He was not more than seven years of age when the terrible tribulation of eviction came to his family. He remembers, as if the events were but of yesterday, the poignant despair of his mother in leaving the home into which her dowry was brought and where her children were born, and the more silent resignation, but none the less deeply felt bitterness, of his father - a man of strong character and little given to expressing his emotions. He recalls that, a day or two before the eviction, he was taken away in a cart, known in this part of the country as a crib, with some of the household belongings, to seek a temporary shelter with some friends. May God be good to them for their loving-kindness and warm hospitality!
He wondered, then, why there should be so much suffering and sorrow as he saw expressed around him, in the world, and he was told that there was nothing for it - that the lease of the farm had expired, that the landlord wanted it for himself, and that though his father was willing to pay an increased rent, still out he had to go - and, what was worse, to have all his improvements confiscated, to have the fruits of the blood and sweat and energy of his forefathers appropriated by a man who had no right under heaven to them, save such as the iniquitous laws of those days gave him.
It was something in the nature of poetic justice that the lad whose family was cast thus ruthlessly on the roadside in the summer of 1880, should, after the passage of the Land Act of 1903, have, in the providence of things, the opportunity and the power for negotiating, in fair and friendly and conciliatory fashion, for the expropriation for evermore from all ownership in the land of the class who cast him and his people adrift in earlier years.
The writer has it proudly to his credit that, acting on behalf of the tenants of County Cork, he individually negotiated the sales of more landed estates than any other man, or combination of men, in Ireland, and that with the good will and, indeed, with the gratitude of the landlords and their agents, and by reason of the fact that he applied the policy of Conference, Conciliation and Consent to this practical concern of mens lives, he secured for the tenants of County Cork a margin of from one and a half to two years purchase better terms than the average rate prevailing elsewhere.
For the rest he devoted himself during the better part of a quarter of a century to the housing and the social betterment of the workers in town and country, with results which are reflected in their present vastly improved condition.
But his greatest effort, and what he would wish most to be remembered for is that, with a faithful few and against overwhelming odds, he took his stand for Mr William OBriens policy of National Reconciliation, which all thoughtful men now admit would have saved Ireland from countless horrors and England from a series of most appalling political blunders if only it had been given fair play and a fair trial.
It is no use, however, in a very sordid and material world, sighing for the might-have-beens. What the writer seeks in the present work is to give, fairly and dispassionately, a narrative of what has happened in Ireland since Parnell appeared upon the Irish scene and the curtain was rung down upon the tragedy that brought the career of the one and only Uncrowned King of Ireland to a close - and until, in turn, the downfall of Parliamentarianism was accomplished by means which will, in due course, appear in these pages.
Chapter I: A Leader Appears
It might be enough to answer to these critics that Parnell could never hold the place he does in history, that he could never have overawed the House of Commons as he did, nor could he have emerged so triumphantly from the ordeal of The Times Commission were he not superabundantly endowed with all the elements and qualities of greatness. But apart from this no dispassionate student of the Parnell period can deny that it was fruitful in massive achievement for Ireland. When Parnell appeared on the scene it might well be said of the country, what had been truly said of it in another generation, that it was as a corpse on the dissecting-table. It was he, and the gallant band which his indomitable purpose gathered round him, that galvanised the corpse into life and breathed into it a dauntless spirit of resolve which carried it to the very threshold of its sublimest aspirations. To Isaac Butt is ascribed the merit of having conceived and given form to the constitutional movement for Irish liberty. He is also credited with having invented the title Home Rule - a title which, whilst it was a magnificent rallying cry for a cause, in the circumstances of the time when it was first used, was probably as mischievous in its ultimate results as any unfortunate nomenclature well could be, since all parties in Ireland and out of it became tied to its use when any other designation for the Irish demand might have made it more palatable with the British masses. Winston Churchill is reported to have said, in his Radical days, to a prominent Irish leader: I cannot understand why you Irishmen are so stupidly wedded to the name Home Rule. If only you would call it anything else in the world, you would have no difficulty in getting the English to agree to it.
