The story of the Phoenix Park murders and ensuing killing of an informer

The barbaric slaughter of the chief secretary and under secretary sparked revulsion in Ireland

The Phoenix Park murders: ‘The barbaric and politically senseless slaughter of the chief secretary and the under secretary created a wave of revulsion in Britain and throughout Ireland.’ Photograph: Hulton Archive

The Phoenix Park murders: ‘The barbaric and politically senseless slaughter of the chief secretary and the under secretary created a wave of revulsion in Britain and throughout Ireland.’ Photograph: Hulton Archive

On May 5th, 1882, Lord Frederick Cavendish, second son of the Duke of Devonshire and brother to Lord Hartington, and husband of the niece of William Gladstone, the prime minister, speaking “with a slight impediment in his speech”, took the oath of office as chief secretary for Ireland before the Irish Privy Council in Dublin Castle.

It was the beginning of what was to have been a new phase in the Irish policy of Gladstone’s government, in the wake of Charles Stewart Parnell’s release from Kilmainham Gaol, and the understanding that became known as the “Kilmainham treaty”. The next evening he walked from the castle towards the Phoenix Park. On his way he was overtaken by Thomas Henry Burke, the under secretary for Ireland. Burke descended from his cab, and they walked together into the Phoenix Park.

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