Chapter 3: The Coming of Parnell and the Mobilisation of Tenant Righters

The Coming of Parnell – County Dublin Election – Cardinal Cullen – Meath Election, 1875 – The Tenant Righters – Failure of Crops in 1879 – My Position – Parnell and Davitt – Irish National Land League, 1879 – Dwyer Gray – Parnell Visits America


Butt died like O’Connell, just when a great change was coming over the destiny of the country. The very week Butt was buried, a dramatic change occurred in the atmosphere that eventually withered up the crops on the land and would have led to a famine of considerable dimensions, only that a kind Providence intervened and brought the two men together, who were born just under the terrible shadow of the famine of ’47 – Parnell and Davitt.

At the General Election of 1873,[1] the County Dublin Tenants’ Association[2] of which I was honorary secretary, determined, if possible, to get someone to contest the county[3] against Taylor[4] and Hamilton,[5] the leaders of the “Dublin Six,” men who had the reputation of being intolerant religious bigots and bad landlords.[6] The tenants had the protection of the Ballot Act[7] for the first time and, although the Parliamentary Register was in a bad way, we still hoped to give the bigots a fright. Amongst other means of progress, we appointed a deputation to wait on Cardinal Cullen[8] to obtain his sympathy or to learn at least what he had to say about it. The Cardinal gave us an audience at once. The deputation consisted of James O’Neill, William Kelly, Charles Reilly, and myself.[9] In opening the interview, I pointed out that we were anxious to give the electors an opportunity of testing the Ballot Act to disturb, if not to displace, the men who misrepresented the people. One of the deputation, Mr. Kelly, a sturdy Monaghan man, told the Cardinal that we could not hope to reach the electors of the county in time and in force unless through the clergy, and whether rightly or wrongly his Eminence was held to be opposed to the priests taking any part with the people in politics. “Well,” said the Cardinal, “I have never issued any orders against the clergy sympathising with the people under suitable circumstances. At the same time it is well known that I am opposed to clergymen rushing to the front to lead the people as they have been doing on opposite sides in Longford and Galway. I hold that it does not become their sacred calling and is calculated to lessen the respect of the people for their pastors in matters of religion. But to prove to you how much I sympathise with you in your present work, if you can get a man or two men who are up to your standard on the questions of the land and Home Rule, and who are up to my standard on education, let me know and I shall make arrangements that you shall get every facility in this contest. This is Monday morning. Now if you can get candidates, let me know by Thursday and I shall arrange that you hold your meetings next Sunday in all the chapel yards of the county. It would not be seemly to hold the meetings in the chapels unless the weather was very inclement. I hope,” he says to Mr. Kelly, “you do not expect me to appear openly in this contest.” I made answer and said: “I think, your Eminence, it would be bad enough to be beaten without you, but it would be most unwise and impolitic to have you publicly beaten. For my part I have never yet asked a churchman to do a layman’s work, and I hope I never shall. Our chief object in asking for this interview was to enlist the sympathy of the clergy and to prevent probable opposition in some parishes.” “Well,” he said, “I fully sympathise with you and I promise to give you every facility in the contest, if you succeed in getting suitable men.”[10]

Getting a suitable candidate at three days’ notice presented a difficulty, and very little money was available for election expenses. Someone by a happy thought, suggested young Parnell,[11] who had already made an appearance on a national platform.[12] A deputation went at once to Avondale and obtained Parnell’s consent.[13] The fight was known to be hopeless from the beginning. Taylor was returned with 2,122 votes against Parnell’s 1,141.[14] However, the election shook the landlord monopoly. The election expenses of over £2,000 were paid by Parnell.

Charles Stewart Parnell

A year later John Martin[15] died, creating a vacancy in Meath. Meath wanted Parnell, who had been recommended by the Home Rule League,[16] but some people favoured Gavan Duffy,[17] who had just returned from Australia. The nomination meeting was held in Navan. Father Peter O’Reilly of Kingscourt, and his curate, Dr. Michael Tormey,[18] were great Duffyites, and the latter came to Navan to propose Gavan Duffy, but, to quote his own words which he repeated years afterwards to some of the men who got up the steam in Navan: “When I came near the town I heard people shouting for Parnell, and when I came into the town I could hear nothing but Parnell, and when I reached the meeting place the people were wild about Parnell, so as I was expected to make some move in the matter, I thought the best thing I could do was to say nothing about Duffy, so I proposed Parnell instead.”

