1. Early Biographical Works
The earliest books on Parnell were published in Parnell’s own lifetime and before the split in the Irish party. As well as catering for the public interest in Parnell’s ancestry and his meteoric rise to power, these works reflected the remarkable impact which he had already made even before Gladstone, faced with the strength of the Parnell movement, had committed himself to Home Rule. In chronological order these included:
T. Sherlock, Charles Stewart Parnell (New York, 1882; London edition, 1945)
J.S. Mahoney, The Life of Charles Stewart Parnell (New York, 1885)
T.P. O’Connor, The Parnell Movement (London, 1886)
R. Johnston, Parnell and the Parnells: a Historical Sketch (London and Dublin 1888)
The divorce scandal, followed by the split in the party and the death of Parnell in 1891, resulted in a noticeable shift of emphasis. The personality whose characteristics had brought him to such dazzling heights and yet also had dragged him down to utter ruin required explanation. Fascination with this question of Parnell’s personality began with two books that appeared immediately after Parnell’s death. One was written by a former admiring colleague turned anti-Parnellite; the other, published in America, was a compilation including information (not always reliable) from Parnell’s mother, Delia. These were:
T.P. O’Connor, Charles Stewart Parnell: a Memory (London, 1891)
R.M. McWade, The Uncrowned King: the Life and Public Services of the Hon. Charles Stewart Parnell (Philadelphia, 1891)
In 1898 was published what for long afterwards was considered by far the best biography of Parnell, and was widely relied upon by successive biographers and historians. This was:
R.Barry O’Brien, The Life of Charles Stewart Parnell (2 vols London, 1898. One vol. edition, London 1910)
O’Brien’s biography was based upon his personal acquaintance with the Irish leader and on interviews with several of Parnell’s colleagues and contemporaries. Loyal to Parnell throughout the split, R.Barry O’Brien has been described as Parnell’s Boswell.
2. Memoirs and Contemporary Narratives
Davitt, Michael, The Fall of Feudalism in Ireland (London and New York, 1904). Davitt acknowledged Parnell’s ‘claim to greatness’, but faulted him on the divorce scandal and held him solely responsible for the tragedy of the split.
Devoy, John, Recollections of an Irish Rebel (London, 1929)
Devoy’s Post Bag, 1871-1928, ed. William O’Brien and Desmond Ryan (2 vols, Dublin, 1948, 1953)
– a valuable collection of letters with many references to the Irish-American connection of Parnell’s career.
Healy, T.M., Letters and Leaders of My Day (2 vols, London, 1928)
– useful contemporary comments in letters to members of his family by Parnell’s arch-enemy
McCarthy, Justin, and R.M. Campbell Praed, Our Book of Memories (London, 1912)
– has comments on the split.
MacNeill, J.G Swift, What I have Seen and Heard (London, 1925).
O’Brien, William, Recollections (London, 1905),
O’Brien, William, An Olive Branch in Ireland and its History (London, 1910),
O’Brien, William, Evening Memories (London and Dublin, 1920)
– the first deals with the period up to 1883; the second with the split; and the third covers the years 1883-1890
O’Connor, T.P., Memoirs of an Old Parliamentarian (2 vols, London, 1929).
O’Donnell, F.H., History of the Irish Parliamentary Party (2 vols, London, 1910)
– bitterly anti-Parnell
O’Leary, John, Recollections of Fenians and Fenianism (2 vols, London, 1896).
Sullivan, A.M., New Ireland (London, 1894)
Sullivan, T.D., Troubled Times in Irish Politics (Dublin, 1905)
Wyse-Power, Jennie, Words of the Dead Chief: being extracts from the public speeches and other pronouncements of Charles Stewart Parnell from the beginning to the close of his memorable life, compiled by Jennie Wyse-Power, with an introduction by Anna Parnell (Dublin, 1892). Republished by UCD Press, 2009, with an introduction and notes by Donal McCartney and Pauric Travers.
