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


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Founding of the Tenant Right League

The Tenant Right League, an organisation which aims to secure reforms in the Irish land system, is founded in Dublin on August 9, 1850, at a meeting attended by representatives of the Tenant Protection Societies. Formed by Charles Gavan Duffy and Frederick Lucas, the League unites for a time Protestant and Catholic tenants, Duffy calling his movement The League of North and South.

The political background to the movement is the Encumbered Estates Act and the resultant change in land ownership at landlord level. In the North of Ireland, Protestant and Presbyterian ministers fear that the new landlords will destroy the “Ulster custom” of tenancy, which compensates tenants for any improvement undertaken. Concurrently, in the South of Ireland politically minded young Catholic priests are agitating for the adoption there of the Ulster custom as a measure of reform.

Support for the League initially comes from the Ulster Tenant Right Association led by William Sharman Crawford. The support is short-lived because of the involvement of Catholic clergymen from the south. As a constitutional movement, the League seeks to secure the adoption and enforcement of the Three Fs, namely fair rent, fixity of tenure, and free sale. All of these would aid Irish tenant farms, all of whom lack them.

For the larger tenant farmers fixity of tenure is the priority. On the other hand the league never has the support of smaller tenants, whose prime concern is fair rents. The founders strive to establish a parliamentary party of Irish members who will oppose any government not prepared to grant “Tenant-right” also known as the Ulster Custom.

The Tenant Right League meets with considerable success under its national organiser, John Martin. It has the support of the surviving members of the Repeal Association in the British House of Commons as well as a number of English Radicals. It is agreed, all around, that a Land Act embodying the three F’s would be a real gain. In the 1852 general election, some fifty Tenant Right candidates, including Gavan Duffy, Lucas and John Sadleir, are returned to parliament, where they sit as the Independent Irish Party.

The League’s success is short lived and is ultimately destroyed and weakened when a number of prominent members break away and established the Catholic Defence Association. Supporters of the league are also intimidated by hostile landlords. The most serious blows to its success come when Lucas decides to take his complaint about the Archbishop of Dublin Paul Cullen to Rome, which alienates clerical support. Lucas dies in October 1855 shortly after the failure of his mission, a month later Gavan Duffy emigrates to Australia.

The League finally dissolves in 1859, and the Independent Irish Party disappears by 1860. The demand for tenants rights is however continued by Bishop Thomas Nulty of County Meath and taken up again as a popular cause by the Irish National Land League in 1879, when the “Three Fs” are anchored in the Land Law (Ireland) Act 1881, previously pursued rigorously by Michael Davitt.


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Death of Thomas Croke, Archbishop of Cashel & Emly

Thomas William Croke, the second Catholic Bishop of Auckland in New Zealand (1870–74) and later Archbishop of Cashel and Emly in Ireland, dies on July 22, 1902. He is important in the Irish nationalist movement especially as a Champion of the Irish National Land League in the 1880s. The main Gaelic Athletic Association stadium in Dublin is named Croke Park in his honour.

Croke is born in Castlecor, County Cork, on May 28, 1824. He is educated in Charleville, County Cork, the Irish College in Paris and the Pontifical Irish College in Rome, winning academic distinctions including a doctorate of divinity with honours. He is ordained in May 1847. Returning to Ireland for a short time he is appointed a Professor in St. Patrick’s, Carlow College. The Irish radical William O’Brien says that Croke fought on the barricades in Paris during the French Revolution of 1848. Croke returns to Ireland and spends the next 23 years working there. In 1858 he becomes the first president of St. Colman’s College, Fermoy, County Cork and then serves as both parish priest of Doneraile and Vicar General of Cloyne diocese from 1866 to 1870. Croke attends the First Vatican Council as the theologian to the Bishop of Cloyne 1870.

