Chapter 15: Parnell’s Death and the Fate of the Seceders

Parnell’s Death – The Fate of the Seceders – At the English Liberal Tail – Gladstone and Morley – Davitt’s Magistrates – The English Tory Tail – In 1899 Redmondism, Healyism, and Davittism Were All Bankrupt – Coalescence


There was naturally a very great outburst of feeling when Mr. Parnell died so awfully sudden at Brighton,[1] saying in his last message, “Give my love to my colleagues and to the Irish people.”[2] Everyone was for a time paralysed with regret, remorse, or shame. I know that his bitterest opponents, if they could, would have shut out the remembrance of their wild rush of inhuman unwisdom at almost any sacrifice. His friends well-nigh lost their reason when they realised that he was gone, and they subsequently acted, in the hounding down of his leading opponents, very much in the same way as those opponents had acted in hounding down Parnell.[3] A terribly troubled time those men must have had for years afterwards. Everything seemed to go wrong with them, and failure and dissension seemed to dog their footsteps, at home and abroad, at every turn. The clergy of course were all right, they had the moral question to stand on, but the politicians got little consolation from their policy until, after many years wandering in the English desert, they were forced to return to the flag from which they fled, in order to get the better of Parnell.[4] They were, of course, all that weary time, very busy doing nothing or doing mischief. The masculine men of the Irish race generally refused to desert the flag or to leave the Irish centre on any British pretences, and although by the influence of the clergy, the Irish Parliamentary Party were reduced to a small number, yet they wore down the majority rule men by the pure logic of right and consistency. Every parish and every constituency in Ireland had its outstanding section of strong men, although they were not numerous enough to return members to Parliament, yet they were able to assert their principles and preserve their independence.[5]

When the seceders recovered somewhat after the shock of Parnell’s death, their first move was to adopt Mr. Healy’s sweeping-brush policy at the general election of 1892.[6] They, of course, with the aid of the clergy, carried the Liberal Alliance ticket triumphantly in many constituencies, but their policy of combat against Ireland only exasperated the people. They got their Liberal Party to power in such a position that the hero of the Westminster Hotel and the Leinster Hall, Mr. McCarthy, said they had them in the hollow of their hands.[7] Yet, after holding them there for three years, the Liberals slipped through their fingers and, while passing some useful things for England, they never put a line or letter on the Statute Book for Ireland.[8]

Only the subject was so serious it was almost farcical to follow the fate of the independent seceders who resented the great Parnell’s “dictatorship,” as they called his policy. When they fled to the tail of the Liberal Party, they had to remain there in England, and when they crossed to Ireland they found themselves perforce in the arms of the clergy, whether they liked it or not. It was intensely amusing to anyone in the know, to see Tim Healy of the “Idiotic circular from Rome,” on his knees at the Cardinal’s palace.[9] Mr. O’Brien had to kowtow to Monsignor McGrudden. Mr. Dillon never liked clerical dictation, yet had to swallow it with the best grace he could. But he did not suffer so much from the Parnellites, as it was thought he did not sin so deeply, but he got a meritorious share of leading and driving from his Christian friend, Mr. Healy. Parnell’s dictatorship was a very mild form compared to Mr. Healy’s. Mr. Davitt, the secular educationist, was attracted into the fold with Dr. Nulty,[10] where we must admit, he got a loving squeeze. He was bankrupt in Meath, and badly beaten in Waterford, as many of the Parnellites held him to be largely responsible for the split. They exultingly cried out that it served him right.[11]

