In the years following the Phoenix Park murders and the formation of the National League
Parnell tightened his grip on the home rule party. This ensured that at the next election,
during November and December 1885, Parnell led a stronger and more homogenous party.
The party was to have fewer landlords and fewer MPs of Fenian extraction than previously.
Parnell in the last year or so of the Liberal government started to explore the possibility of
an agreement with the Conservatives, he did not just dwell on the possibility of reviving an
understanding with the Liberals. In 1883 and 1884 Parnell fostered links with the catholic
church. He supported the hierarchy over the long-running university issue and dropped his
support for the atheistic Bradlaugh. His alliance with the catholic church was also aided by a
change in the views of the hierarchy. Like O’Connell before him it was not sufficient to
mobilise the peasantry, the support of the leadership of the church was also essential.

The Central Board Scheme
Joseph Chamberlain, who had pioneered so much in English municipal government, devised
his Central Board Scheme as a substitute for home rule. It would give Ireland “the widest
possible self-government … consistent with the integrity of the Empire”; Chamberlain’s two
main concerns were local government and the fostering of imperial links. Chamberlain’s
imperialism was still in its relative infancy, but it was the bedrock of his opposition to home
rule. Although somewhat suspicious of Chamberlain’s motives Parnell showed a degree of
enthusiasm for the Central Board concept. The scheme would deal with education, transport
and the coordination of a revamped county administration. For Parnell it was the first step
towards home rule, which he saw as operating alongside the Central Board Scheme.
Chamberlain, who had a keen interest in Irish affairs, was encouraged to believe by William
O’Shea (once more a broker and go-between as in 1882) that Parnell had accepted this
idea as a watered-down form of home rule. Chamberlain was furthermore encouraged by
the seemingly positive attitude of the catholic hierarchy. Chamberlain was piqued by
Parnell’s rejection of the scheme once it became apparent that Chamberlain was
completely hostile to home rule and his scheme was a substitute for an Irish legislature.
Gladstone, who had allowed Chamberlain to toy with the Central Board idea, together with
the rest of the cabinet was not prepared to adopt the scheme. Although a non-starter the
reactions to the Central Board idea are of some significance: its rejection by both Parnell
and the Liberals help explain Chamberlain’s later bitterness towards both the home rulers
and Gladstone, his pride had been hurt. This does not however account for his opposition to
home rule (which was based on his view of the empire), but it does go someway towards
an understanding of the virulence of his later attitude. Gladstone’s cavalier treatment of the
scheme is illustrative of his self-absorbed arrogance, he made no attempt either then or
later to accommodate or conciliate Chamberlain. There could not be room in the same
party for two such supreme egotists. Moreover Captain O’Shea’s role as a go-between
revealed his limitations, his rather pathetic pretensions and his duplicitous nature.

By the early summer of 1885 Gladstone’s government was flagging. The Prime Minister at
75 years of age seemed to have lost much of his drive and seemed to be soldiering on so
that Hartington and Chamberlain did not tear the Liberal party apart. He was no longer the
GOM (the “Grand Old Man”), he had become the MOG (the “murderer of Gordon”);
unpopularity and internal party squabbles seemed to be getting the better of him. His
government fell in mid-June following the resignation of Chamberlain and two other
ministers. Parnell had joined with Salisbury and the Conservatives in bringing down the
government. With the collapse of the Central Board scheme it had been clear that little
could be expected from the Liberals. Moreover Lord Randolph Churchill (in some ways the
brilliant and unorthodox counterpart of Chamberlain on the Conservative benches) had
intimated that the Conservatives would not renew coercion.

Parnell and the Conservatives
There was no dissolution of parliament and Salisbury formed a caretaker government. It
was in the interests of all that the current reforms, the 3rd Reform Act (1884) and the
Redistribution of Seats Act (1885) should be fully in place for the forthcoming election. In
the meantime Salisbury’s ministry remained amenable and actually courted Parnell and his
party. In many ways more could be achieved for Ireland from a Conservative ministry than
from the Liberals. The Conservatives were far more sympathetic to the concept of catholic
schools (the catholic bishops had endorsed the home rule party and had entrusted it with
the safeguarding of education). Conservative control over the Lords would facilitate further
land reforms and the completion of a home rule bill. Essentially Parnell was a “green tory”,
he saw a place for responsible nationally minded landlords in a home rule Ireland; his party
on non- national matters was conservative by nature. In a new parliament there would be
few of the Liberal/Whiggish tendency within the National League.

Carnarvon and Ashbourne
In particular the new Lord Lieutenant, Lord Carnarvon, seemed open to the possibility of
home rule. He and Parnell met secretly in London and their impressions of each other were
largely positive. In reality there was too large a gap between them, as there had been
between Chamberlain and Parnell; that however was not at the time an issue and both men
were relatively enthusiastic as there was the possibility of closer ties between their parties.
Salisbury was not averse to the development of these Parnell-Carnarvon feelers. If Parnell
wished to make approaches to the Conservatives, Salisbury would not disabuse him. Nor
was he prepared to indicate to Carnarvon how isolated his views were within the party and
cabinet; nationalist overtures were therefore allowed to run. In concrete terms the
Conservatives had delivered within two months a major land reform that seemed to show
their good faith. The Ashbourne Act provided capital of £5m (later raised to £10m) for the
entire purchase price for tenants whose landlords were willing to sell. This was a marked
improvement on Gladstone’s terms of 1870 (when only two-thirds could be advanced) or
1881 (when three-quarters could be loaned to the tenant). Moreover the rate of interest
was reduced from 5% to 4% and the repayment term was lengthened to 49 years. Though
the impact of the Act was not that great it was a Conservative precedent that showed their
apparent good faith to Ireland in general and the National League in particular.

