The date, May 6th, 1882, was meant to be a splendid one in the history of Ireland. It turned out to be horrific.

The day began when Earl Spencer, newly appointed lord lieutenant of Ireland, entered Dublin in state. In the evening, when the celebrations were over, Lord Frederick Cavendish, the chief secretary of Ireland, and his permanent under-secretary Thomas Burke set out across Phoenix Park in Dublin for Lord Cavendish’s official residence.

They never reached it. In the middle of the park they were set upon by a gang of men wielding long surgical knives. As the light began to fade the gang, all belonging to the Irish Invincibles Society, butchered the English statesman and his civil servant in an attack whose savagery was regarded with horror, even by many republicans.

More than 20 men were subsequently arrested. Special courts in Dublin sentenced six of them to death. After three were executed in May at Dublin’s Kilmainham Prison, the fourth, Thomas Caffrey, 25, was hanged on Saturday, June 2nd, 1883, and the fifth, Timothy Kelly, 19, was hanged a week later, on Saturday, June 9th, on the same gallows. The sixth man was reprieved.

Informers had helped to bring the gang to justice and one of them, James Carey, a builder, was packed off by the British authorities to South Africa for his own safety. Although his embarkation was planned in great secrecy, he was murdered on board ship. His killer, Patrick O’Donnell, was hanged in England in December 1883.