Remembering Charles Stewart Parnell
Once proclaimed the "Uncrowned King Of Ireland", Charles Stewart Parnell is one of the biggest political figures in Irish history.
He was a leading figure in the Home rule movement in the 1880s and there were rumors he was a member of the IRB.
Parnell was born into an Anglo Irish family in Co Wicklow on June 27th 1846, Parnell's parents split when he was six years old and he was sent to different schools in England, this was a very unhappy time for the young Parnell.
Parnell first got into politics when he joined the home rule league in 1873, Parnell wanted to stand as a candidate in the election of 1874, but he was grand sheriff of Wicklow, this office barred him from standing in elections so he resigned and stood unsuccessfully in the County Dublin by-election in 1874.
Parnell was first elected to the House of Commons as a Home Rule League Member of Parliament (MP) for County Meath on 21 April 1875 in a by-election backed by Fenian Patrick Egan. He replaced the deceased League MP, veteran Young Irelander John Martin. He subsequently sat for the constituency of Youghal, Cork from 1880 until 1891.
In the House of Commons, Parnell aligned himself with the most radical Irish MPs, some of which were Fenians, they were involved in a policy of obstructionism, Obstruction involved giving lengthy speeches which were largely irrelevant to the topic at hand, this was done so Irish affairs would get more attention.
Parnell had the support of the IRB in Ireland and Clan na Gael in the United States, Fenians like john Devoy gave Parnell their backing to a deal which included separating militancy from the constitutional movement as a path to all-Ireland self-government.
In the hung parliament of 1885 saw him hold the balance of power between William Gladstone's Liberals and Lord Salisbury's Conservatives. His power was one factor in Gladstone's adoption of Home Rule as the central tenet of the Liberal Party.
Probably his greatest contribution to Ireland was his involvement in the Land League which was formed to help small tenant farmers own the land they worked on so ending landlordism which had contributed greatly to the great hunger of 1845.
The land league would eventually become a political party called the Irish National League (INL) formed on October 17th 1882 and was closely aligned to the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) which Parnell also led.
Scared of his influence in Irish politics the British tried to undermine him at every opportunity which included jailing him and linking him to the Phoneix park assassinations by forging diaries.
The revelations that he was having an affair with Katharine O'Shea the wife of fellow MP Captain O'Shea saw him face challenges of his leadership from once loyal allies including Gladstone of the Liberal party who feared losing the next general election if Parnell was still the leader of the Irish Party.
The Catholic church also condemned Parnell, as the O'Shea divorce hearings shed a bad light on Parnell, although the Irish National League publicly backed him the Irish Parliamentary Party would be a different kettle of fish.
At the annual Irish Parliamentary Party leadership election on November 25th 1890, Parnell was re-elected as the leader of the party, but they were unaware that Gladstone was no longer supporting Parnell.
Gladstone printed a letter the next day basically warning that if Parnell was the leader the alliance between the Liberal party & the Irish Party in Westminster would be over.
Upon reading the letter, angry members called another meeting for December 1st in Westminster, after five days of negotiating, Parnell's refusal to step down as leader of the party led to a walkout by some party members and an anti-Parnell party was set up.
On his return to Ireland in December 1890 his supporters seized control of the 'United Ireland' newspaper and Parnell was determined to fight on but he had lost most of his support base which was evident when his candidate was trounced in the North Kilkenny by-election that same month.
Parnell undertook a tour of Ireland to try to win back support, but his candidate was unsuccessful in the North Sligo by-election. He married Katherine O'Shea on June 25th 1891 and settled in Brighton England.
Parnell returned to Ireland to help his candidate fight the by-election in Carlow which again was a defeat, the third one in a row, Parnell then set his sights on the general election of 1892, but his constant campaigning took its toll on him.
Parnell had Kidney disease, but instead of taking it easy he continued on campaigning, on September 27th 1891 Parnell addressed a crowd in the pouring rain at an open-air public meeting and subjected himself to a severe soaking which resulted in a serious deterioration of his health.
Parnell returned home and died of pneumonia in the arms of his wife on October 6th 1891, aged just 45. His funeral on October 11th was attended by over 200,000 people and he was buried in Glasnevin cemetery.
Parnell has remained a huge figure in Ireland since his death, bank notes bared his face, poets like Yates recall the great man, even Joyce mentions him in his novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.
In 1911, a monument was unveiled to Parnell on the corner of Upper Sackville Street (Now O'Connell Street) and Parnell Street named in his honour.
In 1937 Parnell was played by Clark Gable in the film Parnell which is listed in the worst fifty films of all time, but Parnell was portrayed by Robert Donat in the 1947 film Captain Boycott which was a much better film.
One of my favourite Irish Republican ballads "Come Out You Black and Tans" written by Dominic Behan has a verse dedicated to Parnell:
"Come let me hear you tell how you slandered great Parnell, when you thought him well and truly persecuted, Where are the sneers and jeers that you bravely let us hear when our heroes of '16 were executed? "