But although Isaac Butt was a fine intellect and an earnest patriot he never succeeded in rousing Ireland to any great pitch of enthusiasm for his policy. It was still sick, and weary, and despondent after the Fenian failure, and the revolutionary leaders were not prone to tolerate or countenance what they regarded as a Parliamentary imposture. A considerable body of the Irish landed class supported the Butt movement, because they had nothing to fear for their own interests from it. They were members of his Parliamentary Party, not to help him on his way, but rather with the object of weakening and retarding his efforts.
It was at this stage that Parnell arrived. The country was stricken with famine - the hand of the lord, in the shape of the landlord, was heavy upon it. After a season of unexampled agricultural prosperity the lean years had come to the Irish farmer and he was ripe for agitation and resistance. Butt had the Irish gentry on his side. With the sure instinct of the born leader Parnell set out to fight them. He had popular feeling with him. It was no difficult matter to rouse the democracy of the country against a class at whose doors they laid the blame for all their woes and troubles and manifold miseries. Butt was likewise too old for his generation. He was a constitutional statesman who made noble appeal to the honesty and honour of British statesmen. Parnell, too, claimed to be a constitutional leader, but of another type. With the help of men like Michael Davitt and John Devoy he was able to muster the full strength of the revolutionary forces behind him and he adopted other methods in Parliament than lackadaisical appeals to the British sense of right and justice.
The time came when the older statesman had perforce to make way for the younger leader. The man with a noble genius for statesman-like design - and this must be conceded to Isaac Butt - had to yield place and power to the men whose genius consisted in making themselves amazingly disagreeable to the British Government, both in Ireland and at Westminster. The Policy of Exasperation was the epithet applied by Butt to the purpose of Parnell, in the belief that he was uttering the weightiest reproach in his power against it. But this was the description of all others which recommended it to the Irish race - for it was, in truth, the only policy which could compel British statesmen to give ear to the wretched story of Irelands grievances and to legislate in regard to them. It is sad to have to write it of Butt, as of so many other Irish leaders, that he died of a broken heart. Those who would labour for Dark Rosaleen have a rough and thorny road to travel, and they are happy if the end of their journey is not to be found in despair, disappointment and bitter tragedy.
Parnell, once firmly seated in the saddle, lost no time in asserting his power and authority. Mr William OBrien, who writes with a quite unique personal authority on the events of this time, tells us that there is some doubt whether Joe Biggar, as he was familiarly known from one end of Ireland to the other, was not the actual inventor of Parliamentary obstruction. His own opinion is that it was Biggar who first discovered it but it was Parnell who perceived that the new weapon was capable of dislocating the entire machinery of Government at will and consequently gave to a disarmed Ireland a more formidable power against her enemies than if she could have risen in armed insurrection, so that a Parliament which wanted to hear nothing of Ireland heard of practically nothing else every night of their lives.
Let it be, however, clearly understood that there was an Irish Party before Parnells advent on the scene. It was never a very effective instrument of popular right, but after Butts death it became a decrepit old thing - without cohesion, purpose or, except in rare instances, any genuine personal patriotism. It viewed the rise of Parnell and his limited body of supporters with disgust and dismay. It had no sympathy with his pertinacious campaign against all the cherished forms and traditions of The House, and it gave him no support. Rather it virulently opposed him and his small group, who were without money and even without any organisation at their back. Parnell had also to contend with the principal Nationalist newspaper of the time - The Freemans Journal - as well as such remnants as remained of Butts Home Rule League.
About this time, however, a movement - not for the first or the last time - came out of the West. A meeting had been held at Irishtown, County Mayo, which made history. It was here that the demand of The Land for the People first took concrete form. Previously Mr Parnell and his lieutenants had been addressing meetings in many parts of the country, at which they advocated peasant proprietorship in substitution for landlordism, but now instead of sporadic speeches they had to their hand an organisation which supplied them with a tremendous dynamic force and gave a new edge to their Parliamentary performances. And not the least value of the new movement was that it immediately won over to active co-operation in its work the most powerful men in the old revolutionary organisation. I remember being present, as a very little lad indeed, at a Land League meeting at Kiskeam, Cork County, where scrolls spanned the village street bearing the legend: Ireland for the Irish and the Land for the People.