3. Family Memoirs
Chronologically, the first of the memoirs by members of Parnell’s immediate family was written by his sister, Emily; the second was by his wife, Katharine; the third was by his brother, John Howard; and the fourth, which is different in nature was by his sister Anna and relates to the Ladies’ Land League.
Emily Dickinson, A Patriot’s Mistake: Reminiscences of the Parnell Family by a Daughter of the House (London, 1905)
Katharine O’Shea (Mrs Charles Stewart Parnell), Charles Stewart Parnell: His Love Story and Political Life (2 vols, London, 1914. One vol. Edition, with an introduction by Martin Mansergh, Dublin, 2005)
John Howard Parnell, Charles Stewart Parnell: A Memoir (London, 1916)
Anna Parnell, The Tale of a Great Sham: with an Introduction by Dana Hearne (Dublin, 1986)
Emily’s book reveals far more about herself and her tastes than about Charles. It is also factually unreliable. But for all its lack of modesty and its exaggerations, it does provide glimpses of the family life at Avondale. By comparison, John’s book is notably self-effacing; and although not always accurate on the larger political issues, insofar as it concentrates its attention on his famous brother, it has been indispensable for all Parnell’s biographers.
Because Katharine O’Shea was Parnell’s lover and confidante from 1881 until his death in 1891, her personal account of their love story and of his political life remains particularly valuable. And since Parnell committed comparatively little to writing, the inclusion of his many letters to her from Kilmainham is exceptionally useful. Anna’s impassioned memoir of the Ladies’ Land League was completed in 1907 but was not published until 1986.
4. Early Biographical
Between R. Barry O’Brien’s seminal biography in 1898 and F.S.L. Lyons’s scholarly full-length biography in 1977, a number of biographical studies of Parnell appeared. Although not altogether replaced by Lyons, they have been relegated to a role of lesser significance. These include:
Abels, Jules, The Parnell Tragedy (London, 1966)
Ervine, St John, Parnell (London, 1925)
Haslip, Joan, Parnell: A Biography (London, 1936)
O’Brien, William, The Parnell of Real Life (London, 1926)
– a defence of his former leader against St John Ervine’s biography.
Ó Broin, Leon, Parnell: Beathaisnéis (Áth Cliath, 1937)
O’Hara, M.M., Chief and Tribune: Parnell and Davitt (Dublin, 1919)
Robbins, Alfred, Parnell, the Last Five Years: Told from Within (London, 1926)
5. Special Studies
Harrison, Henry, Parnell Vindicated: the Lifting of the Veil (London, 1931)
Parnell and Mrs O’Shea had chosen not to offer a defence in the divorce court. Harrison’s book was a closely-reasoned vindication of Parnell’s role in the fatal triangle. It may also be seen as the final shot in the forty-year war of words between Parnell’s former colleagues.
Following what has been called the Irish historiographical revolution, which has been associated chiefly with the names of Professor T.W. Moody of Trinity College Dublin and Professor R Dudley Edwards of University College Dublin, academics began to give their attention to Parnell studies. In the early 1940s, Conor Cruise O’Brien began work on Parnell’s party as a thesis for the PhD. When the thesis was eventually published as a book, he acknowledged the guidance and ‘lucid judgements’ of T.W. Moody, the supervisor of his thesis, as well as the ‘stimulating criticisms’ of R. Dudley Edwards. O’Brien’s pioneering study represented the move away from the political controversy and partisanship of Parnell’s contemporaries to the more objective scholarship of the professionally trained historians.
O’Brien, Conor Cruise, Parnell and his Party (Oxford, 1957)
Another of Moody’s pupils, F.S.L. Lyons, became a leading specialist in the Parnell period with a succession of original studies:
Lyons, F.S.L., The Irish Parliamentary Party 1890-1910 (London, 1951)
Lyons, F.S.L., The Fall of Parnell (London, 1960)
Lyons, F.S.L., Parnell (Dundalk, 1963)
Lyons, F.S.L., John Dillon: A Biography (London, 1968)
Lyons, F.S.L., Charles Stewart Parnell (London, 1978)
– this latter work was the first full-length modern biography surpassing in depth and research all preceding ones.
