James Carey

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James Carey, by unknown engraver, published 1883

James Carey (1845–1883) was a Fenian and informer most notable for his involvement in the Phoenix Park Murders. He has been called "the most militant minded republican you could possibly meet" by historian Dr Shane Kenna.[1]

Early life and nationalism[edit]

Carey was the son of Francis Carey, a bricklayer, who came from Celbridge to Dublin, where his son was born in James Street in 1845. He also became a bricklayer, and for 18 years continued in the employment of Michael Meade, builder, Dublin. He then started business on his own account as a builder at Denzille Street, Dublin. In this venture he was successful; he became the leading spokesman of his trade and obtained several large building contracts.

During all this period Carey was engaged in an Irish nationalist conspiracy, but to outward appearance he was one of the rising men of Dublin. He was involved in religious and other societies, and at one time was spoken of as a possible lord mayor. In 1882 he was elected a town councillor.

About 1861 he had joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and soon after became treasurer. In 1881 he broke with the IRB and formed a new group which assumed the title of the Invincibles, and established their headquarters in Dublin. Carey took an oath as one of the leaders. The object of the Invincibles was to remove all "tyrants" from the country, and several attempts, but without success, were made to assassinate Earl Cowper and W. E. Forster.

Phoenix Park Murders and aftermath[edit]

No. 1, the secret head of the association, then gave orders to kill Thomas Henry Burke, the under-secretary to the lord-lieutenant. On May 6, 1882, nine of the conspirators proceeded to the Phoenix Park, where Carey, while sitting on a jaunting-car, pointed out Burke to the others, who at once attacked and killed him with knives, and at the same time also killed Lord Frederick Cavendish, the newly appointed chief secretary, who happened to be walking with Burke.

For eight months no clue could be found to the perpetrators of the act; but on January 13, 1883, Carey was arrested and, with 16 other people, charged with a conspiracy to murder public officials. When arrested he was erecting a mortuary chapel in the South Dublin Union, and the work was then carried on by his brother Peter Carey. On February 13, Carey turned queen's evidence and betrayed the complete details of the Invincibles and of the killers in the Phœnix Park. His evidence – together with that of another informer, getaway driver Michael Kavanagh[2] – resulted in the execution by hanging of five of his associates.

With his life in great danger, he was secretly, with his wife and family, put on board the Kinfauns Castle, bound for the Cape, and sailed on July 6 under the name of Power. On board the same ship was Patrick O'Donnell, a bricklayer. He became friendly with Carey, without knowing who he was. After stopping off in Cape Town, he was informed by chance of the real identity of Carey.[3] He continued with Carey on board the Melrose for the voyage from Cape Town to Natal, and when the vessel was 12 miles off Cape Vaccas, on July 29, 1883, using a pistol he had in his luggage, shot Carey dead.[4]

O'Donnell was brought to England and tried for murder, was found guilty, and was executed at Newgate prison on December 17.[5]

Personal life[edit]

He had a wife, Maggie.[1]


  1. ^ a b "The History Show Episode 16". 
  2. ^ The Argus, Melbourne, March 13, 1883, p 5, "THE PHOENIX-PARK MURDER. CONFESSION OF THE CAR-DRIVER"
  3. ^ Moloney, Senan (2006). The Phoenix Murders: Conspiracy, Betrayal and Retribution. Dublin: Mercier Press. pp. 250 et passim. ISBN 1-85635-511-X. 
  4. ^ McCracken, J. L. (2001). The Fate of an Infamous Informer. Dublin: History Ireland. 
  5. ^ Moloney, Senan (2006). The Phoenix Murders: Conspiracy, Betrayal and Retribution. Dublin: Mercier Press. pp. 258 et passim. ISBN 1-85635-511-X.