, Thomas Burke, in Dublin’s Phoenix Park on 6 May 1882, and, sensationally, implicated the leadership of the Land League in Britain in the Invincibles’ conspiracy.

The following is an extract from Carey’s evidence published that Monday:[1]

‘[Prosecuting counsel] Mr Murphy (to witness): Did Edward McCaffrey bring any man to your home in November 1881? – He did.[2]

What was the name of that man? – A man who passed by the name of Mr. Walsh.

Was it from England he came? – I believe so.

What was his name besides? Was it John Walsh? – I don’t know really.

Did McCaffrey or he tell you from what part of England he came? – Well, I understand the north of England.

You ascertained from themselves the north of England? Did this man Walsh tell you what the object of his visit to Dublin was? – Yes.

What did he say he came over for? – To establish a society that would make history.’

Whether John Walsh read this for himself or was alerted by an associate is unknown, but, by the end of that Monday, Walsh had fled Rochdale for France.

The story of John Walsh – Middlesbrough’s ‘Invincible’ has already been told on this website,[3] but this post will follow up the papers Walsh abandoned in his Rochdale lodgings on 19 February, especially the lists giving the names and addresses of Land League activists from across the North East of England, and then focus on one of these activists.

John Walsh had arrived in Rochdale on 16 February 1883, probably unaware that a warrant for his arrest as ‘an accessory before the fact to the Phoenix Park murders’ had been issued in Dublin three days earlier.[4] When the Rochdale police became aware of his presence in the town, probably alerted by Dublin Castle, the Chief Constable, Joseph Wilkinson, ordered his arrest. Walsh, however, had long gone, leaving behind in the Navigation Inn, where he had been staying in the guise of a ‘commercial traveller’,[5] ‘a large leather case and a carpet bag’, which police seized on 28 February. Dublin Castle was informed, and on 3 March Wilkinson, accompanied by a Detective Inspector, took the bags to Dublin. There the bags were examined and a summary of their contents given to the press:[6]

‘One document contains a list of Fenian armouries in the different towns in the North of England with the number of arms and quantity of ammunition at each. The list is in cypher, but there is a key with it. There is also some correspondence with a person named Byrne… In addition, there are two photographs, one of which appears to be a portrait of Walsh himself.’[7]

After briefly being held by French police at Le Havre, John Walsh sailed for New York and exile on 31 March. His papers, however, remained in police hands and were presented in evidence by the Chief Constable of Rochdale to the Parnell Commission in February 1889.[8]

This special judicial commission had been established by the government to investigate the sensational charges made by The Times newspaper in March 1887 that appeared to show Parnell’s condoning of the Phoenix Park murders. Whilst Parnell was cleared of any involvement in the conspiracy, as the evidence naming him was shown to be forged, the commission not only cast light on the Invincibles but also on the Irish Republican Brotherhood, the Land League, and, through the evidence of the police, his abandoned papers, and the testimony of other advanced Irish nationalists, on John Walsh’s role as an organiser for both the Land League in the North of England and the Fenians.

Amongst the papers Walsh abandoned in Rochdale were the names and addresses of seventy-two Land League branch secretaries in the North East of England. Walsh had been appointed ‘organiser for the North of England’ in June 1881 by the Central Executive of the National Land League of Great Britain.[9] As organiser, he travelled extensively across the North in 1881 and 1882 encouraging existing League branches and facilitating the formation of new.[10] And it is very likely that most, if not all, these North East branch secretaries had either met Walsh or corresponded with him. But were some, if not all, of these men also Fenians, as John Walsh was?[11]

In July 1874, a secret IRB conference in Manchester had been told that their North of England division had some 4,000 members, with over 1,400 assorted firearms, and £3,000 in funds.[12] And amongst Walsh’s papers seized in Rochdale was a coded paper, with key, listing Fenian strength in the North of England in men, money, short and long ‘Furniture’, and ‘Pills’, which the police interpreted as referring to hand-guns, long-arms, and cartridges.[13]

Newcastle on Tyne70035013623,286
Tow Law600290870861

[Please note that the above table may not display correctly when viewed in different formats.]

