Here in the Chester (UK) science fiction book group we were discussing the charming and beautifully written novel, The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley in which Fenian activity was foresaw by the watchmaker with clairvoyance, Mori. I mentioned how the Fenians were active in Chester in the 1860s and this raised surprise in the group. I dug a little and for Kyle this is what I found.
Fenians in Chester 1860s
From PORTRAIT OF CHESTER by David Bethell
Published by Hale 1980 p44-45
On 27th October 1862, after serious Irish disturbances in Birkenhead a large group of Friends of Garibaldi [not particularly religious but inspired by Giuseppe Garibaldi for his anti-authoritarian, freedom, revolutionary stance while in exile from Italy) assembled at Chester Castle gates. A bottle was thrown and hit a boy in the face badly wounding him. The Garibaldians marched on Boughton, inhabited almost entirely by Irish labourers, who stood ready for battle. Their appearance dissuaded the Cestrian mob, who retired to the High Cross, where an effigy of the Pope was exhibited, and the crowd chanted, “To Hell with the Pope!”
On Sunday 10th February 1867 Fenians (Irish Republicans) held a meeting in Liverpool and resolved to attack Chester Castle the following day to seize the arms deposited there, attack the banks and jewellers shops, cut the telegraph wires, tear up the rails and escape by train to Holyhead and then to Ireland. The armoury at the Castle held 10,100 rifles, 6,000 swords and nearly a million rounds of ammunition, plus 5.040 barrels of gunpowder, guarded by only six soldiers. The Fenians believed the 54th Regiment (Chester was the 22nd so perhaps there were the 54th West Norfolk stationed nearby? – GN) to be disaffected and have Irish sympathisers.
[From Wikipedia: The rolling stock on the railway to be appropriated for transport to Holyhead, where shipping was to be seized and a descent made on Dublin before the authorities should have time to interfere.]
One of the Fenians, an ex-officer called Corydon, who was one of 50 American-Irish, who had come to Britain to foment violence (or help the Irish independence cause – depending on your point of view – GN) had been captured in Liverpool and revealed the plot to his interrogators. The news and consequent instructions buzzed along the telegraphs to Manchester, Chester, Holyhead and London.
From noon on Monday about 700 Irishmen arrived in Chester on trains from Liverpool, Preston, Manchester and Halifax. The unusual numbers leaving from Liverpool attracted attention and fresh warnings were telegraphed. The Chester Magistrates met immediately, and special constables sworn in. The 230 Chester Volunteers were called up and police stood by.
Around 4pm a train from Manchester and Stalybridge brought 400 Irishmen. 40 from Halifax and 70 from Leeds. By 5pm there were 1500 Irishmen in Chester and their leaders gathered for battle orders.
The railway authorities prepared to pull up the lines (too late or to keep them in the city but it might have prevented soldiers reaching the city too – GN). At 11pm two companies of the 54th Regiment and the Volunteers mustered in the Castle. At 1am another company of the 54th arrived from Manchester. A gunboat left the Mersey for Holyhead. Extra police were assembled in Liverpool. At 2.30 am the 1st Battalion of Scots Fusiliers, 500 men, left in a special 27-carriage train from Euston to Chester. (Flying Scotsman ? –GN)
Through the night 500 special constables patrolled the streets. The Fenians formed into columns on the main roads out of the city. The Cheshire Yeomanry were summoned. Before the Scots Fusiliers arrived the Irishmen started to melt away, and by morning they’d all gone. Some ammunition was found abandoned. The citizens of Chester (presumably not the Irish living in Boughton – GN) crowded to the railway station and gave the Fusiliers a rapturous welcome.
It surprised me too how much arms was stored in Chester Castle. We are a small city now and I would have thought insignificant then but hey ho. Also that 6,000 swords were in storage in 1867. Still an important weapon in those days in spite of firearms.