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


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Founding of the Ladies’ Land League

Anna Parnell, younger sister of Irish Nationalist leader Charles Stewart Parnell, founds the Committee of the Ladies’ Land League, an auxiliary of the Irish National Land League, in Dublin on January 31, 1881. The organisation grows rapidly. By May 1881 there are 321 branches in Ireland, with branches also in Britain, the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

The organization is set up to take over the work of the Irish National Land League after its leadership is imprisoned. They raise money for the Land League prisoners and their dependants. They encourage women to resist eviction from their cottages. If families are evicted, the Ladies’ Land League provides wooden huts to the evicted families.

The ladies find themselves with additional work late in 1881. The Land League has started its own paper, United Ireland, in August 1881, but towards the end of the year the government tries to close it down. William O’Brien, the editor, continues to smuggle out copy from Kilmainham Gaol, but it falls to the ladies to get it printed. This is done first in London and then for a while in Paris. Eventually the ladies print and circulate it themselves from an office at 32 Lower Abbey Street.

On Sunday, March 12, 1881, just more than a month after the formation of the league, a pastoral letter of Archbishop of Dublin Edward McCabe is read out in all the churches of the diocese. It condemns the league in the strongest terms, deploring that “our Catholic daughters, be they matrons or virgins, are called forth, under the flimsy pretext of charity, to take their stand in the noisy street of life.” McCabe is not representative of all bishops, particularly Archbishop of Cashel Thomas Croke, a strong supporter of the original league. Croke publishes a letter in the Freeman’s Journal challenging the “monstrous imputations” in McCabe’s pastoral.

The dissension is revived somewhat in the summer of 1882. McCabe, now a Cardinal, and another bishop try to have a public condemnation of the Ladies’ Land League inserted into an address by the Catholic Bishops of Ireland in June. The other bishops resist on the basis that it would probably do more harm than good. They content themselves with expressing their hope that “the women of Ireland will continue to be the glory of their sex and the noble angels of stainless modesty.” When newspapers interpret this as a condemnation of the league, Croke writes again to the Freeman’s Journal to deny that this had been the intention of the bishops.

The order banning the Irish National Land League makes no direct reference to the Ladies’ Land League but many police officers try to insist that the ban includes the women’s group. Eventually, on December 16, 1881, Inspector General Hillier of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) orders the police to stop the women’s meetings. Anna Parnell defiantly issues a notice to all Ladies’ Land League branches in the country calling on them all to hold a meeting on January 1, 1882.

The prominent resident magistrate, Major Clifford Lloyd, claims that the huts built for evicted tenants are being used as posts from which the evicted tenants can intimidate anyone who attempts to take over their vacated holdings. In April 1882, he threatens that anyone attempting to erect huts will be imprisoned. That month, Anne Kirke is sent down from Dublin to Tulla, County Clare, to oversee the erection of huts for a large number of evicted tenants. Lloyd has her arrested and imprisoned for three months.

The government does not wish to be seen to use the Coercion Act to imprison women, but another stratagem is used. In December 1881 21-year old Hannah Reynolds is imprisoned under an ancient statute from the reign of Edward III, the original purpose of which was to keep prostitutes off the streets. The statute empowers magistrates to imprison “persons not of good fame” if they do not post bail as a guarantee of their good behavior. Since Reynolds claims her behavior is good, she refuses to pay bail and spends a month in Cork gaol. In all, thirteen women serve jail sentences under this statute.

On May 3, 1882 Parnell and other leaders are released from jail after agreeing to the Kilmainham Treaty. This includes some improvement in the 1881 Land Act. He now wishes to turn his attention more to the Home Rule question. The Irish National Land League is replaced by the Irish National League. Parnell also wants to see an end to the Ladies’ Land League. There had been increased violence while he was in jail and he sees Anna as too radical. The organization has an overdraft of £5,000 which Parnell agrees to clear from central funds only if the organization is dissolved. At a meeting of the Central Committee on August 10, 1882 the Ladies’ Land League votes to dissolve itself. Anna Parnell herself is not in attendance at that meeting having suffered a physical and mental collapse after the sudden death of her sister Fanny the previous month.