Parnell and Gladstone
Parnell was also sounding out Gladstone. Gladstone was however less accommodating to
the Irish, he had been approached by Katherine O’Shea on Parnell’s behalf. Gladstone
seems to have believed that such auctioneering between opposition parties was incorrect if
not immoral; the Irish should make approaches to the government of the day, who might
or might not be prepared to countenance a deal. At this stage Gladstone would undoubtedly
have preferred the Conservatives to make a move on home rule. As indicated above they
would have been able to influence the Lords, moreover as the matter would be divisive and
controversial, it was preferable that the ‘poisoned chalice’ of home rule should be accepted
by the Conservatives. The political risks involved would then largely fall on the
Conservatives, although bipartisan support would be forthcoming from Gladstone and the
Liberals (but maybe not from the party as a whole). After all Gladstone had been a member
of Peel’s government that had fallen due to the contentious issue of the repeal of the Corn
Laws. In 1845 Lord John Russell had declined to take office and repeal the Corn Laws
despite the fact that in principle he believed Repeal to be correct. Why damage one’s own
party when the Conservatives were already in government?

Gladstone’s conversion to Home Rule
It would be a difficult task to convince the members of either British party of the merits of
home rule. Gladstone himself had only just edged towards the necessity of a home rule
solution. More open-minded on the issue than virtually any other British politician he now
felt that nothing less than home rule would solve the problem; he foresaw Ireland becoming
ungovernable. Undoubtedly his memory of the Land War influenced him, as did his
perception that Parnell could and would control Irish matters. Home rule was a policy
fraught with not only domestic political difficulties but imperial ones as well; would India for
instance use Irish home rule as a precedent for campaigning for self-government? In the
spring and summer of 1885 Gladstone had appeared old and tired and it was assumed by
many that Hartington would lead the Liberals in the future. To a degree revived by leaving
office and by his Norwegian cruise Gladstone seems to have completed his personal
conversion to home rule by the autumn. Struck by the peaceful manner by which Norway
(with its own parliament and administration) coexisted with Sweden, Gladstone convinced
himself of the merits of home rule as nothing less would satisfy Ireland. Gladstone’s
analysis of the Norwegian precedent was simplistic if not naive. The dual monarchy of
Sweden and Norway was akin to the 1782-1800 Irish model and was not a form of
delegated power as envisaged in a home rule solution. Furthermore, although peaceful, the
Swedish-Norwegian constitutional solution was viewed with discomfort in Norway and was
not to last, Norway was to achieve complete independence within twenty years. Relations
between Norway and Sweden remained strained well into the twentieth century.

Hopeful that Salisbury might adopt home rule and perhaps also unsure as to whether he
even wished to continue as party leader Gladstone refused in mid-November to accept
Parnell’s home rule overtures. Within four days Parnell had instructed the Irish in Great
Britain not to vote Liberal in the forthcoming general election. Given the information
available to Parnell at the time and the propensity of many catholic Irish voters in Britain to
vote Conservative due to the education issue, Parnell made the only possible choice.
Temperamentally the Irish were opposed to the Liberals on both social (a perverse form of
snobbery) and clerical grounds (CC O’Brien, Parnell and his Party); the Irish were more
inclined to be sympathetic to the Conservatives. Though some of the home rule MPs had
Liberal origins and the initiatives of Gladstone were on the whole clear, the National League
was antipathic to Liberalism especially the radical non-conformity of Chamberlain.
Chamberlain was loathed and distrusted by the Irish party as a whole.

The 1885 election
The election of November-December 1885 produced 335 Liberals, 249 Conservatives and
86 Nationalists. Liberal seats equalled the combined Conservative and Nationalist votes
exactly. Parnell could keep both British parties out of office, but could put the Liberals into
power. The Conservatives could govern with Irish support if Gladstone and like-minded
Liberals supported Salisbury from the opposition benches. Effectively the Irish Nationalists
exercised a veto for the first time ever, thus annulling the arithmetic of the Act of Union.
Irish Liberal MPs had ceased to exist, the National League had even won a seat in Liverpool
(TP O’Connor was to retain this until his death in 1929) and the Irish Conservatives were
confined to Ulster and the two Dublin University seats. By-and-large this pattern was to
remain unaltered until 1918. The results showed unionism in Ulster at its weakest with only
16 seats. This result gave the National League more seats in Ulster than the Conservatives
(soon to be redesignated Unionists); the nationalist (and Gladstonian) perception of Ulster
was to remain wedded to these figures, which were never again to be repeated. As
discussed elsewhere these figures also fail to reveal the critical mass of Ulster Unionism,
which was only just emerging as a political and moral force. Gladstone looked on the
election results as a moral endorsement of home rule that could not be ignored. However
Gladstone saw the election results as seemingly disastrous; he desired a clear mandate for
one of the British parties. The Irish held the balance; political judgement and conscience
could not be used without the accusation that politicians would be seduced by the prospect
of National League support. Parnell and his party had benefited from the parliamentary
reforms of 1883-5 (especially as Ireland only lost two seats despite the post-Famine falls in
population). The Irish electorate more than trebled and the remaining protestant-oriented
small boroughs were abolished. Democratisation was to aid both nationalism and northern
unionism just as it was to continue to undermine the landed classes.

Doc 7i
Parnell’s discipline over his party involved a pledge being taken by all candidates before the
1885 election.