John Morley, Chief Secretary for Ireland, by Harry Furniss, 1880s-90s

When the Liberals came to power in 1892, they had no choice but to draft a Home Rule Bill, which they did, and as it was certain never to reach the Statute Book, they got it through the House of Commons. This was, I suppose, mostly Gladstone’s work. John Morley was sent to Ireland as Chief Secretary,[12] and I must admit that he proved himself to be one of the most dangerous Englishmen who ever came over.[13] He told the seceders and, I suppose, he told the clergy, that there never would be any more need for agitation in Ireland, that everyone with a grievance had only to report it, and he would at once embody it in a bill and get his government to deal with this. This was the spirit in which he dealt with the Irish land question. After his land inquiry he put a Land Bill on the stocks and every morning, while he had it there, he asked the seceders were they sure that he had everything and everyone included in its benefits. It was, of course, a rent-fixing bill, not a purchase proposal. But Mr. Morley dealt, very plausibly, only with embryo legislation and with things he knew right well he could not do. But he never attempted to do what he could do – viz., improve the administration of English Rule in Ireland. He did not attempt to liberate the political prisoners,[14] or to recommend the repeal of coercion. However, if he did not improve the tenor of the laws, he did something to extend the law givers. In the flourish of trumpets at the Tory defeat, and the return of the English Home Rule party to power, there was jubilation amongst the seceders, and, as usual, Mr. Davitt rushed to define, in his own infallible way, what should be done by the Irish people. There was of course, no need to wait until the Home Rule Bill would be passed – that might be taken for granted – a very usual proceeding with Irish politicians. No time should be lost in changing the misrule of centuries, and Mr. Davitt recommended Mr. Morley to make a beginning, by putting Irishmen to swear allegiance to the Queen, by way of good faith to Her Gracious Majesty, and by putting them on the bench as magistrates, to give some information to the old landlord fellows how they ought to dispense the law.[15] Mr. Morley was quite agreeable, and he at once asked for lists of suitable men in every locality, whom he would at once take from the head of the people, where they often were, and might again be, a bother to the government, and swear them in and place them at the tail of the gentry, where they would soon become harmless respectables. Mr. Morley even carried this policy a step further by appointing some of the more prominent graziers at the head of the magistrates of the counties. Mr. Morley did even more than that – he laid siege to the Parnellite members, and asked them as a favour to get some of their friends smuggled on the bench, and by chance I fortunately blocked that section of the work and saved the reputation of some good fellows. But I failed to keep the Parnellites off the Privy Council. By an error of judgement, or a confusion of principle, Mr. Harrington advised Lord Mayor Meade, an able businessman and a good Parnellite, to take Morley’s bait and accept a seat in Dublin Castle,[16] and this was a source of annoyance to the Parnellite Council and to Mr. Meade as long as he lived. The moderating or abandonment of the agrarian agitation, the temptation held out to the local leaders to become J.P.’s,[17] and the official consent by the seceders to the reduction of the Parliamentary representation from 103 to 80 members,[18] are the only works I can remember to put to the credit of the men who refused to take Parnell’s advice in 1890.

This was the only fruit of the nine years they were compelled to wander in the desert of the English Liberal Alliance, which proved to be a veritable Sahara for Ireland. As a matter of course they said and proposed many things, and did so eloquently and ably, like getting together what was called the Irish Race Convention[19] and other make-believe fruitless efforts to prove that Parnell was wrong and that they were right all the time. But it was no use. The world got tired listening even to their eloquence, and they were forced to come back to the flag of Irish Independence. The poor, weak men that Parnell had round him struggled bravely on for some years after the split, and they were ably assisted by the men of Dublin City and County who attended all the meetings of the National League at its centre. Men like myself, who felt there was no great necessity for pronounced agitation so long as Parnell was guarding the Irish watch tower, now emerged from seclusion to the disgust and astonishment of the seceders, particularly Mr. Healy. They called us very bad names, so bad in fact that we had to strike back and pour some red hot shot into their ranks, occasionally. While the Liberals were in power there was little difficulty in keeping the Parnell flag flying at the mast, but when the Tories came to office in 1895, there came a change. Mr. Balfour proposed to kill Home Rule with kindness,[20] and Mr. Redmond and some of his party agreed to sit at a round table conference with some government men to devise the best means of doing what Mr. Redmond very fairly said was impossible. While saying this he evidently thought that his Party might make kudos or capital out of a Tory Alliance, as his opponents the anti-Parnellites were trying to do out of the unlucky Liberal Alliance. There was considerable dissent amongst the Parnellites as to the wisdom of this move and this soon after led to a kind of disintegration in the Party.[21] When the Tory Land Bill of 1896[22] appeared, the County Dublin farmers called a conference in the Rotunda to consider its improvement. To this conference all the members of Parliament were invited, but no one paid any attention to our invitation except Messrs. Harrington and Clancy. It turned out, in the discussion of the amendments proposed, that those gentlemen attended only to tell the farmers that they knew nothing about land politics, and that the members of Parliament would adopt their own views on the subject, and not the views of the meeting. The farmers would have publicly called for Mr. Clancy’s resignation but for my intervention. Some time after this, a meeting was called in the National Club[23] to raise the usual funds for Mr. Clancy. At that meeting, I told Mr. Harrington that the County Dublin men were done subscribing for such service as Mr. Clancy’s. Mr. Harrington then announced that if they were to be thrown over by their own men, they had better make up with the Dillonites. I said it might not matter very much what he did. From what Mr. Davitt writes on this epoch, Mr. Harrington commenced to make overtures to the Antis from this period.[24] But he did not induce Mr. Redmond to follow his lead. It just occurs to me that in this connection I had the pleasure of dubbing Mr. Redmond leader of the Parnellite Party, to the disgust of some of the nine.

