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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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Enactment of the Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act 1918

parliament-qualifications-of-women-act-1918The Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act 1918, an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, is given royal assent on November 21, 1918. It gives women over the age of 21 the right to stand for election as a Member of Parliament (MP). At 27 words, it is the shortest UK statute.

The Representation of the People Act 1918, passed on February 6, 1918, extends the franchise in parliamentary elections, also known as the right to vote, to women aged 30 and over who reside in the constituency or occupied land or premises with a rateable value above £5, or whose husbands do.

In March 1918, the Liberal Party MP for Keighley dies, causing a by-election on April 26. There is doubt as to whether women are eligible to stand for parliament. Nina Boyle makes known her intention to stand as a candidate for the Women’s Freedom League at Keighley and, if refused, to take the matter to the courts for a definitive ruling. After some consideration, the returning officer states that he is prepared to accept her nomination, thus establishing a precedent for women candidates. However, he rules her nomination papers invalid on other grounds: one of the signatories to her nomination is not on the electoral roll and another lives outside the constituency. The Lords of Appeal in Ordinary are asked to consider the matter and conclude that the Great Reform Act 1832 had specifically banned women from standing as parliamentary candidates and the Representation of the People Act had not changed that.

Parliament hurriedly passes the Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act in time to enable women to stand in the general election of December 1918. The act consists of only 27 operative words: “A woman shall not be disqualified by sex or marriage for being elected to or sitting or voting as a Member of the Commons House of Parliament.”

In the December 14, 1918 election to the House of Commons, seventeen women candidates stand, among them well-known suffragette Christabel Pankhurst, representing the Women’s Party in Smethwick. The only woman elected is the Sinn Féin candidate for Dublin St. Patrick’s, Constance Markievicz. However, in line with Sinn Féin abstentionist policy, she does not take her seat.

The first woman to take her seat in the House of Commons is Nancy Astor on December 1, 1919. She is elected as a Coalition Conservative MP for Plymouth Sutton on November 28, 1919, taking the seat her husband had vacated.

As Members of Parliament, women also gain the right to become government ministers. The first woman to become a cabinet minister and Privy Council member is Margaret Bondfield who is Minister of Labour in the second MacDonald ministry (1929–1931).


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Enactment of the Intermediate Education Act

File written by Adobe Photoshop? 5.0The Intermediate Education Act, enacted on August 16, 1878, grants female students the right to participate in public competitive examinations, take university degrees and to enter into careers and professions.

From the early 1870s there had been a growing demand in Ireland for a competitive examinations system which would allow Catholics in particular to enter for the newly created jobs in the Civil Service and for careers in the professions. In response to this pressure, the Irish Intermediate Education Bill is introduced to parliament in 1878. It provides an Examining Board with an annual sum of £32,500 per annum which would cover money prizes for pupils and results fees for schools. Students with the highest marks can gain valuable exhibitions worth up to £50. However, these provisions only apply to boys.

The Bill is in its final stages in parliament, when Isabella Tod of the North of Ireland Women’s Suffrage Society, arrives with a small delegation of women backed by a handful of Irish MPs, to demand that girls should also be included in the provisions of the Bill. Fortunately, attitudes among a majority of English MPs are favourable to the inclusion of girls in the Bill. The most influential of these MPs is William Ewart Gladstone, the leader of the Liberal Party, who believes the proposal to admit women to the benefits of the Bill is reasonable and fair. Although not in favour of giving women the vote, he is prepared to admit that “we have on the whole done rather less than justice to women as compared to men” when it comes to education.

Charles Henry Meldon, MP for Kildare, strongly objects to what he calls “the victory” which the inclusion of girls would give to the advocates of women’s rights, “whose object was not that there should be a limited measure dealing specially with the education of women, but that the same education should be given to girls as given to men.”

Richard O’Shaughnessy, the only Home Rule MP on Isabella Tod’s delegation, assures Meldon that the question at stake is not one of women’s rights but simply of their education and that the object of the amendment “was nothing more nor less than to educate the women of Ireland that they may be better able to discharge their duties as daughters, wives and mothers.”

