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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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.”