Introduction [1958]

Laurence J. Kettle

The original introduction by Laurence Kettle to his father’s memoirs that appeared in the print version of The Material for Victory, published by C. J. Fallon in 1958.


My father wrote these Memoirs during the last years of his life, when he was disabled by rheumatism.  He left instructions that they were to be published by my brother Tom.  Possibly foreseeing that Tom might die before himself, he had told me that, failing Tom, he wished me to take over and publish the Memoirs.  He said that, although Tom was obviously the most suitable editor, he was satisfied that he had other sons capable of the work.  He never discussed the Memoirs with me, nor, I think with anyone, and I had little idea of what they were like.

After the deaths of my father and Tom in 1916 the manuscript was handed to me.  It was written on very small sheets of ordinary notepaper, rolled up and tied in small bundles.  I did not examine or even open them, because I realised that at that time little interest would be taken in the Memoirs, and that one would need to wait until national affairs became more settled.  This decision may have been a mistaken one, for at that time many thousands of the farmers and agricultural labourers, who owed so much to my father, were still alive and would remember and understand the importance of the successful fight for the land.  Nowadays there are very few survivors of the war which transferred the land of Ireland from the landlords to the farmers, and which freed the country generally from the state of serfdom which prevailed before my father’s time.

It must be remembered that the Land War was also the War for Independence.  Both Butt and Parnell commenced their political careers as advocates of self-government rather than as land agitators.  The land and self-government were always combined as the National objectives.  When the Land War was won, the way was made clear for self-government.

The rising of the Young Irelanders in ’48 and the Fenian Rising in ’67 were unfortunately failures.  They did not have the support of the people, because they were not based on the existing realities of life, but on abstract ideals of nationhood.  One of the few realists amongst the Young Irelanders was Fintan Lalor.  He said that “The land question contains, and the legislative question does not contain, the material from which victory is manufactured.”

Fintan Lalor grasped the fact that the land fight had to come first, if a strong National organisation was to be built up.  The approach to National independence had to be made by first making the farmers independent of the landlords.

The Land War was won, but at a heavy cost, not only of lives lost, but of suffering and of endurance.  To achieve this victory, it was necessary to obtain the support of all those of Irish blood, both at home and in America – Fenians and non-Fenians.  These were welded together for the first time by Charles Stewart Parnell.

The average Irish citizen of to-day has only a hazy idea as to who Parnell was, and he probably never even heard of A. J. Kettle, although “Andy” Kettle was known in every Irish home only 60 years ago.

These Memoirs were never intended to form a sequential history of the Land War, and the Appendix will assist the reader in understanding the course of events during the period reviewed.

When St. Gauden’s  [Augustus Saint-Gaudens’s] statue of Parnell was on exhibition in the Hibernian Academy, my father spent some time inspecting it.  He said that it had not the slightest resemblance to Parnell from any viewpoint.  Similarly, with regard to the various “lives” of Parnell which had been published in his time, he stated that it was evident that the authors knew absolutely nothing of a personal character about Parnell.

These Memoirs will serve a useful purpose, by filling some gaps in Irish history.  They give a view of the real Parnell, and correct many misconceptions of his character and his actions.  For the information of the present generation, I have added a Biographical note of Andrew J. Kettle.


I am indebted to Mr. J. J. O’Leary and Mr. T. Gahan for the encouragement and help they gave me in connection with the preparation of this book.


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Introduction [1958] Copyright © 2023 by Laurence J. Kettle is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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