John Redmond, 1905

After the Land Bill of 1896 passed, Mr. Redmond publicly and privately announced that the land question was settled, and that it was worse than nonsense to try to renew a land agitation. The farmers who were feeling the pinch of the times knew better, and a kind of apathy sprung up amongst the rank and file about the soundness of Redmond’s leadership, and his connection with, or sanction of, the Round Table Conference[25] Government connection. About this time, too, he and Mr. Harrington differed so much that he called a meeting in the Mansion House to throw over Mr. Harrington and his League for the good of the cause. I took no part and little interest in this move, but I was present at the meeting, and when it was proposed to put me on the new council or board, I drew a pen across my name, saying in the hearing of Lord Mayor Meade that I would never again act with a Dublin Castle Councillor. Things amongst the Redmondites went from bad to worse, but still I always found Mr. J. E. Redmond honest, consistent, and gentlemanly. When I urged him to keep on independent pressure on both English parties no matter what they conceded, short of the right kind of Home Rule, he at once admitted that he did not feel strong enough to adopt that line, that it would take a man like Parnell to carry out such a policy, that he could only lead on his own lines and that if that did not do, he was prepared to step down and out.[26] He always so compelled my respect that I could never fairly criticise his policy in public. When I refused to join his new organisation I had no party, as the County Dublin people got mixed up over the Local Government elections. I interested myself in getting the Dublin Councils properly officered by the best men who were farmers, but some of the labourers took part with the publicans and graziers and between liquor, lies, and ignorance, they gave us a hot time of it. But I struck back with very good results.[27] The labourers ran amok with their new freedom and knocked effective agitation on the head, as A. J. Balfour predicted they would, until they found the level of men and things a bit. So the Parnellites were at loggerheads with Mr. Redmond in one League and with Mr. Harrington in another. Mr. Redmond had been trying to make capital out of the Tory legislation for Ireland since 1896, but now Mr. Balfour[28] had got to the end of his list, and Mr. Redmond had nothing to promise anyone, for the first time since the split. I met him about this time and he said he was prepared to admit that his Round Table policy was a failure, and that he was prepared to take any sensible advice.

Bad as the Parnellites were, the Antis or Dillonites were much worse. The differences in their camp were bitter and disgraceful. Healy struck out against O’Brienism and Dillionism in a terrible fashion. When I saw O’Brien and Healy trying to shout each other down at the Louth election I got a notion of how much they differed. Then the vim with which Father James Clancy spoke at Healy’s expulsion from the Party was also a revelation.[29] In 1899 Irish politics were in a strange, helpless condition. Redmondism, Dillonism, and Healyism were practically bankrupt, without policy, programme, or money. So the leaders named, aided by Mr. Davitt and William O’Brien, did the only thing that could possibly save them from extinction – they united under Parnell’s lieutenant J. E. Redmond.[30]

