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Stewart Parnell- The uncrowned King of Ireland
The Great Famine of
1845 to 1849 left over 1 million dead with a further 1 million emigrating
over the following 10 years. Arguably, one of the effects of the disaster
was to convince ordinary Irish people that the English Government had failed
them in their time of need and that they must seize control of their own
In the years between the Famine and the Easter Rising on 1916, several
revolutionary movements developed. In the second half of the nineteenth
century perhaps the main concern of the Irish people was their land and
the fact that they had little or no control over its ownership.
Charles Stewart Parnell himself the son of a Protestant landowner organised
the rural masses into agitation against the ruling Landlord class to seek
the "3 Fs": Fixity of Tenure, Freedom to Sell and Fair Rent.
Violence flared in the countryside although Parnell himself preferred
to use parliamentary means to achieve his objectives. As a result of his
efforts, a series of Land Acts, which greatly improved the conditions under
which the Irish agricultural class toiled were passed in the Westminster.
Parnell deposed the much-more-moderate Isaac Butt to become leader in
Westminster of The Irish party. Parnell's main ambition was to achieve Home
Rule for Ireland, which would yield at least some national autonomy. He
and colleagues such as Joseph Biggar made a science out of 'filibustering'
and delayed the English parliament by introducing amendments to every clause
of every Bill and then discussing each aspect at length. His popularity
in Ireland soared to great heights.
Trouble loomed for Parnell however, in his private life. He had secretly
courted a married woman, Kathleen O'Shea, the husband of whom filed for
divorce, naming Parnell as the co-respondent. He tried to ignore the scandal
and continued his public life. Public pressure in Ireland and from Gladstone
in England eventually brought his downfall and he died shortly afterwards,
in 1891. The Home Rule Bill that he had forced Gladstone into introducing
was passed in the House of Commons, but defeated in the House of Lords.
In his last speech in Kilkenny in 1891 he said: 'I don't pretend that
I had not moments of trial and of temptation, but I do claim that never
in thought, word, or deed, have I been false to the trust which Irishmen
have confided in me'.
But perhaps he will be most remembered for the quotation that can be
found on his statue at the junction of O'Connell Street and Parnell Street
in Dublin City Centre:
'No man shall have the right to fix the boundary to the march of a Nation'.