“We Won't Let Our Leader Run Down”


The Irish Parliamentary Party and Gladstone want to condemn Parnell. "Give Parnell the thing he requires, Home Rule and Prosperity ... then he will retire." "He has fought for prosperity unto the last, That is what the people say in Ireland"


"In December 1889, Parnell became involved in a divorce that was to end his political influence and the trauma of this divorce probably hastened his early death.... Parnell managed to split the party that represented many of the people of Ireland at Westminster - the Irish Parliamentary Party. Some sided with Parnell while others did not." He married the divorced woman in June 1891 and died in October. (source: "Charles Stuart Parnell" at History Learning Site) - BS

[We should note that almost all sources spell Parnell's name "Charles Stewart Parnell."]

In fact the situation was even more complicated than the above can describe. Parnell (1845-1891), who had helped found the Land League and won major rights for Irish tenants (see "The Bold Tenant Farmer"), had for long led the Irish parliamentary faction -- which he had finally welded into a cohesive enough block that it generally held the controlling hand in the House of Commons.

Since he was in alliance with Gladstone, who wanted Home Rule for Ireland, a Home Rule bill were introduced in 1886. But the political opposition in the Lords, and the overwhelming revulsion caused by the Phoenix Park murders (for which see, e.g., "The Phoenix Park Tragedy"), caused it to go down.

And then there was Parnell's Great Indiscretion. In 1880, before his power had even reached its peak, he had begun an affair with Katherine O'Shea, the wife of Captain William O'Shea, a Home Rule M.P. (See Peter and Fiona Somerset Fry, _A History of Ireland_, p. 259). Their first child was born in 1882; although she died, they had two more children in 1883 and 1884.

Some men might have gotten away with this (Bill Clinton, anyone?). It was harder for Parnell. According to Ulick O'Connor, _Michael Collins & The Troubles_, p.16, Parnell "was a landlord and an aristocrat who challenged the aristocracy and defied the landowners. He was not witty or eloquent as traditional Irish leaders had been. He was cold and often disdainful." In other words, his power was based on his opinions, not his personality. He didn't charm anyone -- except "Kitty" O'Shea.

Exactly how Parnell and Captain O'Shea felt about each other is not entirely clear (see Robert Kee, _The Bold Fenian Men_, being Volume II of _The Green Flag_, pp. 85-86, 112-113; also Fry/Fry, p. 259). But by 1886 O'Shea resigned from Parliament, and in 1889, he divorced his wife. Parnell married her in 1891 (Fry/Fry, p. 260). If Parnell had resigned, his platform might have survived. But he didn't, and it didn't; he was voted out of office in 1890 (Martin Wallace, _A Short History of Ireland_, p. 140).

It will tell you what the politics of the time were like that a preacher in the run-up to the election of 1892 said, "Parnellism is simply love of adultery and all those who profess Parnellism profess to love and admire adultery" (Kee, p. 117).

Parnell tried to rebuild his support by a series of lectures and speeches, but collapsed and died not long after (Kee, p. 115, who writes, "He died at Brighton with his wife by his side on 10 October, and his body was brought into Kingston harbour on... 11 October, and buried in Glasnevin cemetary. The chances of Home Rule for the next twenty years were buried with him."

Despite his final failure, Parnell became part of Ireland's folklore. O'Connor, p. 18, writes, "[His] coffin was drawn in sielnce through Dublen past stricken crowds who stood in the streets in numbers that have never been equalled since.... To an extent it is true that the Irish never got over Parnell's death....? - RBW

Cross references


  • Bodleian, Harding B 26(671), "We Won't Hear our Leader Run Down," unknown, n.d.


  1. Zimmermann 89, "We Won't Let Our Leader Run Down" (1 text)
  2. BI, Zimm089


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1891 (Zimmermann)