The Attempted Assassination of Bernie Riordan

It was a time of wildness in thought and action...

It was a time of wildness in thought and action. InSydney town on 12 March 1868 Queen Victoria’s youngest son Alfred was attending a royal charity picnic at Clontarf. The ruined seminarian Henry O’Farell, with two loaded revolvers, waited for the prince to pass. He fired once, striking the prince in the back, and then twice, this time, missing his mark. As he was grabbed, O’Farrell shouted ‘I’m a Fenian – God Save Ireland’.

Across the world, barely a month later, on the 7 April 1868,  D’Arcy McGee the newly elected member for Montreal West paused to open the door to his lodgings, an assailant came from behind ‘and shot him through the back of the neck, the ball passing out through his mouth and carrying away some of his teeth’. Mc Gee was dead before he hit the ground. He had dared to question the Fenian ideology, claiming that the British sovereign nation of Canada offered more to Irishmen than the American republic, in the form of fairer wages and social equality.[1]

It was a time of extreme measures and thoughts. 2 million Irish had died in the so-called ‘potato famine’. There was no famine, only potato blight. All the food had been exported to England so that robber landholders could obtain greater profits. Hundreds of Irish men and women had been hung and tens of thousands had departed, some by force, in chains, to Australia, and others by necessity to the Americas.

The attempted assassination of Alfred and the successful assassination of McGee were not the first acts of sectarian violence but they were the beginnings of a tide of extreme action. Many expatriates had hoped to raise an army to take back the Irish homeland from the British Army. When this failed, the tide of sectarian violence and terrorism continued for over two hundred years, ebbing and flowing but always driven by the bitterness and hardness of thought that comes from thousands of cold, starving deaths in the ditches of the old country.

Extremism dulls the intellect. Alfred’s sin was to seek favour from his mother. Mc Gee was simply the first to utter the truth, that all who now cross the Northern border between Canada and the United States, know to be true. These were hardly capital crimes.

252 years later the Irish passion for assassination and revenge has been re-kindled within the NSW Labor Party. Inside the barricade, are the last survivors of a once great political machine. As the bombardment continues, around midnight, over red wine, bitter words spill out. The worst curses are uttered. Names are spat out with venom. The last place that those in the barricade want to look is inwards. Betrayers and informers have been their undoing. As the fat rats escape the barricade leaving the survivors to ponder their future fate, the word goes out that those who have betrayed them will, on a day when they least expect it, be silenced.