“I … pledge myself that in the event of my election to parliament I will sit, act and vote with
the Irish parliamentary party and if at a meeting of the party convened upon due notice
specially to consider the question, it be decided by a resolution supported by a majority of
the entire parliamentary party that I have not fulfilled the above pledge I hereby undertake
forthwith to resign my seat.”

The Hawarden Kite
At the end of the general election Gladstone’s son Herbert announced in the London
Standard and the Leeds Mercury his father’s conversion to home rule. This torpedoed any
hope that Gladstone had of the Conservatives introducing home rule. Herbert seems to
have forced his father’s hand in order to keep his father as party leader thus preventing a
Chamberlain coup. Certainly Chamberlain had fought an election campaign at odds with his
leader; his Unauthorised Programme had cost the Liberals some borough seats (Gladstone
had written at the end of November “Fair Trade + Parnell + Church + Chamberlain have
damaged us a good deal in the boroughs”), but the Liberals had gained many county seats.
In reality there never had been any hope of Salisbury embracing home rule, he had
previously exercised that great political gift – silence; he like Parnell at the time of the New
Departure had merely kept his cards close to his chest. Salisbury’s government rejected
Gladstone’s plea for a bipartisan approach; Carnarvon resigned as Lord Lieutenant and the
combined Liberal and National League opposition defeated Salisbury’s government on an
amendment to the Queen’s Speech put forward by Jesse Collings, Chamberlain’s

Gladstone and Chamberlain
Gladstone therefore returned to office at the beginning of February with a cabinet that did
not contain Hartington (who was hostile to home rule and was almost as equally hostile to
Chamberlain). Chamberlain took office as President of the Local Government Board despite
a clear and well-known hostility to home rule. Within six weeks he and GO Trevelyan
(Scottish Office) had resigned. There seems to be no doubt that Gladstone treated
Chamberlain in a most cavalier fashion, airily dismissing Chamberlain’s request for the
Colonial Secretaryship and subsequently snubbing him over the salary of Jesse Collings,
Chamberlain’s lieutenant at the Local Government Board. Whilst it was most unlikely that
Chamberlain would remain in the cabinet for long with home rule in the offing, it seems
clear that Gladstone was attempting to isolate him in the party and perhaps drive him from
it. To offer Chamberlain office was politically unavoidable; to drive him from office perhaps
provided Gladstone with some personal satisfaction. It also meant that he then had a united
cabinet with which to pursue home rule that excluded the Chamberlainite radicals.

Much discussion has been made over Gladstone’s motives in pursuing home rule and his
wilful alienation of Chamberlain. There is no doubt that Gladstone returned to office much
revived when compared to his demeanour of the summer of 1885. Although he hoped that
Salisbury would grasp the nettle of home rule, Gladstone eventually returned to office
buoyed up by the prospect of a moral crusade and the aphrodisiac of power. He could
moreover make a virtue of necessity and ensure that Liberalism continued to develop in his
personal mode, rather than as had recently seemed likely, in a Chamberlainite manner.
One does not need to subscribe fully to the Cooke and Vincent thesis that home rule was
adopted for reasons of opportunism rather than conviction, but it seems that home rule
(though it would be difficult to achieve) could not be pursued with an adamantly unionist
Chamberlain within the cabinet. Furthermore the Liberal party had been largely created in
Gladstone’s image and he was unwilling to see the party develop (or as he would have seen
it – high-jacked) by a Birmingham radical to whom he was strongly antipathetic.

The Home Rule and Land bills
Two bills were presented to the cabinet in March: one was the home rule measure and its
partner was an ambitious land purchase scheme that would (at £50m) have bought out the
Irish landlords. The latter bill (which was soon dropped due to its unpopularity throughout
all parts of the Commons) aimed at preventing the proposed Irish legislature from having
to grapple with the land problem. Gladstone hoped that in due course the landlords, living
harmoniously alongside their one-time tenants, would play a positive role in Ireland’s
political and social life. The Home Rule bill was a complex measure (as one would expect
from Gladstone) about which many of the bill’s supporters had reservations.

The terms of the 1st Home Rule bill
The bill provided for a one-chamber parliament consisting of two orders that could - if
desired - vote separately; each could veto the wishes of the other order. The first order
was property-based and would consist partly of Irish peers; the lower order was to fulfil the
role of the Commons. The executive was to be answerable to the Irish parliament from
whom it would be drawn. It was to have control of all Irish matters excepting the following
specific fields: the post office, customs and excise, defence, foreign and imperial affairs,
trade, navigation, coinage and the Crown. For a period of time the control of the Royal Irish
Constabulary and of revenue raising would be reserved to the “imperial parliament”.
One-fifteenth of the overall Westminster budget was to be chargeable to Ireland; otherwise
Irish revenues were to be at the disposal of the new parliament. The tenure of Irish judges
was to be the same as judges in Great Britain. Appeals from Irish courts and any questions
concerning the competence of the home rule parliament were to be referred to the Judicial
Committee of the Privy Council. Irish representation at Westminster was to cease.
Gladstone, belatedly, was prepared to reconsider this most contentious provision, but this
concession was too late to save what was a moderate but deeply flawed bill.

Criticisms of the bill
Many considered that the bill struck at the very heart of the imperial concept and was a
concession to disloyal terrorists rather than a mere form of devolution to what would have
probably have been a conservative-oriented legislature and executive. Mention has been
made above of the formation of the Indian Congress party and many saw Gladstone’s bill
as a rash and irresponsible measure promoted by “an old man in a hurry” (Lord Randolph
Churchill’s phrase).