The country people were present from far and near. Cavalcades of horsemen thronged in from many a distant place, wearing proudly the Fenian sash of orange and green over their shoulder, and it struck my youthful imagination what a dashing body of cavalry these would have made in the fight for Ireland. Michael Davitt was the founder and mainspring of the Land League and it is within my memory that in the hearts and the talks of the people around their fireside hearths he was at this time only second to Parnell in their hope and love. I am told that Mr John Devoy shared with him the honour of co-founder of the Land League, but I confess I heard little of Mr Devoy, probably because he was compulsorily exiled about this time.
In those days Parnells following consisted of only seven men out of one hundred and three Irish members. When the General Election of 1880 was declared he was utterly unprepared to meet all its emergencies. For lack of candidates he had to allow himself to be nominated for three constituencies, yet with marvellous and almost incredible energy he fought on to the last polling-booth. The result was astounding. He increased his following to thirty-five, not, perhaps, overwhelming in point of numbers, but remarkable for the high intellectual standard of the young men who composed it, for their varied capacities, for their fine patriotism, and their invincible determination to face all risks and invite all dangers. It has been said of Parnell that he was an intolerant autocrat in the selection of candidates for and membership of the Party, and that he imposed his will ruthlessly upon them once they were elected. I am told by those who were best in a position to form a judgment, and whose veracity I would stake my life upon, that nothing could be farther from the truth. Parnell had little to say with the choosing of his lieutenants. Indeed, he was singularly indifferent about it, as instances could be quoted to prove. Undoubtedly he held them together firmly, because he had the gift of developing all that was best in a staff of brilliant talents and varied gifts, and so jealousies and personal idiosyncrasies had not the room wherein to develop their poisonous growths.
I pass rapidly over the achievements of Parnell in the years that followed. He gave the country some watchwords that can never be forgotten, as when he told the farmers to Keep a firm grip of your homesteads! followed by the equally energetic exhortation: Hold the harvest! They were his Orders of the Day to his Irish army. Then came the No-Rent Manifesto, the suppression of the Land League after only twelve months existence, Kilmainham and its Treaty, and the Land Act of 1881, which I can speak of, from my own knowledge, as the first great forward step in the emancipation of the Irish tenant farmer. Mr Dillon differed with Parnell as to the efficacy of this Act, but he was as hopelessly wrong in his attitude then as he was twenty-two years later in connection with the Land Act of 1903. In 1882 the National League came into being, giving a broader programme and a deeper depth of meaning to the aims of Parnell. At this time the Parliamentary policy of the Party under his leadership was an absolute independence of all British Parties, and therein lay all its strength and savour. There was also the pledge of the members to sit, act and vote together, which owed its wholesome force not so much to anything inherent in the pledge itself as to the positive terror of a public opinion in Ireland which would tolerate no tampering with it. Furthermore, a rigid rule obtained against members of the Party seeking office or preferment for themselves or their friends on the sound principle that the Member of Parliament who sought ministerial favours could not possibly be an impeccable and independent patriot.
But the greatest achievement of Parnell was the fact that he had both the great English parties bidding for his support. We know that the Tory Party entered into negotiations with him on the Home Rule issue. Meanwhile, however, there was the more notable conversion of Gladstone, a triumph of unparalleled magnitude for Parnell and in itself the most convincing testimony to the positive strength and absolute greatness of the man. A wave of enthusiasm went up on both sides of the Irish Sea for the alliance which seemed to symbolise the ending of the age-long struggle between the two nations. True, this alliance has since been strangely underrated in its effects, but there can be no doubt that it evoked at the time a genuine outburst of friendliness on the part of the Irish masses to England. And at the General Election of 1885 Parnell returned from Ireland with a solid phalanx of eighty-four members - eager, invincible, enthusiastic, bound unbreakably together in loyalty to their country and in devotion to their leader.
From 1885 to 1890 there was a general forgiving and forgetting of historic wrongs and ancient feuds. The Irish Nationalists were willing to clasp hands across the sea in a brotherhood of friendship and even of affection, but there stood apart, in open and flaming disaffection, the Protestant minority in Ireland, who were in a state of stark terror that the Home Rule Bill of 1886 meant the end of everything for them - the end of their brutal ascendancy and probably also the confiscation of their property and the ruin of their social position.
