Allen, William Philip (1848–67), Fenian and ‘Manchester martyr’, was born in April 1848 near Tipperary town but moved when aged about 3 to Bandon, Co. Cork, where his father, Thomas Allen (1814?–1909), was keeper of the bridewell (c.1850–1868). The Allen family was religiously mixed: William's father and four brothers were protestants; his mother and sister were catholics, as he himself, influenced by a catholic missionary, became in adulthood. He was educated locally and was apprenticed to a local carpenter and timber-merchant named Preston, but this employment seems to have ended abruptly on his becoming a catholic. Allen then spent some time in Dublin before moving to Manchester, where he had relations, an address (101 Shudehill St., on the north side of the city) and some fame as a billiard player. He joined – when and where has not been ascertained – the IRB, becoming one of its most active Manchester members. On 18 September 1867, in Hyde Rd, he led about fifty Fenians, about half armed with revolvers or pistols, in an attack on a van guarded by a dozen unarmed policemen. Their purpose was to release two important Fenians under arrest, Thomas J. Kelly (qv) and Timothy Deasy (qv). In this they were successful, but a police sergeant, Charles Brett, was shot dead. Allen and twenty-five others were tried, at a special commission guarded by a military force of 2,000 men (28 October–13 November), for various offences connected with the rescue. Allen, whose defence by the radical Ernest Jones was ill conducted, was sentenced to death for the sergeant's murder. In a speech from the dock (1 November) he declared: ‘I will die proudly and triumphantly in defence of republican principles and the liberty of an oppressed and enslaved people’ (Nation, 9 November 1867). He denied firing the fatal shot and expressed deep regret at Brett's death. In a letter to an uncle he wrote: ‘I am dying for Ireland . . ., for the island of saints.’ With Michael Larkin (qv) and Michael O'Brien (qv) he was publicly hanged at New Bailey Prison, Salford, before a large, unsympathetic crowd (23 November 1867). In England there were anti-catholic disturbances. Among Irish nationalists the memory of the three ‘Manchester martyrs’ (as they came to be called) remained strong and the anniversary of their deaths was commemorated; but Allen's father, who gave up his position at Bandon shortly after the affair, in old age told Mark Ryan (qv) ‘that he had no sympathy with the young martyr's principles’.
Thom 1853 et seq.; Nation, 21, 28 Sept., 2, 9, 30 Nov., 7 Dec. 1867; Cork Examiner, 3 Oct., 24 Nov. 1867; Mark Ryan, Fenian memories (1944), 181; Paul Rose, The Manchester martyrs (1970); Patrick Quinlivan and Paul Rose, The Fenians in England, 1865–1872 (1982)