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One of Our Greatest

Added: Thursday, July 11th 2019 at 8:16am by wicklowmick

Parnell – a True Green….




Charles Stewart Parnell was one of the greatest Irishmen of all time.   

This is not just my opinion but that of numerous important people of his era.    He was also a fellow Wicklow man.  

His home is now a museum in his memory at Avondale House, just south of Rathdrum, Co. Wicklow. Once again I am shocked and ashamed at knowing precious little about the great man. It will become clear as to why later on, but suffice is to say at this stage that he became involved in that great sin ‘adultery’ with a married woman, and my teachers, the Christian Brothers probably could not bring themselves to forgive him.




At one end of O’Connell Street in Dublin (the river end) is a statue of one of another great Irishmen Daniel O’Connell whilst at the other end is a statue to Parnell. I can well remember reading at a young age the inscription on Parnell’s monument:


 "No man has the right to fix the boundary to the march of a nation.


No man has a right to say to his country –thus far shall thou go


and no further. We have never attempted to fix the ne plus


ultra (*) of Ireland’s nationhood and we never shall"


(* the pinnacle, the ultimate)




Notwithstanding his obvious nationalism, he was described by Gladstone, the British Prime Minister of the time as "the most remarkable person he had ever met".  Asquith, a subsequent Liberal Prime Minister described him as "one of the three or four greatest men of the nineteenth century" whilst Lord Haldane described him as "the strongest man the British House of Commons had seen in 150 years".

Parnell was born in Avondale, County Wicklow on 27th June 1846 to a well-to-do family. His mother was well connected being Delia Stewart, an American from Bordentown, New Jersey. Her father was an American hero, Commodore Charles Stewart, the stepson of one of George Washington’s bodyguards. Through the  Stewart  connection there was a distant link to the Tudors, the British Royal Family. His grandfather fought in the American War of Independence and received a gold medal for gallantry from the United States Congress. There were many such ‘high’ connections, which were passed on to Parnell himself. He was non-Catholic, being of the Church of Ireland.

He went to school in England and received a university education at Magdalene College Cambridge. Five years later, in 1874, he became High Sheriff of County Wicklow.

His political career had begun. In 1875 he became a Member of Parliament in the House of Commons, London (Ireland still being part of the United Kingdom).

He was soon to find that the House of Commons had little or no interest in Irish affairs. He began to disrupt proceedings until they began to pay attention. He fought throughout his political career for Home Rule for Ireland. He formed the Irish Parliamentary Party and forced his will upon the members. As a result of the rules he imposed on its members, this party is generally seen as the first modern British political party and became the basis/model for all subsequent groups.

As a result of his efforts, Gladstone in the middle 1880’s committed his party to the cause of Irish Home Rule. Such a bill was introduced in 1886, but was defeated due to in-fighting among the Liberal party.

He fought for and became president of the Irish Land League and as a result he was successful in gaining several Land Acts which changed the face of Irish land ownership, replacing large Anglo-Irish estates with tenant ownership.

On 6th May 1882, two senior members of the British Government in Ireland were murdered in Phoenix Park. They were Lord Frederick Cavendish, the Chief Secretary for Ireland and the Permanent Under-Secretary for Ireland, T.H. Burke. The Times Newspaper in London published a letter accusing Parnell of  complicity in  the murders.

This badly affected Parnell until a Commission of Enquiry revealed in 1889 that the letter had been fabricated by a Richard Piggott, an anti-Parnellite journalist who committed suicide after the letter was shown to be a forgery by him. The Times paid Parnell £5,000 as an out of court settlement.

It was obvious that Parnell was making many enemies both within his own party and other groups – all with their own agendas. Although a true Irish hero, he was being referred to by a title earlier given to O’Connell – "Uncrowned King of Ireland".

Storm clouds were gathering and when they arrived, there was little or nothing that Parnell could do about them. You see, the stories were true…………




It had been known in political circles for a long time that Parnell was the long-term partner of, and father of three of her children, Katherine O’Shea. She was the wife of a fellow Irish M.P., Captain Willie O’Shea. She quickly became known as ‘Kitty’ but not with endearment. ‘Kitty’ was what the public called prostitutes at the time. The Catholic Church forbade divorce and although he was not a Catholic, most of his followers and fellow Irish  M.P.’s were.

After the divorce, he rapidly began to lose support, as did his party. The Unionists stepped in and began to increase theirs and gain in strength. On one occasion, Parnell challenged Gladstone during a debate in the House of Commons by calling "Who is the master of the party?" to which he received a loud call from another M.P. "Who is the mistress of the party?"

On 25th June 1891, having been divorced, Katherine married Parnell in West Sussex. The Catholic Church leaders issued a condemnation, which resulted in more harm to his career. He never did recover and whilst trying to do so at a rally in the West of Ireland, he contacted pneumonia. He returned to England on 30th September vowing to return. However, he died in his wife’s arms on 6th October 1891.

I have no doubt whatsoever, that Parnell was probably the greatest and truest Irishman that I have come across in all my reading on Irish history. Why on earth did those who taught me at school never mention his greatness and him being a fellow Wicklow man?

(A very strange aspect of Parnell, which I include out of total curiosity, is the fact that he had a phobia about the colour Green. He could not wear it or stand on a platform decorated by the colour, as it would regularly make him physically sick. Odd really, as it is the National colour).

Finally, I will leave you with Gladstone’s words on the man "I do not say the ablest man: I say the most remarkable and the most interesting. He was an intellectual phenomenon".


 There is a version of the following song by


The Dubliners on this Youtube link:







Oh have you been to Avondale
And lingered in her lovely vale
Where tall trees whisper low the tale
Of Avondale's proud eagle

Where pride and ancient glory fade
Such was the land where he was laid
Like Christ was thirty pieces paid
For Avondale's proud eagle


Long years that green and lovely glade
Have lost for now our grandest Gael
And cursed the land that has betrayed
Our Avondale's proud eagle








User Comments

This was so interesting. Nowadays people wouldn't bat an eye at marrying a divorce.

I can't believe they called her kitty. How embarrassing for her.

Thank you Marissa:  Different world, different time........Mike...

A nationalist who literally couldn't stomach his nation's color, lol.  Love your details.  He was yet more proof that no one is totally good or totally bad. He was a hero, too, because of changing the land laws.  Such an interesting character.  Thanks Mike.

Thank you Irish: Ireland would now be a far better place if he had not played around with Kitty..................Mike...

It looks like he was born too soon when nowadays, anything goes!  Have a good weekend, Mike, and hope you're getting plenty of golf in...  : )

Thank you Irish, and the same to you (not golf, just have a lovely weekend).  In fact, I played golf today for the first time in months.  I thoroughly enjoyed it although I was rubbish.  My best friend joined me and we had a good old chin-wag.   The weather was beautiful.  Yesterday, my good lady got full clearance on her cataract operation - fully successful so today we made appointments for eye tests for new glasses all round.....Mike.....

Your golf game was rubbish today so it can only get better, something to look forward to lol.  That's great news about the cataract surgery, the one surgery I'm looking forward to when mine get bad enough to remove...!  I I don't mind reading glasses, but I've had distance glasses since I was 8 plus contact lenses since I was 12, so I can't wait to wake up some day and just...see.  i can't even imagine lol.

Thank you Irish:  Her ladyship says that her sight is now fantastic.  The procedure was no problem and not painful in any way........Mike..

times change.. as you say   mike...have a sunny weekend..!

Thank you Greenfairy:  Just as Bob Dillion said............Mike.

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