After his election to Parliament, Parnell spent most of his time studying men and things in England, but he attended all our Tenant Right land meetings, taking little part in the business. Still he sat out to the end of the proceedings. I once remember him coming to me after a great conference adjourned, when the officers were getting ready for the press, to get some error corrected in a resolution in which he seemed greatly interested. I took the matter of the correction so lightly that he wondered, and sat down to talk to me about the whole thing, and I told him that there was little chance of our resolution getting on the Statute Book unless an earthquake of some kind occurred, that I was only trying to keep the claims of the people alive, hoping for something to turn up, that it might be useful from a national standpoint to encourage the Ulster custom men of the North and the tenants at will of the rest of Ireland to unite on the land question.[19] “Farming is paying so well now that you must know as a landlord that rents are being pushed up at a terrible rate, and if hard times come again, the country will be in a bad way unless we can get some recognition for the claims of the people to remain on the land, and use their own improvements, such as the Ulster custom seems to give where it prevails.”[20] Years afterwards, when he asked me to merge the Tenant Right movement in Davitt’s Land League,[21] he quoted my own opinion in favour of the change.

A large number of able, earnest men connected with agriculture turned up on the Tenant Right platform.[22] Father Tom O’Shea, one of the Callan curates of the Tenant League of ’52, was there and Dr. Tormey of Kingscourt. Then there was Marum of Kilkenny, Cahill of Queen’s County,[23] Robertson, a Scotsman from Kildare, Byrne, Riordan of Cork, Flaherty and Bolster of Limerick, Sweetman of Meath, Caraher from Louth, Roe of Dundalk, Jordan[24] of Enniskillen, Black of Ballymena, McElroy of Ballymoney, and a host of Presbyterian and Catholic clergymen from all parts of Ireland.[25] Some crying necessity for reform, and some driving power to obtain it was all that was wanting to make the land section of Mr. Butt’s work effective. It was on this platform I first met John Dillon.[26] A. M. Sullivan[27] introduced him as the son of his father, and a medical student from the West. He spoke against a revision of rent if it was once fairly fixed, and said that the farmers of the West would never consent to have it revised on the chance of its being raised. The view seemed peculiar at the time, but it was a sound conservative view coming at the time the policy of action was to be adopted in Parliament. Frank Hugh O’Donnell[28] turned up on this platform with Parnell to get some advanced notions[29] into the programme. He was then trying to start a land agitation in England with some success, but there was a bigger movement coming which was destined to put all the land agitation of the seventies in the shade.

When Butt died and the crops failed in 1879, I knew as a farmer the gravity of the situation and I found myself in a rather responsible position as the next in command on the land platform. I felt bound to act and to call the country together to warn the people and the Government to keep clear of the terrible mistakes of 1847 so far as the Tenant Righters could do it. I went through the famine of 1847 and I meant to take steps to prevent a repetition of such a terrible catastrophe. I called a convention in the European Hotel, Dublin. It was well attended by representatives from all Ireland, and amongst the delegates I found just the man I wanted, Dr. Michael Tormey, C.C., a Meath priest, who stood forward like Dr. Magin[30] in ’47 to preach revolutionary action to the people to save their lives. He also published some poetry which deserves to find a place in a national collection. I got a while with the Doctor before the conference began, and we concocted what was virtually a rent-strike resolution. He was to propose and I was to second it. He made a most convincing speech, based chiefly on the famine scenes of ’47, when the people gave away their scanty harvest and died with the hunger before another came round. I did the best I knew how to support him, but our audience were very conservative, moral, cautious, and law-abiding, so it became evident that we had no chance of getting the resolutions passed, but the discussion ran on for hours and was exceedingly fruitful in a rather strange way.

When the meeting was in full swing, Mr. Parnell came in rather unexpectedly. He nodded to someone present, and came up and sat down near the Chairman (D. Riordan of Cork) behind my chair. “I want to speak to you,” he says, “when the meeting is over. Davitt and I have been out at Artane and we heard you were here.” “All right,” I said, “but I must attend to this resolution of Dr. Tormey’s to see what we can make of it.” The discussion went on for a long time, and when some one of the resolution’s defenders sat down, Mr. Parnell whispers to me and says, “If you carry that resolution, I will be starved. My tenants are paying me badly now, but if that goes abroad they will pay me nothing.” I said, “There is not much chance of this crowd passing it, so you are safe so far.” Father White of Miltown Malbay proposed a much modified and preliminary kind of a substitute for Dr. Tormey’s resolution, and after much hesitation it was passed with an understanding that another conference might be necessary further on.


