The Irish Assassins: Conspiracy, Revenge and the Phoenix Park Murders That Stunned Victorian England

Atlantic Monthly. Aug. 2021. 496p. ISBN 9780802149367. $35. HIST
The murders of Lord Frederick Cavendish and Thomas Henry Burke in 1882 brought global attention to long-standing Anglo–Irish tensions. The Cavendish and Burke assassinations were largely financed by Irish Americans, and were carried out by the self-styled Invincibles, a loosely organized radical splinter cell intent on assassinating British government officials in Ireland. Carrying on and expanding the work begun by her journalist father, author Kavanagh (Nureyev: The Life) has constructed a riveting tale that is both deeply researched and unforgettable. The sensational events leading up to and following the trials and executions of those directly involved in the assassinations sharply brought into focus a long history of bloodshed, oppression, and injustice that also touched many of the Victorian era’s political notables, including Queen Victoria, prime minister William Gladstone, and Irish nationalist Charles Parnell. As the book’s action shifts from Ireland to England, then to North America and South Africa, it skillfully tells a complex story of ambition, conspiracy, betrayal, and coercion that was centuries in the making, with implications that reach to the 21st century.
VERDICT Expertly blending history and true crime, this is an essential read for anyone wanting to understand modern Irish history. Kavanagh’s writing is engaging from start to finish.
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