Walsh’s paper is undated but probably dates from 1881 or, more likely, 1882, the date of most of the other recovered papers. It is, however, almost certainly, an incomplete list of Fenian circles in the North East for where is Jarrow, South Shields, Bishop Auckland, Darlington, and all the other towns and villages across the North East of England, where the Irish had settled and where the Fenian anthem ‘God Save Ireland’ was sung?[14]

That there was a correlation of meeting place and membership between the Land League and Fenians in the North of England was revealed by the Bradford police in February 1889 at the Parnell Commission, when evidence relating to the convicted Fenian gun-runner, John Tobin, and his relationship with John Walsh, was presented.[15] Then it was stated that Bradford’s Land League  branch had met above a greengrocer’s shop at 11 Beamsley Street and, prior to his arrest in November 1881, Tobin had been recorded by police as a regular attendee. The police had also noted Walsh as ‘frequently’ attending these meetings. William Coulston of the Bradford police then testified that 11 Beamsley Street was also ‘the meeting place for the Fenian Brotherhood’ with some twenty to thirty men usually present, and added that he had searched Tobin’s house at 46 Beamsley Street on 12 November 1881, prior to arresting Tobin in Middlesbrough, and had recovered revolvers, ammunition, and Fenian documents.

The evidence from Bradford does not prove that any of the Land League’s branches in the North of England were providing cover for a Fenian circle. It should be noted, however, that Gilbert Barrington, South Shields schoolteacher and Quartermaster of the IRA’s North of England Brigade, wrote in his witness statement of 1952 for the Bureau of Military History in Dublin that the North East branches of the Irish Self-Determination League, of which he was the Tyneside district secretary, had ‘afforded excellent cover’ for the ten companies of this IRA Brigade active between 1920 and 1922.[16]

Of the seventy-two Land League branch secretaries named in Walsh’s papers, twenty-eight (39 per cent) have been positively identified on the 1881 Census and these are listed below.[17] Derived from these identifications, exact, if unsurprising, biographical evidence of the type of men, who were the backbone of the Land League in the North East of England in 1881 and 1882, has been gleaned.

Thus, fourteen (50 per cent) of these branch secretaries were aged in their thirties and forties; twenty-one (75 per cent) had been born in Ireland, with a further four (14 per cent) born in England of Irish parents; and twenty (71 per cent) were either coal miners or other manual workers. Eleven (39 per cent) of these men were also frequently named in contemporary press reports of nationalist meetings in County Durham and Northumberland.

But were any of these men Fenians? Possibly all; possibly none. But one man stands out as being a most likely candidate – Stephen Bannon, Jarrow’s Land League branch secretary. Born in Ireland about 1839, he was labouring as a road stonebreaker and living at 62 Monkton Road, Jarrow, County Durham, with his wife and young daughter, when the 1881 Census was taken.[18] This address was the same as found by the police in John Walsh’s papers.

When Stephen Bannon settled in Jarrow is not clear, but by January 1874, he was chairman of the local branch of the Home Rule Confederation,[19] which had been formed the previous year.[20] As well as chairing the weekly branch meetings, this unskilled labourer lectured the branch on the ‘Antiquities of Ireland’;[21] opened a branch debate on ‘Should Politics and Religion be divided?’,[22] and, in August 1876, was a delegate to the Home Rule Confederation of Great Britain’s convention in Dublin at which known Fenians were prominent, including John Barry from Manchester and John Denvir from Liverpool.[23]

Remaining at the forefront of Irish nationalist activity in Jarrow, Stephen Bannon was instrumental in raising a branch of the Land League in the town in November 1880.[24] Frequently chairing branch meetings and acting as secretary, he was present when John Walsh, in his capacity as ‘Land League organiser’, visited Jarrow on 30 April 1882, just days before the Phoenix Park murders.[25]

In the late 1880s, Stephen Bannon moved with his family to Newcastle upon Tyne, where he was recorded on the 1891 Census as living in Elswick and working as a labourer in a steel works.[26] Bannon was soon elected president of Newcastle’s ‘No.1’ branch of the Irish National League of Great Britain,[27] and, when the INLGB split after Parnell’s fall from grace at the end of 1890, Bannon became chairman of the Newcastle and Tyneside Parnell Leadership Committee, which pledged its ‘unabated confidence’ in Parnell as leader.[28] And Bannon returned to Jarrow a few weeks later to support the creation of a Parnell Leadership Committee in the town.[29]

On 31 May 1891, Bannon chaired a meeting at Newcastle’s Irish Literary Institute of delegates from the North East’s pro-Parnell ‘Independent’ branches at which it was agreed to invite their leader to Newcastle.[30] An organising committee was elected with Bannon as chairman.[31]

Parnell visited Newcastle on 18 July 1891. Before the advertised public meeting in the town hall, Parnell met the leaderships of the ‘Independent’ branches at a private meeting in the County Hotel chaired by Bannon. And Bannon was on the platform, when Parnell spoke at the public meeting.[32]