While Lyons’s standard biography was still in the press, there appeared a work which had also begun as a thesis under Professor Moody’s supervision, namely:
Foster, R.F., Charles Stewart Parnell: The Man and his Family (Sussex, 1976).
– this book proved invaluable for placing Parnell in the context of his family’s political background, the Anglo-Irish Ascendancy and his Co. Wicklow environment.
Meanwhile, an American historian was working on a multi-volume history of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland (1780-1918). Three of his volumes related to the Parnell period:
Larkin, Emmet, The Roman Catholic Church and the Creation of the Modern Irish State 1878-1886 (Dublin, 1975)
Larkin, Emmet, The Roman Catholic Church and the Plan of Campaign in Ireland 1886-1888 (Cork, 1978)
Larkin, Emmet, The Roman Catholic Church in Ireland and the Fall of Parnell 1888-1891 (Liverpool, 1979)
– based on the private correspondence of the bishops, these volumes give a clear indication of the role of the clergy during the Parnell era.
Alongside the seminal works of Cruise O’Brien, Lyons, Foster and Larkin listed above, other scholars have made important contributions to several aspects of Parnell studies. These include:
Bew, Paul, C.S. Parnell (Dublin, 1980) an excellent short assessment which emphasises the social and political context more than the individual life.
Bew, Paul, John Redmond (Dublin, 1996) a useful short study of Parnell’s successor as leader of the Parnellite faction.
Bew, Paul, Land and the National Question in Ireland, 1858-1882 (Dublin, 1978)
Bew, Paul, Conflict and Conciliation in Ireland, 1890-1910: Parnellites and Radical Agrarians (Oxford, 1987)
– two valuable accounts of agrarian politics.
Brown, Thomas N., Irish-American Nationalism 1870-1890 (Philadelphia and New York, 1966)
Boyce, George, and O’Day, Alan (eds.), Parnell in Perspective (London, 1991).
– essays written for the centenary of Parnell’s death.
Callaghan, Mary Rose, Kitty O’Shea: a Life of Katharine Parnell (London, 1989)
Callanan, Frank, The Parnell Split, 1890-91 (Cork, 1992)
Callanan, Frank, T.M. Healy (Cork, 1996).
both are important in-depth examinations of their topics.
Samuel Clarke, Social Origins of the Irish Land War (Princeton, 1979)
Côté, Jane McL., Fanny and Anna Parnell: Ireland’s Patriot Sisters (Dublin, 1991)
– provides a welcome account of the Parnell sisters whose contribution has tended to be under-estimated by some historians.
Curtis, L.P., Jr., Coercion and Conciliation in Ireland 1880-1892: A Study in Conservative Unionism (Princeton, 1963)
Eugene Doyle, Justin McCarthy (Dundalk, 1996)
Foster, R.F., Paddy and Mr Punch: Connections in Irish and English History (London, 1993)
A collection of essays three of which relate directly to Parnell
Hurst, Michael, Parnell and Irish Nationalism (London, 1968).
Jordan, Jane, Kitty O’Shea: An Irish Affair (Sutton Publishing, 2005).
Kee, Robert, The Laurel and the Ivy: The Story of Charles Stewart Parnell and Irish Nationalism (London, 1993). The most recent full-length biography.
King, Carla, Michael Davitt (Dundalk, 1999)
McCartney, Donal (ed.), Parnell: The Politics of Power (Dublin, 1991). A selection of papers read to the Parnell Society
McCartney, Donal and Travers, Pauric, The Ivy Leaf: The Parnells Remembered (Dublin, 2009)
Marlow, Joyce, The Uncrowned Queen of Ireland: The Life of Kitty O’Shea (London, 1975)
Moody, T.W., Davitt and Irish Revolution 1846-82 (Oxford, 1981)
Murphy, William Michael, The Parnell Myth and Irish Politics 1891-56 (New York, 1986) – an interesting exploration of the nature and dimensions of the Parnell ‘myth’.