  1. Parnell had spoken at a meeting in County Galway on 27 September 1891, and then, after spending some days in Dr. Kenny’s house in Dublin, he sailed for England, arriving home to Katharine in Brighton on 1 October. He was by this time clearly unwell, and he died shortly before midnight on 6 October (Bew 2011, 187).
  2. These purported last words appeared in the Freeman’s Journal on 9 October 1891, a few days after Parnell’s death. However, Katherine’s first-hand account of his death give his last words as ‘Kiss me, sweet wifie, and I will try to sleep a little’ (Lyons 1960, 306-7).
  3. Although many initially believed that the death of Parnell would lead to a reconciliation within the Irish Parliamentary Party, this did not happen. The day before he was buried in Glasnevin Cemetery on 11 October, United Ireland printed that not only had Parnell been ‘sacrificed by Irishmen on the altar of English liberalism’ but that he had also been ‘murdered […] as certainly as if the gang of conspirators had surrounded him and hacked him to pieces’ (Lyons 1996a, 82).
  4. In the period from Parnell’s death until the end of the century, the relationships between Irish MPs was characterised by bitterness and strife. The most damaging aspect of this situation was not between the Parnellites and the anti-Parnellites, but the in-fighting between the two sides within the group of anti-Parnellite MPs, namely, those loyal to John Dillon or to Tim Healy. A settlement in 1900 finally merged the various factions under a new united Irish Parliamentary Party.
  5. Following the divorce scandal in 1890 both the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) and the Irish National League (INL) had split, with those in the League who opposed Parnell breaking away to form the anti-Parnellite Irish National Federation (INF) under John Dillon. The minority pro-Parnellite INL remained under the leadership of John Redmond and although it operated on the fringes of Irish political life, the INF survived within the House of Commons. Despite the split, the combined factions still retained the nationalist pro-Home Rule vote with the strength of the anti-Parnellites at nine seats in the 1892 election, which increased to eleven after the general election of 1895 (Lyons 1996a, 82).
  6. The previous failure of negotiations with Parnell before his death, and the incarceration at that time of Dillon and O’Brien, had the political consequence of strengthening Healy’s dominance within the opposition to Parnell and intensified the rift between Healy and Dillon/O’Brien. Healy was returned for Louth North at the general election of July 1892, whereupon he immediately fell out with the new Chief Secretary, John Morley. He demanded the use of executive action to remove unionist resident magistrates and did not fully engage with Morley on the provisions of the Second Home Rule Bill (DIB 2009, ‘Healy, Timothy Michael’; DIB 2009, ‘Dillon, John’).
  7. After the party split, McCarthy led the majority (the anti-Parnellites) and under his chairmanship the party won 72 seats in the 1892 general election. In 1892 and 1893 McCarthy was pivotal in the negotiations over the second attempt to pass Home Rule legislation and he retained the role of chairman until his resignation in 1896 (DIB 2009, ‘McCarthy, Justin’).
  8. Following the 1892 general election Gladstone and the Liberals were again in government, with the Home Rulers holding the balance of power. Gladstone brought in his Second Home Rule Bill in 1893 and although passed by the House of Commons, it was rejected by the House of Lords.
  9. Healy had previously made this comment in reference to a propaganda circular from the Pope, but the involvement of the clergy was to play a key part in the direction of the anti-Parnellites.
  10. Thomas Nulty (1818-98) was a Catholic bishop of Meath and an agrarian reformer. He was active in both local and national politics and was the first bishop to support Parnell during his election in Meath in 1875, while also being the only Catholic bishop to give his approval to the No Rent Manifesto. Nulty lost some of his popularity after the split when he strongly supported the anti-Parnellites and used intimidation tactics to effect voting in the 1892 election (DIB 2009, ‘Nulty, Thomas’).
  11. Michael Davitt had narrowly lost a bitter Waterford City by-election against John Redmond in December of 1891 and then in July 1892 was unseated after winning the Meath North election after costly court proceedings found clerical interference by Bishop Nulty (DIB 2009, ‘Davitt, Michael’).
  12. Signalling his new policy for Ireland, Gladstone had appointed Morley as Chief Secretary for Ireland in 1886 and he acted as an intermediary between Parnell and Gladstone. He lost his office six months later after the defeat of the Liberal government, but he continued to support Home Rule and stated that the Liberal Party should fight to win justice for Ireland ‘at whatever cost to ourselves’ (DIB 2009, ‘Morley, John’).
  13. This was Morley’s second appointment as Chief Secretary for Ireland, from 1892 to 1895. He remained dedicated to securing Home Rule for Ireland although this saw him become increasingly isolated within the Liberal Party. He used his term as Chief Secretary to appoint more officeholders at Dublin Castle with liberal and nationalist backgrounds or sympathies. He worked on the Second Home Rule Bill of 1893, which although passing in the House of Commons was subsequently rejected by the Lords (DIB 2009, ‘Morley, John’).
  14. In July 1894 John Clancy had requested Dublin corporation to present a petition for the release of IRB prisoners to Chief Secretary Morley, but he refused to receive it and, consequently, was denounced by many nationalists (DIB 2009, ‘Clancy, John’).