So, despite the strong objections of most Irish Home Rule MPs, girls are included in the Intermediate Examination Act. Isabella Tod at a meeting in Dublin to promote the extension of the franchise to women thanks O’Shaughnessy and James Stansfield for their support but declares, “We could not help feeling how easy our task would have been if each of these members had owed some votes to women and felt a distinct responsibility to them.”

There is unease felt about public competitive examinations for girls in Ireland. Some believe that the competitive idea should be carefully excluded from the examinations for women. The ladies present at the suffrage meeting are also urged to press the government to avoid publishing the names of girls in order of merit.

This attitude helps explain why it is felt that girls are not ready to compete on an equal basis with boys. In December 1878, the Intermediate Board decides that girls will compete among themselves for the money prizes. A money prize is offered for every ten pupils who pass. These prizes are, therefore, allocated proportionately according to the numbers of boys and of girls who enter for the examinations. During the first twenty years of the Intermediate examinations, three quarters of the entrants are boys and only one quarter are girls. Girls’ schools, especially convent schools, are particularly handicapped because they have few teachers who know Latin or Greek and extra marks are allotted for other traditional boys’ subjects such as mathematics.

The Intermediate examinations have three levels: Junior, Middle and Senior Grades with strict age limits of under 16, 17 and 18 years of age respectively. This represents a problem for girls’ schools since many girls come late to second level schools, being often 14 or 15 years of age.

The fact that public opinion in Ireland is at first generally against such examinations for girls and that many girls have neither the opportunity nor the means to take immediate advantage of the Act, does not alter its crucial importance as a catalyst for changing the role of women in Irish society.

(Pictured: Isabella Tod, Museums and Galleries of Northern Ireland, content from Discovering Women in Irish History, http://womeninhistory.scoilnet.ie)


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Birth of Katharine O’Shea Parnell

katharine-osheaKatharine O’Shea (née Wood), English woman of aristocratic background, whose decade-long secret adultery with Charles Stewart Parnell leads to a widely publicized divorce in 1890 and his political downfall, is born in Braintree, Essex on January 30, 1846.

Katharine is the daughter of Sir John Page Wood, 2nd Baronet (1796–1866), and granddaughter of Sir Matthew Wood, a former Lord Mayor of London. She has an elder brother who becomes Field Marshal Sir Henry Evelyn Wood and is also the niece of both Western Wood MP (1804–1863) and Lord William Wood, William Ewart Gladstone‘s first Liberal Lord Chancellor.

Katharine marries Captain William O’Shea in 1867, a Catholic Nationalist MP for Clare from whom she separates around 1875. She first meets Parnell in 1880 and begins a relationship with him. Three of her children are fathered by Parnell. Although Captain O’Shea keeps publicly quiet for several years, he is aware of the relationship. He challenges Parnell to a duel in 1881 and initially forbids his estranged wife to see him, although she says that he encouraged her in the relationship. 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.

Out of her family connection to the Liberal Party, Katharine acts as liaison between Parnell and Gladstone during negotiations prior to the introduction of the First Irish Home Rule Bill in April 1886. Parnell moves to her home in Eltham, close to the London-Kent border, that summer.

Captain O’Shea files for divorce in 1889 and his reasons are a matter for speculation. Some say he may have political motives. Alternatively, it is claimed that he has been hoping for an inheritance from Katharine’s rich aunt whom he had expected to die earlier, but when she dies in 1889 her money is left in trust to cousins. After the divorce the court awards custody of Katharine O’Shea and C.S. Parnell’s two surviving daughters to her ex-husband.

Katharine’s November divorce proceedings from Captain O’Shea, in which Parnell is named as co-respondent, leads to Parnell’s 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. With his political life and his health essentially ruined, Parnell dies at the age of 45 in Hove on October 6, 1891 in her arms, less than four months after their marriage. The cause is stomach cancer, possibly complicated by coronary artery disease inherited from his grandfather and father, who also died prematurely.

