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


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John Philip Nolan Wins Co. Galway By-Election

john-philip-nolanCaptain John Philip Nolan, an Irish nationalist landowner and a supporter of home rule and tenant rights, defeats Conservative William Le Poer Trench on February 8, 1872 in a County Galway by-election. He serves in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and as member of the Irish Parliamentary Party representing Galway County (1872–1885) and Galway North (1885–1895, 1900–1906).

Nolan is the eldest son of John Nolan, Justice of the Peace, of Ballinderry, Tuam, and Mary Anne, Walter Nolan, of Loughboy. He receives his education at Clongowes Wood College, Stonyhurst, Trinity College, Dublin, the Staff College, Camberley and Woolwich. He enters the British Royal Artillery in 1857 and serves throughout the 1868 Expedition to Abyssinia. As adjutant to Colonel Milward, he is present at the capture of Amba Mariam (then known as Magdala) and is mentioned in despatches. He is awarded the Abyssinian War Medal and retires from the Army with the rank of lieutenant-colonel in 1881.

Nolan becomes involved in the nascent home rule campaign of the Home Rule League. On February 8, 1872 he is elected MP for Galway County in a by-election, defeating by a large majority the Conservative William Le Poer Trench. Of the 4,686 available electors, who are chiefly Catholic, 2,823 vote for Nolan and 658 for Trench.

Trench appeals the result, claiming on petition that there is widespread intimidation during the election campaign. The local Catholic bishops and clergy had strongly supported Nolan, chiefly because the family of his opponent, a Captain Trench, was active in proselytism. The trial of the Galway County Election Petition begins, before Judge William Keogh, on April 1 and ends on May 21, 1872.

Judge Keogh finds that Nolan had been elected by the undue influence and intimidation and in his report states that he found 36 persons guilty of undue influence and intimidation, including John MacHale, the Archbishop of Tuam, the Bishop of Clonfert, Patrick Duggan, and the Bishop of Galway, John McEvilly, and twenty nine named priests, such intimidation being in some cases exercised in the very churches. As a result, Nolan is unseated on June 13, with the seat going to Trench. The judgement causes an uproar. The judge is threatened with removal from the bench and his reputation never recovers.

Nolan retakes the seat at the 1874 election. He remains MP after the 1885 constituency reforms as MP for Galway North until 1895.

When the Irish Parliamentary Party splits over Charles Stewart Parnell‘s long-term family relationship with Katharine O’Shea, the separated wife of a fellow MP, Nolan sides with his deposed leader and seconds the motion to retain Parnell as chairman at the ill-fated party meeting in Committee Room 15 of the House of Commons. He goes on to become whip of the pro-Parnellite rump of the split party, the Irish National League. He loses the Galway North seat to an Anti-Parnellite, Denis Kilbride, in 1895 and stands unsuccessfully as a Parnellite for South Louth in 1896. He is re-elected unopposed at Galway North after the reunification of the Parliamentary Party in 1900, but loses the seat again for the final time in 1906 when he stands as an Independent Nationalist.

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New Departure

Fenians propose a “New Departure,” an alliance with the Parnellites, on October 27, 1878. The term New Departure is used to describe several initiatives in the late 19th century by which Irish republicans, who are committed to independence from Britain by physical force, attempt to find a common ground for co-operation with groups committed to Irish Home Rule by constitutional means. The term refers to the fact that Fenians are to some extent departing from their orthodox doctrine of noninvolvement with constitutional politics, especially the British parliament.

In January 1877, James Joseph O’Kelly, a journalist with the New York Herald persuades John Devoy to meet with Irish parliamentarians. In January 1878, Devoy meets with Charles Stewart Parnell in Dublin. In March the exiled senior Irish Republican Brotherhood member John O’Leary and Supreme Council secretary John O’Connor meet secretly in London with MPs Charles Stewart Parnell, Frank Hugh O’Donnell, William Henry O’Sullivan and O’Kelly. The meeting is sought by Parnell or by William Carroll of Clan na Gael to consider co-operation between the IRB and Parnell. Parnell apparently merely listens and does not commit himself.

John O’Connor and Dr. Mark Ryan, both members of the IRB’s Supreme Council, believe O’Connor Power has some hand in the new departure. John O’Connor suspects that Michael Davitt of the IRB has been influenced by O’Connor Power, and that the new departure proposals conceal some sinister scheme of Power’s devising, assumptions that Davitt hotly rejects. The precedent for constitutional agitation set by Power is not lost on orthodox Fenians such as Dr. Ryan, who sees behind the new departure the nefarious influence of the member for Mayo.

