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


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Birth of Henry Harrison, Politician & Writer

henry-harrisonCaptain Henry Harrison, nationalist politician and writer, is born in Holywood, County Down on December 17, 1867.

A Protestant nationalist, Harrison is the son of Henry Harrison and Letitia Tennent, the daughter of Robert James Tennent, who had been Liberal Party MP for Belfast from 1847 to 1852. Later, when widowed, she marries the author Hartley Withers.

Harrison goes to Westminster School and then to Balliol College, Oxford. While there he develops an admiration for Charles Stewart Parnell and becomes secretary of the Oxford University Home Rule League. At this time, the Land War is in progress and in 1889 he goes to Ireland to visit the scene of the evictions in Gweedore, County Donegal. He becomes involved in physical confrontations with the Royal Irish Constabulary and as a result becomes a Nationalist celebrity overnight. The following May, Parnell offers the vacant parliamentary seat of Mid Tipperary to Harrison, who leaves Oxford at age 22, to take it up, unopposed.

Only six months later, following the divorce case involving Katharine O’Shea, the Irish Parliamentary Party splits over Parnell’s leadership. Harrison strongly supports Parnell, acts as his bodyguard and aide-de-camp, and after Parnell’s death devotes himself to the service of his widow Katharine. From her he hears a completely different version of the events surrounding the divorce case from that which had appeared in the press, and this is to form the seed of his later books.

At the 1892 United Kingdom general election, Harrison does not defend Mid-Tipperary. He stands at West Limerick as a Parnellite instead, but comes nowhere near winning the seat. In the 1895 United Kingdom general election, he stands at North Sligo, polling better but again far short of winning. In 1895 he marries Maie Byrne, an American, with whom he has a son. He comes to prominence briefly again in 1903 when, in spite of his lack of legal training, he successfully conducts his own case in a court action all the way to the House of Lords.

Otherwise, however, Harrison disappears from public view until his war service with the Royal Irish Regiment when he serves on the Western Front with distinction in the New British Army formed for World War I, reaching the rank of Captain and being awarded the Military Cross (MC). He organises patrols in “No Man’s Land” so successfully that he is appointed special patrol officer to the 16th (Irish) Division. He is invalided out and becomes a recruiting officer in Ireland. He is appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in the 1919 New Year Honours.

Harrison then makes a return to Irish politics, working with Sir Horace Plunkett as Secretary of the Irish Dominion League, an organisation campaigning for dominion status for Ireland within the British Empire. He is a lifelong opponent of Irish partition. He is Irish correspondent of The Economist from 1922 to 1927 and owner-editor of Irish Truth from 1924 to 1927.

Harrison’s two books defending Parnell are published in 1931 and 1938. They have had a major impact on Irish historiography, leading to a more favourable view of Parnell’s role in the O’Shea affair. F. S. L. Lyons comments that he “did more than anyone else to uncover what seems to have been the true facts” about the Parnell-O’Shea liaison. The second book, Parnell, Joseph Chamberlain and Mr Garvin, is written in response to J. L. Garvin‘s biography of Joseph Chamberlain, which had ignored his first book, Parnell Vindicated: The Lifting of the Veil. Later, he successfully repulses an attempt in the official history of The Times to rehabilitate that newspaper’s role in using forged letters to attack Parnell in the late 1880s. In 1952 he forces The Times to publish a four-page correction written by him as an appendix to the fourth volume of the history.

During the difficult years of the Anglo-Irish Trade War over the land purchase annuities, declaration of the Republic, Irish neutrality during World War II, and departure from the Commonwealth, Harrison works to promote good relations between Britain and Ireland. He publishes various books and pamphlets on the issues in dispute and writes numerous letters to The Times. He also founds, with General Sir Hubert Gough, the Commonwealth Irish Association in 1942.

At the time of his death on February 20, 1954, Harrison is the last survivor of the Irish Parliamentary Party led by Parnell, and as a member of the pre-1918 Irish Parliamentary Party, he seems to have been outlived only by John Patrick Hayden, who dies a few months after him in 1954 and by Patrick Whitty and John Lymbrick Esmonde who are only MPs for a very short time during World War I. He is buried in Holywood, County Down.


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The Kilmainham Treaty Signed by Parnell and Gladstone

land-league-posterThe Kilmainham Treaty, an informal agreement between Liberal British Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone and the Irish nationalist leader Charles Stewart Parnell, is signed on April 25, 1882.

The agreement extends the terms of the Second Land Act of 1881, with which Gladstone intends to make broad concessions to Irish tenant farmers. But the Act has many weaknesses and fails to satisfy Parnell and the Irish Land League because it does not provide a regulation for rent-arrears or rent-adjustments in the case of poor harvests or deteriorated economic conditions.