Though to her friends Katharine is known as Katie O’Shea, Parnell’s enemies, in order to damage him personally, call her “Kitty O’Shea” because at that time “kitty,” as well as being an Hiberno-English version of Catherine/Katherine/Katharine, is also a slang term for a prostitute. She lives the rest of her life in relative obscurity. She dies on February 5, 1921, at the age of 75, and is buried in Littlehampton, Sussex, England, apparently never once setting foot on Irish soil.

Captain Henry Harrison, MP, who had acted 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, and this is to form the seed of his later two books defending Parnell 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.


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Birth of Benjamin Lee Guinness

benjamin-lee-guinnessSir Benjamin Lee Guinness, 1st Baronet, Irish brewer and philanthropist, is born in Dublin on November 1, 1798.

Guinness is the third son of Arthur Guinness II (1768–1855), and his wife Anne Lee, and a grandson of the first Arthur (1725–1803), who had bought the St. James’s Gate Brewery in 1759. He joins his father in the business in his late teens, without attending university, and from 1839 he takes sole control within the family. From 1855, when his father dies, he has become the richest man in Ireland, having built up a huge export trade and by continually enlarging his brewery.

In 1851 Guinness is elected the first Lord Mayor of Dublin under the reformed corporation. In 1863 he is made an honorary LL.D. (Doctor of Laws) by Trinity College Dublin, and on April 15, 1867 is created a baronet by patent, in addition to which, on May 18, 1867, by royal licence, he has a grant of supporters to his family arms.

Guinness is elected to the House of Commons of the United Kingdom in 1865 as a Conservative Party representative for Dublin City, serving until his death. His party’s leader is Edward Smith-Stanley, 14th Earl of Derby. Previously he had supported the Liberal Party‘s Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston, but in the 1860s the Liberals propose higher taxation on drinks such as beer. Before 1865 the Irish Conservative Party does not entirely support British conservative policy, but does so after the Irish Church Act 1869. The government’s most notable reform is the Reform Act 1867 that expands the franchise.

From 1860 to 1865, Guinness undertakes at his own expense, and without hiring an architect, the restoration of the city’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral, an enterprise that costs him over £150,000. In 1865 the building is restored to the dean and chapter, and reopens for services on February 24. The citizens of Dublin and the dean and chapter of St. Patrick’s present him with addresses on December 31, 1865, expressive of their gratitude for what he has done for the city. The addresses are in two volumes, which are afterwards exhibited at the Paris Exhibition.

In recognition of his generosity, Guinness is made a baronet in 1867. He is one of the ecclesiastical commissioners for Ireland, a governor of Simpson’s Hospital, and vice-chairman of the Dublin Exhibition Palace. He dies the following year, on May 19, 1868, at his Park Lane home in London. At the time of his death he is engaged in the restoration of Marsh’s Library, a building which adjoins St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The restoration is completed by his son Arthur.

Guinness is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery, Dublin, in the family vault, on May 27, 1868. His personalty is sworn under £1,100,000 on August 8, 1868. A bronze statue of him by John Henry Foley is erected by the Cathedral Chapter in St. Patrick’s churchyard, on the south side of the cathedral, in September 1875, which is restored in 2006.


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Birth of Activist Mary Ellen Spring Rice

mary-ellen-spring-riceMary Ellen Spring Rice, Irish nationalist activist during the early 20th century, is born into an aristocratic Anglo-Irish family in London, England on October 14, 1880.

Spring Rice is the daughter of Thomas Spring Rice, 2nd Baron Monteagle of Brandon, and a great-granddaughter of the British Chancellor of the Exchequer, Thomas Spring Rice, 1st Baron Monteagle of Brandon. Her maternal grandfather is the bishop, Samuel Butcher. She is brought up on the family’s Mount Trenchard estate overlooking the River Shannon. It is a progressive, liberal household and independence of thought is encouraged. So too is the Gaelic culture and, at home, she and her brothers are taught how to fluently speak the Irish language.

