seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of William O’Brien, Journalist & Politician

william-o-brienWilliam O’Brien, journalist and politician who is for several years second only to Charles Stewart Parnell among Irish Nationalist leaders, is born on October 2, 1852 in Mallow, County Cork. He is perhaps most important for his Plan of Campaign (1886), by which Irish tenant farmers withhold all rent payments from landlords who refuse to lower their rents and instead pay the money into a mutual defense fund on which evicted tenants can draw.

O’Brien shares his primary education with a townsman with whom he is later to have a close political connection, Canon Patrick Augustine Sheehan of Doneraile. He enjoys his secondary education at the Cloyne diocesan college, which results in his being brought up in an environment noted for its religious tolerance. He greatly values having had this experience from an early age, which strongly influences his later views for the need of such tolerance in Irish national life.

A journalist from 1869, O’Brien is appointed editor of the Irish Land League’s weekly United Ireland by Parnell in 1881. In October of that year the British authorities suppress the paper and put O’Brien in Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin, along with Parnell and others. There he draws up a No Rent Manifesto, which, when read at a Land League meeting, results in the outlawing of the League. Released from prison in 1882, he resumes the editorship of United Ireland, and in 1883 he is elected to the British House of Commons, remaining there until 1895. His “plan of campaign” is disavowed by Parnell but nonetheless stirs up fierce agitation. To suppress the movement, the British government passes the Criminal Law and Procedure (Ireland) Act 1887, under which O’Brien is jailed again.

For some time following the O’Shea divorce case (1889–90), in which Parnell is corespondent, O’Brien attempts to mediate between the Parnellites and their opponents, although he sides with the majority in rejecting Parnell’s continued leadership of the Irish Home Rule struggle. In 1902 he supports the Land Conference, which secures agreement between landlords and tenants’ representatives and results in George Wyndham‘s Land Purchase Act (1903), which is designed to turn Irish tenant farmers into occupying owners.

In 1898 O’Brien founds the United Irish League, and in 1910, after control of that group passes to the Parnellite John Redmond, he establishes the All-for-Ireland League in opposition to the older organization. Most of his personal following, however, join Arthur Griffith’s Sinn Féin party by the end of World War I.

Retiring from political life, O’Brien contents himself with writing and declines Éamon de Valera‘s offer to stand for Fianna Fáil in the 1927 general election. He dies suddenly at the age of 75 on February 25, 1928 while on a visit to London with his wife. His remains rest in Mallow, and one of the principal streets in the town bears his name to this day. His head-bust overlooks the town Council’s Chamber Room and one of his finest portraits hangs in University College Cork.


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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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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)