Chapter 5: My Solution to the Land Problem Presented to Parnell

The Bishop and the Man for Mayo – Visit with Parnell to Bishop McCormick – Relief Fund – Parnell Comments on Himself and Others – Mrs. Deane – I Give Parnell My Solution of the Land Problem – Canon Daniel – The Man for Mayo


The General Election was over but I was in it still. Parnell was elected for Cork, Meath, and Mayo. He elected to sit for Cork, and A. M. Sullivan was named for Meath (I believe he declined to sit with Philip Callan in Louth), and Mayo was reserved for me.[1] But I got out of line with the clergy so badly in Cork by a rejoinder I made to a letter published by a Rev. Canon who took part in the row in Macroom, Parnell was advised that the clergy in Mayo would not take me without a contest.[2] As the world knows he was not easily put off, so he arranged with me to go to Ballaghaderreen and see the Bishop, Dr. McCormick. This visit gave me a whole day with Parnell. It was a quiet day on the Midland and very few people joined the train, so we travelled over men and things in the past, present, and future to our full bent. I told him all the circumstances about how we first met, and how I looked upon him as a man who seemed at least to have a mission of some kind. But, he said: “I am not gifted with the power of expression of some other men.” “Don’t mind that,” I said. “The orators use too many adjectives. You are going to found a talking school of your own with ideas instead of words.” He told me that his attempts at talking and other experiences at the County Dublin election were nearly killing him, that he was laid up in bed for six weeks after he went home with some kind of a nervous attack.[3] He reviewed the principal men he came in contact with since he got into the strife on the people’s side. He talked and smiled at the fads and fancies and the strong points and the weak of everybody as they came into the discussion. I told him my experiences of Ireland as I knew it, of the forces that English statesmen put in operation in my own time to crush Ireland into a dependency. I learned that he hated the English character for its innate assumption of superiority, and its hypocritical pretensions to honesty and godliness. We reviewed the whole social system then existing in Ireland. He regretted having to take men away from their business and put them into public position to do work for which they had no training or experience. He was always very hopeless about the older landlords ever throwing in their lot with the people in Ireland, but he expected that the young men would, if the land question were settled by purchase. I always held it would be an insult to common sense to imagine that England would ever delegate the governing powers of Ireland into the hands of such men as Parnell was gathering round him, unless the English Radicals overturned their own classes and got on to a Democratic line in England. He would have to either go on to abolish the classes in Ireland or fall back and press them into the work of their own country. But we always agreed that to nationalise landlords and mortgagees and men with capital in Ireland it would be essential to push the land agitation to a final settlement as soon as possible.

The bishop’s carriage met us at the station and we drove a short run to the palace. We had only a short time to spend to get back on the next train, and Parnell spent most of the time discussing the distress and particularly the relief funds. There were four relief funds started to meet the distress the previous year, the Land League, the Vice-Regal, the Mansion House, and the bishops,[4] and it seemed as if the bishops and Parnell were trying to reserve as large a balance as possible when the pressing necessity for spending was over. So the Land League agents were urging the people to apply to the bishops, and the bishops’ men were calling on the League fund. Parnell spent most of our short visiting time in seeking information about the whole subject, but I thought he did not get much. The business about the election was settled privately between them in a very short time. The outcome was that owing to my pronouncement on the conduct of the priests at Macroom the bishop either would not or could not take me without a contest. He would take A. M. Sullivan, who was not placed in Meath at the time, or any other colourless politician, but not me.

John Dillon

On our way to the railway station Parnell called on Mrs. Deane, John Dillon’s friend, and I enjoyed the visit very much as I had an opportunity of knowing a rather remarkable woman who seemed to be quite at home at the head of a business that looked like the centre not of a town like Ballaghaderreen, but of a province.[5]

Parnell felt sleepy after, as he said, bolting the bishop’s chops, and we travelled back in a second-class carriage. When we got started, he stretched himself on a back cushion, got a rug over him and slept for three-quarters of an hour. When he got up, he expressed himself as being dissatisfied with the bishop’s estimate about the balance of the relief fund, but did not feel at all disappointed about the bishop rejecting his candidate.

