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


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Death of John Dillon, Irish Parliamentary Party Leader

john-dillonJohn Dillon, a Member of Parliament (MP) for over 35 years and the last leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party in the struggle to secure Home Rule by parliamentary means, dies in a London nursing home on August 4, 1927. Through the 1880s he is perhaps the most important ally of the greatest 19th-century Irish nationalist, Charles Stewart Parnell, but, following Parnell’s involvement as co-respondent in a divorce case, he repudiates Parnell for reasons of political prudence.

Dillon is born in Blackrock, Dublin, a son of the former “Young IrelanderJohn Blake Dillon (1814–1866). Following the premature death of both his parents, he is partly raised by his father’s niece, Anne Deane. He is educated at Catholic University School, at Trinity College, Dublin and at the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium. He afterwards studies medicine at the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin, then ceases active involvement in medicine after he joins Isaac Butt‘s Home Rule League in 1873

Dillon is a member of the British House of Commons during 1880–1883 and 1885–1918. For his vigorous work in the Irish National Land League, which seeks fixed tenure, fair rents, and free sale of Irish land, he is imprisoned twice between May 1881 and May 1882. He is Parnell’s fellow inmate in Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin from October 1881. For six months in 1888 he is imprisoned for aiding William O’Brien, author of the “plan of campaign” against high rent charges by English absentee landlords in Irish farming districts.

When Parnell is named co-respondent in Captain William Henry O’Shea’s divorce suit in 1890, Dillon and O’Brien at first affirm their support of him, but they finally decide that he will thenceforth be a liability as party leader. The party then splits, the anti-Parnellite majority forming the Irish National Federation, of which Dillon serves as chairman from 1896. In 1900, however, he agrees to join a reunited party under the Parnellite John Redmond.

During the prime ministry of Arthur James Balfour (1902–1905), Dillon comes to believe that the British Conservative government intends to grant Irish reforms without independence, thereby “killing Home Rule by kindness.” In 1905 he advises Irishmen to vote for Liberal Party candidates for Parliament, and, after the Liberals had taken office that year, he supports their reform program.

Throughout World War I Dillon vehemently opposes the extension of British military conscription to Ireland, both because that measure would strengthen the agitation by the more extreme nationalist Sinn Féin party and because he never accepted the view that British imperial interests necessarily coincided with those of Ireland. After the Easter Rising in Dublin in 1916, he protests against the harsh measures that ensue and, in the House of Commons, makes a passionate speech in defense of the Irish rebels.

Upon Redmond’s death on March 6, 1918, Dillon, who had broken with him over Irish support for the British war effort, succeeds him as Irish Parliamentary Party leader. By that time, however, the party has been discredited and in the 1918 Irish general election Sinn Féin wins easily. On losing his House of Commons seat to Éamon de Valera, the future president of the Republic of Ireland, he retires from politics.

Dillon dies in a London nursing home at the age of 76, on August 4, 1927. He is buried four days later in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin. There is a street named after him in Dublin’s Liberties area, beside the old Iveagh Markets. One of his six children is James Mathew Dillon (1902–1986), a prominent Irish politician and leader of the National Centre Party and of Fine Gael (1957–1966) and also servers as Minister for Agriculture (1954-1957).


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Birth of Irish National Land League Founder Michael Davitt

michael-davittMichael Davitt, Irish republican and agrarian agitator, is born in Straide, County Mayo, on March 25, 1846. Davitt is the  founder of the Irish National Land League, which organizes resistance to absentee landlordism and seeks to relieve the poverty of the tenant farmers by securing fixity of tenure, fair rent, and free sale of the tenant’s interest.

Davitt is the son of an evicted tenant farmer. After their eviction, the family emigrates to England. In 1856, at the age of 10, he starts work in a cotton mill, where he loses an arm in a machinery accident a year later. In 1865, he joins the revolutionary Fenian Brotherhood, an international secret society that seeks to secure political freedom for Ireland. He becomes secretary of its Irish analogue, the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), in 1868. Arrested  in Paddington Station in London for sending firearms to Ireland on May 14, 1870, he is sentenced to 15 years in Dartmoor Prison and there lays plans to link Charles Stewart Parnell’s constitutional reform with Fenian activism to achieve political-agrarian agitation.

Paroled from prison in 1877, Davitt rejoins the IRB and goes to the United States, where the Fenian movement originated. There he is deeply influenced by Henry George’s ideas about the relationship between land monopoly and poverty.

Back in Ireland, using funds raised by John Devoy and Clan na Gael in the United States, Davitt wins Parnell’s cooperation in organizing the Land League in 1879, which leads, however, to his expulsion from the supreme council of the IRB in 1880. He is elected member of Parliament for County Meath in 1882 but is disqualified as he is a convict. He is also imprisoned for seditious speeches in 1881 and 1883.

Because of his public championing of Henry George’s theories of land reform, Parnell repudiates him. Davitt actively defends the Nationalists before the Parnell Commission, which meets between 1887 and 1889. When the Irish party splits in 1890 over Parnell’s involvement in Capt. William Henry O’Shea’s divorce case, Davitt is among the first to oppose Parnell’s continuance as leader.

Davitt is elected to Parliament in 1892 and 1893 but is unseated in both cases. He is elected again, for South Mayo in 1895, but resigns in 1899 in protest against the Second Boer War.

Davitt dies in Elphis Hospital, Dublin on May 30, 1906, at the age of 60, from blood poisoning. The fact that the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland attends his funeral is a public indication of the dramatic political journey this former Fenian prisoner has taken. There is no plan for public funeral, and hence Davitt’s body is brought quietly to the Carmelite Friary, Clarendon Street, Dublin. However, the next day over 20,000 people file past his coffin. His remains are taken by train to Foxford, County Mayo, and buried in the grounds of Straide Abbey at Straide, near his place of birth.

Davitt’s book, The Fall of Feudalism in Ireland (1904), is a valuable record of his time.