In late 1878 Michael Davitt makes a fund-raising political lecture tour of the United States, promoted by William Carroll and John Devoy of Clan na Gael. On October 13 in Brooklyn, New York, Davitt first presents, in a lecture titled “Ireland in parliament from a nationalist’s point of view,” a doctrine that Irish republicans can not prevent Irishmen voting or being elected to the British parliament, but they can influence who is sent to that parliament. He states that the Home Rule League, especially Isaac Butt and John O’Connor Power, are failing to prevent Ireland from being “imperialised” or “West Britainised.” Davitt however believes that Parnell and Joseph Biggar are acceptable Irish MPs, and Irish republicans should ensure that more such strong nationalists are voted in. John Devoy follows and points out that if Irish republicans are to gain the support of Britain’s potential enemies, such as Russia, they need to provide far stronger opposition to Britain both inside and outside parliament. He points out that Russia has not yet seen the Irish as providing any such meaningful opposition, in fact to Russia they appear loyal to Britain. Hence it is necessary to replace representatives in all Irish public bodies with suitable committed nationalists. Both Davitt and Devoy at this meeting stress that resolution of the Irish land question by transfer of ownership to the farmers themselves is integral to Irish demands on Britain.

On October 27, 1878, Devoy, without first consulting Davitt, summarises these ideas in what he terms a “new departure” in the New York Herald, and it is reported in Ireland on November 11. He also states that Irish participation in the British parliament is to be temporary, and that at a suitable time Irish nationalist MPs will withdraw to Dublin and form an independent Irish legislature. Davitt is at first worried that perceived connections to the Fenians will threaten Parnell in parliament, but Devoy convinces him that Parnell will not be affected. IRB leaders John O’Leary and Charles Kickham reject the overture to constitutionalists and Parnell gives no comment. He does however adopt the militant rhetoric of land ownership to be transferred to the Irish farmers themselves in various public speeches in Ireland. Hence the stage is set for the successful collaboration in 1879 over the Land War.

(Pictured: John Devoy)


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Founding of the Irish National League

The Irish National League (INL), a nationalist political party, is founded on October 17, 1882 by Charles Stewart Parnell as the successor to the Irish National Land League after it was suppressed. Whereas the Land League had agitated for land reform, the National League also campaigns for self-governance or Irish Home Rule, further enfranchisement and economic reforms.

The League is the main base of support for the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP), and under Parnell’s leadership, it grows quickly to over 1,000 branches throughout the island. In 1884, the League secures the support of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland. Its secretary is Timothy Harrington who organises the Plan of Campaign in 1886. The Irish League is effectively controlled by the Parliamentary Party, which in turn is controlled by Parnell, who chairs a small group of MPs who vet and impose candidates on constituencies.

In December 1890 both the INL and the IPP split on the issues of Parnell’s long standing family relationship with Katharine O’Shea, the earlier separated wife of a fellow MP, Captain William O’Shea, and their subsequent divorce proceedings. The majority of the League, which opposes Parnell, breaks away to form the “Anti-Parnellite” Irish National Federation (INF) under John Dillon. John Redmond assumes the leadership of the minority Pro-Parnellite (INL) group who remains faithful to Parnell. Despite the split, in the 1892 general election the combined factions still retain the Irish nationalist pro-Home Rule vote and their 81 seats.

Early in 1900 the Irish National League (INL) finally merges with the United Irish League and the Irish National Federation (INF) to form a reunited Irish Parliamentary Party under Redmond’s leadership returning 77 seats in the September 1900 general election, together with 5 Independent Nationalists, or Healyites, in all 82 pro-Home Rule seats.

(Pictured: A hostile Punch cartoon, from 1885, depicting the Irish National League as the “Irish Vampire”, with Parnell’s head)


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Birth of Physicist & Engineer William Thomson

William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin, Scots-Irish mathematical physicist and engineer, is born in Belfast on June 26, 1824.

At the University of Glasgow he does important work in the mathematical analysis of electricity and formulation of the first and second laws of thermodynamics, and does much to unify the emerging discipline of physics in its modern form. He works closely with mathematics professor Hugh Blackburn in his work. He also has a career as an electrical telegraph engineer and inventor, which propels him into the public eye and ensures his wealth, fame and honour. For his work on the transatlantic telegraph project he is knighted in 1866 by Queen Victoria, becoming Sir William Thomson. He has extensive maritime interests and is most noted for his work on the mariner’s compass, which had previously been limited in reliability.

Absolute temperatures are stated in units of kelvin in his honour. While the existence of a lower limit to temperature (absolute zero) is known prior to his work, Thomson is widely known for determining its correct value as approximately −273.15 degree Celsius or −459.67 degree Fahrenheit.

