Essays and Such

Irish Cultural Society

of San Antonio Texas


Promoting Awareness of Irish Culture

Charles Stewart Parnell
by Jenffer Mulholien
Uncrowned King of Ireland

The following is the essay that won Jenffer Mulholien, of East 
Central High School, the 2002 ICSSA Scholarship Award.  We hope 
you enjoy it while learning a little history.  Sr.  Carmel says 
that the name 'Mulholien' is a common name in Cork, (where else?).

Charles Stewart Parnell

Many Irish historians refer to Charles Stewart Parnell as the "uncrowned King of Ireland" (Electric Library). Parnell is recognized by the Irish as a fighter for freedom and as an unsung hero. Charles Stewart Parnell was born on June 27, 1846 at Avondale in County Wicklow, Ireland. Charles Stewart Parnell was from a wealthy family. His father was a landowner and his mother, a daughter of Admiral Stewart of the US Navy. Parnell was educated at many private schools before entering Cambridge University in England. Parnell was successfull in school but left Cambridge without graduating. After his college days Parnell was elected as a Member of Parliament (MP) for Meath, County, Ireland in 1875. Just before Parnell was elected, Daniel O'Connell had won the right for the Irish to be represented in the Parliament. At that time Parnell was elected, the Irish in parliament were working on diplomatic discussions with the British Government to make an attempt to obtain self-government or "Home Rule". As soon as Parnell joined the Parliament he became involved with the Home Rule party created and led by Isaac Butt. The fellow supporters of the Home Rule party were beginning to lose faith that their peaceful negotiations were not working. "Parnell was quick at mastering the parliamentary system and made full use of the technique of obstruction in the House of Commons in London" (Britannica). His leadership powers began to flourish, and when Butt died Parnell became President of the Nationalist Party in 1877. Parnell had proven himself the dominant figure in the Irish Party despite the fact he was Protestant who had little in common with the native Irish Catholics. The next major step in his continuing fight for freedom was the creation of the Land League. Along with Michael Davitt, Parnell founded the (mostly Catholic) Land League, a organization that aimed to redistribute farmland back to the native Irish that was taken away by the British. It was during the time of the Great Famine in Ireland that many British landlords had evicted Irish tenants. The Land League decreed that landowners who had evicted tenants could no longer invite new tenants. They developed a policy urging the Irish to boycott English goods and urged Irish farmers to refuse to rent or work on farms owned by English landlords. This would later be known as the Land War of 1879-82. The first English victim of these Land League policies was Captain Charles Boycott. He found that no one would work on his farm or buy his produce. This is how the word boycott was added to the English language. In reaction to the Irish's Land League and their policies the British Government under Prime Minister Gladstone were so infuriated by the Irish's demonstration that they passed the Coercion Bill making it illegal for the Irish to refuse to work or to boycott produce from English landlords. The whole confrontation led to violence and outrage, the common law ceased to function over large parts of the country, and the country turned to chaos. Parnell and his men then took another plan of action. They attempted to lobby English Members of the Parliament to support their Home Rule cause. But Parnell's tactics led him and his followers to be thrown into a Kihmainham jail in October of 1881. British political leaders decided that the landlord system could no longer be defended. Gladstone came to terms with Parnell in March of 1882 with the Kihmainham Treaty. With the issue of this treaty all prisoners were released and the Irish's Land League was discontinued. The Land Act of 1881 was to begin the policy of land reform. On the day of Parnell's release two British officials, Lord Frederick Cavendish (the chief Secretary of Ireland) and his Under Secretary T.H.Burke, were stabbed to death in London. Their killers were members of a secret society known as "'The Invincible" and were widely regarded as Irish terrorists (Grolier) Parnell saw the destruction of landlordism as merely a step towards the overthrow of English rule. He went about strengthening the Irish Party in preparation for the general election of 1885. "This election was a triumph for him: his party, pledged to fight for legislative independence and constitutional means" (MSN Encarta). Parnell won every seat outside of eastern Ulster and the University of Dublin. Gladstone was convinced by Parnell's success of the justice of the Home Rule cause and he gave it steady support for the rest of his livelihood. The year 1886 was a turning-point in British relations with Ireland. It was the first time a major political party had committed itself to granting at least a measure of self-government to Ireland. Parnell's downfall would eventually come into being. His seven-year affair with a married woman, Katie O'Shea, came to be known when her husband Captain William O'Shea filed for divorce in 1889 naming Parnell as the adulterer. Captain O'Shea was impotent and had known about the affair, in fact he had even given his silent consent. "The court case brought many incriminating details about Parnell to the public's attention and eventually ruined his career" (Britannica). It also prevented Home Rule from becoming a reality for many years in Ireland. Captain O'Shea was a man of mediocre talents and doubtful character who had been aware of Parnell's ten ­year relationship with his wife almost since it began, and had turned a "blind eye" in the hope of securing political advancement for himself. Captain O'Shea and his wife had virtually parted when she met Parnell, and began the proceedings for divorce. "Parnell refused to defend the action, for fear that the evidence of O'Shea's involvement would influence the court to deny a decree" (Grolier). He wanted above all to make Katharine O'Shea his legal wife; and they had three children. The Irish party dismissed Parnell claiming his mind was clouded and this ended his political career. Parnell died on October 6, 1891 in Brighton, England at the age of 45. "His cause of death is not certain some say he died after a bout of rheumatic fever, others say of exhaustion while still others said he died of a broken heart" (Britannica). Parnell was one of the greatest leaders Ireland ever had, and though his life seemed to end in failure, his achievements are still acknowledged. He made the British people conscious of his country's claim to self-­government. Many native Irish people believe that Parnell alone could have led Ireland to Independence and he is still remembered today on Ivy Day, 6th October, when supporters wear a sprig of ivy on their clothing. He is remembered in Ireland as a hero for the cause and it is a shame that, his personal life ultimately caused his downfall.