Then, as on a more recent occasion, preparations for civil war were going on in Ulster, largely of English Party manufacture, and more with an eye to British Party purposes than because of any sincere convictions on the rights of the ascendancy element. Still the Grand Old Man carried on his indomitable campaign for justice to Ireland, notwithstanding the unfortunate cleavage which had taken place in the ranks of his own Party, and it does not require any special gift of prevision to assert, nor is it any unwarrantable assumption on the facts to say, that the alliance between the Liberal and Irish Parties would inevitably have triumphed as soon as a General Election came had not the appalling misunderstanding as to Gladstones Nullity of Leadership letter flung everything into chaos and irretrievably ruined the hopes of Ireland for more than a generation.
And this brings me to what I regard as the greatest of Irish tragedies - the deposition and the dethronement of Parnell under circumstances which will remain for all time a sadness and a sorrow to the Irish race.
Chapter II: A Leader is Dethroned!
I have read all the authentic literature I could lay hold of bearing upon the Parnell imbroglio, and it leaves me with the firm conviction that if there had not been an almost unbelievable concatenation of errors and misunderstandings and stupid blunderings, Parnell need never have been sacrificed. And the fact stands out with clearness that the passage in Gladstones Nullity of Leadership letter, which was the root cause of all the trouble that followed, would never have been published were it not that the political hacks, through motives of party expediency, insisted on its inclusion. That plant of tender growth - the English Nonconformist conscience - it was that decreed the fall of the mighty Irish leader.
It is only in recent years that the full facts of what happened during what is known as The Parnell Split have been made public, and these facts make it quite clear that neither during the Divorce Court proceedings nor subsequently had Parnell had a fair fighting chance. Let it be remembered that no leader was ever pursued by such malignant methods of defamation as Parnell, and it is questionable how far the Divorce Court proceedings were not intended by his enemies as part of this unscrupulous campaign. Replying to a letter of William OBrien before the trial, Parnell wrote: You may rest quite sure that if this proceeding ever comes to trial (which I very much doubt) it is not I who will quit the court with discredit. And when the whole mischief was done, and the storm raged ruthlessly around him, Parnell told OBrien, during the Boulogne negotiations, that he all but came to blows with Sir Frank Lockwood (the respondents counsel) when insisting that he should be himself examined in the Divorce Court, and he intimated that if he had prevailed the political complications that followed could never have arisen. On which declaration Mr OBrien has this footnote: The genial giant Sir Frank Lockwood confessed to me in after years: Parnell was cruelly wronged all round. There is a great reaction in England in his favour. I am not altogether without remorse myself.
Not all at once were the flood-gates of vituperation let loose upon Parnell. Not all at once did the question of his continued leadership arise. He had led his people, with an incomparable skill and intrepidity, not unequally matched with the genius of Gladstone himself, from a position of impotence and contempt to the supreme point where success was within their reach. A General Election, big with the fate of Ireland, was not far off. Was the matchless leader who had led his people so far and so well to disappear and to leave his country the prey of warring factions - he who had established a national unity such as Ireland had never known before? For myself, writes William OBrien, I should no more have voted Parnells displacement on the Divorce Court proceedings alone than England would have thought of changing the command on the eve of the battle of Trafalgar in a holy horror of the frailties of Lady Hamilton and her lover.
The Liberal Nonconformists, however, shrieked for his head in a real or assumed outburst of moral frenzy, and the choice thrust upon the Irish people and their representatives was as to whether they should remain faithful to the alliance with the Liberal Party, to which the Irish nation unquestionably stood pledged, or to the leader who had won so much for them and who might win yet more if he had a united Ireland behind him, unseduced and unterrified by the clamour of English Puritan moralists. OBrien and Dillon and other leading Irishmen were in America whilst passions were being excited and events marching to destruction over here. The knives were out, as one fiery protagonist of the day rather savagely declared. It is, as I have already inferred, now made abundantly clear that Gladstone would not have included in his letter the famous Nullity of Leadership passage if other counsels had not overborne his own better judgment.
It was this letter of Gladstone which set the ball rolling against Parnell. Up till then the members of the Irish Party and the Irish people were solidly and, indeed, defiantly with him. No doubt Michael Davitt joined with such zealots as the Rev. Mr Price Hughes and W.T. Stead in demanding the deposition of Parnell, but one need not be uncharitable in saying that Davitt had his quarrels with Parnell - and serious ones at that - on the Land Question and other items of the national demand, and he was, besides, a man of impetuous temperament, not overmuch given to counting the consequences of his actions.
