Perhaps the greatest legacy Charles Stewart Parnell, grandiloquently dubbed “The Uncrowned Kingof Ireland” is the the Christmas Dinner depicted by James Joyce in “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.” It is one of the most powerful and funny episodes ever written.
Parnell was no King, much less an Emperor. He may not have been discovered Naked like the Emperor in the story, but he was sufficiently unbuttoned to feel the chill of the Prim and Proper English Non-Conformity which sustained the Liberal Party and had its apotheosis in the Prime Minister, William Ewart Gladstone.
Parnell had led the Irish Party with skill and had allied himself with Gladstone who had come to favour Home Rule. When it was revealed that Parnell had been living happily with a woman and their children for some years while she was married but separated from her husband, Gladstone and his party insisted they would quit the alliance with the Irish whilst Parnell remained their leader.
Initially the Irish refused to be dictated to by Gladstone. But the Tories,then, as now, were Ireland’s mortal enemies.
So, behind closed doors in Commons Committee Room 15, his colleagues asked Parnell to stand down as Leader. Parnell told them to their faces that he was the “Master” of the Party.
Parnell was a Landlord and a Protestant and had an aloof manner, and his party colleagues ,in the main, were Catholics whose families had been excluded from land ownership, the professions, and freedom of public worship for centuries.
Is it surprising, then, that he was met with the question –“And who is Mistress of the Party?”
A generation earlier a gentleman of Parnell’s standing would have challenged the questioner to a duel, if he considered him a gentleman. Though Tim Healy became Governor General of the Irish Free State I don’t think he ever rated as a gent.
Anyhow Parnell showed the arrogance of a Dictator-in-Waiting when he was but a Back-Bench MP.
Parnell’s greatest Parliamentary idolator was John Redmond, whose later ascendancy in the Party rested on the Ballybricken Pig Buyers in Waterford, a fearsome gang of thugs, and an alliance with Joe Devlin’s sectarian blackguards in the Ancient Order of Hibernians. Before Carson’s UVF, or the Irish Volunteers, at a time when neither Connolly nor Pearse (both of whom supported Home Rule) contemplated Insurgency, Devlin’s AOH thugs set upon James Connolly in Cobh, because he had written “Labour, Nationality and Religion” in response to an attack on Socialism by a Jesuit Priest. When William O’Brien and most of Cork’s MPs disagreed with Redmond, Redmond presided over a Party Convention, where “stewards” armed with batons were ordered to use them on any delegate who spoke with a Cork accent. Successful Redmondite election candidates on more than one occasion were unseated because of proven corruption and intimidation at the polls. And this before the rise of Sinn Fein, a party never, ever, accused of such practices before a properly constituted tribunal.
John Redmond, at the height of his influence and reputation, was never more than a Backbench MP. He was not considered a Master of his Party but was part of a Triumvirate with John Dillon and Joe Devlin. John Dillon was a critic of the preparations for, and drive to, war against Germany which had been proceeding since 1904. In this matter Dillon had the agreement of many Liberal MPs. Redmond’s support for the war had not been discussed with his Party colleagues nor mandated by Irish voters. Liberals who would have voted against the war, voted for it, seeing that an Irish leader had chosen to, and thus plunged the world into fires which are still burning and apparently will never end.
In Redmond’s day a Backbench MP, if nominated to a Cabinet Post, had to resign his seat and win the resulting By-Election before he could take that post. In 1910 the Backbencher Winston Churchill was nominated for the Post of President of the Board of Trade, a very important position in a Nation of Shopkeepers, but not to be compared with that of making war. Churchill went back to his electors to fight a By-Election, AND LOST IT.
John Redmond didn’t resign and fight a by-election on his war-mongering platform. But will, for example John Bruton, or Seumas Murphy SJ, tell you that Redmond was being rather presumptuous in sentencing humanity to over a century of strife without a mandate?
Redmond, to my mind, was a presumptuous fool and Satan’s useful idiot.
In previous BLOGS I’ve quoted from the volume Great Irish Speeches and the insights they give into those that gave them. John A Costello’s 1934 “Hitler-Shirts” speech takes the gilt off the gingerbread of a generally well-remembered lawyer and Taoiseach, and Liam Cosgrave’s “mongrel foxes” attack on members of his own attack, which seem to me reminiscent of the speech Hitler gave in the Reichstag, a couple of months after Costello’s speech, justifying his mass murder of the “Hitler-Shirts” on THE NIGHT OF THE LONG KNIVES. It seems to me that there is quite an alarming bit of Dictator-envy and admiration of Dictator’s method in Fine Gael’s DNA.