Michael Davitt, c. 1878

When the meeting ended Mr. Parnell said, “Davitt wants me to go into a new movement with him, chiefly on the land question, but I told him I would be advised by you in the matter. I said, ‘I am after coming from the Landlord Camp, and you from the workers, and Kettle occupies a middle position, and knows more about the land question than anyone I know, so we will see what he says.’ Now I want your opinion.” I asked Mr. Parnell was it to be a secret oath-bound movement, like the Fenian, or was it to be an open call to all the people. He said there was to be no secrecy or oaths, but Davitt thought that Henry George’s[31] new work could be utilised in the propaganda. On account of Mr. Davitt’s connection with Fenianism, I was rather anxious about the lines of the new start. I said, “I have a holy horror of giving any further work to informers.” “Well,” he says, “I will have nothing to say to it.” “Well,” I said, “in that case it is just what Ireland wants at this moment.” “Then,” he says, “you think I ought to go to the meeting with him in Westport next Sunday.” “If you keep in the open,” I said, “you can scarcely go too far or be too extreme on the land question. Just now we are threatened with another famine, and you have had the first-hand advantage today of learning from responsible men from all parts of Ireland, the condition of the people. You have heard, not revolutionary leaders like Mr. Davitt, but Catholic priests and law-abiding citizens preach a strike against rent. When Mr. Davitt does his utmost, can he do anything more than Dr. Tormey advocated today, unless he goes in for shooting.” “No,” he says, and he allowing that curious smile to creep over his face. “I believe the next thing to shooting a man is to starve him.” Then he says, “You ought to come to Westport with me,” and he indulged in that expression of humour which I think T. P. O’Connor calls unconscious, but which I felt was the reverse at the time. He was in a most hopeful mood after his experience at the meeting, and my endorsement of the contemplated new start, and by way of persuasion he says, “Your name will become a household word in Ireland.” “Thank you for your pun,” I said, “but I think it would be very bad taste after defending the Old Leader[32] from some of the henchmen of the New Leader to turn up by the side of the new man so soon after the old man’s death.” “Well,” he says seriously, “you are right, but you think I ought to go?” “Go,” I said, “with God’s blessing, and remember you will need to be extreme to make the right impression.” I always thought that Parnell’s experience that day, prepared him better for his after work with Mr. Davitt than months of association on the Davitt platform could have done, because he was always suspicious and instinctively cautious in giving himself away on any platform. The information he got by his presence at our meeting he knew was given without reference to him or his projects. At Westport he plunged into the fight in the most wholehearted manner and preached the “Firm Grip” policy without hesitation.[33]

Mr. Parnell intended to introduce me to Mr. Davitt[34] who he told me remained downstairs in the hotel. When the meeting was over, we went to seek Mr. Davitt, but the proceedings had been so protracted that Mr. Davitt went away and I had no opportunity of meeting him until the day the Land League was started.

When the meeting assembled at which the League[35] was founded, Mr. Parnell introduced me to Mr. Davitt who had come prepared with the programme for the proceedings. The first part was that I was to preside. I fought against the distinction and responsibility on all the grounds I could think of until both men told me that I was so much identified with the Tenant Right agitation that the men in America would not have confidence in the new land movement unless the leading Tenant Right men would join, and that if I presided at the meeting it would be evidence that the country was united on the question.[36]

This was so convincing that I debated the question no further. My name was also used in the position of first Hon. Sec. although I did little of the secretarial work. I attended all the Dublin meetings and heard everyone and saw everything without being under the necessity of working. Mr. Davitt, aided by Tom Brennan[37] and assisted by Pat Egan,[38] did all the work practically for some time.[39] Nothing could exceed Davitt’s energy and dash, his masterly arraignment of landlordism, and his masculine denouncement of the evils of the land tyranny. The English Government and Foreign Rule were impeached on principle on the lines of equity and justice in a way unheard of before, and it so paralysed the Government crowd, and even the Nominal Home Rulers, that Davittism held the field undisputed until Forster[40] fell back on Coercion in 1881.[41] Parnellism was, of course, gathering strength at this time and Parnell decided to go to America with John Dillon to enlist the material and moral support of the Irish there. In the early stages of the movement, William O’Brien[42] was on the staff of the Freeman’s Journal but seemed to have no idea of the importance of the movement, as E. D. Gray,[43] the owner of the paper, was doubtful of the doctrines of Davitt and opposed to the policy of the League. Mr. Gray was admitted to be the chief agent of the English Liberal Party in Ireland and his journal the Whig mouthpiece at that time. But he was an able man and after holding out against the League until its power became indisputable he became its mouthpiece and a great admirer of Davitt and adherent of Parnell.