The records of the Ladies’ Land League are lost to history in 1916. Jennie Wyse Power, who had served on the Central Committee, had kept them in her house in Henry Street, Dublin. When fire spreads from Sackville Street during the 1916 Easter Rising, her house is destroyed and the records perish in the blaze.

(Pictured: Lady Land Leaguers at work at the Dublin office)


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Drowning of Anna Catherine Parnell

anna-catherine-parnellAnna Catherine Parnell, Irish nationalist and younger sister of Irish Nationalist leader Charles Stewart Parnell, drowns at Ilfracombe, Devon, England on September 20, 1911.

Parnell is born at Avondale House near Rathdrum, County Wicklow, the tenth of eleven children of John Henry Parnell, a landlord, and Delia Tudor Stewart Parnell, an Irish American and daughter of Admiral Charles Stewart of the United States Navy. She has very little formal education as a child but the family has an extensive library which she is encouraged to read by her mother. After her father dies in 1859 she moves with the family to Dublin. Delia Parnell is an active socialite while in Dublin and exposes her children to a wide variety of political views.

In 1865 the family moves to Paris but Parnell feels stifled by upper class society rules imposed upon her. She is in Paris when the Franco-Prussian War breaks out in 1870 and is active in the American Ladies’ Committee fundrasing and setting up hospitals. She returns alone to Dublin in 1870 to study art.

Parnell moves to London in 1875 to continue studying art. When her brother Charles is elected as a Member of Parliament (MP) for Meath, she becomes increasingly political. She frequently visits Parliament during debates, sitting in the Ladies’ Gallery. She writes articles about the debates in a column titled Notes From the Ladies’ Cage in the Celtic Monthly. In 1879 she joins her sister, Fanny Parnell, a poet, in New York City where they raise money in support of the Irish National Land League. The sisters work closely with their brother Charles and Michael Davitt but are critical of how the funds raised in America are being used in Ireland. In October 1880 the sisters found the New York Ladies’ Land League with their mother as president. They raised thousands of dollars sent to Ireland.

Parnell returns in Dublin in late 1880. When it seems that the Land League men are likely to be arrested, it is suggested that a women’s league in Ireland could take over the work in their absence. Public opinion at the time is against women in politics, but the Ladies’ Land League is founded on January 31, 1881 with Parnell as its effective leader.

When Charles Parnell and other leaders are imprisoned in 1881, as predicted, the Ladies’ Land League takes over their work. Though it is envisioned as a place holder until the men are released, Parnell organises branches throughout Ireland, encouraging women to play an active role in Land League activities. Offices are given to the ladies but little help. They raise funds for the League and for the support of prisoners and their families. They distribute Land League wooden huts to shelter evicted tenant families and by the beginning of 1882 they have 500 branches, thousands of women members and considerable publicity. They distribute £60,000 in relief aid.

This puts the Ladies’ Land League in serious debt. Parnell approaches her brother Charles, requesting money to settle the debts. Charles, who distrusts her understanding of politics, agrees to provide the money under the condition that the Ladies’ Land League is disbanded. She agrees, disbanding in 1882, but she never forgives Charles.

After her brother’s death in 1891 Parnell lives the rest of her life in the south of England under the assumed name Cerisa Palmer. She writes an angry account of her Land League experiences in Tale of a Great Sham, which is not published until 1986. She makes one last political appearance when she campaigns for a Sinn Féin candidate in a 1907 by-election.

By the summer of 1911, the 59-year-old Parnell is staying in lodgings at Ilfracombe in Devon. An enthusiastic swimmer since childhood, she bathes every day, and on September 20, disregarding a warning of dangerous seas, she goes swimming as usual. She is seen to be in difficulties and the alarm is raised, but by the time rescuers reached her, she is dead. Unlike her brother, whose funeral in Dublin had been the occasion for a massive outpouring of grief and remorse, Anna Parnell was buried quietly in the churchyard of Holy Trinity Church in Ilfracombe, in the presence of just seven strangers, and far away from the scenes of her greatest efforts and notoriety.


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Birth of Fanny Parnell, Poet & Nationalist

Fanny Parnell, Irish poet and Nationalist, is born Frances Isabelle Parnell in Avondale, County Wicklow on September 4, 1848. She is the sister of Charles Stewart Parnell, an important figure in nineteenth century Ireland.