We made very close enquiry on our way home into the real condition of things connected with the League and where the whole movement might end. I always had a tendency in my own business to make up my mind on reliable data, to adopt plans of action regardless of precedent, or difficulty, or labour or expense. I might mention here that we both agreed from the beginning of our acquaintance that all men and all things were to be used in the most impersonal manner to work out the desired end. The burden of our enquiry that day was, what would be the probable end, and how best to reach it. I told him that the agricultural depression was so acute that no normal remedy would be able to meet it. In my own case the receipts from the produce of one hundred and fifty Irish acres fell fifteen hundred pounds in the previous year, 1879, and if that state of things continued there would be no earthly chance of the tenants being able to pay a price for the land that the landlords or mortgagees would be likely to accept, and that the war would have to go on to the bitter end. But I said that I thought we could find a way out of the difficulty. “Of course,” I said, “my plan will at first sight look far-fetched and impracticable, but it may prove to be otherwise.” I said, “I have been a close student of O’Neill Daunt[6] and Sir Joseph McKenna,[7] and according to their contentions we have been overtaxed to an enormous amount, at least £100,000,000 sterling. Now we must claim as much of that money as will let the landlords out and the tenants in on workable terms. By this course you will settle the Land Question and draw the landlords to our side on the national question.” He listened very attentively to this new view of the situation. “McKenna,” he says, “has been pressing his case about the overtaxation of Ireland on me, but I never felt the importance of the question so much before. I must go through the matter with him the first chance I get. Yours would be a complete course of procedure if we could follow it.” I said I thought six years’ purchase of whatever rental would be dealt with would be necessary for my plan, three years for the landlords, and three years for the tenants. “Of course,” I said, “great and persistent pressure will be necessary to justify an English Government’s proposed settlement like mine, but the way Davitt and our League people are driving it looks as if we will have enough, if not overmuch and compromising, pressure soon.” I told him that, of course, I never mentioned such a heretical notion to Davitt or the League people, but that I talked it over with E. D. Gray, who jokingly asked me if I wanted only 200 million, that I might as well ask for three or four hundred, so that I might have some left to subsidise the newspapers. I was talking to Gray about it again after the chat with Parnell, under the pillars of the General Post Office, when we were joined by our mutual friend, Canon Daniel.[8] “Here is Kettle,” says Gray, “talking about millions of money as if they were the most ordinary things on earth. He wants England to give us only 200 millions to buy out the landlords.” Well,” says the Canon, “if you don’t ask you can’t expect, and in dealing with England you better ask enough as you are certain to get less.”

Joseph Gillis Biggar

Thus ended our day in the West, but it did not end my parliamentary experiences. Some time after this I was at my hay harvest when word was sent me that there were visitors wanting me at my house at Artane. I was told that they were not very grand looking, so I went in my shirt sleeves, and whom did I find but Joe Biggar and a Mr. Clarke from Glasgow. I shouted out welcome and got out some refreshments. Biggar seemed, I thought, to hesitate in opening his statement about why he came. “You know the Rev. Isaac Nelson,”[9] he says. I nodded. “Well, a lot of his friends, amongst them Ferguson,[10] think it would be a good stroke of policy to send him to Parliament. As there was only one vacancy now in Ireland we went to Avondale to see Mr. Parnell about the seat in Mayo, and he told us that he was out of that transaction altogether as the seat belongs to you, and that if we came to you, he was convinced you would do the right thing.” I stood up and said, “Now gentlemen, before I decide you must take another drink. You can have the seat for your friend with céad míle fáilte.” So Dr. McCormick, the bishop who refused to take a Catholic who had got his election ethics from Cardinal Cullen, was forced to swallow the old eccentric Presbyterian Minister. Thus ended my connection with the General Election of 1880.[11]