O’Day, Alan, Parnell and the First Home Rule Episode 1884-7 (Dublin, 1986)
Ward, Margaret, Unmanageable Revolutionaries: Women and Irish Nationalism (Dingle, 1983)
Sally Warwick-Haller, William O’Brien and the Irish Land War (Dublin, 1990)
There have been several significant works which allow Parnell’s career to be placed in the context of British politics. These include Gladstone’s diaries which have been published and a number of excellent biographies of Gladstone.
A.B. Cooke and J.R. Vincent, The Governing Passion: Cabinet Government and Party Politics in Britain, 1885-1886 (Brighton, 1974)
J.L. Hammond, Gladstone and the Irish Nation (London, 1964)
Roy Jenkins, Gladstone: a Biography (London, 2002)
H.C.G. Matthew (ed.), The Gladstone Diaries with Cabinet Minutes and Prime Ministerial Correspondence (vols 10-12, 1990, 1994)
H.C. Matthew, Gladstone 1875-1898 (Oxford, 1995)
John Morley, The Life of William Ewart Gladstone (3 vols, London, 1903)
particularly interesting because of Morley’s own political career and for his portrait of Parnell.
Alan O’Day, The English Face of Irish Nationalism: Parnellite Involvement in British Politics, 1880-1886 (Dublin, 1977)
Paul Leahy & Paul Nolan, Kilmainham Gaol Document Pack: Parnell (Dublin, 1994)
Kissane, Noel, Parnell: A Documentary History (Dublin, 1991)
– two useful collections of Parnell related documents.
Parnell was a protestant landlord whose family estate was at Avondale, Co. Wicklow. He was first elected to parliament in the Meath by-election of April 1875 and joined the Home Rule Party led by Isaac Butt. Parnell was only twenty-nine when he entered parliament. His mother, Delia Stewart, was American. He received most of his education in England, and later on fell in love with an English woman, Mrs. OShea. Yet he appeared to despise everything English. Parnell, on entering parliament, found that he could give vent to his anti-English feelings by joining Joseph Biggar in obstructing the work of the House of Commons. They did this by making extremely long and boring speeches on any matter which lay before the House. The obstructionists attracted support in Ireland and in Fenian circles and as they became more popular the prestige of Butt decreased.
On 21 October 1879, 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 (peasant proprietorship). The Land League became a hugely popular movement overnight. 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 law into its own hands.
Speaking at Ennis on 19 September 1880, Parnell declared : When a man takes a farm from which another had been evicted you must shun him on the roadside when you meet him, you must shun him in the streets of the town, you must shun him in the shop, you must shun him in the fairgreen and in the marketplace, and even in the place of worship, by leaving him alone, by putting him in a moral Coventry, by isolating him from the rest of his country as if he were the leper of old, you must show your detestation of the crime he has committed. This type of moral Coventry was used in the cast of Captain Boycott, a County Mayo land agent, who was isolated by the local people until his nerve broke. This led to a new word entering in to the English language, boycotting.
Parnell became the accepted leader of the Irish nationalist movement during the years 1880-1882. He was referred to as the Uncrowned King of Ireland. Parnell received considerable financial support from America which he used to channel funds into the Irish Parliamentary Party. (Parnell went to America in 1880 with John Dillon and collected more than 26,000 pounds). 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, (Parnell was at this time in Kilmainham Jail). The prisoners were released, the agitation about the land question was discontinued and the policy of land reform begun with the Land Act of 1881 continued. On the release of Parnell, Lord Frederick Cavendish was sent to Ireland as chief secretary to begin a new era of peace, but on the day he arrived, he and his under-secretary, Burke, were murdered in the Phoenix Park by members of a secret society, the Invincibles. Parnell condemned the murders and despite the setback Gladstones attitude to Parnell and the Home Rule question remained basically unchanged. Parnell always believed that solving the Land Question should be the first step on the road to Home Rule. In December 1882, when the suppressed Land League was replaced by the Irish National League, he 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, Parnells authority was so secure that he was able to impose a party pledge. He managed to unite the party into a single unit under his own command and finally overcame one of Issac Butts greatest difficulties.
