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


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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 Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Playwright & Satirist

Richard Brinsley Butler Sheridan, Irish satirist, playwright and poet, and long-term owner of the London Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, is born on October 30, 1751 in Dublin, where his family has a house on then fashionable Dorset Street.

While in Dublin Sheridan attends the English Grammar School in Grafton Street. The family moves permanently to England in 1758 where he is a pupil at Harrow School from 1762 to 1768. After his period in Harrow School, his father employs a private tutor to directs his studies.

In 1775, Sheridan’s first play, The Rivals, is produced at London’s Covent Garden Theatre. It is a failure on its first night. He casts a more capable actor in the lead for its second performance, and it is a smash which immediately establishes the young playwright’s reputation and the favour of fashionable London. It has gone on to become a standard of English literature.

Shortly after the success of The Rivals, Sheridan and his father-in-law, Thomas Linley the Elder, a successful composer, produce the opera, The Duenna. This piece is accorded such a warm reception that it plays for seventy-five performances.

The following year, Sheridan, his father-in-law, and one other partner purchase a half-interest in the Drury Lane theatre and, two years later, buy out the other half. Sheridan is the manager of the theatre for many years, and later becomes sole owner with no managerial role.

His most famous play, The School for Scandal (Drury Lane, May 8, 1777), is considered one of the greatest comedies of manners in English. It is followed by The Critic (1779), an updating of the satirical Restoration comedy The Rehearsal. He has a rivalry with his fellow playwright Richard Cumberland and includes a parody of Cumberland in The Critic. In 1778, Sheridan writes The Camp, which comments on the ongoing threat of a French invasion of Britain.

In 1780, Sheridan enters Parliament as the ally of Charles James Fox on the side of the American Colonials in the political debate of that year. He remains in Parliament for 32 years.

On February 24, 1809, despite the much vaunted fire safety precautions of 1794, the theatre burns down. On being encountered drinking a glass of wine in the street while watching the fire, Sheridan is famously reported to have said, “A man may surely be allowed to take a glass of wine by his own fireside.”

When he fails to be re-elected to Parliament in 1812, his creditors close in on him and his last years are harassed by debt and disappointment. On hearing of his debts, the United States Congress offers Sheridan £20,000 in recognition of his efforts to prevent the American Revolutionary War. The offer is refused.

In December 1815 Sheridan becomes ill and is largely confined to bed. He dies in poverty on July 7, 1816, and is buried in the Poets’ Corner of Westminster Abbey. His funeral is attended by dukes, earls, lords, viscounts, the Lord Mayor of London, and other notables.


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Death of Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Playwright & Satirist

Richard Brinsley Butler Sheridan, Irish satirist, playwright, poet, and long-term owner of London‘s Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, dies on July 7, 1816, at 14 Savile Row, London.

Sheridan is born on October 30, 1751 in Dublin, where his family has a house on then fashionable Dorset Street. While in Dublin Sheridan attends the English Grammar School in Grafton Street. The family moves permanently to England in 1758 where he is a pupil at Harrow School from 1762 to 1768. After his period in Harrow School, his father employs a private tutor to directs his studies.

In 1775, Sheridan’s first play, The Rivals, is produced at London’s Covent Garden Theatre. It is a failure on its first night. He casts a more capable actor in the lead for its second performance, and it is a smash which immediately establishes the young playwright’s reputation and the favour of fashionable London. It has gone on to become a standard of English literature.

Shortly after the success of The Rivals, Sheridan and his father-in-law, Thomas Linley the Elder, a successful composer, produce the opera, The Duenna. This piece is accorded such a warm reception that it plays for seventy-five performances.

The following year, Sheridan, his father-in-law, and one other partner purchase a half-interest in the Drury Lane theatre and, two years later, buy out the other half. Sheridan is the manager of the theatre for many years, and later becomes sole owner with no managerial role.

His most famous play, The School for Scandal (Drury Lane, May 8, 1777), is considered one of the greatest comedies of manners in English. It is followed by The Critic (1779), an updating of the satirical Restoration comedy The Rehearsal. He has a rivalry with his fellow playwright Richard Cumberland and includes a parody of Cumberland in The Critic. In 1778, Sheridan writes The Camp, which comments on the ongoing threat of a French invasion of Britain.

In 1780, Sheridan entered Parliament as the ally of Charles James Fox on the side of the American Colonials in the political debate of that year. He remains in Parliament for 32 years.

On February 24, 1809, despite the much vaunted fire safety precautions of 1794, the theatre burns down. On being encountered drinking a glass of wine in the street while watching the fire, Sheridan is famously reported to have said, “A man may surely be allowed to take a glass of wine by his own fireside.”

When he fails to be re-elected to Parliament in 1812, his creditors close in on him and his last years are harassed by debt and disappointment. On hearing of his debts, the United States Congress offers Sheridan £20,000 in recognition of his efforts to prevent the American Revolutionary War. The offer is refused.

In December 1815 Sheridan becomes ill and is largely confined to bed. He dies in poverty on July 7, 1816, and is buried in the Poets’ Corner of Westminster Abbey. His funeral is attended by dukes, earls, lords, viscounts, the Lord Mayor of London, and other notables.