The importance of empire to most Britons, in particular the Conservatives, their supporters
and much of the working class, cannot be exaggerated. There was growing identification of
Britain’s worldwide maritime power with trade, industrial prowess and overseas territories.
This empire on which “the sun never set” was an antidote to the European empires of the
great autocracies, Russia, Austria-Hungary and Germany. Disraeli had formalised the
Indian Empire a decade before and Britain’s annexation of African territories was well under
way. Tampering with the governance of the United Kingdom was seen as a foolhardy
undermining of British prestige, wealth and moral authority.

The ending of Irish representation at Westminster did not fit in with the “imperial
contribution”; how could the Irish parliament contribute one-fifteenth of the revenue if no
Irish MPs were party to the raising and approval of the Westminster budget? This issue in
particular and the lack of Irish representation in the “imperial parliament” were seen as
potential levers that separatist Irishmen could exploit in the future.

Protestant Britain in general, the non-conformists in particular, were worried by the catholic
nature of the proposed parliament that seemed to negate the spirit of the Act of Union’s
guarantee to loyal protestants. Moreover the opposition of protestant Ulster seemed to
indicate that the most loyal Irishmen of all were being sacrificed to the whim of a reckless
old man who had sold loyalty, Ulster and the empire for the support of the National League.
Chamberlain and many others felt deeply about the Ulster issue and others such as Lord
Randolph Churchill were prepared “to play the orange card” in order to thwart Gladstone.
Though the bill was defeated on the floor of the Commons, Churchill’s perception of the
importance of the “orange card” was astute and it was on that issue that home rule and
related initiatives were to ultimately founder.

Doc 7ii
Gladstone, during one of the home rule debates made clear his attitude to the unionists of

“I will deviate from my path for a moment to say a word upon the state of opinion in that
wealthy, intelligent and energetic portion of the Irish community which predominates in a
certain portion of Ulster. Our duty is to adhere to a sound general principle, and give the
utmost consideration we can to the opinion of that energetic minority. The first thing of all, I
should say, is that if … violent measures have been threatened in certain emergencies, I
think the best compliment I can pay to those who have threatened us is to take no notice
whatever of the threats, but to treat them as momentary ebullitions … I cannot conceal the
conviction that the voice of Ireland, as a whole, is at this moment clearly and
constitutionally spoken. I cannot say it is otherwise when five-sixths of its lawfully chosen
representatives are of one mind in this matter. Certainly, sir, I cannot allow it to be said
that a Protestant minority in Ulster, or elsewhere, is to rule the question at large for
Ireland. I am aware of no constitutional doctrine tolerable on which such a conclusion could
be adopted or justified. But I think that the Protestant minority should have its wishes
considered to the utmost practical extent in any form that they may assume.”

Doc 7iii
AV Dicey, the leading English Jurist of the day was opposed to home rule, despite his
sympathy for Irish nationalism and Liberalism. His opposition had much in common to that
of John Bright’s.

“Home Rule does not mean National Independence … A nation is one thing, a state forming
part of a federation is quite another …A bona fide Home Ruler cannot be a bona fide
Nationalist …

In America or in Switzerland federalism has developed because existing states wished to be
combined into some kind of national unity. Federalism in England [sic] would necessarily
mean the breaking up of a nation in order to form a body of states …

The vast majority of the United Kingdom, including a million or more of the inhabitants of
Ireland, have expressed their will to maintain the Union. Popular government means
government in accordance with the will of the majority, and therefore according to all the
principles of popular government the majority of the United Kingdom have a right to
maintain the Union. Their wish is decisive, and ought to terminate the whole agitation in
favour of Home Rule … The principle that the will of the majority should be sovereign
cannot … be invoked to determine a dispute turning upon the enquiry which of two bodies is
the body the majority of which has sovereignty.”

Unionist responses in Ireland
Irish unionist responses to the home rule phenomenon were piecemeal; like everyone else
unionists were taken by surprise by Gladstone’s “sudden” conversion to home rule. For the
one and only time the southern three provinces stole a march on Ulster and produced an
anti-home rule initiative at a relatively early stage. In May 1885 the Irish Loyal and Patriotic
Union was founded by Lord Ranfurly as a non-sectarian and cross-party body. Largely
ineffective, especially as neither party had declared its true colours until after the general
election, it was a landlord-oriented body. Although extremely active in producing and
distributing leaflets, in the final analysis the ILPU could not hope to make an electoral
impact in the National League-dominated south. It could however optimise support amongst
the establishment in Great Britain.

In Ulster little coordination and cooperation took place before the 1885 election, as there
was little love lost between the fairly complacent Liberals, Conservatives and the
Orangemen, who fought each other and the National League in the election. This helps
explain the home rulers’ success in winning 17 seats. The shock of this coupled with
Gladstone’s conversion led to the setting up of the Conservative-dominated Ulster Loyal
Anti-Repeal Union, which then made common cause with the protestant churches and the
Orange Order. Having forged links with Lord Randolph Churchill at the Ulster Hall in
February, further links were developed with the Ulster Liberals in April, who formed their
own Ulster Liberal Unionist Committee shortly before the bill’s defeat in June. Though
ponderously slow to organise, the energy and intensity that were aroused eclipsed the
anti-home rule passion that was developing in Great Britain and the other parts of Ireland.
A foretaste of things to come (i.e. in 1892 and 1912) was the placing of advertisements in
the Belfast Newsletter for weapons and drill instructors. Rumours circulated concerning an
Ulster army as well as there being willing and active support from within the British Army.
Though there were some instances of men drilling, the rumours were largely an instance of
the Irish art of political theatre. Nevertheless that some such instances did occur is
illustrative of the intensity of Ulster unionist feeling at the time and a warning to anyone
willing to observe the emergence of the Ulster question.