Before World War I, Spring Rice hosts many Irish nationalist and Conradh na Gaeilge meetings at her home, and she becomes a close friend of Douglas Hyde and her cousin Nelly O’Brien. During 1913 and 1914, she is actively involved in gun-running, most notably the Howth gun-running.

This involves helping to ship weapons to be used in an Irish uprising from Germany into Ireland. Together with Molly Childers, she raises £2,000 towards the purchase of 900 Mauser rifles from Germany, many of which are used in the 1916 Easter Rising. She sails on the Asgard to collect the guns and helps to unload them in Ireland.

During the Irish War of Independence, Spring Rice allows her Mount Trenchard home to be used as a safe house by Irish Republican Army fighters and the family boat is used to carry men and arms over the Shannon Estuary.

Con Collins stays with Spring Rice regularly. She helps train local women as nurses to tend to wounded nationalists and acts as an IRA message carrier between Limerick and Dublin. Throughout this time, she maintains her aristocratic façade and society connections, inviting senior Liberal Party politicians to Mount Trenchard to pressure them to support Irish independence.

Spring Rice starts to suffer from tuberculosis in 1923, and dies unmarried in a sanatorium in Clwdyy, Wales, on December 1, 1924. She is buried in Ireland, where her coffin is draped in the Irish tricolour and escorted by an IRA guard of honour.

(Pictured: Mary Ellen Spring-Rice and Molly Childers with the German guns on board Asgard, 1914.)


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Death of Charles Stewart Parnell

charles-stewart-parnellCharles Stewart Parnell, Irish nationalist politician and one of the most powerful figures in the British House of Commons in the 1880s, dies of pneumonia at age 45 in Hove, East Sussex, England on October 6, 1891.

Born into a wealthy and powerful Anglo-Irish Protestant landowning family in County Wicklow on June 27, 1846, Parnell enters the House of Commons in 1875. He is a land reform agitator and becomes leader of the Home Rule League in 1880, insisting on operating independently of the Liberals, and winning great influence by his balancing of constitutional, radical, and economic issues, and by his skillful use of parliamentary procedure. He is imprisoned in Kilmainham Gaol in 1882 but, being a very capable negotiator, is released when he renounces violent extra-Parliamentary action in an informal agreement, the Kilmainham Treaty, with British Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone. That same year he reforms the Home Rule League as the Irish Parliamentary Party, which he controls minutely as Britain’s first disciplined democratic party.

The hung Parliament of 1885 sees him hold the balance of power between Gladstone’s Liberals and Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury‘s Conservatives. His power is one factor in Gladstone’s adoption of Home Rule as the central tenet of the Liberal Party. His reputation peaks in 1889-1890 when letters published in The Times linking him to the Phoenix Park murders of 1882 are shown to have been forged by Richard Pigott. However, the Irish Parliamentary Party splits in 1890 after the revelation of Parnell’s long adulterous love affair, causing many English Liberals, many of them nonconformists, to refuse to work with him, and strong opposition from Catholic bishops. He heads a small minority faction until his death in 1891.

In describing Parnell, Gladstone says, “I do not say the ablest man; I say the most remarkable and the most interesting. He was an intellectual phenomenon.” Liberal leader H. H. Asquith calls him as one of the three or four greatest men of the 19th century, while Richard Haldane, 1st Viscount Haldane describes him as the strongestparnell-marker man the House of Commons has seen in 150 years. Historian A.J.P. Taylor says, “More than any other man he gave Ireland the sense of being an independent nation.”

Charles Stewart Parnell dies of pneumonia at age 45 in his home at 10 Walsingham Terrace, Hove, England on October 6, 1891, in the arms of his wife Katharine. Though an Anglican, his funeral on October 11 is at the Irish National nondenominational Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin and is attended by more than 200,000 people. His notability is such that his gravestone of unhewn Wicklow granite, erected in 1940, reads only “Parnell.”