Thomson is ennobled in 1892 in recognition of his achievements in thermodynamics, and of his opposition to Irish Home Rule, becoming Baron Kelvin, of Largs in the County of Ayr. He is the first British scientist to be elevated to the House of Lords. The title refers to the River Kelvin, which flows close by his laboratory at the University of Glasgow. His home is the imposing red sandstone mansion Netherhall, in Largs. Despite offers of elevated posts from several world-renowned universities, Thomson refuses to leave Glasgow, remaining Professor of Natural Philosophy for over 50 years, until his eventual retirement from that post. The Hunterian Museum at the University of Glasgow has a permanent exhibition on the work of Thomson including many of his original papers, instruments and other artifacts such as his smoking pipe.

Always active in industrial research and development, he is recruited around 1899 by George Eastman to serve as vice-chairman of the board of the British company Kodak Limited, affiliated with Eastman Kodak.

In November 1907 he catches a chill and his condition deteriorates until he dies at his Scottish residence, Netherhall, in Largs on December 17.

Lord Kelvin is an elder of St. Columba’s Parish Church (Church of Scotland) in Largs for many years. It is to that church that his remains are taken after his death. Following the funeral service, his body is taken to Bute Hall in his beloved University of Glasgow for a service of remembrance before being taken to London for interment at Westminster Abbey, near the final resting place of Sir Isaac Newton.


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Death of Politician & Journalist Timothy Michael Healy

Timothy Michael “Tim” Healy, Irish nationalist politician, journalist, author, barrister, and one of the most controversial Irish Members of Parliament (MPs) in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, dies in Chapelizod, County Dublin, on March 26, 1931.

Healy is born in Bantry, County Cork, the second son of Maurice Healy, clerk of the Bantry Poor Law Union, and Eliza Healy (née Sullivan). His father is transferred in 1862 to a similar position in Lismore, County Waterford. Timothy is educated at the Christian Brothers school in Fermoy, and is otherwise largely self-educated, in 1869, at the age of fourteen, he goes to live with his uncle Timothy Daniel Sullivan in Dublin.

Healy then moves to England in 1871, working first as a railway clerk and then from 1878 in London as parliamentary correspondent of The Nation, writing numerous articles in support of Charles Stewart Parnell, the newly emergent and more militant home rule leader, and his policy of parliamentary obstructionism. Healy takes part in Irish politics and becomes associated with Parnell and the Irish Parliamentary Party. After being arrested for intimidation in connection with the Irish National Land League, he is promptly elected as member of Parliament for Wexford in 1880.

In Parliament, Healy becomes an authority on the Irish land question. The “Healy Clause” of the Land Act of 1881, which protects tenant farmers’ agrarian improvements from rent increases imposed by landlords, not only makes him popular throughout nationalist Ireland but also wins his cause seats in Protestant Ulster. He breaks with Parnell in 1886 and generally remains at odds with subsequent leaders of the Irish Parliamentary Party, though he is a strong supporter of proposals for Irish Home Rule. Meanwhile, he is called to the Irish bar in 1884 and becomes a queen’s counsel in 1899.

Dissatisfied with both the Liberals and the Irish Nationalists after the Easter Rising in 1916, Healy supports Sinn Féin after 1917. He returns to considerable prominence in 1922 when, on the urging of the soon-to-be Irish Free State’s Provisional Government of W.T. Cosgrave, the British government recommends to King George V that Healy be appointed the first “Governor-General of the Irish Free State,” a new office of representative of the Crown created in the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty and introduced by a combination of the Irish Free State Constitution and Letters Patent from the King.

Healy believes that he has been awarded the Governor-Generalship for life. However, the Executive Council of the Irish Free State decides in 1927 that the term of office of Governors-General will be five years. As a result, he retires from the office and public life in January 1928 and publishes his extensive two volume memoirs later in that year. Throughout his life he is formidable because he is ferociously quick-witted, because he is unworried by social or political convention, and because he knows no party discipline. Towards the end of his life he becomes more mellowed and otherwise more diplomatic.

Healy dies on March 26, 1931, at the age of 75, in Chapelizod, County Dublin. He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.


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The Curragh Incident

curragh-incidentThe Curragh Incident occurs in the Curragh, County Kildare, on March 20, 1914. The Curragh Camp is the main base for the British Army in Ireland, which at the time forms part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Ireland was about to receive a measure of devolved government, which included Ulster.

In early 1912, the Liberal British government of H. H. Asquith introduces the Third Home Rule Bill for Ireland, which proposes the creation of an autonomous Irish Parliament in Dublin. Unionists have objected to being under the jurisdiction of the proposed Dublin Parliament. Ulster Unionists found the Ulster Volunteers (UVF) paramilitary group in 1912, aided by a number of senior retired British officers, to fight against the British government and/or against a future Irish Home Rule government proposed by the Bill.

