Larkin, Michael (c.1835–1867), Fenian martyr, was born in the parish of Lusmagh, near Parsonstown, Kings Co. (Offaly), of ‘poor but respectable parents’ holding a tenancy on the Drought estate (King's County Chronicle, 27 Nov. 1867). His maternal grandfather, James Quirke, had been flogged and transported for participation in the rebellion of 1798 in the district. In the late 1830s the family migrated to Parsonstown, where his father (d. 1867) set up a back-lane shop as tailor. Having received a primary school education in the town, he completed an apprenticeship as a ‘clever and skilful’ tailor (ibid.) under his father's tutelage. Sometime between 1858 and 1862 he moved with his wife and two young children to Manchester, lodging in Eliza St., Hulme. Employed for several months by a Mr Hughes, he eventually secured a long-term position in the tailoring establishment of Mr Smith of Peter St. in early 1863. Though the working day was long (7 a.m. to 7 p.m.), he was notably punctual and rarely absent. By 1866 he had been promoted to head tailor in the shop and was responsible for routine security.
It seems that suspicions of his involvement in the IRB were aroused in the Manchester constabulary late that year. He was observed gathering subscriptions in known IRB public houses; the bulk of the Irish labouring population in the city evinced militant sympathies at this time. In June 1867 he returned to Parsonstown to be with his dying father, bringing his mother back to Manchester after the funeral. On the night of 11 September 1867, directly after the chance arrest of Tim Deasy (qv) and Thomas Kelly (qv), Irish-American Fenians in the process of reconstructing the IRB network from their base in Manchester since July that year, the local IRB organisation planned a rescue. Larkin probably knew little about the details until the evening of 17 September, when he was called to attend the decisive meeting. Convalescing from severe illness that week, he later complained that he felt coerced that night into taking part, with seventeen others, in the attempt. Witnesses swore later at his trial that he had shot one of the horses pulling the prison van holding the two IRB leaders and had swung a sledge at the roof of the van, trying to break it open, before the fatal shot, smashing the lock on the van door and killing Constable Brett, was fired. It is almost certain that he was not carrying a revolver during the episode. William Allen (qv) and Michael O'Brien (qv) were helping Larkin to safety across the nearby railway embankment when caught by chasing prison warders.
Of six rescuers tried for wilful murder in October 1867, Allen, Larkin, O'Brien and Edward O'Meagher Condon (qv) were convicted and sentenced to death. Ernest Jones, barrister and former chartist, gave up their defence early on in the trial, indignant that the prisoners were handcuffed in court. Speaking after conviction, Larkin denied his alleged use of arms on the day, expressed grief at the loss of life but pride in assisting in the rescue of Deasy and Kelly. The four prisoners famously repeated, in chorus, after Condon, the utterance ‘God save Ireland!’ As one of many in Britain troubled by the trial proceedings, the dowager marchioness of Queensberry forwarded the sum of £100 to Manchester jail for the welfare of Larkin's family; he was the only married man prosecuted. Visited by wife, children, and mother the night before the execution, Larkin was hanged with the other ‘Manchester martyrs’ on Saturday 23 November 1867 outside the New Bailey. Pale and weak, he was kept upright by a gaoler while being cowled. Not at once killed by the drop, he was put to death by the weight of the hangman climbing on to his shoulders. Though funeral processions in sympathy took place in the major Irish cities over the next week, local authorities scotched an intended protest by Fenians and former neighbours in Parsonstown.
He married (c.1854) Sarah Dunn of Parsonstown; they had two sons and two daughters.