After the Second Land Act becomes law on August 22, 1881, Parnell, in a series of speeches in September and October, launches violent attacks on Chief Secretary for Ireland William Forster and even on Gladstone. Gladstone warns him not to frustrate the Act, but Parnell repeats his contempt for the Prime Minister. On October 12, the Cabinet, fully convinced that Parnell is bent on ruining the Act, takes action to have him arrested in Dublin the next day.

Parnell is conveyed to Kilmainham Gaol, where he joins several other prominent members of the Land League who have also protested against the Act and been jailed. There, together with William O’Brien, he enacts the No Rent Manifesto campaign. He is well aware that some in the Liberal Cabinet, in particular Joseph Chamberlain, are opposed to the mass internment of suspects then taking place across Ireland under the Protection of Person and Property Act 1881. The repressions do not have the desired effect, with the result that Forster becomes isolated within the Cabinet, and coercion becomes increasingly unpopular with the Liberal Party.

In gaol Parnell begins to turn over in his mind the possibility of coming to an arrangement with the Government. He has been corresponding with Katharine O’Shea who engages her husband, Captain William O’Shea, in April 1882 to act as a go-between for negotiations on behalf of Parnell. O’Shea contacts Gladstone on May 5 having been informed by Parnell that should the Government settle the rent-arrears problem on the terms he proposes, he is confident that he can curtail outrages. He further urges for the quick release of the League’s organizers in the West who will then work for pacification. This shocks Forster but impresses Gladstone.

Accordingly on May 2, Gladstone informs the House of Commons of the release of Parnell and the resignation of Forster. Gladstone always denies there has been a “Kilmainham Treaty,” merely accepting that he “had received informations.” He keeps his side of the arrangement by subsequently having the Arrears of Rent Act 1882 enacted. The government pays the landlords £800,000 in back rent owed by 130,000 tenant farmers.

Calling the agreement a “treaty” shows how Parnell manages to place a spin on the agreement in a way that strengthens Irish nationalism, since he manages to force concessions from the British while in gaol. Since real treaties are usually signed between two states, it leads to the idea that Ireland could become independent from Britain. After the “treaty” is agreed, those imprisoned with Parnell are released from gaol. This transforms Parnell from a respected leader to a national hero.

The Phoenix Park Murders, in which two top British officials in Ireland are assassinated, take place four days later and undo much of the goodwill generated by it in Britain. Though strongly condemned by Parnell, the murders show that he cannot control nationalist “outrages” as he has undertaken to do.


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William Gladstone Introduces the First Home Rule Bill

gladstone-introduces-home-rule-bill-1886William Gladstone introduces the Government of Ireland Bill 1886, commonly known as the First Home Rule Bill, in the Parliament of England on April 8, 1886. It is the first major attempt by a British government to enact a law creating home rule for part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. The bill proposes to create a devolved assembly for Ireland which will govern Ireland in specific areas. The Irish Parliamentary Party under Charles Stewart Parnell has been campaigning for home rule for Ireland since the 1870s.

The Bill, like his Landlord and Tenant Act 1870, is very much the work of Gladstone, who excludes both the Irish MPs and his own ministers from participation in the drafting.

If passed, the 1886 Bill would create a unicameral assembly consisting of two Orders which could meet either together or separately. The first Order would consist of the 28 Irish representative peers plus 75 members elected through a highly restricted franchise. It could delay the passage of legislation for up to 3 years. The second Order would consist of either 204 or 206 members. All Irish MPs would be excluded from Westminster altogether.

Executive power would be possessed by the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland whose executive would not be responsible to either Order.

Britain would still retain control over a range of issues including peace, war, defence, treaties with foreign states, trade, and coinage. No special provision would be made for Ulster. Britain would retain control of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) until it deems it safe for control to pass to Dublin. The Dublin Metropolitan Police would pass to Irish control.

When the bill is introduced, Charles Stewart Parnell has mixed reactions. He says that it has great faults but is prepared to vote for it. In his famous Irish Home Rule speech, Gladstone beseeches Parliament to pass it and grant Home Rule to Ireland in honour rather than being compelled to one day in humiliation. Unionists and the Orange Order are fierce in their resistance. For them, any measure of Home Rule is denounced as nothing other than Rome Rule.

The vote on the Bill takes place on 8 June 1886 after two months of debate. The Government of Ireland Bill is defeated by a vote of 341-311. In the staunchly loyalist town of Portadown, the so-called “Orange Citadel” where the Orange Order is founded in 1795, Orangemen and their supporters celebrate the Bill’s defeat by “Storming the Tunnel.”

Parliament is dissolved on June 26 and the U.K. general election of 1886 is called. Historians have suggested that the 1886 Home Rule Bill was fatally flawed by the secretive manner of its drafting, with Gladstone alienating Liberal figures like Joseph Chamberlain who, along with a colleague, resigned in protest from the ministry, while producing a Bill viewed privately by the Irish as badly drafted and deeply flawed.