Byrne, Frank (c.1849–1894), nationalist, was born in Ireland, the son of Francis Byrne, a clerk. His family appears to have moved to Lancashire England, during his childhood. Nothing is known of his early life until 1870, when he served in an Irish company in the French army under Gen. Bourbaki during the Franco–Prussian war. He was wounded at the battle of Montbéliard, decorated for bravery, and interned with his unit when they crossed into Switzerland. Returning to England, he worked as a clerk in Liverpool. In the mid 1870s, on the recommendation of Isaac Butt (qv), Byrne became assistant secretary of the Home Rule Confederation of Great Britain, an influential body that controlled the Irish vote in Britain and formed an important part of the power base of C. S. Parnell (qv) after he was elected president in 1877. An efficient organiser and a diligent official, Byrne disliked the limelight and shied away from public platforms. The less than reliable Frank Hugh O'Donnell (qv) later played down Byrne's importance in the confederation, claiming that he was merely a paid functionary with little influence on policy.
The confederation had a strong Fenian element and Byrne was a member of the London directory of the IRB. He was a friend of the radical land leaguers Patrick Egan (qv) and John S. Walsh (qv), and during the winter of 1881–2 complained that the confederation (renamed the National Land League of Great Britain) was losing members because it was ‘too constitutional’ (O'Donnell, ii, 117) in the face of evictions and coercion in Ireland. According to P. J. P. Tynan (qv) (who befriended Byrne when they served together in France) the Irish National Invincibles was set up in December 1881 on the initiative of the IRB's London directory to assassinate British officials in retaliation for government repression. Tynan claimed that Byrne was the Invincibles’ paymaster and the main contact through whom all commands from the London directory were conveyed to Dublin.
It was Byrne who asked a surgeon friend, Dr Hamilton Williams, to buy ten large surgical knives at Weiss's, the instrument makers in Bond St., London; they were then stored in Byrne's Land League office in Westminster until delivered to the Dublin Invincibles by his wife. On 6 May 1882 the knives were used in the assassination of the chief secretary, Lord Frederick Cavendish (qv), and the under-secretary, Thomas H. Burke (qv), in the Phoenix Park. Byrne himself was in Dublin in August 1882 for the unveiling of the statue of Daniel O'Connell (qv) in Sackville St. Informers claimed that on 23 August 1882 he attended a meeting of the Invincibles in Dublin and congratulated members such as Joe Brady (qv) who had carried out the killings.
After the mass arrest of Invincibles in Dublin in January 1883, Byrne fled to Paris on 8 February. Under pressure from the British government he was arrested by the French police (27 February) and held in custody. The British government requested his extradition, but he was released on 9 March after strong protests from Henri Rochefort and other French radicals. Byrne himself believed that his military service for France secured his release. Days later he was befriended by a man claiming to be a Polish count who invited him to take a trip on his yacht in the English channel; Byrne turned down the invitation after receiving a tip-off that the ‘count’ was a Scotland Yard inspector.
Believing he would be safer in America, he arrived in New York on 4 April 1883. Here he was active in Fenian affairs, and campaigned on behalf of the Republican James G. Blaine during the 1884 presidential campaign. Byrne never publicly admitted any responsibility for the Phoenix Park killings, but at a public meeting in New York on 2 July 1883 praised the perpetrators and stated that ‘I am not fastidious as to the methods by which the cause of liberty may be advanced. I do not say you should alone use dynamite, or the knife, or the rifle, or parliamentary agitation, but I hold no Irishman true who will not use all and each method as the opportunity presents itself’ (Tynan, 554).
Byrne was an honoured guest at commemorative dinners for the executed Invincibles and on one such occasion in New York on 14 May 1884 was described as ‘one of the wisest in counsel, one of the calmest in debate, one of the bravest that ever was found in the ranks of any revolutionary movement’ (Special commission report, iv, 404). During the hearings of the special commission into ‘Parnellism and crime’ in 1888–9, he was singled out as a key figure in organising the Phoenix Park murders. The Times made much of the fact that when Parnell passed through London in April 1882 after his release from Kilmainham jail, Byrne was among the small group that had greeted him at Willesden, and claimed (incorrectly) that he was Parnell's private secretary. The fact that Parnell's lieutenant Justin McCarthy (qv) paid Byrne £100 before his departure from London to Paris (McCarthy claimed it was arrears of pay), was seen as highly suspicious and led The Times to allege that Parnell had assisted the flight of the man behind the murders.
Byrne worked in New York for some years as a liquor merchant and as a correspondent for the Irish World, founded by Patrick Ford (qv). He renewed his acquaintance with his old friend Patrick Egan, and acted as his bodyguard when Egan incurred the wrath of John Devoy (qv). Byrne also became a close friend of Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa (qv). He finally settled at Providence, Rhode Island, where he joined the Ancient Order of Hibernians and was employed as a shipping merchant and a tobacco seller until incapacitated by severe rheumatism in 1893. He died of heart disease on 16 February 1894 at Providence, Rhode Island. A large crowd attended his funeral, including O'Donovan Rossa and many representatives of Irish-American organisations.
He was survived by two children and his wife Mary Ann Byrne (1854–1894?), who was born 9 September 1854 in Haddington Road, Dublin, second daughter of Arthur Moneypenny , a plasterer, and his wife Frances (née Kelly). She and Byrne were married on 9 September 1876 in St Mary's catholic church, Dukinfield, Ashton-under-Lyne. Both were living in Peel St, Dukinfield, at the time. A committed nationalist, when seven months pregnant she delivered the surgical knives used in the assassination of Cavendish and Burke to the Invincibles in Dublin in February 1882 by concealing them under her skirts. On another occasion she brought them a rifle, two revolvers, and a large quantity of ammunition. Implicated in the Phoenix Park killings by the evidence of James Carey (qv), she was arrested in February 1883 at her home on Avondale Road, Peckham Rye, south London. When confronted with her in court on 21 February, Carey could not positively identify her as the woman who had delivered the arms. She was released from custody immediately and some weeks later joined her husband in America. In May 1885 at a meeting to honour the executed Invincibles in New York, she was given a ‘well-filled purse’ and acclaimed as a ‘brave little woman’ who was ‘as true as steel to all those heroic ideas of womanhood which typify the feminine character of Ireland’ (Special commission report, iv, 404). She was a member of an American ladies’ committee that in April 1887 erected a monument in Glasnevin cemetery to Patrick O’ Donnell (qv), who was hanged for shooting dead James Carey. She was struck down by paralysis three years before her husband's death in 1894. In June 1894, expecting that she was soon to die, she told an American journalist that Parnell had no connection whatsoever with the Invincibles. Nothing is known of her after this date.