One sunlit evening, May 6 l882, Lord Frederick Cavendish and Thomas Burke, Chief Secretary and Undersecretary for Ireland, were ambushed and stabbed to death while strolling through Phoenix Park in Dublin. The murders were funded by American supporters of Irish independence and carried out by the Invincibles, a militant faction of republicans armed with specially-made surgeon’s blades. They ended what should have been a turning point in Anglo Irish relations. A new spirit of goodwill had been burgeoning between British Prime Minister William Gladstone and Ireland’s leader Charles Stewart Parnell, with both men forging in secret a pact to achieve peace and independence in Ireland—with the newly appointed Cavendish, Gladstone’s protégé, to play an instrumental role in helping to do so. The impact of the Phoenix Park murders was so cataclysmic that it destroyed the pact, almost brought down the government, and set in motion repercussions that would last long into the 20th century.
In a story that spans Donegal, Dublin, London, Paris, New York, Cannes and Cape Town, Julie Kavanagh thrillingly traces the crucial events that came before and after the murders. From the adulterous affair that caused Parnell’s downfall; to Queen Victoria’s prurient obsession with the assassinations; and the investigation spearheaded by Superintendent John Mallon, also known as the “Irish Sherlock Holmes,” culminating in the eventual betrayal and clandestine escape of leading Invincible James Carey and his murder on the high seas, The Irish Assassins brings us intimately into this fascinating story that shaped Irish politics and engulfed an Empire. This is an unputdownable book from one of our most “compulsively readable” (Guardian) writers.
Praise for The Irish Assassins:
“The tale of the Phoenix Park murders is not unfamiliar, but Kavanagh recounts it with a great sense of drama…Kavanagh’s account reminds me of the very best of true crime, the sort that Dominick Dunne used to write for Vanity Fair. Like Dunne, Kavanagh never hurries; she takes the time to describe characters and places with exquisite detail. An engaging story is rendered beautiful because of the tiny ephemera that a less sensitive author might have carelessly discarded.”—Times
“Journalist Kavanagh delivers a page-turning history of the murders of the chief secretary and the undersecretary for Ireland in May 1882…This entertaining and richly detailed chronicle offers fresh insights into a conflict whose repercussions are still felt today”—Publishers Weekly
“As true crime stories go, this one has it all: clandestine plotting, scandalous affairs, shadowy organizations, brutal murders, far-reaching political implications, and, for good measure, someone known as “the Irish Sherlock Holmes.” …Kavanagh’s gripping account of the murders is a stark reminder that history is a chaotic jumble of chance, circumstance, and opportunity, as much about what could have been as about what was.”—Literary Hub
“In painstaking and sometimes-harrowing detail, journalist Kavanagh examines the fatal 1882 stabbings of Lord Frederick Cavendish and Thomas Burke…A cinematic, multilayered revenge tragedy centered on Ireland’s fraught quest for independence.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Enlightening, absorbing, and very exciting.”—Lady Antonia Fraser
“In The Irish Assassins, Julie Kavanagh manages the extraordinary feat of guiding the reader through the complexities of Anglo-Irish politics while building the combined tension of an electric political thriller with a tragic love story. The people are real, the events still matter today and the impact is Shakespearean.”—Ralph Fiennes
“This book is a fascinating, beautifully written account of an event whose consequences reverberate even today. An act of extremism derailed a constitutional process driven forward by a Prime Minister determined to bring peace to Ireland. The moderate cause of Home Rule collapsed under the weight of outrage against the assassination. The strains which led eventually to partition were strengthened. The fragility of that solution of partition is evident in this time, in the Irish border. It is part of the history of our islands made of course all the more interesting by the extraordinary characters with the leading roles in the drama.”—Tony Blair
“This is one of those rare books that is superbly written, tells me something I need to know, and which grips the imagination from first word to last. Julie Kavanagh has produced an engrossing account of revolutionary violence, political folly and human weakness. It is a powerful work.”—Fergal Keane, BBC correspondent and author of Wounds: A Memoir of War and Love
“Julie Kavanagh has taken a violent and sensational event, the assassination of two senior government official in Dublin in 1882, and placed it in a richly contextualized and many-layered historical setting. Using a wide range of sources and opening up new avenues of enquiry, she vividly demonstrates the convulsive reverberations of one violent act, tracing the shock-waves it sent into political salons at Westminster, cabins in County Donegal, court circles at Windsor, revolutionary cabals in Paris, the Irish leader Parnell’s secret life in a London suburb, and the complex world of the transatlantic Irish diaspora. Consummately well-written and full of novel insights, this is the best kind of historical detective story.”—R.F. Foster, Emeritus Professor of Irish History, University of Oxford
“In The Irish Assassins, Julie Kavanagh has brilliantly succeeded in making a complex sequence of events irresistibly accessible, providing an engrossing narrative that is violent, tragic, sometimes funny, extremely astute and remarkably well written.”—Selina Hastings, author of Sybille Bedford: A Life