Byrne was implicated in the assassination of Lord Frederick Cavendish and Under Secretary Thomas Henry Burke in the Phoenix Park murders of May 1882, carried out by a group of subversives connected to the IRB called the ‘Invincibles’. Along with helping ensure the conviction of a number of his accomplices and the execution of five of them (including that of the godfather of his two-month-old son), police informant James Carey claimed that Frank Byrne was the main organiser of the Phoenix Park assassinations and that his wife carried over from England the knives used in them. Carey also hinted that Patrick Egan, treasurer of the Land League, supplied the money needed for the operation.
Byrne escaped to France in mid-February 1883. With British undercover agents hot on their heels, Byrne and John Walsh (Milford, Co. Cork, c. 1835—Rochester, state of New York, 1894), another IRB man and Land League organizer, stayed briefly in Paris at the Hotel Normandy at 7, rue de l’Echelle (1st arrondissement). Coincidentally (or not?), Charles Stewart Parnell had previously stayed in the same hotel and was to travel to Paris at the height of l’affaire Byrne in March 1883). However, by the time the British authorities had issued an international mandate for his arrest, Byrne had left Paris for Cannes, where he met his wife, Mary Anne, who had been briefly detained by the French police for “carrying weapons in/to Dublin”.
In between some serious conspiring, the small group of Irish revolutionaries formed by Walsh, Davis and Byrne were joined by one or other of the Casey brothers to wine and dine in a number of establishments. The group was frequently spotted carousing in cafes and restaurants the rue du Bac (6th arrondissement), the same street where one of the Casey brothers lived (at no. 93). Among other prominent Irish Republican Brotherhood in Paris at this time that Byrne most likely met were John O’Leary and James Stephens.
Beside the lack of concrete evidence against him, undoubtedly Byrne owed his release in large part to the furious political debate his case stirred up in France. An avalanche of protest from French newspapers and politicians greeted attempts to arrest a fellow “republican” from Ireland and hand him over to la perfide Albion. Davis and the Casey’s did their bit to sway French opinion, writing long letters to the French press and contacting that old secular saint of liberal causes, Victor Hugo, as well as the left-wing populist Henri Rochefort (an acquaintance of ‘General’ James Dyer MacAdaras and Charles Stewart Parnell).
A week after his release, Byrne was picked up again briefly by the police in Le Havre as he awaited to embark a ship bound for New York together with his wife and John Walsh (who had participated in the Catalpa rescue of John Devoy from a penal colony in western Australia in 1876). While in Le Havre, Walsh and the Byrnes also avoided the clutches of the British one final time when they twigged that a “Polish count” who invited them on a yacht trip around the harbour was actually a British secret service agent.
In spite of his faits d’armes, Byrne made little impression on the fractured Fenian movement in America. Forgotten and reduced to selling cigars to earn a living, he died in Providence, Rhode Island in February 1894. Later, an imposing monument in honour of Byrne's contribution to the Irish cause was erected in Old St. Mary's Cemetery in Pawtucket. His death was preceded by that of John Walsh who, according to the New York Times, “died of paresis, destitute and apparently friendless” in a hospital in Rochester, state of New York, in 1894.
Archives de la Prefecture de la Police de Paris, Carton BA 924, Frank Byrne
The Phoenix Park Murders (1968)
The Irish National Invincibles and their times (1894)
La Compagnie Irlandaise–Reminiscences of the Franco-Prussian War (1873)
“The IRB–The Irish Republican Brotherhood from the Land League to Sinn Fein” (2005)
“The Irish Conspirators”, New York Times, March 9, 1883
“Frank Byrne, Land Leaguer, Dead”, New York Times, Feb. 18, 1894
“The Fate of an Infamous Informer”, History Ireland, vol. 9, issue 2 (Summer 2001)