Parnell is the eighth child out of eleven and fourth daughter born to John Henry Parnell, a landowner and the grandson of the last Chancellor of the Exchequer of Ireland, and Delia Tudor Stewart Parnell, an Irish American and the daughter of Admiral Charles Stewart (1778–1869) of the United States Navy. Her mother hates British rule in Ireland, a view presented through her children’s works. She is an intelligent girl and before she is through her teen years she has studied mathematics, chemistry, and astronomy, and she can speak and write fluently in almost all the major European languages. She also has talents in music and painting and drawing in oil and water colours. Her parents separate when she is young. Soon afterwards, in July 1859, her father dies at the age of forty eight and she and her mother move to Dalkey. A year later they move to Dublin, and in 1865 they move to Paris where Fanny studies art and writes poetry. In 1874 they move to Bordentown, New Jersey in the United States.

Parnell is known as the Patriot Poet. She shows interest in Irish politics and much of her poetry is about Irish nationalism. While she is living in Dublin in 1864, she begins publishing her poetry under the pseudonym “Aleria” in The Irish People, the newspaper of the Fenian Brotherhood. Most of her later work is published in The Pilot in Boston, the best known Irish newspaper in America during the nineteenth century. Two of her most widely published works are The Hovels of Ireland, a pamphlet, and Land League Songs, a collection of poems. Her best known poem is “Hold the Harvest,” which Michael Davitt refers to as the “Marseillaise of the Irish peasant.”

Parnell’s brother, Charles, becomes active in the Irish National Land League, an organisation that fights for poor tenant farmers, in 1879 and she strongly supports him. She and her younger sister, Anna Parnell (1852–1911), co-found the Ladies’ Land League in 1880 to raise money in America for the Land League. In 1881 the Ladies’ Land League continues the work of the men in the Land League while they are being imprisoned by the British government. In Ireland Anna becomes the president of the Ladies’ Land League, and the women hold many protests and quickly become more radical than the men, to the resentment of the male leaders. Fanny stays in America and works to raise money for the organisation. Most of the Land League’s financial support comes from America because of the campaigning done by Fanny Parnell.

Fanny Parnell dies on July 20, 1882, at the young age of 33, of a heart attack at the family mansion in Bordentown, New Jersey. She is buried at the Tudor family plot at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts.


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Birth of Anna Catherine Parnell

anna-catherine-parnellAnna Catherine Parnell, Irish nationalist and younger sister of Irish Nationalist leader Charles Stewart Parnell, is born at Avondale House, near Rathdrum, County Wicklow on May 13, 1852.

Parnell receives her early education at home, later attending the Royal Dublin Society Art School and the South Kensington School of Design.

Following her father’s death in 1859, the family leaves Avondale, living in Dublin, Paris, and London. While studying in London, Parnell attends parliamentary sittings and writes accounts of them for an Irish-American journal. She helps to organize an American fund for the relief of famine in Ireland in 1879–1880.

When it becomes apparent that the men of the Irish National Land League are likely to be arrested, it is suggested that a women’s league in Ireland can take over the work in their absence. Public opinion at the time is against women in politics, but Anna and her sister, Fanny Parnell, establish the Central Land League of the Ladies of Ireland (LLL), of which she becomes organizing secretary and effective leader in January 1881.

When Charles Stewart Parnell and other leaders are imprisoned in 1881, as predicted, the Ladies’ Land League takes over their work. Offices are given to the ladies but they receive very little assistance. The women hold public meetings and encourage country women to be active in withholding rent, in boycotting, and in resisting evictions. They raise funds for the League and for the support of prisoners and their families. They distribute Land League wooden huts for shelter to evicted tenant families and by the beginning of 1882 they have five hundred branches, thousands of women members, and considerable publicity. Fanny Parnell dies in 1882 at the age of thirty three.

After his release from prison, Charles Stewart Parnell dissolves the Ladies’ Land League in August 1882. Anna, whose nationalist fervor exceeds that of her brother, parts with him on bad terms over politics. She lives the rest of her life in the south of England under an assumed name. She writes an angry account of her Land League experiences in Tale of a Great Sham, which is not published until 1986.

Anna Parnell never marries. She drowns at Ilfracombe, Devon, England on September 20, 1911.