Liberal opposition to the bill
There was an anti-Irish and sectarian opposition to the bill in Great Britain, though this was
not the main tenor of opposition within the Commons; that revolved round the end of Irish
representation, the financial clauses, the Ulster and imperial issues. There was also much
comment on the precipitate nature of the legislation and Gladstone’s open conversion to
home rule after the election. His moral righteousness and self-absorbed arrogance failed to
win friends for what he had originally hoped would be a non-partisan measure to which both
parliament and the electorate could be won over in time. Harcourt, the Leader of the
Commons and a loyal follower of Gladstone, still commented on the GOM’s “criminal
lunacy”; not only the Conservatives therefore perceived that Gladstone was “an old man in
a hurry”. Whether it was his crusading zeal or selfish political calculation that alienated the
Whig and Chamberlainite polarities within the Liberals, the parliamentary party was
trimmed down to a Gladstonian rump. Few amongst his loyal supporters shared his faith in
home rule and many had severe reservations as to the practicalities of the bill. Even if we
accept Gladstone’s contention that Irish representation at Westminster should end so that
the new Dublin parliament had the unequivocal and undivided attention of its members, one
must conclude that Gladstone, and more especially his supporters, were tempted by the
blessed release Westminster would obtain from not having to deal with Irish legislation,
National League obstruction and ‘foul Irish Tories’.

Chamberlain and Bright
Parnell and his colleagues saw Chamberlain as the man who killed home rule. Such
perception was an understandable reaction given Chamberlain’s low status amongst Irish
Nationalists who were unable to forgive him for showing such a strong and apparently
constructive interest in Irish affairs and yet being implacably hostile to Home Rule.
Chamberlain was the most vocal spokesman for what became known as Liberal Unionism
but it would seem unlikely that he carried with him more than his own coterie of
Birmingham radicals. Parnell was probably guilty of hyperbole by describing Chamberlain
as “the man who killed home rule”, as other radicals and of course the Whigs made up their
own minds, convinced of the inappropriateness of the principle of home rule and the folly of
Gladstone’s particular bill. Seldom damned or given the credit normally reserved for
Chamberlain is John Bright, who was far more influential in the party as a whole than
Chamberlain. Bright was a radical whose prestige within Liberalism far eclipsed that of
Chamberlain, the brilliant but abrasive young man in a hurry. Of the 93 Liberals who voted
against the second reading those who followed Bright’s lead together with the Whigs were
probably more influential than the relatively unpopular Chamberlain. Chamberlain is
unlikely to have accounted for as many as 30 votes, the number by which the bill was
defeated in the Commons.

Doc 7iv
John Bright recorded the following in his diary of 20 March, 1886:

“Downing Street. Long interview for 2 hours with Mr Gladstone at his request … He
explained much of his policy as to a Dublin Parlt and as to Land Purchase. I objected to the
Land policy as unnecessary … As to a Dublin Parlt I argued that he was making a surrender
all along the line. A Dublin Parlt would work with constant friction, and would press against
any barrier he might create to keep up the unity of the 3 Kingdoms.
What of a volunteer force, and what of import duties and protection as against British
goods? He would not object, but any armed force must be under officers appointed by the
Crown; and he did not think duties as against England would be imposed.
Mr G. is in favour of excluding all Irish representation from the Imperial Parlt. Thinks Irish
members in Dublin and at Westminster not possible. Irish members think they could not
supply representatives for both Houses.
I told him I thought to get rid of the Irishmen from Westminster, such as we have known
them for 5 or 6 years past, would do something to make his propositions less offensive and
distasteful in Gt. Britain, tho’ it tends to more complete separation …
I thought he placed far too much confidence in the leaders of the Rebel Party. I could place
none in them, and the general feeling was and is that any terms made with them would not
be kept, and that, thro’ them, I could not hope for reconciliation with discontented and
disloyal Ireland.”

The Home Rule bill in the Commons
The bill had started its passage through the Commons in early April and was introduced by
Gladstone. He spoke of the will of the Irish nation, the mandate of five-sixths of its MPs and
the view that Irish patriotism and imperial patriotism were not mutually exclusive. He
appealed to the Commons: “Think, I beseech you; think well, think wisely, think not for the
moment, but for the years that are to come before you reject this bill”. Despite initial
reservations and some wrangling over its financial provisions Parnell accepted the bill “as a
final settlement for our national question and I believe the Irish people will accept it”. He
had wanted control of customs and excise and had reservations about the financial
provisions in general; nevertheless he and his party accepted the measure in good faith. He
was also aware that “no man has a right to fix the boundary to the march of a nation. No
man has right to say to his country – thus far shalt thou go and no further”. His ne plus
ultra speech of January 1885 was an axiomic statement of political reality that did not
lessen the fact that he – essentially conservative – accepted Gladstone’s bill; it was more
than he could have hoped for from a great imperial power. During the protracted second
reading in May and June, Liberals and unionists rallied support: Liberal MPs coalesced
behind Gladstone or the Union; the Ulster Liberal Unionist Committee came into being. In
Belfast protestant mobs vented their anger and (after the defeat of the bill) their triumph
against the catholic population and the RIC. The half-century old tradition of sectarian
violence was reasserting itself in a society that was beginning to define itself under the
shadow and – for many – the threat of home rule.