  1. This should be 1874. The 1874 general election in Ireland was a success for the newly formed Home Rule League, returning 59 MPs who pledged to support Home Rule.
  2. The County Dublin Tenants’ Defence Association was established in January 1873 at a meeting chaired by Andrew J. Kettle in the European Hotel, Bolton Street, Dublin. The purpose of the association was to ‘unite the tenants against any encroachments on their rights and to promote by every legal and constitutional means the social interests and independence of the tenant class’ (Leinster Express, 4 January 1873). After co-founding the Dublin association, Kettle set about mobilising support for the creation of a the Central Tenants’ Defence Association. Newspaper coverage of communications, meetings, and national conferences relating to tenant right activism during the period from 1873 to 1879 attest to the constant presence and coordinating role of Kettle as honorary secretary of both the Dublin and central organisations.
  3. This refers to a Dublin county by-election later in 1874. Sitting Conservative MP Thomas Edward Taylor had been appointed Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (that is, a senior cabinet minister without portfolio) and consequently was required to recontest his own seat (Otte and Readman 2013, 74).
  4. Thomas Edward Taylor (1811-83) was a British Conservative Party politician. In 1841 he was elected Member of Parliament for Dublin County, a seat he held for the rest of his life. In the 1874 Dublin County by-election he decisively defeated Parnell (Wikipedia 2022, ‘Thomas Edward Taylor’).
  5. Ion Trant Hamilton (1839-98) was a Member of Parliament. He succeeded his father and grandfather as Member of Parliament for County Dublin in 1863, a seat he held until 1885 (Wikipedia 2022, ‘Ion Hamilton, 1st Baron HolmPatrick’).
  6. Taylor and Hamilton were long-time Conservative Party MPs for County Dublin who were both returned in 1874.
  7. The Ballot Act of 1872 established the secret ballot, whereby those who were eligible to vote in Ireland could expect to exercise their vote more freely and without intimidation. The act also decreased the cost of political campaigning (Bew 2011, 13).
  8. Paul Cullen (1803-78), Catholic archbishop and cardinal, was born into a family of prosperous tenant farmers with roots in Kildare, Carlow, and Meath. He served as archbishop of Armagh (1849-52) and archbishop of Dublin (1852-70s). Although proudly Irish, Cullen was opposed to the Fenians, the Independent Irish Party, and the Home Rule movement because he believed they could not succeed, and, if they did, the outcome would damage the authority of the Church in Ireland (DIB 2009, ‘Cullen, Paul’).
  9. William Kelly (1806-81), Charles Reilly (c. 1810-86), and James O’Neill (1831-96) were leading farmers in north County Dublin and prominent activists in the County Dublin and Central Tenants’ Defence Associations and supporters of the Irish National Land League.
  10. At this time, clerical involvement in elections had become a source of embarrassment for the Catholic Church. In by-elections in Mayo (1857) and in Galway (1872) candidates had been disqualified because of allegations of clerical intimidation of voters, while candidates actively supported by bishops in by-elections in Tipperary (1869) and Longford (1870) had done badly in the polls (Moran 2002, 190-91).
  11. Charles Stewart Parnell (1846-91) was a politician who succeeded Isaac Butt to become leader of the Home Rule League (1880-82) and the Irish Parliamentary Party (1882-91). Born on 27 June 1846 in Avondale House, Co. Wicklow, he was the seventh of eleven children of John Henry Parnell and Delia (Stewart) Parnell. During his childhood, Parnell’s family lived in residences in Dalkey, Kingstown (Dún Laoghaire), and at 14 Upper Temple Steet, Dublin. He was educated mainly at home and later attended Magdalene College, Cambridge, but he did not complete his degree. He returned to Ireland to be landlord at Avondale, the heavily indebted family estate. Parnell first became an MP representing Meath in 1875 and grew in popularity in nationalist circles for his participation in Joseph Biggar’s strategy of obstructionism and his sympathetic stance toward Irish republican prisoners. He joined forces with Michael Davitt, supported by A. J. Kettle’s tenant right networks, to establish the Irish National Land League in October 1879. Parnell successfully toured America and addressed the House of Representatives in early 1880, mobilising financial and political support for radical agrarian reform in Ireland. He was imprisoned in Kilmainham Jail