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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Bloody Sunday 1887 in London

Bloody Sunday takes place in London on November 13, 1887, when a march against unemployment and coercion in Ireland, as well as demanding the release of Member of Parliament (MP) William O’Brien, is attacked by the Metropolitan Police Service and the British Army. The demonstration is organised by the Social Democratic Federation (SDF) and the Irish National League. Violent clashes take place between the police and demonstrators, many “armed with iron bars, knives, pokers and gas pipes.” A contemporary report notes that 400 are arrested and 75 persons are badly injured, including many police, two policemen being stabbed and one protester bayonetted.

William Ewart Gladstone‘s espousal of the cause of Irish home rule has split the Liberal Party and makes it easy for the Conservatives to gain a majority in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom. The period from 1885 to 1906 is one of Tory dominance, with short intermissions. Coercion Acts are the answer of British governments perturbed by rural unrest in Ireland, and they involve various degrees of suspension of civil rights. Although one purpose of the November 13 demonstration is to protest about the handling of the Irish situation by the Conservative government of Robert Arthur Talbot Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury, it has a much wider context.

The Long Depression, starting in 1873 and lasting almost to the end of the century, creates difficult social conditions in Britain, similar to the economic problems that drive rural agitation in Ireland. Falling food prices create rural unemployment, which results in both emigration and internal migration. Workers move to the towns and cities in thousands, eroding employment, wages and working conditions. By November 1887, unemployed workers’ demonstrations from the East End of London have been building up for more than two years. There have already been clashes with the police and with the members of upper class clubs. Trafalgar Square is seen symbolically as the point at which the working-class East End meets the upper-class West End of London, a focus of class conflict and an obvious flashpoint.

This attracts the attention of the small but growing socialist movement – the Marxists of both the Social Democratic Federation and Socialist League, and the reformist socialists of the Fabian Society. Police and government attempts to suppress or divert the demonstrations also bring in the radical wing of the Liberal Party and free speech activists from the National Secular Society.

Some 30,000 persons encircle Trafalgar Square as at least 10,000 protesters march in from several different directions, led by Elizabeth Reynolds, John Burns, William Morris, Annie Besant and Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham, who are primarily leaders of the Social Democratic Federation. Also marching are the Fabian playwright George Bernard Shaw and Charlotte Wilson. Two thousand police and 400 troops are deployed to halt the demonstration. Burns and Cunninghame Graham are arrested and imprisoned for six weeks. Annie Besant, who is a Marxist, Fabian and secularist, speaks at the rally and offers herself for arrest, but the police decline to do so. Of the 400 arrested, 50 are detained in custody.

In the fighting, many rioters are injured by police truncheons and under the hooves of police horses. There are both infantry and cavalry present. Although the infantry are marched into position with bayonets fixed, they are not ordered to open fire and the cavalry are not ordered to draw their swords.

The following Sunday, November 20, sees another demonstration and more casualties. According to a report in the partisan Socialist Review, among them is a young clerk named Alfred Linnell, who is run down by a police horse, dying in hospital a fortnight later from complications of a shattered thigh.

The funeral of Linnell on December 18 provides another focus for the unemployed and Irish movements. William Morris, leader of the Socialist League, gives the main speech and advocates a holy war to prevent London from being turned into a huge prison. A smaller but similar event marks the burial of another of those killed, W. B. Curner, which takes place in January. The release of those imprisoned is celebrated on February 20, 1888, with a large public meeting. Henry Hyndman, leader of the SDF, violently denounces the Liberal Party and the Radicals who are present.

(Pictured: Bloody Sunday, 1887. This engraving from The Illustrated London News depicts a policeman being clubbed by a demonstrator as he wrests a banner from a female protester.)

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Birth of Charles Stewart Parnell

charles-stewart-parnellCharles Stewart Parnell, Irish nationalist politician and one of the most powerful figures in the British House of Commons in the 1880s, is born on June 27, 1846, in County Wicklow.

Born into a wealthy and powerful Anglo-Irish Protestant landowning family, Parnell enters the House of Commons in 1875. He is a land reform agitator and becomes leader of the Home Rule League in 1880, insisting on operating independently of the Liberals, and winning great influence by his balancing of constitutional, radical, and economic issues, and by his skillful use of parliamentary procedure. He is imprisoned in Kilmainham Gaol in 1882 but, being a very capable negotiator, is released when he renounces violent extra-Parliamentary action in an informal agreement, the Kilmainham Treaty, with British Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone. That same year he reforms the Home Rule League as the Irish Parliamentary Party, which he controls minutely as Britain’s first disciplined democratic party.

The hung Parliament of 1885 sees him hold the balance of power between Gladstone’s Liberals and Lord Salisbury‘s Conservatives. His power is one factor in Gladstone’s adoption of Home Rule as the central tenet of the Liberal Party. His reputation peaks in 1889-1890 when letters published in The Times linking him to the Phoenix Park murders of 1882 are shown to have been forged by Richard Pigott. However, the Irish Parliamentary Party splits in 1890 after the revelation of Parnell’s long adulterous love affair, causing many English Liberals, many of them nonconformists, to refuse to work with him, and strong opposition from Catholic bishops. He heads a small minority faction until his death in 1891.

In describing Parnell, Gladstone says, “I do not say the ablest man; I say the most remarkable and the most interesting. He was an intellectual phenomenon.” Liberal leader H. H. Asquith calls him as one of the three or four greatest men of the 19th century, while Lord Haldane describes him as the strongestparnell-marker man the House of Commons has seen in 150 years. Historian A.J.P. Taylor says, “More than any other man he gave Ireland the sense of being an independent nation.”

Charles Stewart Parnell dies of pneumonia at age 45 in his home at 10 Walsingham Terrace, Hove, England on October 6, 1891, in the arms of his wife Katharine. Though an Anglican, his funeral on October 11 is at the Irish National nondenominational Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin and is attended by more than 200,000 people. His notability is such that his gravestone of unhewn Wicklow granite, erected in 1940, reads only “Parnell.”