A realignment of politics
Following the defeat of the bill by 341 to 311 votes on 8 June, parliament was dissolved. A
fundamental realignment of British politics was already under way that would be confirmed
in the July general election. From then until the formation of Asquith’s coalition government
in 1915 home rule was to dominate the political divide; in fact Ireland was to feature
prominently for the following six years as well. The 1886 election produced 300
Conservatives; 191 Liberals; 75 Liberal Unionists and 1 Irish Nationalist in Great Britain. In
Ireland 84 Nationalists; 17 Unionists and 2 Liberal Unionists were elected. Of these 15
Unionists (technically one was a Conservative) were from Ulster and two from Dublin
University. To all intents and purposes two groupings had come about; one unionist
(Conservative and Liberal Unionist) who did not oppose each other at the election and a
home rule grouping of Gladstonian Liberals and National League MPs. Lord Salisbury formed
a Conservative government, which was on occasion supported by Hartington, Chamberlain
and the Liberal Unionists from the opposition benches. Salisbury’s government announced
twenty years of resolute government for Ireland. Overall government conciliation probably
outbalanced confrontation, though invariably the Irish national movement was able to
monopolise and exploit propaganda and publicity to the full by dwelling on the coercive
aspects of the government. Overall, despite constructive measures and resolute
government these were years of retreat for the Union, largely Unionist governments failed
to control the political agenda.

Gladstonian Liberalism became largely confined to the Celtic fringes; only in the 1906
landslide did the Liberals really reassert themselves in England. Willy-nilly Gladstone’s party
was bound to home rule, no other issues really concerned the leadership and the
demography of politics meant that the party was dependent on National League support.
Likewise Parnell no longer had the freedom of political movement he had enjoyed in 1885;
he was wedded to Gladstone’s party. Though the positive side of this can be seen in
Gladstone’s fêting of Parnell at Hawarden in 1889, the negative side can be seen in 1890
and 1891 when the Liberals insisted that the price for home rule was the resignation of
Parnell as leader.

The Gladstonian enigma
What had Gladstone been attempting by introducing the first Home Rule bill? He was
stimulated undoubtedly by the heady combination of power and a campaign on behalf of a
just cause. It may well be that the chase was more alluring than the kill. What chance had
he of educating his own party? Without doubt he was “bounced” by the Hawarden kite into
openly advocating home rule; however in 1886 his manner showed no desire to educate or
conciliate. Was it the reckless zeal of the convert to whom everything was crystal-clear; or
was it the autocratic and selfish approach of the older leader who was unwilling or unable to
envisage a Liberal party with new leaders and new goals? His personal espousal of home
rule was no different from his action as a staunch anglican advocating disestablishment.
That however fitted in with party political advantage, his behaviour in 1886 did not. He,
rather than Chamberlain, Hartington and Bright split the Liberals; he shunted the party into
a political cul-de-sac from which it never recovered. Did he put the future of the Irish and
British nations before party? – “Think, I beseech you … think not for the moment but for the
years that are to come …” Or did he recklessly condemn the Liberals to a political
impossibility that meant the exclusion of Joseph Chamberlain and (for Gladstone)
unwelcome social reform? His cavalier treatment of Chamberlain, the Ulster Liberals and
others show a self-absorbed arrogance compatible with a moral crusade, personal
selfishness or both. What is clear is that a rushed and deeply flawed bill had little chance of
passing the Commons and no chance of passing the Conservative-dominated Lords. Was
Gladstone’s espousal of home rule a brave long-term undertaking, a constitutional
experiment in the great laboratory of nineteenth century Ireland that might provide the
excuse for major House of Lords reform? Or was it a deliberate charade to which a
seventy-five year old doomed his party?

The Plan of Campaign
Towards the end of 1886 William O’Brien and John Dillon initiated the “Plan of Campaign” in
response to another agricultural crisis; Salisbury’s government failed to respond to the
situation, the judicial rents set in 1882 were beyond the capacity of the poorer tenants.
O’Brien suggested that in the event of a landlord refusing a rent reduction his tenants were
to offer a “fair” rent. If these rents were refused the payments were to be placed in an
“estate fund” to support the tenants involved. Moreover the National League was to make
up any shortfalls in the estate funds. Although the “Plan” was embraced by a number of
Parnell’s activists, he himself was not keen. Parnell’s attitude was similar to his approach to
the No Rent Manifesto (which was also the work of O’Brien) that was launched by his
colleagues in Kilmainham in late 1881. Both initiatives were made without his approval,
they smacked of extremism on occasions when he wanted to foster relations with the
Liberals. In 1882 he had signed the Manifesto with some cynicism as there was no longer
much need to pursue an extremist line, similarly in 1886/7 alienation of the Liberals might
have destroyed any hope of developing the home rule alliance further. At his secret
meeting with O’Brien in London in December 1886 he stressed that the “Plan” should not be
extended to any more estates and that the whole venture was fraught with risk.
By-and-large his reservations were well founded as the Conservatives opposed the “Plan”
with vigour; National League resources were drained in support of the various estate funds;
moreover the “Plan” remained limited to Connacht and the poorer parts of Munster. The old
Land League may have been most active in those self-same areas but it did have a wider
constituency and did have followers amongst the other strata of rural Ireland.