for his role in these efforts in October 1881 and moderated his position thereafter to focus on pursuing the achievement of Home Rule in Parliament. In 1880, Parnell began a relationship with Katharine O’Shea who was then separated from her husband, Captain William O’Shea, an Irish nationalist MP for County Clare. Charles and Katharine had three children (Claude Sophie, 1882; Claire, 1883; and Katharine, 1884). In 1889, Captain O’Shea initiated divorce proceedings, citing his wife’s relationship with Parnell. Parnell was soon rejected by the majority of his party, the British political establishment, and the Catholic hierarchy. As a result, he rapidly lost popular support in Ireland. He died in Brighton on 6 October 1891 (DIB 2009, ‘Parnell, Charles Stewart’).
  12. Parnell had hoped to be a candidate for Wicklow in the 1874 general election but, because he was then a serving High Sheriff, was not eligible.
  13. A letter to Parnell’s brother, John Howard Parnell, from ‘Joseph McCarroll of Wicklow, one of Charley’s oldest friends and supporters,’ recounts: ‘After the founding of Butt’s Home Rule, its founders turned to Avondale, and a deputation, headed by Mr A. J. Kettle was sent to enlist Charles Stewart Parnell in the new movement’ (Parnell 1914, 290-91). Paul Bew also notes: ‘Parnell made an important long-term friend during this [Dublin by-election] campaign. Andrew Kettle was the first name on Parnell’s nomination papers; he was to be a loyal ally to the end’ (Bew 2011, 13).
  14. The outcome of this election was 2,183 for Taylor and 1,235 for Parnell (Walker 1978, 120).
  15. John Martin (1812-75), from a Presbyterian and farming background in Co. Down, had been a supporter of the Young Irelanders in the 1840s and national organiser of Gavan Duffy’s Tenant League in the 1850s. He became the first Home Rule MP for Meath at the end of his of career (1871-75) (DIB 2009, ‘Martin, John’).
  16. The Home Rule League was a quasi-political party established by Isaac Butt at the end of 1873 to advance the Home Rule cause in Parliament, replacing the Home Government Association.
  17. Charles Gavan Duffy (1816-1903) was from a Catholic background in Monaghan, where his father was a shopkeeper and former United Irishman. He established The Nation in 1842, the successful Young Ireland newspaper, and the Tenant League in 1850, a political association that endeavoured to improve the conditions of tenant farmers through legislative reform. After a brief stint as MP in the early 1850s, he emigrated to Australia, where he became a prominent politician (DIB 2009, ‘Duffy, Sir Charles Gavan’; Lyons 1973, 116).
  18. Michael Tormey (1820-93), a Catholic priest from Meath, was a long-time supporter of the Land League and, later, of Parnell (Clare 2003).
  19. A belief in the necessity of a unified approach among tenant farmers North and South was a constant theme in Kettle’s activism. At a tenant right conference in April 1873, Kettle seconded a resolution proposed by Philip Callan MP that ‘this meeting regards with great satisfaction the union at the conference of the representatives of Ulster tenantry with those representing the rest of Ireland, being deeply convinced that the best hope for the country and the protection of the rights of all Irishmen depends on the cordial union of all classes of their countrymen. […] They saw the Catholic and the Protestant standing together on this matter and [Callan] trusted the Irish members would all act in unison’ (Irish Examiner, 19 April 1873).
  20. At this time and until the late 1870s, prices for farm produce were strong (Dooley 2000). Landlords frequently gave this as a reason to increase rents. Here, Kettle is expressing concern that even if rent increases could be met in the short term, a downturn in farm produce prices (as did occur in the late 1870s) would create severe hardship for tenants facing high rents that they would no longer be able to afford.
  21. The Land League of Mayo was founded on 16 August 1879 in a distressing context of crop failure, rising rents, and increasing evictions. In a meeting chaired by James Daly, owner-editor of the Connaught Telegraph, Davitt read ‘a document embodying the rules and objects of the proposed association’ (Irish Examiner, 19 August 1879). This followed a series of demonstrations and meetings in Irishtown, Westport, Co. Mayo.
