Carey, James (1845–83), Fenian and informer, was born in James's St., Dublin, son of Francis Carey, bricklayer, originally from Celbridge, Co. Kildare. James worked as a bricklayer for eighteen years, becoming a master builder and a foreman in a building contractor's firm. He joined the IRB in 1861, and took part in the Fenian rising of 1867. At various times he acted as IRB treasurer in Dublin, the head of a vigilance committee to eliminate informers, and a member of the IRB Dublin directory (1869–78). He quit the IRB about 1878, disillusioned with its in-fighting and chaotic finances. In May 1881 he set up his own building firm and bought and leased tenement houses; he let twelve dwellings with about eighty tenants, and became a prosperous landlord. His public image was pious and civic-minded: he was an outspoken nationalist, and a member of several religious societies and the Home Manufacture Society.
Patrick Egan (qv) recommended him to John Walsh (qv) as an experienced and reliable activist and in December 1881 Walsh swore Carey into the Invincibles, a nationalist secret society dedicated to assassination. Carey was one of its four-man directory and swore in six recruits himself. It was Carey who suggested using knives for assassination and these were brought over from London in February 1882 and stored in his home at 19a Denzille St. According to one colleague, ‘none hated England and her West British dogs with a hatred more intense than his’ (Tynan, 332). In March and April 1882 Carey was involved in stalking the chief secretary, W. E. Forster (qv), but all attempts to assassinate him failed. After Forster's resignation (2 May), the Invincibles decided to assassinate the under-secretary, Thomas Henry Burke (qv). On 6 May 1882 in Dublin's Phoenix Park, Carey identified Burke to the waiting assassins, who stabbed him and the newly appointed chief secretary, Lord Frederick Cavendish (qv), to death. Carey, who earlier that day had been seen loitering in the park by a DMP detective, was immediately a suspect. Superintendent John Mallon (qv) of the DMP, the officer in charge of the case, regarded Carey as the key man in the conspiracy, the only ‘platform political spouter’ (quoted in Corfe, 231) among the suspects. Carey quit the Invincibles in June 1882, but on 6 July he and several others were arrested. He was further implicated when knives and a rifle were found in the attic of one of his houses; but, with insufficient evidence against him to secure a conviction, he was released on 19 September. In November 1882 he was elected for the Trinity ward to Dublin corporation, his nationalist credentials enhanced by his imprisonment. In the meantime the police had collected more information and on 13 January 1883 Carey and sixteen others (including his brother, Peter, a 32-year-old bricklayer and Invincible) were arrested.
The arrest of Carey, a man prominent in business and political life, attracted most attention from the press, and it was widely reported that he threatened to sue the police. During the subsequent hearings Carey displayed an air of aggressive bravado and advertised his social superiority to his fellow conspirators by wearing expensive clothes and smoking cigars. After one of the arrested men, the cab-driver Michael Kavanagh, decided to tell all, Carey and others were charged with Burke's murder on 15 February 1883. Carey was cleverly manipulated by Mallon into believing that other prisoners were about to break, and he decided to save himself by informing before they did. There was, however, some opposition in the government to giving him a reprieve: the lord lieutenant, Spencer (qv), noted that ‘a greater ruffian never walked the earth but . . . the betrayal of his dupes and comrades by such a man will sow suspicion among all secret societies. He will be execrated for all time’ (Williams, 120). On 17 February Carey caused a sensation by appearing in court as an approver, and was the key witness in the Invincible trials of April and May 1883 (his 15-year-old son Tom and brother Peter also gave evidence). He maintained that he was not telling the full story, that his evidence only confirmed what the authorities already knew and produced no new arrests, and that he was saving some innocent men from the gallows. He expressed no remorse for the killings, but maintained that they were acts of justifiable warfare. Among nationalists his name became a by-word for treachery, and he was similarly regarded with contempt and derision by loyalists and Englishmen. Carey increased his unpopularity by playing to the gallery, giving ingeniously ambiguous answers or witty retorts to counsel. His testimony led to the conviction and execution of five Invincibles (14 May–9 June 1883). After the first execution, that of Joe Brady (qv), a close friend and godfather to one of Carey's children, he sent a prayer book to his family with the inscription ‘After everyone betraying him he saved himself and many others’ (Corfe, 247).
The anger and shame that many had originally felt at the time of the killings was transmuted into loathing for Carey. His family was boycotted, his tenants refused to pay rent, and he was removed from Dublin corporation. He assumed the name ‘Power’ (his wife's maiden name) and sailed to South Africa with his family on the Kinfauns Castle on 6 July 1883. Carey had shaved off his beard, but made no other attempt to disguise himself and there were suspicions on board ship about his true identity, fuelled by his indiscreet harangues against the English. By 29 July, when he boarded the Melrose in Capetown to sail to Natal, it was common knowledge that ‘Power’ was the infamous Carey. Patrick O'Donnell (qv), a Fenian sympathiser whom Carey had befriended on the earlier voyage, sailed with him on the Melrose and shot him dead on 29 July 1883. No clergyman could be found to conduct a burial service and he was buried in Port Elizabeth's prison cemetery. In Ireland his killing was greeted with jubilation, and his effigy was burned on numerous bonfires.
After Carey's death his family (three sons and two daughters) went to England under an assumed name and were supported by the Home Office. His wife, who had disapproved of Carey's secret society activities, died in England in October 1897; his three sons joined the British army, Royal Navy, and French army respectively.