Croke gains the good opinion of the Irish ecclesiastical authorities and is rewarded in 1870 by his promotion to Bishop of Auckland in New Zealand. His former professor, Paul Cullen, by then Cardinal Archbishop of Dublin, is largely responsible for filling the Australasian Catholic church with fellow Irishmen. His strong recommendations lead to Croke’s appointment. Croke arrives at Auckland on December 17, 1870 on the City of Melbourne. During his three years as bishop he restores firm leadership to a diocese left in disarray by his predecessor, Bishop Jean Baptiste Pompallier. He devotes some of his considerable personal wealth to rebuilding diocesan finances and also takes advantage of Auckland’s economic growth following the development of the Thames goldfields to further his aims, ensuring that all surplus income from parishes at Thames and Coromandel is passed on to him, and he institutes a more rigorous system for the Sunday collection at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. He imports Irish clergy to serve the growing Catholic community, and with Patrick Moran, the first Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Dunedin, he tries unsuccessfully to secure an Irish monopoly on future episcopal appointments in New Zealand. Croke supports separate Catholic schools and their right to state aid, and voices his opposition to secular education as Auckland’s Catholic schools are threatened by the provincial council’s Education Act 1872, which helps to create a free, secular and compulsory education system. However, generally, Croke’s image is uncontroversial. On January 28, 1874, after barely three years in office, Croke departs for Europe, on what is ostensibly a 12-month holiday and he does not return to New Zealand.

Croke becomes a member of the Irish hierarchy when he is translated to be Archbishop of Cashel, one of the four Catholic Irish archbishoprics in 1875. Archbishop Croke is a strong supporter of Irish nationalism, aligning himself with the Irish National Land League during the Land War, and with the chairman of the Irish Parliamentary Party, Charles Stewart Parnell. In an 1887 interview he explains that he had opposed the League’s “No rent manifesto” in 1881, preferring to stop payment of all taxes.

Croke also associates himself with the Temperance Movement of Fr. Theobald Mathew and Gaelic League from its foundation in 1893. Within Catholicism he is a supporter of Gallicanism, as opposed to the Ultramontanism favoured by the Archbishop of Dublin, Cardinal Cullen. His support of nationalism causes successive British governments and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland‘s governments in Dublin to be deeply suspicious of him, as are some less politically aligned Irish bishops.

Following the scandal that erupts over Parnell’s relationship with Katharine O’Shea, the separated wife of fellow MP Captain William O’Shea, Archbishop Croke withdraws from active participation in nationalist politics.

Thomas Croke, 78, dies at the Archbishop’s Palace in Thurles, County Tipperary on July 22, 1902. He is buried at the Cathedral of the Assumption in Thurles. In honour of Croke, his successors as Archbishop of Cashel and Emly traditionally are asked to throw in the ball at the minor Gaelic football and All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship finals.


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Richard Pigott Exposed as Forger of Phoenix Park Letters

richard-pigottRichard Pigott, an Irish journalist, is exposed as the forger of The Times Phoenix Park letters on February 10, 1889.

Pigott is born in 1835 in Ratoath, County Meath. As a young man he supports Irish nationalism and works for 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 paper and covered his tracks by not keeping written records. Pigott 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 of its funds, and for keeping inadequate records. Nothing is done about his accusation, which is publicised in the newspapers, and he turns against the League, which is allied to several Irish nationalist groups including the Irish Parliamentary Party led by Charles Stewart Parnell.

In 1879 Pigott is proprietor of three newspapers, which he soon sells to the Irish Land League, of which Charles Stewart Parnell is president. Hitherto a violent Nationalist, from 1884 Pigott begins to vilify his former associates and to sell information to their political opponents. In an effort to destroy Parnell’s career, Pigott produces fake letters, which purports that Parnell had supported one of the Phoenix Park murders.

The Times purchases Pigott’s forgeries for £1,780 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 forgeries. They include misspellings which Pigott has written elsewhere. A libel action instituted by Parnell also vindicates him and his parliamentary career survives the Pigott accusations.