  22. This appears to refer to a general meeting of the Central Tenants’ Defence Association in late 1877 (Irish Times, 19 December 1877) at which John Dillon first appears listed among attendees with Kettle and a ‘land conference’ organised by the association in mid-January 1878. One of the main resolutions of the conference was proposed by Father Tom O’Shea and seconded by George Noble Plunkett: ‘[T]hat the committee be appointed to draw up an address to the electors of Ireland, in view of the next election, recommending that no candidate be elected who will not pledge himself to fixity of tenure, revaluation of rents, and the right of free sale, as embodied in Mr Butt’s bill; and the following be the committee – namely, Messrs. Isaac Butt, M.P., Kelly, Caraher, Kettle, Robertson, Marum and John Dillon’ (Freeman’s Journal, 18 January 1878).
  23. The name for Co. Laois until 1922.
  24. Jeremiah Jordan (1829-1911) was a Protestant businessman, land campaigner, and MP from Co. Fermanagh. From late 1879 he had become one of the leading activists in Ulster of the Irish National Land League. As a member of the first Ulster branch of the League, he had secured considerable Protestant support for it, presenting it as a law-abiding, single-issue reform body (DIB 2009, ‘Jordan, Jeremiah’).
  25. The names listed are representatives of different tenants’ defence associations and farmers’ clubs across Ireland. The representative and interdenominational character of the gathering was clearly important and a source of pride to Kettle.
  26. John Dillon (1851-1927) was born in Blackrock, Co. Dublin, the son of Young Irelander John Blake Dillon (1814-66). He was educated at the Catholic University and obtained a degree from the College of Surgeons. Dillon was prominent in the Land League and served as MP for County Tipperary from 1880 to 1883 and for East Mayo from 1885 to 1918. Initially a strong supporter of Parnell, in the context of the Parnell split he allied with William O’Brien and Tim Healy against Parnell (DIB 2009, ‘Dillon, John’).
  27. Alexander Martin Sullivan (1830-84) was a nationalist, journalist, and politician. He was born and educated in Co. Cork, the son of a teacher and a house painter. A supporter of the Young Ireland movement, Sullivan became a successful journalist. In 1855 he joined (and after 1858 was the editor and sole proprietor of) the influential Nation newspaper, which, under his leadership, moved to equate nationalism with Catholicism. He was elected Home Rule MP for Louth in 1874 and for Meath in 1880, establishing a reputation as a parliamentary orator. He later trained as a barrister and defended Land League committee member Patrick Egan against conspiracy charges (DIB 2009, ‘Sullivan, Alexander Martin’).
  28. Frank Hugh O’Donnell (1846-1916) was born in England, the son of an army officer, and was educated at St. Ignatius College and Queens College Galway. He was a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) for a brief time, and was an accomplished foreign affairs journalist and writer. A supporter of Butt’s Home Rule League, after two unsuccessful attempts in Galway, O’Donnell was elected MP for Dungarvan in 1877 until 1885, during which time he participated in obstructionist tactics with Parnell, Biggar, and others. His complex and often contradictory views led to his eventual political isolation and earned him the sobriquet ‘Crank Hugh’ (DIB 2009, ‘O’Donnell, Frank Hugh’).
  29. The phrase ‘advanced notions’ indicates O’Donnell’s association with radical agendas and methods.
  30. Edward Maginn (1802-49) was a coadjutor Catholic bishop of Derry. In response to the starvation of the Great Famine, Maginn was an outspoken critic of the relief policy of the government and his statements on related issues received widespread press attention. He brought about the dismissal of the board of guardians at Omagh after hundreds died of disease in the union workhouse (DIB 2009, ‘Maginn, Edward’).
  31. Henry George (1839-97), a printer-editor, political economist, and activist, was the most influential American reform theorist of the late nineteenth century. His Our Land and Land Policy (1871), Poverty and Progress (1879), and The Irish Land Question (1881) elaborated on his central idea that private ownership of land and charging rent were unjust and led to poverty. George was engaged by radical newspapers in the United States to cover the agrarian troubles in Ireland. For a time he had close links with Michael Davitt and the Land League (Wilentz 2017).
  32. The leader of the Home Rule League, Isaac Butt, died on 5 May 1879, having faced criticism for some time from the radical ‘obstructive’ wing of the party associated with Joseph Biggar and Parnell.