Then there came the famous, or infamous, according as it be viewed, struggle in Committee Room 15 of the House of Commons, when, by a majority of 45 to 29, it was finally decided to declare the chair vacant, after a battle of unusual ferocity and personal bitterness. And now a new element of complication was added to the already sufficiently poignant tragedy by the entry of the Irish Catholic bishops on the scene. Hitherto they had refrained, with admirable restraint, from interference, and they had done nothing to intensify the agonies of the moment. It will always remain a matter for regret that they did not avail themselves of a great opportunity, and their own unparalleled power with the people, to mediate in the interests of peace - whilst their mediation might still avail. But unfortunately, with one notable exception, they united in staking the entire power of the Church on the dethronement of Parnell. The effect was twofold. It added fresh fury to the attacks of those who were howling for the head of their erstwhile chieftain and who were glad to add the thunderbolts of the Church to their own feebler weapons of assault; but the more permanent effect, and, indeed, the more disastrous, was the doubt it left on the minds of thousands of the best Irishmen whether there was not some malign plot in which the Church was associated with the ban-dogs of the Liberal Party for dishing Home Rule by overthrowing Parnell. It was recalled that the Catholic priesthood, with a few glorious exceptions, stood apart from Parnell when he was struggling to give life and force to the Irish movement, and thus it came to pass that for many a bitter year the part of the Irish priest in politics was freely criticised by Catholics whose loyalty to the Church was indisputable.
Even still - if only the temporary withdrawal of Parnell were secured - all might have been well. And it was to this end that the Boulogne negotiations were set on foot. Mr William OBrien has, perhaps, left us the most complete record of what transpired in the course of those fateful conversations. Parnell naturally desired to get out of a delicate situation with all possible credit and honour, and his magnificent services entitled him to the utmost consideration in this respect. He insisted on demanding guarantees from Mr Gladstone on Home Rule and the Land Question, and these given he expressed his willingness to retire from the position of Chairman of the Party. At first he insisted on Mr William OBrien being his successor, but OBrien peremptorily dismissed this for reasons which were to him unalterable. Mr Dillon was then agreed to, and a settlement was on the point of achievement when a maladroit remark of this gentleman about the administration of the Paris Funds so grievously wounded the pride of Parnell that the serenity of the negotiations was irreparably disturbed, and from that moment the movement for peace was merely an empty show.
Chaos had come again upon the Irish Cause, and the Irish people, who were so near the goal of success, wasted many years, that might have been better spent, in futile and fratricidal strife, in which all the baser passions of politics ran riot and played havoc with the finer purposes of men engaged in a struggle for liberty and right.
Chapter III: The Death of a Leader
Parnell broke off the Boulogne negotiations ostensibly on the ground that the assurances of Mr Gladstone on the Home Rule Question were not sufficient and that if he was to be thrown to the English wolves, to use his own term, the Irish people were not getting their price in return. But giving the best thought possible to all the available materials it would seem that Mr Dillons reflection on Parnells bona fides was really at the root of the ultimate break-away.
Mr Barry OBrien, in his Life of Parnell, thus describes the incident:
It is a vivid memory with me how closely we in Ireland hung upon the varying fortunes and vicissitudes of the Boulogne pourparlers, and how earnest was the hope in every honest Irish heart that a way out might be found which would not involve our incomparable leader in further humiliations. But alas for our hopes! The hemlock had to be drained to the last bitter drop. Meanwhile Parnell never rested day or night. He rushed from one end of the country to the other, addressing meetings, fighting elections, stimulating his followers, answering his defamers and all the time exhausting the scant reserves of strength that were left him.
Considering all the causes of his downfall in the light of later events the alliance of the Irish Party with English Liberalism was, in my judgment, the primary factor. Were it not for this entanglement or obligation - call it what you will - the Gladstone letter would never have been written. And even that letter was no sufficient justification for throwing Parnell overboard. If it were a question of the defeat of the Home Rule cause and the withdrawal of Mr Gladstone from the leadership of the Liberal Party, something may be said for it, but the words actually used by Mr Gladstone were: The continuance of Parnells leadership would render my retention of the leadership of the Liberal Party almost a nullity. Be it observed, Gladstone did not say he was going to retire from leadership; nor did he say he was going to abandon Home Rule - to forsake a principle founded on justice and for which he had divided the Liberal Party and risked his own reputation as a statesman.