  15. This period saw the beginning of the ‘greening’ of Dublin Castle. Whereas in 1892 only three department heads in the Irish bureaucratic elite were Catholics, by 1922 the fifty or so department headships were divided equally among Catholics and Protestants, with similar changes happening in the judiciary, civil service, and magistracy. While there was a nationalist taboo against accepting these kinds of government appointments, this trend ended the Protestant monopoly of the executive and judicial functions at Dublin Castle (McBride 1991).
  16. Dublin Castle is complex of government buildings in central Dublin. Its name comes from the castle that was built on the site by the first English Lord of Ireland in the twelfth century. It was the seat of English, then British, government administration in Ireland from then until 1922.
  17. Justices of the peace.
  18. In the 1892 election, the 103 Irish seats had been distributed as Parnellites 9, anti-Parnellites 71, unionists 23.
  19. The Irish Race Conventions were a series of conventions organised by Irish nationalists. They had previously been held in Chicago (1881) and Philadelphia (1883) but in 1896, with the support of the clergy and Pope Leo XIII, a convention was held in Dublin with the purpose of trying to reunite the Redmond and Dillon factions of the divided Irish Parliamentary Party (Wikipedia 2022, ‘Irish Race Conventions’).
  20. After he took up office in July 1895, Balfour announced in a speech that the government ‘should be glad enough, no doubt, to kill home rule with kindness if we could, but whatever may be the result of our efforts, our intention is to do our utmost to promote the interests of the material prosperity of Ireland’ (Times, 17 October 1895, quoted in DIB 2009, ‘Balfour, Gerald William’). His clumsy remark was used by nationalists as proof of Tory duplicity. In general, he was much liked in Dublin Castle and respected for his hard work and the many measures he introduced.
  21. After the 1895 general election the Conservative and Liberal Unionist coalition had returned to power and remained there until 1905. Instead of Home Rule, and with a unionist majority in the Commons, Balfour’s ‘constructive unionism’ approach attempted to enact many reforms introduced by the divided Irish members. However, the reduction in agrarian agitation, the bitter divide between the nationalists, and the receding prospect of Home Rule had led to an apathy among the members of the public towards politics as well as a reduction in financial assistance from supporters in the United States.
  22. In 1896 Gerald William Balfour introduced a new land bill that simplified and widened the purchase provisions of the 1891 act. It advanced £36 million for purchase at lower interest rates and with longer repayment periods and also increased legal protections for tenants. These provisions were much criticised by Irish landlords and severely attacked in the Commons, but the bill was passed in August 1896 (DIB 2009, ‘Balfour, Gerald William’).
  23. The National Club, located at 11 Rutland Square (now Parnell Square), was founded in June 1887 as a non-sectarian political debating and social club. It was staunchly supportive of Charles Stewart Parnell and the Dublin Parnell Leadership Committee was based at the club in the 1890s (Parnell Square Cultural Quarter 2016).
  24. As time passed after the split, Harrington had begun to detach himself from the official Parnellite group and its leadership under John Redmond, and after 1895 he was the first leading Parnellite to call for the party to reunite. He retained control of the National League organisation and the United Ireland newspaper, and he commenced to establish an independent electoral base. At the same time the followers of Redmond set up their own organisation, the Independent Irish League. Harrington grew closer to Dillon and O’Brien by supporting the United Irish League (UIL), which was launched in January 1898 with the motto ‘The Land for the People.’ Its campaigns for land division were supported by many rural Parnellites in Connacht and helped to push Redmond and the Parnellites closer to a reunion with the anti-Parnellites, which finally took place in 1900 (DIB 2009, ‘Harrington, Timothy Charles’).
  25. The ‘Round Table Conference’ refers to Redmond’s negotiations with the Conservative government during this time.
  26. Unlike Parnell, Redmond had remained hostile to the Liberals and cautious of an alignment with British radicals. Redmond believed that since the Liberals would never regain power without Irish support, there was little or no need to reconcile with them, and that since the veto power of the House of Lords over any Home Rule Bill could not be overcome, the Irish Parliamentary Party would have to strike a deal with the Conservatives, who controlled the House of Lords (DIB 2009, ‘Redmond, John Edward’).
  27. Kettle remained intermittently involved in County Dublin politics in the 1890s and into the 1900s.
  28. Gerald William Balfour.
  29. In November 1895 Healy was expelled from the National Federation and the committee of the anti-Parnellite party.
  30. In January 1900 the Home Rule movement was reunited. The move was influenced by public frustration with the constant political wrangling and by widespread hostility in Ireland to the Boer War in South Africa (1899-1902). Another incentive to end the disputes between the Parnellites and anti-Parnellites was the growth in popularity of William O’Brien’s new United Irish League. It was designed to impose unity on the Home Rule movement by establishing a new grassroots organisation around a programme of agrarian agitation, political reform, settlement of the land question, and the pursuit of Home Rule. The divisions among the anti-Parnellites led them to consent to Redmond being the chairman of the reunified party (DIB 2009, ‘Redmond, John Edward’).


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The Material for Victory: The Memoirs of Andrew J. Kettle Copyright © 2023 by Open Press at the University of Galway is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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