The “Plan” was met by landlord opposition and government resolution. Salisbury’s nephew,
Arthur Balfour was appointed Chief Secretary in the spring of 1887 and in the autumn three
were shot by the RIC during a disturbance at Mitchelstown, County Cork. With the
nationalist genius for effective political publicity this became known as the Mitchelstown
Massacre and the Chief Secretary earned the nickname “Bloody Balfour”. Meanwhile a new
“perpetual” coercion law was introduced. In the latter part of 1886 and for much of 1887
little was seen or heard of Parnell: poor health and cohabitation with Katherine O’Shea in
part accounted for his low profile; additionally however his dislike of the “Plan” explained
some of his absences from public life. Ironically Parnell’s avoidance of the limelight helped
enhance his reputation as a man of mystery together with his aura of inscrutability.

Liberal and Conservative views on the land issue
The Liberal opposition made much of Balfour’s tough and uncompromising policy. For some
time significant elements of Liberal opinion had become convinced of the iniquity of Irish
land holding and believed in the commonly held nationalist proposition that a free Gaelic
peasantry had been dispossessed by the English conquerors. This widely held piece of
race-guilt, assiduously fostered by nationalists, went a long way towards undermining the
will to rule in Ireland. The Conservatives on the other hand still believed in the concept of
the Union and their sporadic attempts to “kill Home Rule by kindness” led to a £5m
supplement to the 1885 Ashbourne Act. The Balfour Land Act and the setting-up of the
Congested Districts Board of 1891 were constructive efforts by Arthur Balfour to solve the
continuing problems of the land and rural underdevelopment especially in the still densely
populated west. Although both at the time and more recently there has been criticism of the
efficacy of the Congested Districts Board and its workings it was one of the major
government initiatives in MacDonagh’s social laboratory of nineteenth century Ireland.
Ironically such constructive Conservative efforts to ameliorate the land problem and
reinforce the Union meant that the increasingly attractive nature of the land-purchase acts
enabled a proportion of the Anglo-Irish landed classes to begin to disassociate themselves
from Irish affairs; in the long-term as they were bought out so their stake in Ireland was
reduced. Although the Plan of Campaign was strongly resisted its long-drawn out nature
started to sap the will of the traditional ruling class. In their different ways the British
political parties started to fulfil Lalor’s formula even though Parnell after 1881/2 (as
opposed to his activists) saw the land issue as a dangerous red herring that would detract
from the goal of home rule.

The Times and the Special Commission on Crime
Within weeks of Balfour becoming Chief Secretary and during the passage of the coercion
bill through parliament The Times started publishing a series of articles on “Parnellism and
Crime”. These claimed that Parnell had links with terrorism, that he had been linked to Land
League excesses and that he had condoned the Phoenix Park murders. The Times even
published a facsimile of Parnell’s supposed letter expressing regret at having to condemn
the murders. Parnell denounced the letter as a forgery and later requested that a Select
Committee of the House of Commons should be set up to investigate the whole issue.
Moreover he suggested that the committee should not contain any Irish MPs and that it
should subpoena witnesses. The government ignored Parnell’s demand but instead set up a
special commission to investigate all Irish nationalist and land activities of the previous
years. Effectively Parnell, Davitt and Irish nationalism were on trial, the Attorney General’s
involvement (ostensibly as counsel for The Times) indicated the degree to which the
government was involved as a less than impartial participant. The Commission which sat
during late 1888 and virtually the whole of 1889 certainly revealed the obvious, that was
that there were various links between Parnell and the Fenians and moreover it also suited
the leadership to raise the political temperature during the Land War whilst indulging in
brinkmanship. According to evidence submitted to the Commission Parnell had stated to an
American journalist “A true revolutionary movement in Ireland should, in my opinion,
partake of both a constitutional and an illegal character”. This duality of approach
characterises the twin-track nature of Irish nationalism that could seldom be classified as
purely revolutionary or solely constitutional. The various letters implicating Parnell’s
approval of the Phoenix Park murders and criminal conspiracy were shown to be forgeries.
Though some of the evidence was embarrassing to Parnell the parliamentary ally of the
Liberals, he appeared to emerge vindicated and a hero in Gladstonian circles. In the opinion
of Richard Shannon (Gladstone: Heroic Minister 1865-1898) Gladstone had arrived at “an
increasingly blind trust”. Parnell was entertained by Gladstone at Hawarden and the home
rule alliance seemed well and truly cemented. Furthermore the government and The Times
were discredited and shown to be virtually guilty of conspiracy or at the very least
insufficiently scrupulous in accepting and weighing evidence. There seemed to be a
prospect in the not too distant future of Gladstone returning to office in close alliance with
Parnell’s home rulers.


Parnell’s relationship with Katherine O’Shea
Parnell became the hero of Liberal Britain following the exposure of the Pigott forgeries in
early 1889. In December he was Gladstone’s guest but within a week William O’Shea had
filed a petition for divorce on the grounds of his wife’s adultery with Parnell. In political
circles the Parnell-O’Shea liaison had been common knowledge for some years; in fact the
Pall Mall Gazette had indicated as early as May 1886 that Parnell was living at Mrs O’Shea’s
house. Although unknown by the public at the time Captain O’Shea acquiesced in his wife’s
relationship with his party leader. He had originally encouraged their relationship in order to
further his own political career, it is quite possible however that he did not envisage that
their friendship would develop to the extent that it did. What is now clear is that he
tolerated Parnell’s fathering of three children (of which the first died at the time of the
Kilmainham negotiations) on the grounds of the furtherance of his own political ambitions
and in the hope of benefiting from the will of Katherine’s wealthy aunt. Katherine also kept
up some appearances of normal married life in order to receive her aunt’s legacy. Mrs
Wood did not die until the summer of 1889 at the age of 96. This was obviously longer than
any of the parties involved would have envisaged; to O’Shea’s chagrin he was excluded
from the will. This may well account for his citing of Parnell as co-respondent in December
1889. His political ambitions had effectively ended in the summer of 1886 and with the
dashing of his financial hopes the time appeared right for the ending of the eight or nine
year old pretence of marriage.