To think that Gladstone meant this is not alone inconceivable, but preposterous. And, indeed, it has been recently made abundantly clear in Lord Morleys book of personal reminiscences that the Parnell Split need never have taken place at all had steps been taken by any responsible body of intermediaries to obtain Gladstones real views. We now know it for absolute fact that Gladstone had had actually struck out of his letter as prepared by him for publication the fatal and fateful passage and that it was only reinserted at Mr John Morleys dictation. Mr Morleys own narrative of the circumstances deserves quotation:
Thus the fate of a great man and, to a very considerable extent also, the destiny of an ancient nation was decided by one of those unaccountable mischances which are the weapons of Fate in an inscrutable world. I think that to-day Ireland generally mourns it that Parnell should ever have been deposed in obedience to a British mandate - or perhaps, as those who conscientiously opposed Mr Parnell at the time might prefer to term it, because of their fidelity to a compact honestly entered into with the Liberal Party - an alliance which they no doubt believed to be essential to the grant of Home Rule.
We have since learned, through much travail and disappointment, what little faith can be reposed in the most emphatic pledges of British Parties or leaders, and we had been wiser in 1890 if we had taken sides with Parnell against the whole world had the need arisen. As it was, fought on front and flank, with the thunders of the Church, and the ribaldry of malicious tongues to scatter their venomed darts abroad, Parnell was a doomed man. Not that he lacked indomitable courage or loyal support. But his frail body was not equal to the demands of the undaunted spirit upon it, and so he went to his grave broken but not beaten - great even in that last desperate stand he had made for his own position, as he was great in all that he had undertaken, suffered and achieved for his country. It was a hushed and heart-broken Ireland that heard of his death. It was as if a pall had fallen over the land on that grey October morning in 1891 when the news of his passing was flashed across from the England that he scorned to the Ireland that he loved. It may be that those who had reviled him and cast the wounding word against him had then their moment of regret and the wish that what had been heatedly spoken might be unsaid, but those who loved him and who were loyal to the end found no consolation beyond this, that they had stood, with leal hearts and true, beside the man who had found Ireland broken, maimed and dispirited and who had lifted her to the proud position of conscious strength and self-reliant nationhood.
An Appreciation of Parnell
And thus Ireland parted with the greatest of her Captains and reaped a full crop of failures as her reward. Too late there were flashing testimonials to his greatness. Too late it became a commonplace observation in Ireland, when the impotence of the sordid sections was apparent: How different it would all be if Parnell were alive. Too late did we have tributes to Parnells capacity from friend and foe which magnified his gifts of leadership beyond reach of the envious. Even the man who was more than any other responsible for his fall said of Parnell (Mr Barry OBriens Life of Parnell):
Parnell was supreme all the time. This is the complete answer to those - and some of them are alive still - who said in the days of the Split that it was his Party which made him and not he who made the Party. In this connection I might quote also the following brief extract from a letter written by Mr William OBrien to Archbishop Croke during the Boulogne negotiations:
Time proved, only too tragically, the correctness of Mr OBriens judgment. When the guiding and governing hand of Parnell was withdrawn the Party went to pieces. In the words of Gladstone: they had changed since then - and I may add that at no subsequent period did they gain the same cohesion, purpose or power as a Party.