  1. Sullivan had been returned unopposed to fill the vacancy in Meath at the by-election in May 1880. Callan was a Liberal Home Rule politician and lawyer who did not share Parnell’s views and had previously been defeated in Dundalk, mainly due to the actions of Parnell and the obstructionist wing of the Home Rule Party. The subsequent Louth election between Callan and Sullivan, two opposing ideological Home Rulers, was not unique to the party and other such contests had also occurred in Mayo and Roscommon. Callan’s win in Louth and Sullivan’s subsequent resignation represented the fragmentation and dissension within the opposition ranks that still existed despite the growing centralisation of the Home Rule movement (Moran 1992).
  2. This was the incident recounted by Kettle in Chapter 4 where he and Lysaght Finegan encountered hostility from local priests and supporters of the opposing election candidate in Macroom, County Cork. The letter, dated 20 April 1880 and published in the Freeman’s Journal and The Nation, asked Canon Cullinane whether he had been sent to the meeting to act as a ‘bludgeon-man’ (Kettle 1880).
  3. In 1887, T. P. O’Connor contended that ‘[i]t is one of the strongest and most curious peculiarities of Mr. Parnell not merely that he rarely, if ever, speaks of himself but that he rarely, if ever gives any indication of having studied himself’ (Bew 2011, 17; O’Connor 1887, 254). In contrast, Kettle’s description of this personal exchange suggests a degree a closeness in the relationship between the two men.
  4. These funds were started to help alleviate the distress caused by the successive failures of the harvests of 1877-79 and the near famine conditions that had resulted. The Land League funds had been collected by Parnell and Dillon during their trip to the United States in 1879. The Vice-Regal Fund was founded by the Duchess of Marlborough, wife of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, in December 1879. The Lord Mayor of Dublin had set up the Dublin Mansion House Relief Fund in January 1880 and the Catholic bishops of America also held collections in their dioceses.
  5. Anne Deane (c. 1834-1905) was a businesswoman, philanthropist, and nationalist from Ballaghaderreen, Co. Roscommon. She was the niece of the Young Irelander John Blake Dillon. As a widow, she owned and managed the general store in Ballaghaderreen, which became one of the largest and most successful businesses in the west of Ireland. Although she had no children herself, she played a key role in bringing up the young family of her uncle and aunt after their deaths. John Dillon, who divided his time between Ballaghaderreen and Dublin, came to regard her as a second mother. She was a keen supporter of Home Rule and her house was a regular meeting place for nationalists. In 1881 she became one of the founding members of the Ladies’ Land League and was chosen as honorary president (DIB 2009, ‘Deane, Anne (Duff)’; O’Brien 1937).
  6. William Joseph O’Neill Daunt (1807-94) was a politician and writer and had been a partisan of Daniel O’Connell. He played a prominent part in the Home Rule movement although he had little sympathy for the agrarian reform agitation. One issue of importance to him was that of financial relations between Ireland and Great Britain, in which he considered Ireland had been unfairly treated (DIB 2009, ‘Daunt (Moriarty), William Joseph O’Neill (“Denis Ignatius”)’). His publications included a public letter concerning the taxation of Ireland published as a pamphlet: England’s Greediness Ireland’s True Grievance (1875).
  7. Sir Joseph Neale McKenna (1819-1906) was a banker and politician who was MP for Youghal and South Monaghan. He was an able financier and chairman of the National Bank of Ireland and played a leading role in forming nationalist thinking on the overtaxation of Ireland. He wrote Imperial Taxation: The Case of Ireland Plainly Stated (1883) (Wikipedia 2022, ‘Joseph Neale McKenna’). Kettle’s idea was that land purchase could be facilitated by the recovery of tax allegedly charged in excess on Ireland by the British government since the Act of Union.
  8. The Very Rev. James Canon Daniel (c. 1830-95) was born in Dublin, educated at Maynooth College, and ordained in 1857. He was appointed to be the parish priest of St. Nicholas’s Church on Francis Street, Dublin, in 1879. A friend of Sir John Gray, he was a frequent contributor to the Freeman’s Journal (Weekly Freeman, 13 April 1895, ‘Death of Canon Daniel’).
  9. Isaac Nelson (1809-88) was a Presbyterian minister and politician from Belfast. He had been a champion of liberal causes and his criticism of his Presbyterian colleagues had resulted in him falling out of sympathy with many of them. His support for Home Rule and the Land League in the 1870s put him even more out of step with his colleagues and congregation, but it attracted the attention of Biggar and Parnell. He drew widespread support, although the Freeman’s Journal termed him a ‘clergyman of rather crazy political proclivities’ (Bew 1978, 98; DIB 2009, ‘Nelson, Isaac’).
  10. John Ferguson (1836-1906) was a publisher, Home Ruler, and land reformer originally from Ulster. He developed an interest in agrarian reform as a young man and, following a move to Glasgow, became an Irish nationalist and established the Home Rule Confederation of Great Britain in the early 1870s. A radical intellectual, he was also active in the Land League activities in Ireland and frequently returned to Ireland, where he gave moral and practical support to Butt and later to Parnell (DIB 2009, ‘Ferguson, John’).
  11. Overall, the election resulted in a triumph for Gladstone’s Liberal Party over the Conservative government. Parnell had achieved the personal triumph of being returned for three seats in Cork, Mayo, and Meath, and chose to take the Cork seat. The province of Connaught returned the most notable successes for Parnell’s supporters, demonstrating that his influence in other relatively more prosperous areas at this time was still limited. On 17 May he was elected leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party, but only by 23 votes to 18 out of 59 nominal Home Rule MPs (Bew 2007, 317-18).


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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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