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                                             19th Century Ireland - Charles Stewart Parnell (1846-1891)


Charles Stewart Parnell was born in Avondale, County Wicklow. He was educated at Yeovil and Chipping North Schools before going to Magdalene College, Cambridge which he left without graduating in 1869. Parnell farmed the family estate at Avondale until he joined Issac Butt's Home Government Party in 1874 and was elected to Parliament for Meath in 1875. Parnell, together with Michael Davitt, recently released from prison, founded the National Land League and Parnell was elected its first President in 1879. In 1880 Parnell toured America with John Dillon to raise funds for the League and was elected Chairman of the Irish Parliamentary Party in the same year. On October 13th, 1881 Parnell was arrested under the Coercion Act and imprisoned in Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin. He was released after signing the 'Kilmainham Treaty' with the English Prime Minister Gladstone in April, 1882. The Land League was then disbanded and replaced by the National League. Parnell was re-elected to Parliament for Cork in 1885. However the first Home Rule Bill, introduced in Parliament in 1886, was defeated.
In 1888 the British Government established a Special Commission to investigate the Irish Party after a series of letters on 'Parnellism and Crime' appeared in The Times. The Commission found the letters to be forgeries but the Irish Party demanded Parnell's resignation, largely because William Shea, husband of Parnell's lover Kitty, had sued for divorce and named Parnell as co-respondant. Simultaneously the forger Richard Pigott published letters proportedly from Parnell to Kitty O'Shea in which Parnell voiced his support for the Invincibles who had assassinated Lord Fredrick Cavendish, the Chief Secretary and his Under Secretary Burke in the Phoenix Park, Dublin in May, 1882. In spite of pressure to resign Parnell refused and married Kitty O'Shea in June, 1891. He died in Brighton in October, 1891. This extract is from Parnell's speech to the people of Cork on his re-election to Parliament in 1885 as published in The Cork Examiner, January 22nd, 1885.©



Charles Stewart Parnell

Charles Stewart Parnell (1846-1891)
In 1880 I laid certain principles before you and you accepted them. I said and I pledged myself that I should form one independent Irish Party to act in opposition to every English Government which refused to concede the just rights of Ireland. And the longer the time which has gone by since then the more I am convinced that that is the true policy to pursue so far as a parliamentary party is concerned, and that it will be impossible for either or both of the English parties to contend for any long time against a band of Irishmen acting honestly upon these principles and backed by the Irish people.
But we have not alone had that object in view, we have always been very careful not to fetter or control the people at home in any way - not to prevent them from doing anything by their own strength which it is impossible for them to do. Sometimes, perhaps, in our anxiety in this direction, we have asked them to do what is beyond their strength, but I hold that it is better even to encourage you to do what is beyond your strength, even should you fail sometimes in that attempt, than to teach you to be subservient or unreliant.
You have been encouraged to organise yourselves, to depend upon the rectitude of your cause for your justification and to depend upon that determination which has helped Irishmen through many centuries to retain the name of Ireland and to retain the nationhood of Ireland. Nobody can point to any single action of ours in the House of Commons, or out of it, which was not based on upon the knowledge that behind us existed a strong and a brave people; that without the help of that people our exertions would be as nothing and that with that help and with their confidence we should be, as I believe we shall prove to be in the near future, invincible and unconquerable...
I am convinced that the five or six hundred thousand Irishmen who within a year must vote for the man of their choice will be as true to Ireland - even truer to Ireland than those who have gone before them, and that we may safely trust to them the exercise of the great and important privilege unequaled in its greatness and the magnitude in the history of any nation, which will shortly be placed before them.
I am convinced that when the reckoning comes up after the general election of 1886 that we in Ireland shall have cause to congratulate ourselves in the possession of a strong party which will bear down all opposition, and which, aided by the organisation of our country behind us, will enable us to gain for our country those rights which were stolen from us... I go back from the consideration of these questions to the land question, in which the labourer's question is also involved, and to the manufacturer's question. I came back and every Irish politician must be driven back to the great question of national self-government for Ireland. I do not know how this great question will be eventually settled. I do not know whether England will be wise in time and concede the constitutional arguments and methods the restitution of that which was stolen from us towards the close of the last century.
It is given to none of us to forecast the future, and just as it is impossible for us to say in what way, or by what means the national question may be settled, in what way full justice may be done to Ireland, so it is impossible for us to say to what extent that justice shall be done. We cannot ask for less than the restitution of Grattan's Parliament [1782]. But no man has the right to fix the boundary to the march of a nation. No man has a right to say to his country 'Thus far shalt thou go and no farther' and we have never attempted to fix the ne plus ultra to the progress of Ireland's nationhood, and we never shall.
But, gentlemen, while we leave these things to time, circumstance and the future we must each of us resolve in our own hearts that we shall at all times do everything which within us lies to obtain for Ireland the fullest measure of her rights. In this way we shall avoid difficulties and contentions amongst each other. In this way we shall not give up anything which the future may put in favour of our country, and while we struggle today for that which may seem possible for us with our combination, we must struggle, for it with the proud consciousness that we shall not do anything to hinder or prevent better men who may come before us, from gaining better things than those for which we now contend.
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19th Century Ireland
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