It may be well when dealing with Parnells position in Irish history to quote the considered opinion of an independent writer of neutral nationality. M. Paul Dubois, a well-known French author, in his masterly work, Contemporary Ireland, thus gives his estimate of Parnell:
We have here the opinions of those who knew Parnell in Parliament - the one as his opponent, the other as, perhaps, his most intimate friend - and of an independent outsider who had no part or lot in Irish controversies. It may be perhaps not amiss if I conclude this appreciation of Parnell with the views of an Irishman of the latest school of Irish thought. Mr R. Mitchell Henry, in his work, The Evolution of Sinn Fein, writes:
Judged by the most varied standards and opinions the greatness of Parnell as the leader of a nation is universally conceded. The question may be asked: But what did Parnell actually accomplish to entitle him to this distinction? I will attempt briefly to summarise his achievements. He found a nation of serfs, and if he did not actually make a nation of freemen of them he set them on the high road to freedom, he gave them a measure of their power when united and disciplined, and he taught them how to resist and combat the arrogance, the greed and the inbred cruelty of landlordism. He struck at England through its most vulnerable point - through its Irish garrison, with its cohorts of unscrupulous mercenaries and hangers-on. He struck at it in the very citadel of its own vaunted liberties - in the Parliament whose prestige was its proudest possession and which he made it his aim to shatter, to ridicule and to destroy. He converted an Irish Party of complaisant time-servers, Whigs and office-seekers into a Party of irreproachable incorruptibility, unbreakable unity, iron discipline and a magnificently disinterested patriotism. He formulated the demand for Irish nationhood with clearness and precision. He knew how to bargain with the wiliest and subtlest statesman of his age, and great and powerful as Gladstone was he met in Parnell a man equally conscious of his own strength and equally tenacious of his principles. In fact, on every encounter the ultimate advantage rested with Parnell. He won on the Land Question, he won on the labourers demands, he won on the Home Rule issue and he showed what a potent weapon the balance of power could be in the hands of a capable and determined Irish leader.
Not alone did he create an impregnable Irish Party; he established a united Irish race throughout the world. His sway was acknowledged with the same implicit confidence among the exiled Irish in America and Australia as it was by the home-folk in Ireland. He was the great cementing influence of an Irish solidarity such as was never before attempted or realised. He did a great deal to arrest the outflow of the nations best blood by emigration, and, if he had no strong or striking policy on matters educational and industrial, he gave manhood to the people, he developed character in them, he gave them security in their lands and homes, and, if the unhappy cataclysm of his later days had not be-fallen, he would unquestionably have given them a measure of self-government from which they could march onward to the fullest emancipation that the status of nationhood demands.
There was never stagnation, nor stupidity, nor blundering in the handling of Irish affairs whilst his hand was on the helm. It was only later that the creeping paralysis of inefficiency and incompetence exhibited itself and that a people deprived of his genius for direction and control sank into unimagined depths of apathy, indifference and gloom.
He thwarted and defeated what appeared to be the settled policy of England - namely, to palter and toy with Irish problems, to postpone their settlement, to engage in savage repressions and ruthless oppressions until, the race being decimated by emigration or, what remained, being destroyed in their ancient faiths by a ruthless method of Anglicisation, the Irish Question would settle itself by a process of gradual attenuation unto final disappearance.
It was Parnell who practically put an end to evictions in Ireland - those sentences of death under which, from 1849 to 1882, there were no less than 363,000 peasant families turned out of their homes and driven out of their country. It was his policy which invested the tenants with solid legal rights and gave them unquestioned guarantees against landlord lawlessness. He and his lieutenants had their bouts with Dublin Castle, and they proved what a very vulnerable institution it was when courageously assailed.
Taken all in all, he brought a new life into Ireland. He left it for ever under manifold obligations to him, and whilst grass grows and water runs and the Celtic race endures, Ireland will revere the name of Parnell and rank him amongst the noblest of her leaders.
Chapter V: The Wreck and Ruin of a Party
At this time also indications came from outside that all was not well within the Liberal ranks. Some of the most prominent members of this Party began to think that the G.O.M. was getting too old for active leadership and should be sent to the House of Lords. Justin McCarthy also reported an interview he had with Gladstone, in which the G.O.M. plainly hinted that, so far as Home Rule was concerned, he could no longer hope to be in at the finish, and that there was a strong feeling among his own friends that Irish legislation should be shelved for a few years so that place might be yielded to British affairs. The General Election of 1892 had taken place not, as may be imagined, under the best set of circumstances for the Liberals. The Nationalist members were still faithful to their alliance, which had cost Ireland so much, and which was to cost her yet more, and this enabled the Liberals to remain in office with a shifting and insecure majority of about 42 when all their hosts were reckoned up.
It is claimed for the Home Rule Bill of 1893 that it satisfied all Mr Parnells stipulations. However this may be, Mr Redmond and his friends seemed to think otherwise, for they raised many points and pressed several amendments to a division on one occasion, reducing the Government majority to 14 on the question of the Irish representation at Westminster, which the Parnellites insisted should remain at 103. How the mind of Nationalist Ireland has changed since then!
