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29 September 2005 Edition

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REMEMBERING THE PAST: Parnell

BY

SHANE MacTHOMÁIS

REMEMBERING THE PAST: Parnell

On 6 December 1890, Justin McCarthy left Committee Room 15 to declare that Parnell had been removed from the leadership of the Irish Parliamentary Party and that he himself had been appointed the new leader. Two days earlier the Catholic Bishops had issued a manifesto from church pulpits calling for Parnell's disposition on moral grounds.

This ended the political career of a man who joined the Home Rule Party under the leadership of Isaac Butt after the execution of the Manchester Martyrs, which he viewed as a gross injustice. Elected MP for Meath in 1875 he made full use of the technique of 'obstruction' in the House of Commons that had been pioneered by Joseph Biggar.

On 21 October 1879,Michael Davitt founded the Irish National Land League in Dublin with Parnell as President. The main objectives of the League were to provide tenants with a fair rent, fixed tenure and free sale. The long term aim was that farmers would own the land.

The Land League taught the Irish farmers to stand on their own feet and assert their rights. Gladstone became Prime Minister for the second time in April 1880 and hoped to pass an emergency Land Bill through parliament that summer. When he was defeated in the House of Lords, the Land League took another direction, that of the boycott.

Parnell became the accepted leader of the Irish Nationalist Movement during the years 1880-'82.

Unrest about the Land Question erupted at times into violence. The British Government passed a new Coercion Act. Parnell and other leaders were arrested in October 1881 and the League was put down. Gladstone came to terms with Parnell in March 1882 with the Kilmainham Treaty. On his release, Lord Frederick Cavendish was sent to Ireland as Chief Secretary. On the day he arrived, he and his under-secretary, Burke, were killed in the Phoenix Park by members of the Invincibles. Parnell condemned the killings.

In December 1882, when the suppressed Land League was replaced by the Irish National League, Parnell ensured that the new organisation was under the control of his party and that its primary objective was the winning of Home Rule. By 1884, Parnell's authority was so secure that he was able to impose a party pledge.

The General Election of 1885 was a huge success for Parnell. His party won every seat outside eastern Ulster and Dublin University. Gladstone, who had won a victory for the Liberals in England, convinced by Parnell's success, gave the Home Rule Movement his support for the rest of his career. The Home Rule Bill of 1886 met with fierce opposition from the Conservatives who saw it as a betrayal of empire and Irish unionists.

In December 1889, Captain O'Shea, filed for divorce from his wife, and Parnell was named in the proceedings. The divorce case caused a sensation in England and Ireland. On all sides there was a belief that Parnell would retire from public life, at least for a short time. Parnell, a proud stubborn man, showed no intention of retiring. His refusal to step down produced a bitter split in the party.

Parnell spent the last month of his life in constant movement in railway trains, organising meetings, doing everything himself as the best known of his colleagues were on the other side of the split.

The strain undermined his health which for many years had been weakening. He died in Brighton on 6 October 1891. With the death of Parnell, in effect, Home Rule died, though the ghost of the movement continued to dominate the political scene for another 25 years.

Parnell's funeral to Glasnevin Cemetery was one of the largest ever seen. Over 130,000 mourners lined the streets. By the time the funeral arrived at the cemetery it was 11 o'clock at night. Among the children brought to the funeral were Pádraig Mac Piarais and Maud Gonne, who later wrote that a shooting star passed over the cemetery as Parnell's remains were placed into the ground.

As the mourners left the cemetery they took the Ivy that grows profusely there and placed it in there buttonholes thus giving the name of Ivy Day to the 6 October.

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An Phoblacht Magazine

AN PHOBLACHT MAGAZINE:

  • The first edition of this new magazine will feature a 10 page special on the life and legacy of our leader Martin McGuinness to mark the first anniversary of his untimely passing.
  • It will include a personal reminiscence by Gerry Adams and contributions from the McGuinness family.
  • There will also be an exclusive interview with our new Uachtarán Mary Lou McDonald.

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