  33. In Kettle’s recollection of this conversation with Parnell at a critical juncture in the decision to enter into an alliance with Davitt, he draws a picture of Parnell, the reforming landlord and parliamentarian, who was worried about what could result from joining forces with the radical wing of nationalism and sought out Kettle to provide the ‘middle position’ and the farmers’ perspective. Additionally, Kettle believes that Parnell’s presence at the conference, where radical proposals were debated by moderate actors, played a significant role in encouraging Parnell to move in a more radical policy direction ahead of the planned meeting with Davitt in Mayo. The Westport meeting with Davitt, referred to in this passage, took place on 8 June 1879. Paul Bew offers an assessment of this turning point which is consistent with Kettle’s interpretation. According to Bew, although Parnell had approached it with ‘obvious hesitancy’ (Bew 2011, 54), on the platform, he spoke unequivocally as a ‘land agitator,’ saying the long-term goal was land purchase, with fair rents and security of tenure being immediate goals. Parnell urged listeners: ‘You must show the landlords that you intend to hold a firm grip of your homesteads and lands. […] You must not allow yourselves to be dispossessed, as you were dispossessed in 1847’ (Freeman’s Journal, 9 June 1879).
  34. Michael Davitt (1846-1906) was a radical nationalist and land reform activist. Born in Mayo, Davitt and his family migrated to England after being evicted from their cottage. He lost his right arm in a factory accident at age nine. He joined the IRB in 1865 and was arrested in 1870 and convicted of ‘treason felony’ for arms trafficking. He was released from prison in 1877 due to Home Rule League pressure on the government to grant amnesty to Irish political prisoners. He was intrumental in developing the ‘New Departure,’ a strategy to combine the IRB and parliamentary wings of Irish nationalism with a focus on achieving land reform in Ireland. This culminated in the establishment of the Irish National Land League in 1879 under the leadership of Charles Stewart Parnell, Davitt, and Andrew J. Kettle. The leaders of the Land League, including Davitt, were imprisioned in 1881-82. Davitt served as a Member of Parliament during the 1890s, but after the O’Shea divorce scandal he opposed Parnell (DIB 2009, ‘Davitt, Michael’; King 2009).
  35. The Irish National Land League, popularly known as the Land League, was founded on 21 October 1879 at a meeting in the Imperial Hotel, Dublin. Andrew Kettle chaired the meeting at which Parnell was elected president, Kettle and Davitt were elected secretaries, and Joseph Biggar MP, Pat Egan, and W. H. Sullivan MP treasurers (Hickey & Doherty 2003, 262). Hickey and Doherty note that the radical nature of the Land League expressed in its constitution evoked the ideas of another Young Irelander, Fintan Lalor (1807-49). It called for ‘an equitable distribution’ of the land ‘among the people who are to live upon the fruits of their labour and its cultivation’ (Hickey & Doherty 2003, 262).
  36. Kettle understates the significance of his role in building the countrywide network of the Central Tenants’ Defence Association, as well as the work of the Dublin County association in forging new links between the radical land reform and Home Rule platforms at this time. By recounting this exchange among the three founders of the Land League, Kettle conveys something of the external recognition of his leadership of the tenant right movement of the 1870s and the extent to which the Land League built upon these efforts. Kettle’s account is confirmed by Davitt’s later appreciation of Kettle as ‘both a friend and lieutenant to every leader of the people in his long life of most useful service to his country’ (Davitt 1904, 714). Another glimpse into Kettle’s reputation as an organiser is relayed by Frank Hugh O’Donnell. He received a letter in 1879 from the leader of the newly formed Farmers’ Alliance in England, eager to be put in touch with Kettle to ensure ‘a large contingent to swell the audience at their inaugural public meeting’ at Kilburn Agricultural Show (O’Donnell 1910, 1: 363).
  37. Thomas Brennan (1853-1912) was born in Co. Meath. He was a nationalist and an IRB activist who was a leading member of the executive of the Irish National Land League after its establishment in 1879 (along with Egan and Davitt). Noted as an eloquent speaker, his speeches frequently linked the demand for peasant proprietorship and equality with the Fenian demand for complete Irish independence (DIB 2009, ‘Brennan, Thomas’).