Had this private meeting been arranged to introduce Parnell to the North East’s Fenian leadership, a leadership that included Stephen Bannon? It is impossible to say, though Parnell’s escort at this meeting, Joseph Nolan MP, is known to have acted as Parnell’s ‘bridgehead’ to the Fenians and had been linked by British Intelligence to the Fenian’s dynamite campaign of the 1880s.[33]

Stephen Bannon, lauded in the nationalist press as ‘a life-long and now a veteran worker in the cause’, remained chairman of Newcastle’s ‘No.1’ branch until ill-health forced him to retire.[34] He died a few months later in June 1897.[35]

During more than two decades of nationalist activity on Tyneside, this unskilled Irish labourer chaired meetings, lectured, and debated; met Parnell; was one of the leading Parnellites on Tyneside; and worked with John Walsh – the Invincible. Stephen Bannon may or may not have been a Fenian, but his dedication to the cause of Irish nationalism is not in doubt. And he deserves to be remembered.

John Walsh’s Irish Land League contacts in Northumberland & Durham.

Bedlington: Bernard Cain, 13 Shiney Row, Bedlington, Northumberland. Aged 43 (born c.1838, Ireland), coal miner.[36]

Benfieldside: Patrick Doran, 34 Walton Row, Benfieldside, County Durham. Aged 28 (born c.1853, Preston, Lancashire), iron worker. Father born Armagh, Ireland.[37]

Berwick: Michael Rogan, 48 West Street, Berwick upon Tweed, Northumberland. Aged 59 (born c.1823, County Down, Ireland), outfitter. On 1871 Census, Rogan was a cloth dealer in Berwick.[38]

Bill Quay: Patrick Mackin, Lavery Street, Bill Quay, County Durham. Aged 50 (born c.1831, Ireland), grocer & pawn broker.[39]

Bishop Auckland: Thomas Hart, 61 Princess Street, Bishop Auckland, County Durham. Aged 62 (born c.1819, Ireland), secretary. On 1871 Census, Hart was a colliery labourer in Willington, County Durham.[40]

Blaydon: Patrick Crane, Church Street, Blaydon, County Durham. Aged 31 (born c.1850, Tuam, Galway, Ireland), railway porter.[41]

Blyth: Francis McNally, 7 Bowes Street, Cowpen, Northumberland. Aged 70 (born c.1811, Ireland), mason’s labourer.[42]

Coundon: James Cannavan, 728 Tottenham Square, Coundon, County Durham. Aged 31 (born c.1850, Ireland), coal miner.[43]

Darlington: William McCormack, 75 Gurney Street, North Road, Darlington. Aged 33 (born c.1848, Ireland), wagonwright.[44]

Durham: Patrick Golden, 41 Palmer’s Terrace, North Road, Durham. Aged 32 (born c.1849, Ireland), travelling draper.[45]

Easington Lane: Hugh Hinds, Easington Lane, County Durham. Aged 47 (born c.1834, Cumberland), coal miner.[46]

Gateshead: Patrick Gorman, 7 Ship Lane, Wrekenton, Gateshead. Aged 40 (born c.1841, Roscommon, Ireland), coal miner.[47]

Gateshead: Patrick Niland, 16 Bowes Row, Springwell, Usworth, County Durham. Aged 39 (born, c.1842, Ireland), coal miner.[48]

Jarrow: Stephen Bannon, 62 Monkton Road, Jarrow. Aged 42 (born c.1839, Ireland), stonebreaker (road labourer).[49]

Leadgate: John Bradley, 63 Plantation Street, Leadgate, County Durham. Aged 27 (born c.1854, Ireland), coal miner.[50]

Middlesbrough: Daniel O’Leary, 26 Lower Faversham Street, Middlesbrough. Aged 29 (born c.1852, Ireland), blast furnace keeper. [51]

Monkwearmouth: Thomas Moran, 30 Hedworth Street, Monkwearmouth, Sunderland. Aged 19 (born c.1862, Sunderland), general clerk, living with his Roscommon-born parents.[52]

Murton Colliery: Owen Burns, 12 Princess Street, Murton Colliery, County Durham. Aged 41 (born c.1840, Ireland), coal miner.[53]

New Hartley: James Toole, 29 Quarry Row, New Hartley, Seaton Delaval, Northumberland. Aged 38 (born c.1843, Ireland), general labourer.[54]

Newcastle upon Tyne: Thomas Haggerty, 28 St Andrew’s Street, Newcastle upon Tyne. Aged 21 (born c.1860, Carlisle, Cumberland), house painter, son of Irish-born old clothes dealer’.[55]