In September 1913, with Irish Home Rule due to become law in 1914, the Chief of the Imperial General Staff (CIGS) Sir John French expresses his concerns to the government and to the King that the British Army, if ordered to act against the UVF, might split. The British Cabinet contemplates some kind of military action against the Ulster Volunteers who threaten to rebel against Home Rule. Many officers, especially those with Irish Protestant connections, of whom the most prominent is Hubert Gough, threaten to resign rather than obey, privately encouraged from London by senior officers including Major-General Henry Hughes Wilson.

Although the Cabinet issues a document claiming that the issue has been a misunderstanding, the Secretary of State for War J.E.B. Seely and French are forced to resign after amending it to promise that the British Army will not be used against the Ulster loyalists.

The event contributes both to unionist confidence and to the growing Irish separatist movement, convincing Irish nationalists that they can not expect support from the British army in Ireland. In turn, this increases renewed nationalist support for paramilitary forces. The Home Rule Bill is passed but postponed, and the growing fear of civil war in Ireland leads on to the British government considering some form of partition of Ireland instead, which eventually takes place.

The event is also notable in being one of the few incidents since the English Civil Wars in which elements of the British military openly intervene, as it turns out successfully, in politics.


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Death of Katharine O’Shea Parnell

katharine-osheaKatharine O’Shea, called Katie O’Shea by friends and Kitty O’Shea by enemies, dies on February 5, 1921 in Littlehampton, England. O’Shea is an English woman of aristocratic background whose decade-long secret affair with Charles Stewart Parnell leads to a widely publicized divorce in 1890 and, ultimately, his political downfall.

Katharine first meets Parnell in 1880, when she is separated from but still legally married to Captain William O’Shea, a Catholic Nationalist Member of Parliament (MP) for County Clare. As a result of her family’s connection to the Liberal Party, she acts as liaison between Parnell and William Gladstone during negotiations prior to the introduction of the First Irish Home Rule Bill in April 1886. During the summer of that year, Parnell moves into her home in Eltham, near the London-Kent border. Parnell fathers three of Katharine’s children.

Captain O’Shea is aware of the relationship and challenges Parnell to a duel in 1881, however, when Parnell accepts the challenge, O’Shea backs down. Initially, O’Shea forbids his ex-wife to see Parnell, although she says that he encourages her in the relationship. O’Shea keeps quiet publicly for several years, possibly in hopes of an inheritance from Katharine’s rich aunt who has been in failing health. When she dies in 1889, however, her money is left in trust to cousins.

Although their relationship is a subject of gossip in London political circles from 1881, later public knowledge of the affair in an England governed by “Victorian morality” with a “nonconformist conscience” creates a huge scandal, as adultery is prohibited by the Ten Commandments.

After the divorce proceedings in November 1890, in which Parnell is named as co-respondent, the court awards custody of Katharine’s two daughters by Parnell to her ex-husband. The divorce and eventual remarriage leads to Parnell being deserted by a majority of his own Irish Parliamentary Party and to his downfall as its leader in December 1890.

Catholic Ireland feels a profound sense of shock when Katharine breaks the vows of her previous Catholic marriage by marrying Parnell on June 25, 1891. The marriage, however, is short-lived. With Parnell’s political life and health essentially ruined, he dies in Katharine’s arms at the age of 45 in Hove, England, on October 6, 1891, less than four months after their marriage. The cause of death is determined to be cancer of the stomach, possibly complicated by coronary heart disease inherited from his grandfather and father.

Katharine publishes a biography of Parnell in 1914 as “Katharine O’Shea (Mrs. Charles Stewart Parnell),” though to her friends she is known as Katie O’Shea. Parnell’s enemies, in order to damage him personally, call her “Kitty O’Shea” because “kitty,” although a Hiberno-English version of Katharine, is also a slang term for a prostitute. After Parnell’s death, Katharine suffers from a nervous breakdown and disappears from public life. She dies on February 5, 1921 after spending her final years moving from rented house to rented house all over the south coast of England. Katharine O’Shea is buried in Littlehampton, Sussex, England.

Captain Henry Harrison, MP, who acts as Parnell’s bodyguard and aide-de-camp, devotes himself after Parnell’s death to the service of his widow. From her he hears a completely different version of the events surrounding the divorce issue from that which had appeared in the press in 1890. This forms the seed of two of Harrison’s later books defending Parnell which are published in 1931 and 1938. They have a major impact on Irish historiography, leading to a more favourable view of Parnell’s role in the O’Shea affair.