On Sunday October 10th 1869, Dublin heaved with excitement and trepidation. Political banners hung from houses while the city’s trade union offices buzzed with excitement. Despite a police ban on a planned procession through the city tens of thousands of people turned out. They were joined by thousands more who flooded into the city from across Ireland to participate in what was destined to be the largest demonstration in a generation.
Amid the clamour of marching bands and singing, over one hundred thousand people converged on Cabra, a sleepy village north west of Victorian Dublin, to demand an amnesty for Fenian prisoners. Now a sprawling suburb home to tens of thousands of people, in 1869 Cabra was a quiet village surrounded by farmland. But on October 10th that year these fields hosted the greatest demonstration Ireland had seen since the famine.
This demonstration was the culmination of one of the most impressive campaigns in later 19th century Ireland which saw one provincial newspaper proclaim ‘political demonstrations are becoming as fashionable in ‘the island of Saints and Scholars’ as the Bull fights in Spain‘1. The remarkable story of the Amnesty campaign of 1869 began two years earlier in Manchester, England, with the accidental killing of a policeman, an incident that led to the famous case of the Manchester Martyrs.