The Commission eventually produces 37 volumes in 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 shoots himself in a Madrid hotel room. Parnell then sues The Times for libel, and the newspaper pays him £5,000 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)


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Birth of John Gubbins, Racehorse Breeder & Owner

john-gubbinsJohn Gubbins, breeder and owner of racehorses, is born on December 16, 1838 at the family home in Kilfrush, County Limerick. He is fourth son of Joseph Gubbins by his wife Maria, daughter of Thomas Wise of Cork.

Of three surviving brothers and five sisters, the third brother, Stamer, breeds horses at Knockany after distinguishing himself in the Crimean War. He dies at the age of 46 on August 7, 1879, after a horse falls on him while “schooling” over fences.

John Gubbins, after being educated privately, inherits the Knockany property from his brother and purchases the estate of Bruree, County Limerick. A fortune is also left him by an uncle, Francis Wise of Cork. Settling at Bruree in 1868, he builds kennels and stables and purchases horses and hounds. He hunts the Limerick country with both stag and fox hounds, and is no mean angler, until forced to stop by the operations of the Land League in 1882.

From his youth he takes a keen interest in horse racing. At first his attention is mainly confined to steeplechasers, and he rides many winners at Punchestown Racecourse and elsewhere in Ireland. He is the owner of Seaman when the horse wins the grand hurdle race at Auteuil, but sells him to Lord Manners before he wins the Grand National at Liverpool in 1882. Usna is another fine chaser in his possession. Buying the stallions Kendal and St. Florian, he breeds, from the mare Morganette, Galtee More by the former and Ard Patrick by the latter. Galtee More wins the 2000 Guineas Stakes and the St. Leger Stakes as well as the Epsom Derby in 1897, and is afterwards sold to the Russian government who later pass him on to the Prussian government. The Prussian government also purchases Ard Patrick just days before he wins the Eclipse Stakes in 1903, when he defeats Sceptre and Rook Sand after an exceptionally exciting contest.

Other notable horses bred by John Gubbins are Blairfinde, winner of the Irish Derby, and Revenue. In 1897 he heads the list of winning owners and is third in the list in 1903. In 1903 Gubbins is rarely seen on a racecourse due to failing health and sells his horses in training. In 1905, however, his health apparently improving, he sends some yearlings to Cranborne, Dorset, to be trained by Sir Charles Nugent, but before these horses can run he dies of bronchitis at Bruree on March 20, 1906.  His final instructions are, “As I aspired to breed fast horses, please see that my hearse is pulled at speed on my final journey.” Gubbins is buried in the private burial ground at Kilfrush.

In 1889 he marries Edith, daughter of Charles Legh, of Addington Hall, Cheshire. She predeceases him without issue. His estates pass to his nephew, John Norris Browning, a retired naval surgeon.


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Founding of the Irish National Land League

land-league-posterThe Irish National Land League, one of the most important political organizations in Irish history which seeks to help poor tenant farmers, is founded at the Imperial Hotel in Castlebar, County Mayo, on October 21, 1879. Its primary aim is to abolish landlordism in Ireland and enable tenant farmers to own the land they work on. The national organization is modeled on the Land League of Mayo, which Michael Davitt had helped found earlier in the year.

At the founding meeting Charles Stewart Parnell is elected president of the league. Davitt, Andrew Kettle, and Thomas Brennan are appointed as honorary secretaries. This unites practically all the different strands of land agitation and tenant rights movements under a single organisation.

Parnell, Davitt, John Dillon, and others including Cal Lynn then go to the United States to raise funds for the League with spectacular results. Branches are also set up in Scotland, where the Crofters Party imitates the League and secures a reforming Act in 1886.

