Richard Pigott, Irish journalist, newspaper owner, and forger, best known for his forging of evidence that Charles Stewart Parnell of the Irish National Land League had been sympathetic to the perpetrators of the Phoenix Park Murders, dies of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound on March 1, 1889, in Madrid, Spain.
Pigott is born in Ratoath, County Meath, in 1835, the son of George Pigott of Ratoath, and his wife, a woman from Roscommon. As a young man he supports Irish nationalism and works on the publications The Nation and The Tablet before acting as manager of The Irishman, a newspaper founded by Denis Holland. James O’Connor later claims Pigott embezzled funds from The Irishman and covered his tracks by not keeping written records. He also works for the Irish National Land League, departing in 1883 after accusing its treasurer, Mr. Fagan, of being unable to account for £100,000 (equivalent to £10,700,000 in 2021) of its funds and for keeping inadequate records. Nothing is done about his accusation, and he turns against the League, which is allied to the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) led by the League’s president, Charles Stewart Parnell.
In 1879 Pigott is proprietor of three newspapers, which he soon sells to the League. Hitherto a zealous nationalist, from 1884 onwards he vilifies his former associates and sells information to their political opponents. In an effort to destroy Parnell’s career, he forges several letters which purport that Parnell had supported the perpetrators of the Phoenix Park murders of 1882.
The Times purchases Pigott’s forgeries for £1,780 (equivalent to £211,000 in 2021) and publishes the most damning letter on April 18, 1887. Parnell immediately denounces it as “a villainous and barefaced forgery.” In February 1889, the Parnell Commission vindicates him by proving that the letters are fake. They included misspellings (specifically ‘hesitency [sic]’) which Pigott had written elsewhere. A libel action instituted by Parnell also vindicates him, and his parliamentary career survives the Pigott accusations.
The Commission eventually produces thirty-seven volumes of evidence, covering not just the forgeries but also the surrounding violence that follows from the Plan of Campaign.
After admitting his forgeries to Henry Labouchère, Pigott flees to Spain and apparently shoots himself on March 1, 1889, in a hotel room in Madrid, a city in which O’Shea has a network of connections, and Pigott himself apparently has none. Parnell then sues The Times for libel, and the newspaper pays him £5,000 (equivalent to £588,000 in 2021) in an out-of-court settlement, as well as considerably more in legal fees. When Parnell next enters the House of Commons, he receives a hero’s reception from his fellow Members of Parliament.
(Pictured: Pigott as caricatured by Spy (Leslie Ward) in Vanity Fair, March 1889)