Prudhoe: James Mulholland, Prudhoe, Northumberland. Aged 51 (born c.1830, Ireland), blacksmith.[56]

Ryhope: John Blacklock, 47 Tunstall Street, Ryhope Colliery, Sunderland. Aged 39 (born c.1842, Durham City), coal miner.[57]

Sherburn Hill: Denis Lyons, 125 Durham Row, Sherburn Hill, County Durham. Aged 40 (born c.1841, Ireland), coal miner.[58]

Shildon: John Brady, 238 Main Street, Shildon, County Durham. Aged 25 (born c.1856, Ireland), coal miner. [59]

South Hetton: Jones Waddle, 8 Rows, South Hetton, County Durham. Aged 56 (born c.1825, Newbottle, Couth Durham), colliery waggonwright.[60]

Stanley Crook: John Leonard, 15 Arthur Terrace, Stanley Crook, County Durham. Aged 55 (born c,1826, Ireland), coal miner,[61]

Stockton on Tees: Daniel Bradley, 2 St Anne’s Terrace, Stockton on Tees. Aged 21 (born c.1860, Consett, County Durham), iron stock taker. Father Irish-born.[62]

Willington Quay: Richard Lalor, 10 Potter Street, Willington Quay, Northumberland. Aged 40 (born c.1841, Ireland), foreman.[63]

[1] Near identical accounts were published across the North of England, see for example: Manchester Courier & Lancashire General Advertiser, 19 February 1883; Liverpool Daily Post, 19 February 1883.

[2] At the beginning of the Invincibles’ conspiracy, it was alleged that Fenian Edward McCaffrey was asked by John Walsh to put him in touch with other Fenians. Tom Corfe, The Phoenix Park Murders: Conflict, Compromise & Tragedy in Ireland 1879-1882 (London, 1968), p.139.


[4] Freeman’s Journal, 2 February 1889.

[5] South Shields Daily Gazette, 5 March 1883.

[6] Ibid, 5 March 1883.

[7] Frank Byrne, secretary of the National Land League of Great Britain, fled from Dublin to Paris in early February 1883 and thence to New York. Dictionary of Irish Biography: Frank Byrne

[8] Reprint of the Shorthand Notes of the Speeches, Proceedings and Evidence taken before the Commissioners appointed under the above-named Act (HMSO, London, 1890), vols 3 & 4, pp.394-410, 474-87.

[9] Freeman’s Journal, 22 June 1881.

[10] Walsh’s travel itineraries, expenses and correspondence with Land League secretary, Frank Byrne, were found in Rochdale. Reprint of the Shorthand Notes, pp.400-04. 

[11] One item recovered in Rochdale was a rare copy of the ‘Laws, rules and regulations for the government of the I.R.B’. T W Moody and Leon Ó Broin, ‘IRB Supreme Council, 1868-78’, Irish Historical Studies, 19.75 (1975), p.324. The final rule was ‘Any Centre or other member losing or mislaying any dangerous documents such as these Rules to be for ever expelled the ranks of the I.R.B.’ Reprint of the Shorthand Notes, p.419.

[12] Moody & Ó Broin, ‘IRB Supreme Council’, p.332.

[13] Reprint of the Shorthand Notes, pp.394-95.

[14] Sunderland was listed but its totals were not printed in the Reprint of the Shorthand Notes, pp.394-95.

[15] Reprint of the Shorthand Notes, pp.423-29.

[16] Bureau of Military History, Dublin, BMH/WS 773: Witness Statement, Gilbert Francis Barrington, Dublin, 1952.

[17] The National Archives. Census Returns of England and Wales, 1881.

[18] The National Archives. Census Returns of England and Wales, 1881: Class: RG11; Piece: 5022; Folio: 60; Page: 13; GSU roll: 1342210. Stephen Bannon may possibly have been baptised on 9 September 1838 at Kilcoo, County Down. National Library of Ireland: Irish Catholic Parish Registers; Microfilm 05476 / 08.

[19] Flag of Ireland, 3 January 1874.

[20] Flag of Ireland, 6 June 1874.

[21] Flag of Ireland, 28 November 1874.

[22] Flag of Ireland, 16 January 1875.

[23] Flag of Ireland, 26 August 1876.

[24] Jarrow Express, 12 November 1880.

[25] The Nation, 6 May 1882.

[26] The National Archives. Census Returns of England and Wales, 1891; Class: RG12; Piece: 4198; Folio: 31; Page: 10; GSU roll: 6099308.

[27] United Ireland, 12 November 1887.

