The last man to be publicly hanged in England, Irishman Michael Barrett was executed for his part in the 1867 bombing of Clerkenwell Prison, an attack carried out by The Fenians as they tried to help a prisoner escape. The bombing — which killed 12 bystanders, seriously injured dozens more and destroyed a row of tenement buildings opposite the jail — sparked British hostility against the Irish community.
Months earlier, Barrett had been arrested in Glasgow for illegally discharging a firearm and allegedly false evidence was used to implicate him in the Clerkenwell Prison explosion which occurred the previous December.
In court, he produced witnesses who testified that he had been in Scotland on the date of the incident. The main case against him rested on the evidence of Patrick Mullany (a Dubliner who had given false testimony before and whose price was a free passage to Australia) who told the court that Barrett had informed him that he had carried out the explosion with an accomplice by the name of Murphy. After two hours of deliberation the jury pronounced Barrett guilty.
Barrett was executed outside Newgate Prison on 26 May 1868, in front of a crowd of thousands. Three days later, public executions were outlawed in Britain. But Barrett’s performance while on trial was regarded as highly impressive. Speaking from the dock before his sentence was passed, he was said to have eloquently questioned the discrepancies of the case and concluded with a stirring speech: “If it is murderous to love Ireland dearer than I love my life, then it is true, I am a murderer… If I could, by any means, redress the wrongs of that persecuted land by the sacrifice of my life, I would willingly and gladly do so.”
Photo: Manchester Martyrs Monument, Moston, Manchester