Charles Stewart Parnell (1846--1891)
This great Irish leader was actually largely of English and American ancestry, a landlord and a Protestant, without any of the redeeming traditional Celtic Irish traits. But the red hot hatred towards England became an early driving force of his short life. The Home Rulers, just a twinkle in the eye of the political scene, offered Parnell a nomination, although he was ignorant both of Irish history, even more so Irish politics; "he found it also difficult to express what he did know." After an unsurprising loss in his first effort to enter the political arena, he stated with a bit of cockney, " Well, boys," he said, "I am beaten, but they are not done with me yet."
How true, as one mere year later, he carried the Meath election, entering the House of Commons. But by then, the Home Rulers were five years old and remarkably organized. In a confusing chain of events, which all occurred about the same time, the English church in Ireland had been deprived of its position of privilege as an established church in a country predominately Roman Catholic (see Ireland). If this wasn't muddying enough, there was a hexed question of tenants' rights, that somehow passed into the Land Act of 1870, which was supposed to improve the position of Irish tenants by "giving them compensation for improvements."
The Irish land rents were high, paid to landlords in England, who according to history and legend, had little interest other than monetary ones. Meanwhile the Irish could not forget their Glory Days of 1782 to 1798 (well before the birth of Parnell, in his defense). The Irish "Fenians" wanted independence, and plotted many an evil deed against the British government. The former leader of the Home Rulers, who in this account remains nameless hopped or hoped for reconciliation. Parnell, as a member now of Parliament at Westminster, showed no regard for English public opinion. He was scornful; he obstructed and delayed policy, all in relative quiet that easily roused bitterness and antagonism, among the English.
His anti-social ways made him a local hero in Ireland, though, uniting Home Rulers and Fenians alike, resulting in his appointment in 1877 as the Irish leader. Three years later, the Liberal Party introduced a land bill "to relieve the tenants who, because of famine, could not pay." Relief, my Irish eye. Fortunately for the Irish, the bill failed to pass, yet the unrelenting English landlords were not so kind, forcing Parnell to institute The "Boycott" Policy, which was adopted throughout Ireland (see Boycott). The merciless English landlords who had evicted the starving men, women, and children soon found they could not re-rent the land. However, people were still starving, so a Land League was formed. The government used the buzzword, coercion; Parnell used the time-honored, obstruction. In an attempt to appease and please, another land bill was introduced where "fair and stable rents were fixed by tribunals and tenants were given the right to sell the good-will of their holdings."
If that sounded like gobbledygook to you, imagine Parnell's response when this became law in 1881. When neither he nor his followers voted for and refused to follow the bill, Parnell was arrested and thrown in Kilmainham jail. His followers were distraught and asked who would be their leader. His brilliant reply was, "Captain Moonlight." This reference was to an alleged bank robber and bushranger, Captain Moonlite (1845-1880), born in Ireland, son of an Anglican clergyman of Scottish descent, who did not follow in his father's footsteps but was executed by hanging in Australia. Although Captain Moonlight was deceased, the English government struck a deal with Parnell known as the Kilmainham Treaty, which unfortunately was "informal". Things were looking well for all sides, as Parnell was released from prison, "disorders in Ireland" appeared to stop, and the ever helpful Gladstone introduced a Home Rule Bill.
In short time, a double murder most foul took the lives of the chief secretary and under-secretary of Ireland in Phoenix Park, Dublin. Gladstone's Home Rule Bill did not pass; the Liberal Party which had stood behind Parnell disbanded (see Gladstone). The British government resorted to "coercion" twice in the same paragraph, while more murders and fire took place in Ireland. It didn't help that the media jumped on the band wagon in 1887, with a series of articles in the London Times, accusing Parnell of encouraging and aiding "the policy of crime in Ireland." Just as politicians today must deal with tabloid rumours, Parnell found himself being accused of actually approving of the Phoenix Park murders. According to my 1929 source, "a facsimile letter" was printed in the London Times, forcing poor Parnell to be tried before a judicial commission. When the dust settled, it was determined that "a rascal named Pigott had forged the letter and sold it to the Times."
A sigh of relief for the innocent Parnell, whose prestige was boosted by this vindication. I admit to not knowing what the next part means but he "was ionized or lionized by London society, was petted by the Liberal Party, and stood close to Gladstone." All Parnell needed to achieve his life aim, was for the Liberals to return to power. Enter a woman. And not just any woman, but the wife of Captain O'Shea, one of Parnell's own party lieutenants who was suing his wife for divorce and had named Parnell. I guess Parnell was not as innocent as I'd thought, since soon after the divorce was granted, Parnell and the former Mrs. O'Shea married. I cannot even begin to imagine what the London Times did with this true story.
The Irish party initially upheld Parnell while England seethed. Gladstone "was made to see" if he continued to stand by Parnell, that he would lose English Nonconformist support, which abruptly ended their relationship. The Irish party followed suit, overthrowing Parnell, who in typical fashion, refused to resign. Perhaps the stress of this, in combination with being still a newlywed, brought on a case of pneumonia and Parnell passed away. His sudden death left the Irish party quite divided and postponed for years any meaningful renewal of the fight for Ireland's cause.
quotes from F.E. Compton and Company Pictured Encyclopedia, Volume Six, copyright 1929
Wikipedia: Charles Parnell, Captain Moonlite
confusion, curiosity and lost reading glasses
family lore regarding ancestors from County Cork, County Clare, and a possible connection on my father's side to the Sinn Féin