[28] United Ireland, 7 March 1891. The first Parnell Leadership Committee had been formed in Dublin, on the IRB’s initiative, in early December 1890. Owen McGee, The IRB: The Irish Republican Brotherhood from the Land League to Sinn Féin (Dublin, 2005), p.196.

[29] South Shields Daily Gazette, 27 April 1891.

[30] Newcastle Weekly Courant, 6 June 1891.

[31] United Ireland, 18 July 1891.

[32] Freeman’s Journal, 20 July 1891. The story of the North East’s Fenians in the 1890s is explored here:

[33] James McConnel, ‘Fenians at Westminster’: The Edwardian Irish Parliamentary Party and the Legacy of the New Departure’, Irish Historical Studies, vol. 34, No. 133 (May, 2004), pp.45 & 60.

[34] United Ireland, 18 July 1891; Flag of Ireland, 6 February 1897.


[36] The National Archives. Census Returns of England and Wales, 1881: RG11, piece 5115, folio 53, page 20, GSU roll 342235.

[37] 1881 Census: RG11, piece 4944, folio 59, page 33, GSU roll 1342188.

[38] 1881 Census: RG11, piece 5129, folio 94, page 10, GSU roll 1342238. 1871 Census: RG10, piece 5183, folio 49, page 6, GSU roll 849454.

[39] 1881 Census: RG11, piece 5030, folio 14, page 21, GSU roll 1342212. ‘H. Mackin’ was only born c.1866, so Walsh’s contact was more likely his father, Patrick.

[40] 1881 Census: RG11, piece 4914, folio 97, page 35, GSU roll 1342182. 1871 Census: RG10, piece 4965, folio 96, page 3; GSU roll 847429.

[41] 1881 Census: RG11, piece 5045, folio 29, page 1, GSU roll 1342216. 1911 Census: RG14, piece 29710.

[42] 1881 Census: RG11, piece 5091, folio 136, page 34, GSU roll 1342230.

[43] 1881 Census: Class: RG11; Piece: 4920; Folio: 113; Page: 45; GSU roll: 1342183.

[44] 1881 Census: Class: RG11; Piece: 4886; Folio: 67; Page: 24; GSU roll: 1342175.

[45] 1881 Census: Class: RG11; Piece: 4956; Folio: 14; Page: 21; GSU roll: 1342191.

[46] 1881 Census: Class: RG11; Piece: 4976; Folio: 54; Page: 41; GSU roll: 1342197.

[47] 1881 Census: Class: RG11; Piece: 5041; Folio: 40; Page: 28; GSU roll: 1342215.

[48] 1881 Census: Class: RG11; Piece: 4984; Folio: 88; Page: 49; GSU roll: 1342199.

[49] 1881 Census: Class: RG11; Piece: 5022; Folio: 60; Page: 13; GSU roll: 1342210.

[50] 1881 Census: Class: RG11; Piece: 4948; Folio: 81; Page: 14; GSU roll: 1342189.

[51] 1881 Census: Class: RG11; Piece: 4848; Folio: 27; Page: 11; GSU roll: 1342168.

[52] 1881 Census: Class: RG11; Piece: 5007; Folio: 25; Page: 43; GSU roll: 1342206.

[53] 1881 Census: Class: RG11; Piece: 4968; Folio: 93; Page: 71; GSU roll: 1342195.

[54] 1881 Census: Class: RG11; Piece: 5089; Folio: 90; Page: 24; GSU roll: 1342229.

[55]1881 Census:  Class: RG11; Piece: 5058; Folio: 66; Page: 8; GSU roll: 1342220.

[56] 1881 Census: Class: RG11; Piece: 5101; Folio: 77; Page: 36; GSU roll: 1342232.

[57] 1881 Census: Class: RG11; Piece: 4998; Folio: 109; Page: 39; GSU roll: 1342202.

[58] 1881 Census: Class: RG11; Piece: 4964; Folio: 68; Page: 28; GSU roll: 1342193.

[59] 1881 Census: Class: RG11; Piece: 4918; Folio: 88; Page: 22; GSU roll: 1342183.

[60] 1881 Census: Class: RG11; Piece: 4965; Folio: 61; Page: 58; GSU roll: 1342194.

[61] 1881 Census: Class: RG11; Piece: 4928; Folio: 107; Page: 19; GSU roll: 1342185.

[62] 1881 Census: Class: RG11; Piece: 4896; Folio: 40; Page: 6; GSU roll: 1342178.

[63] 1881 Census: Class: RG11; Piece: 5072; Folio: 78; Page: 28; GSU roll: 1342225.

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