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


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Death of Captain William O’Shea

william-o-sheaCaptain William Henry O’Shea, Irish soldier and Member of Parliament (MP), dies in Hove on the south coast of England on April 22, 1905. He is best known for being the ex-husband of Katharine O’Shea, the long-time mistress of the Irish nationalist leader Charles Stewart Parnell.

Born in Dublin in 1840, O’Shea is a captain in the 18th Royal Hussars of the British Army.

Around 1880, O’Shea’s wife, Katharine O’Shea, enters into a relationship with the Irish nationalist leader Charles Stewart Parnell, with whom she has three children. O’Shea, who is already separated from his wife, is aware of the relationship.

In 1882 when the Liberal Government is secretly negotiating with Parnell for the terms of his release from Kilmainham Gaol where he is being held on suspicion of “treasonable practices”, the President of the Board of Trade Joseph Chamberlain chooses O’Shea as its intermediary, unaware of Parnell’s affair with Mrs. O’Shea or of the fact that the newly born first child of their liaison is dying. O’Shea spends six hours negotiating with Parnell in the prison, extracting the surprising concession that Parnell would tacitly support the Government after his release. It has been suggested that O’Shea won this concession, which reflected well on him, by threatening Parnell with public exposure of his affair with Mrs O’Shea.

In 1886, following insinuations of the Parnell affair and O’Shea’s complicity in it appearing in The Pall Mall Gazette, O’Shea abstains from voting on the Irish Home Rule bill and resigns his parliamentary seat the following day. However, he only files for divorce in 1890 after his wife’s aunt, from whom he is expecting a large inheritance, dies in 1889 leaving her estate in trust for his wife, thus allegedly violating the terms of O’Shea’s marriage contract. However, that will is overturned upon appeal, and the aunt’s legacy is shared among Katharine O’Shea’s siblings.

After the divorce the two surviving children of Parnell and Katharine O’Shea are given into Captain O’Shea’s custody.

O’Shea is MP for Clare from 1880 to 1885 and Galway Borough for a short period in 1886. Although supported by Parnell, he is never a member of the Irish Parliamentary Party.