The government introduces the Landlord and Tenant (Ireland) Act 1870, which proves largely ineffective. It is followed by the marginally more effective Land Acts of 1880 and 1881. These establish a Land Commission that starts to reduce some rents. Parnell together with all of his party lieutenants including Father Eugene Sheehy, known as “the Land League priest,” go into a bitter verbal offensive and are imprisoned in October 1881 under the Protection of Person and Property Act 1881 in Kilmainham Gaol for “sabotaging the Land Act.” It is from here that the No-Rent Manifesto is issued, calling for a national tenant farmer rent strike until “constitutional liberties” are restored and the prisoners freed. It has a modest success In Ireland, and mobilizes financial and political support from the Irish Diaspora.

Although the League discourages violence, agrarian crimes increase widely. Typically a rent strike is followed by eviction by the police and the bailiffs. Tenants who continue to pay the rent can be subject to a boycott by local League members. Where cases go to court, witnesses would change their stories, resulting in an unworkable legal system. This in turn leads on to stronger criminal laws being passed that are described by the League as “Coercion Acts.”

The bitterness that develops helps Parnell later in his Home Rule campaign. Davitt’s views as seen in his famous slogan: “The land of Ireland for the people of Ireland” is aimed at strengthening the hold on the land by the peasant Irish at the expense of the alien landowners. Parnell aims to harness the emotive element, but he and his party are strictly constitutional. He envisions tenant farmers as potential freeholders of the land they have rented.


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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.


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Execution of Thomas Kent

thomas-kentIrish nationalist Thomas Kent is executed at Cork Detention Barracks on May 9, 1916. Kent’s story is one of the stranger episodes that happens after the rebellion in Dublin has been quelled. Unlike the Dublin rebels, Kent does not go out to fight. Rather the British come to him looking for trouble.

Kent is part of a prominent nationalist family who lives at Bawnard House, Castlelyons, County Cork. After spending some time in Boston he returns to Ireland because of poor health. He is active in the Land League, Sinn Féin, and the Irish Republican Brotherhood. With the launch of the Irish Volunteers in 1913, he is prominent with another legendary Cork man, Terence MacSwiney, in organizing and training recruits.

The Kent family is prepared to take part in the Easter Rising but when the mobilisation order is countermanded by Eoin MacNeill, commander of the Irish Volunteers, on April 22, they stay at home. The rising nevertheless goes ahead in Dublin on Easter Monday. The Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) is dispatched to arrest well-known sympathizers throughout the country including, but not limited to, known members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, Sinn Féin, and the Irish Volunteers.

When the Kent residence is raided at 3:45 AM on May 2, the RIC is met with resistance from Thomas and his brothers Richard, David, and William. A gunfight lasts for four hours, during which RIC officer Head Constable William Rowe is killed and David Kent is seriously wounded. Eventually the Kents are forced to surrender, although Richard makes a last minute dash for freedom and is fatally wounded.

Thomas and William are tried by court martial on May 4 on a charge of “armed rebellion.” William, who is not political, is found innocent, but Thomas is found guilty in the death of Constable Rowe and is sentenced to death. Before being led out for his execution, Kent says, “I have done my duty as a soldier of Ireland and in a few moments I hope to see the face of God.” He is executed by firing squad in Cork in the early morning hours of May 9. David Kent is brought to Dublin where he is charged with the same offence, found guilty, and sentenced to death, but the sentence is commuted and he is sentenced to five years penal servitude.

Apart from the singular case of Roger Casement, Thomas Kent is the only person outside of Dublin to be executed for his role in the events surrounding Easter Week. He is buried on the grounds of Cork Prison, formerly the Military Detention Barracks at the rear of Collins Barracks, Cork. The former army married quarters at the rear of Collins Barracks are named in his honour.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny offers a state funeral to the Kent family early in 2015 which they accept. Kent’s remains are exhumed from Cork prison in June 2015 after being buried for 99 years. The state funeral is held on September 18, 2015 at St. Nicholas’ Church in Castlelyons. Kent lay in state at Collins Barracks in Cork the day before. The requiem mass is attended by President Michael D. Higgins, with Enda Kenny delivering the graveside oration.