seamus dubhghaill

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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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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John Redmond Elected Leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party

john-redmond-1917John Edward Redmond, Irish nationalist politician, barrister, and Member of Parliament (MP) in the British House of Commons, is elected leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party on February 6, 1900.

Redmond is born at Ballytrent House, his grandfather’s old family mansion, in Kilrane, County Wexford. As a student at Clongowes Wood College, he exhibits the seriousness that many soon come to associate with him. After finishing at Clongowes, Redmond attends Trinity College, Dublin to study law, but his father’s ill health leads him to abandon his studies before taking a degree and, in 1876, goes to live with him in London. As a clerk in the House of Commons he increasingly identifies himself with the fortunes of Charles Stewart Parnell, one of the founders of the Irish Land League.

Redmond first attends political meetings with Parnell in 1879. Upon the death of his father, a Member of Parliament for Wexford, in 1880, Redmond writes to Parnell asking for adoption as the Nationalist Party, which becomes the Irish Parliamentary Party in 1882, candidate in the by-election to fill the open seat, but is disappointed to learn that Parnell has already promised the next vacancy to his secretary Timothy Healy. When a vacancy arises in New Ross, he wins election unopposed as the Parnellite candidate for the seat. He served as MP for New Ross from 1881 to 1885, for North Wexford from 1885 to 1891 and finally for Waterford City from 1891 until his death in 1918.

In 1890, the Irish Parliamentary Party splits over Parnell’s leadership when his long-standing adultery with Katharine O’Shea is revealed in a spectacular divorce case. Redmond stands by Parnell and works to keep the minority faction active. When Parnell dies in 1891, Redmond takes over leadership of the Parnellite faction of the split party, called the Irish National League (INL). The larger anti-Parnellite group forms the Irish National Federation (INF) under John Dillon.

Through the initiative of William O’Brien and his United Irish League (UIL), the INL and the INF re-unite on February 6, 1900 within the Irish Parliamentary Party. Redmond is elected its chairman, a position he holds until his death in 1918, a longer period than any other nationalist leader with the exceptions of Éamon de Valera and Daniel O’Connell.

The achievement of Home Rule is his life’s goal, having strongly supported William Gladstone’s Home Rule bills of 1886 and 1893. His best opportunity arises when the Irish Parliamentary Party holds the balance of power under H.H. Asquith in the period  from 1910 onwards.  Opposition by the Ulster Unionists frustrates his plans, his main worry being that Home  Rule will result in the permanent exclusion of at least some of the Ulster counties. He also fears that the activities of the Irish Volunteers might hinder the enactment of Home Rule. To guard against this eventuality he secures the control of the organisation in June 1914.  He welcomes the Government of Ireland Act, 1914 as the only measure of Home Rule then possible. Its suspension for the duration of the war postpones addressing the issue of partition.

To ensure the success of the war effort and the more speedy implementation of Home Rule, Redmond offers the services of the Irish Volunteers for the defence of the country, an offer rejected by the government. By encouraging the Volunteers to join the British army, he splits the organisation. The vast majority, totaling 170,000 and thereafter known as the National Volunteers, follow Redmond, many of them enlisting in the British army.  Those who aspire to an Irish republic or who have lost faith in Home Rule remain as the Irish Volunteers, their numbers now reduced to about 10,000.

Consequently, the 1916 Easter Rising takes him completely by surprise. Committed to keeping Ireland within the Union, he regards the Rising as treason and a “German intrigue.”  He has no sympathy with the leaders or their objective of a republic.  Nevertheless, he pleads for leniency in the House of Commons.

An operation in March 1918 to remove an intestinal obstruction appears to progress well at first, but then he suffers heart failure. He dies a few hours later at a London nursing home on March 6, 1918. One of the last things he says to the Jesuit Father who is with him to the end is, “Father, I am a broken hearted man.”