Mr Thomas Sexton was one of the brilliant intellects of the Party at this period, a consummate orator, a reputed master of all the intricacies of international finance, and in every sense of the word a first-rate House of Commons man. But he had in some way or other aroused the implacable ire of Mr T.M. Healy, whose sardonic invective he could not stand. A politician has no right to possess a sensitive skin, but somehow Mr Sexton did, with the result that he allowed himself to be driven from public life rather than endure the continual stabs of a tongue that could be very terrible at times - though I would say myself of its owner that he possesses a heart as warm as ever beat in Irish breast.
The fate of the Home Rule Bill of 1893 was already assured long before it left the House of Commons. Like the Bill of 1886 it came to grief on the fear of the English Unionists for the unity of the Empire. Home Rule was conquered by Imperialism, and the Ulster opposition was merely used as a powerful and effective argument in the campaign.
Ireland had sunk meanwhile into a hopeless stupor. The attitude of the Irish masses appeared to be one of despairing indifference to all the parties whose several newspapers were daily engaged in the delectable task of hurling anathemas at each others heads. Interest in the national cause had almost completely ebbed away. A Liberal Chief Secretary, in the person of Mr John Morley, reigned in Dublin Castle, but all that he is remembered for now is that he started the innovation of placing Nationalist and Catholic Justices of the Peace on the bench, who became known in time as the Morley magistrates. Otherwise he left Dublin Castle as formidable a fortress of ascendancy authority as it had ever been. Under conditions as they were then, or as they are now, no Chief Secretary can hope to fundamentally alter the power of the Castle. Imagine, writes M. Paul Dubois in Contemporary Ireland:
When it came to Gladstone surrendering the sceptre he had so long and brilliantly wielded, I do not remember that the event excited any overpowering interest in Ireland. Outside the ranks of the politicians the people had almost ceased to speculate on these matters. A period of utter stagnation had supervened and it came as no surprise or shock to Nationalist sentiment when Home Rule was formally abandoned by Gladstones successor, Lord Rosebery. Home Rule is as dead as Queen Anne, declared Mr Chamberlain. These are the kind of declarations usually made in the exuberance of a personal or political triumph, but the passing of the years has a curious knack of giving them emphatic refutation.
Divided as they were and torn with dissensions, the Nationalists were not in a position where they could effectively demand guarantees from Lord Rosebery or enter into any definite arrangement with him. They kept up their squalid squabble and indulged their personal rivalries, but a disgusted country had practically withdrawn all support from them, and an Irish race which in the heyday of Parnell was so proud to contribute to their war-chest, now buttoned up its pockets and in the most practical manner told them it wanted none of them.
In this state of dereliction and despair did the General Election of 1895 surprise them. The Parnellites had their old organisation - the National League - and the Anti-Parnellites had established in opposition to this the National Federation, so that Ireland had a sufficiency of Leagues but no concrete programme beyond a disreputable policy of hacking each other all round. As a matter of fact, we had in Cork city the curious and almost incredible spectacle of the Dillonites and Healyites joining forces to crush the Parnellite candidate, whilst elsewhere they were tearing one another to tatters, as it would almost appear, for the mere love of the thing.
There was one pathetic figure in all this wretched business - that of the Hon. Edward Blake, who had been Prime Minister of Canada and who had surrendered a position of commanding eminence in the political, legal and social life of the Dominion to give the benefit of his splendid talents to the service of Ireland. It was a service rendered all in vain, though, to the end of his life, with a noble fidelity, he devoted himself to his chosen cause, thus completing a sacrifice which deserved a worthier reward.
At this period the Home Rule Cause seemed to be buried in the same grave with Parnell. It may be remarked that there were countless bodies of the Irish peasantry who still believed that Parnell had not died, that the sad pageant of his funeral and burial was a prearranged show to deceive his enemies, and that the time would soon come when the mighty leader would emerge from his seclusion to captain the hosts of Irish nationality in the final battle for independence. This idea lately found expression in a powerful play by Mr Lennox Robinson, entitled The Lost Leader.
But, alas! for the belief, the chieftain had only too surely passed away, and when the General Election of 1895 was over it was a battered, broken and bitterly divided Irish Party which returned to Westminster - a Party which had lost all faith in itself and which was a byword and a reproach alike for its helpless inefficiency and its petty intestine quarrels.