The Invincibles

Chapelizod was at the centre of the revolutionary world when, for a few days in June 1882, the village was overrun with the forces of law and order as they frantically grappled with the dark deeds of the underworld of Irish Nationalism.

On a bright summer evening that May, in the nearby Phoenix Park, murder most foul was committed and it rocked the Irish and British establishments to their core. Lord Frederick Cavendish, the Chief Secretary for Ireland was assassinated along with Thomas Henry Burke, the Permanent Under Secretary, both loyal servants of the British crown. The echoes of the celebratory twenty one gun salute were still resounding in the ears of Dubliners that fateful Saturday evening when, having taken the oath of office in the Castle, Cavendish strolled through the city swinging his umbrella, en route to the vice-regal lodge (now Áras an Uachtaráin).

In the park he was joined by Burke, cane in hand and clad in a grey check suit. Perhaps they were too deep in conversation to notice the approaching jaunting car and its occupants, somewhat incongruously dressed with American soft slouch hats pulled low over their faces on a warm evening in early summer. Aided by the signals of co-conspirators - seemingly idling away their time in the park -  the assassins, armed with surgical knives, attacked swiftly. There was only time for Cavendish to exclaim, ‘Oh, you ruffians!’ before he and Burke succumbed to their fates.

The Invincibles had struck and mission accomplished, the gang of four leapt back onto the car, the cabbie cracked his whip over the brown mare and they raced off towards Chapelizod, where crossing the bridge at a ferocious pace, they almost killed a child. For the first time ever, Irish newspapers produced a Sunday edition.

The case fell into the lap of John Mallon of the the ‘G’ division of the Dublin Metropolitan Police. This bearded Ulsterman of formidable reputation had his finger on the revolutionary pulse and could call on a network of informers across the city. His slow, methodical investigation began with the summoning of all 4,000 Dublin cab drivers for questioning. Briefly the eyes of the world fell upon Chapelizod -  had the assassins, in rapid flight across the bridge, flung the murder weapon over the parapets of the bridge into the Liffey below? Crowds swarmed the Chapelizod bridge and spilled onto the riverbanks to watch divers in their peculiar, somewhat medieval, twelve bolt helmets, at work in the river. Drags were requisitioned from the Bellisle Guardship in Dun Laoghaire.

The search ultimately proved fruitless and Chapelizod once more became a sleepy country village, its inhabitants mere onlookers with the rest of the world as five Invincibles were executed and others sentenced to long terms of penal servitude for their part in the Phoenix Park Murders.

by Annette Black, Wicklow
Published on 24th August 2013