seamus dubhghaill

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


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Parnell Addresses U.S. House of Representatives

parnell-speaking-in-house-of-representativesIrish Parliament member Charles Stewart Parnell addresses the United States House of Representatives during his North American tour on February 2, 1880 concerning the plight of Ireland, then in the midst of its second major potato famine of the century.

Despite the absence of a quorum, Speaker of the House Samuel J. Randall of Pennsylvania gavels the House into the evening session nearly 30 minutes late. The Chicago Daily Tribune reports that the House Floor is a mix of ladies and non-Members.

Only the fourth international leader to be invited to address the House, Parnell reports on the conditions of the Irish potato famine and its causes. “The present famine, as all other famines in Ireland, has been the direct result of the system of land tenure which is maintained there,” Parnell said, “And while we have been compelled by the frightful condition of our people . . . I feel it to be equally my duty to point out to you the cause which keeps Ireland in a condition of chronic poverty.”

After his 32-minute speech, the House adjourns for the evening. The Tribune judges Parnell’s address to be lackluster stating “the whole affair was tame and spiritless.” One Representative tells the Tribune reporter that the address failed because it lacked substance by “not going [even] skin deep into the subject of the Irish question.”

During Parnell’s highly successful tour, in addition to speaking before the House of Representatives, he has an audience with American President Rutherford B. Hayes and speaks in 62 cities in the United States and Canada, where he is so well received in Toronto that Timothy Healy dubs him “the uncrowned king of Ireland.”

House Receptions are not associated with other informal, social receptions and lunches provided for foreign leaders on behalf of congressional leadership or individual committees. In the post-World War II era, the practice of using one-chamber receptions is eventually discontinued. The last House Reception of a foreign leader is held for Mexican President José López Portillo in 1977.

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British Release of Fenian Prisoners

cuba-fiveThe British, in a general amnesty, release 33 Fenian prisoners on January 5, 1871. Most of these prisoners are men who have either been swept up by the British in 1865, when they suppressed the Fenian newspaper The Irish People for taking part in the Fenian Rising of March 1867, or had been rounded up after the “Smashing of the Van” rescue of Thomas J. Kelly and Timothy Deasy in September 1867.

The British penal system of the period is brutal under normal circumstances, and the Fenians receive much harsher treatment than that received by the normal inmates. Those Fenians still on the outside agitate constantly for the release of their comrades. The man most responsible for the release of 1871 is John “Amnesty” Nolan, who thus earns his sobriquet.

The names of many of the men released by William Ewart Gladstone’s government are well known to those who have studied the Irish Republican movement. One of them is Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, as steadfast an enemy of English rule in Ireland as any who has ever lived. After Rossa’s death in the United States, his body is returned to Ireland for burial, and his funeral in 1915 includes the famous eulogy by Patrick Pearse, one of the seminal moments in the renewal of armed struggle for Irish freedom. Another Fenian released that day is John Devoy, who perhaps more than any other man keeps the struggle for Irish freedom alive among Irish exiles in America.

The British government releases the Fenians on condition that they exile themselves to the country of their choice and not return until their sentences have expired. Many chose to go to Australia, but Rossa, Devoy, John McClure, Henry Mulleda, and Charles Underwood O’Connell, who have all been imprisoned together, chose to go to the United States and ship together from Liverpool on board the Cuba. The so-called Cuba Five arrive in New York City to a hero’s welcome from the city’s large Irish community and even receive a resolution of welcome from the United States House of Representatives.

(Pictured: “The Cuba Five” – John Devoy, Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, Charles Underwood O’Connell, Henry Mulleda and John McClure)