  38. Patrick Egan (1841-1919) was born in Longford, the son of a tenant farmer. Educated locally, Egan began work as a clerk at Murtagh Brothers milling company. In the 1860s he joined the IRB. Through his involvement with amnesty campaigns for Fenian prisoners in the late 1860s, he came to support cooperation between radical republican and Home Rule efforts, becoming assistant treasurer of the Home Rule League. In 1876, he was expelled from the IRB after its supreme council decided it would no longer support parliamentary engagement. As treasurer of the Land League in early 1881, fearing the organisation was about to be suppressed, he moved to Paris from where he managed the Land League’s funds. Egan subsequently relocated to the United States where he continued to support the Land League and other Irish nationalist efforts and became heavily involved in American politics (DIB 2009, ‘Egan, Patrick’).
  39. Thomas Brennan began work as a clerk in Murtagh Brothers milling company along with his friend Pat Egan, both of whom were to become prominent Land League officials. Before that, the two had been members of the IRB, but they became interested in using parliamentary means to achieve radical republican and nationalist goals. Davitt, Brennan, and Egan ‘acted as a hard-working triumvirate that virtually controlled the League’s executive, although their power was reduced significantly after the creation of the Irish Parliamentary Party (May 1880)’ (DIB 2009, ‘Brennan, Thomas’).
  40. William Forster (1818-86) was born in Dorset, England, the only child of a Quaker minister. Educated in Quaker schools, he entered the woollen industry and became a successful businessman with interests in social welfare and educational and parliamentary reform. He visited Ireland during the Great Famine to distribute relief with his father. Forster was elected Liberal MP for Bradford in 1861, holding the seat for the rest of his life. In his first ministerial post, he was Colonial Under-Secretary (1865-66) during the controversial suppression of a revolt in Jamaica. He was responsible for the introduction of the Ballot Act of 1872. Forster was appointed Chief Secretary for Ireland in 1880, taking office at the height of Land League agitation and a period of moral panic regarding ‘crime and disorder.’ Initially not in favour of repression measures, he changed tack and introduced the Protection of Person and Property Act of 1881, known as the Coercion Act, which gave the authorities extraordinary powers of arrest, detention, and proscription of targeted activities (DIB 2009, ‘Forster, William Edward’).
  41. Coercion refers to a series of acts passed to suppress radical movements and their leaders during this period, in this case the Protection of Person and Property Act of 1881. It permitted ‘the detention of persons “reasonably suspected” of involvement in high treason, treason felony, or other crime “being an act of violence, intimidation and tending to interfere with or disturb the maintenance of law and order”’ (Simpson 1994, 4). Some 955 persons were detained under the act, including Kettle and Parnell, the first sitting MP to be imprisoned since 1715. The Land League was declared illegal and suppressed under the act (p. 4).
  42. William O’Brien (1852-1928) was born in Mallow, Co. Cork, the son of a solicitor’s clerk. Although Catholic, O’Brien was educated at the local Church of Ireland school. He was active for a time in the Fenian movement, resigning from it in the mid-1870s. He studied law at Queen’s College Cork and then became a journalist with the Freeman’s Journal. In 1881 Parnell appointed him editor of the Land League newspaper, United Ireland (DIB 2009, ‘O’Brien, William’). O’Brien was one of the main organisers of the 1886-91 Plan of Campaign, prompted by a depression in the mid-1880s, to reduce rents. It was not supported by Parnell. O’Brien joined the anti-Parnellite side in the split following the O’Shea divorce crisis (Hickey & Doherty 2003, 396).
  43. Edmund Dwyer Gray (1845-88) was born in Dublin. He was the son of the proprietor of the Freeman’s Journal, Sir John Gray, whom he succeeded in this role in 1875. A convert to Catholicism, Gray became a Dublin city councillor (1875-83), and a Home Rule MP for Tipperary (1877-80), Carlow (1880-85), and St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin (1885-88). A moderate, he was one of eighteen MPs who voted against Parnell’s leadership of the party but subsequently supported him. Under his management, the circulation of the Freeman’s Journal increased and it became highly profitable (DIB 2009, ‘Gray, Edmund William Dwyer’).


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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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