The Uncrowned King of Ireland
Charles Stewart Parnell was
born on June 27, 1846 in County Wicklow. Parnell was the son of a Protestant
landowner. Prior to the separation of the six northern counties, many prominent
nationalists were Protestant. (Wolftone and Yeats are examples.) Parnell was
received as a nationalist.
In 1875, Parnell was elected to Parliament from Meath and served there until
1880. In 1880 Parnell was elected to a seat from Cork City, a seat he held until
1891. Parnell's exceptional personal and political qualities as a speaker soon
put him in a position of leadership. In 1879 he was appointed the president of
the Land League. The goal of the Land League was to end the system of
landlordism which had mistreated Irish tenant farmers.
Using parliamentary tactics, agitation, and boycotts,* Parnell and the Land
League began to have political success. After some initial resistance from the
British, the Land Act of 1881 was passed. This act gave tenants ownership of
Parnell then turned his attention to Home Rule. He put together a bill to give
an Irish parliament control over domestic issues, and the British parliament
control over foreign affairs. Parnell initially had the support of the Liberal
party and Gladstone. Home Rule appeared headed for success.
Two factors derailed Parnell's plan. The first and least damaging was the Kitty
O'Shea affair. Parnell was named in Captain O'Shea's divorce from Kitty. Parnell
had a long affair with Kitty O'Shea and had three children with heir. When this
became public in 1889, public opinion began to turn on Parnell and he was forced
to resign as head of the Home Rule Party. He and Kitty were married in 1891.
The second factor was that Parnell under estimated the political influence of
the Ulster Unionists. Although in the minority in Ireland, this group managed to
defeat Home Rule in Parliament. More then 80% of the people in Ireland supported
Home Rule, but the government allowed the small minority to dictate on Home
Rule. This political situation continued until the Irish war for Independence.
The effect of this continues to this day.
Charles Stewart Parnell died on October 6,1891 without realizing his dream of
Irish self-determination. He had for a time been the hope of' the Irish. His
successful battle against the landlords and his attempts at Home Rule had given
him the support of a vast majority of the Irish people, and they had declared
him the Uncrowned King of Ireland.
* The term boycott comes from its first victim, Captain Charles Boycott of Lough
Mask House, County Mayo.