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 Parnells success and 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 of the loyalist and Protestant elements of Ireland. Gladstone lost office in the general election of 1186, the first in Britain to be fought on the Home Rule question. This marked a turning point in British relations with Ireland, as for the first time a major political party had committed itself to granting at least a measure of self-government to Ireland.
In 1887, the Times of London published a series of articles, Parnellism and Crime, in which the Home Rule leaders were accused of being involved in murder and outrage during the land war. The Times, produced a number of facsimile letters, allegedly bearing Parnells signature and in one of the letters Parnell had excused and condoned the murder of T.H. Burke in the Phoenix Park which he had publicly condemned. Parnell immediately declared the letter a forgery and the government set up a Special Commission to investigate the charges made against Parnell and his party. The commission sat for nearly two years. In February 1889, one of the witnesses admitted to having forged the letters; he then fled to Madrid, where he shot himself. Parnells name was fully cleared and the Times paid a large sum of money by way of compensation. The closing months of 1889 marked the high point of Parnells popularity. He received a standing ovation in the House of Commons, was presented with the freedom of the city of Edinburgh, and stayed as Gladstones guest at Hawarden.
This was the summit of Parnells career but a much more serious threat to Parnells career was to follow. In December 1889, Captain OShea, filed for divorce from his wife, and Parnell was name d in the proceedings. Parnell did not defend himself and to most people it appeared to be another trumped-up charge. This time, however, Parnell was not innocent. He and Mrs. Katherine OShea had fallen in love when they first met in 1880. By that time her marriage to Captain OShea was breaking down. From 1886, Parnell and Katherine OShea lived together. There is no doubt that Captain OShea had been aware of Parnells relationship with his wife. To keep him happy Parnell had OShea elected as an unpledged Home Ruler to the Galway City seat in February 1886, despite opposition from his party. It is not clear why OShea delayed until December 1889 before seeking a divorce. One possible reason was the hope of obtaining a large sum of money from his wife, when her aunt, Mrs. Woods, died. Mrs. Woods left her entire fortune to Katherine, but in such a way that her husband could not get his hands on it. Captain OShea is said to have resorted to blackmail, asking for 20,000 pounds from his wife but she refused to pay. It was after this that he went ahead with the divorce case.
The divorce case caused a sensation in England and Ireland. On all sides there was a belief that the Irish leader would retire from public life, at least for a short time. Parnell, a proud man, showed no intention of retiring. His refusal to step down produced a bitter spilt in the party. A meeting of the Irish Parliamentary Party was held during the first week of December 1890. After a long discussion as to whether the man (Parnell) was more important than the cause (Home Rule), the party split in two. Forty four members sided with Justin McCarthy, the vice-chairman, and remained in favour of the alliance with the Liberals, and twenty seven sided with Parnell. Parnell had now lost the leadership of the parliamentary party. He refused to accept the verdict given against him. He carried his campaign to Ireland and throughout 1891 fought three by-elections. In all three by-elections, Parnells candidate was defeated. As far as Parnell was concerned it was a war to the death although he suffered a lot of indignity such as mud-throwing, personal abuse, etc. In June 1891, he married Katherine OShea but still refused to retire from public life. Eventually the strain of addressing meetings up and down the country proved too much for him. On 6 October 1891, he died at Brighton. He was only forty-five years of age.
Parnell was the architect of his own downfall. He refused to co-operate with the party during the critical time of the divorce dispute. His attitude was that of a loner and so he was prepared to ignore the advice of his best friends. Despite this his achievements were real and lasting. He brought Home Rule from being a faint hope to the forefront of national politics. Both the English political parties and successive governments had to recognise the importance of the Irish question and declare their standpoint on it. The land question had not yet been solved but Parnells involvement in it during the years 1879-1882 was a vital factor and he helped future reforms to get underway. By his creation of a disciplined party, he proved that Irishmen were capable of ruling themselves.
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