For his part Parnell had been prepared to resort to subterfuge in order to keep up some
form of public and private appearance, but once O’Shea sued for divorce he was not going
to contest the matter. He and Katherine wished to be married and to regularise their
relationship. He assured political colleagues and allies that he would emerge from the
situation with his character unblemished. Perhaps this was due to his belief that Katherine
and he were truly man and wife and he had nothing to be ashamed of; additionally his
supreme arrogance (and his increasing remoteness from reality) indicated that he was
answerable to no man. When the divorce came to trial in November 1890 it became clear
that Parnell’s reputation would not remain unsullied; his party however remained
supportive. In Irish circles only Davitt advised temporary retirement, even the catholic
Archbishop of Dublin advised silence pending the decision of the Irish Parliamentary Party.
Initially the IPP unanimously re-elected Parnell as their leader and chairman.

The Liberal response
On the same day however Gladstone, on the advice of John Morley, announced that he
could not continue as the Liberal leader whilst Parnell remained at the head of the IPP.
Liberal nonconformity had served notice on Gladstone that it would not tolerate an alliance
with an adulterer. Adultery was by no means rare in Victorian society, the Prince of Wales
had been a witness in a divorce suit in 1870, but had not been cited as co-respondent. A
veil of respectability had just been maintained. Sir Charles Dilke, a Liberal contemporary of
Parnell (and a potential successor to Gladstone) had been defeated in 1886 and had to
withdraw from parliament for some years, having been involved in a sensational divorce
case. Non-conformist morality, middle class respectability and the views of Queen Victoria
all created an atmosphere in which sexual shenanigans were tolerated provided they did
not become matters of public scandal or debate. Once brought to law, whether civil (Dilke
and Parnell) or criminal (Oscar Wilde – another Irishman) scandal and public disgrace were
generally inevitable. In the circumstances Gladstone indicated that the National League had
to choose between Parnell and the continuation of the Liberal alliance and the prospect of
home rule. Parnell then publicly denounced Gladstone and the Liberals for undermining the
independence of the IPP. It could be argued that the events of summer 1886 had destroyed
the independence of the nationalists and that both they and the Liberals were mutually
dependent on the development and preservation of the home rule front. This was what
most of the IPP thought - they split: 28 MPs remained loyal to Parnell and 45 withdrew their
support following their marathon debates in Committee Room 15 at Westminster that
occupied the best part of a week at the beginning of December 1890.

The death of Parnell and divisions in the party
There then followed an acrimonious period of in-fighting that continued well beyond
Parnell’s death in the autumn of 1891. In fact the party split lasted until 1900, by which time
new political forces were developing. The bitterness of the quarrel was fuelled by the
catholic church’s denunciation of Parnell; by Parnell’s increasingly wild statements and by
the pent-up frustration of Parnell’s most able lieutenants who had been silently chafing at
“the Chief’s” increasingly remote and autocratic methods of leadership. Only once
previously had his colleagues mutinied; this had been in February 1886 at the Galway
by-election when Parnell had insisted on the adoption of William O’Shea, though unpledged,
against a popular National League local candidate. Parnell eventually got his way and the
party went away with much muttering and shaking of heads. The Parnell-O’Shea affair
might then have become a public issue, as it was pretty clear to Parnell’s colleagues why
such an unsuitable candidate was being pushed forward. The mutineers were vindicated
when William O’Shea failed to vote for the home rule bill in the summer of 1886. In the ten
months that followed the famous Committee Room 15 debate by the Parliamentary Party
and Parnell’s death in October 1891, the Parnellites lost all three of the by-elections whose
meetings often degenerated into violence. Parnellism did retain some support in Dublin and
the larger towns but in rural constituencies including those in Ulster Parnellites were
defeated in the 1892 general election (71 Anti-Parnellites and only 9 Parnellites were
elected). Therefore within eighteen months of the parliamentary party’s split the electoral
tide had turned even more decisively against the Parnellites.

Parnell’s death completely changed Irish politics and was to have a major impact on the
British political scene for the next 30 years. Parnell’s achievements were fourfold:

He made the British political parties take Ireland and home rule seriously; in fact he
provided Gladstone with a political mission and obsession that excluded all others.

He gave Irish nationalism a modern political machine that provided discipline and efficiency
to what was essentially an alliance of interests and competing egos. In some ways the Irish
Parliamentary Party showed more maturity than the Liberals in being prepared to ditch its
leader, whereas the Liberals were unwilling or unable to move on from Gladstone to a more
progressive leader.

The myth of his fall and death was probably as significant as his actual political career. This
was to provide part of the motive force of nationalist politics during the next 30 years. It is
about this ‘achievement’ that this chapter is mainly concerned. (This is not to say that the
fall/betrayal of “the Chief” was the sole or even in some instances the most important
reason for new forces coming into play.)

Parnell was able to create an alliance and understanding with the catholic church that made
the Irish National League the spokesbody for the church on matters such as education. This
put the weight of the hierarchy and priesthood behind the nationalist party machine.
Hitherto the church’s attitude had been equivocal, it had supported Irish national aspirations
in a general sense but had shied away from committed support as it had feared the
revolutionary (and in some cases anti-clerical) nature of Irish nationalism.

The young men of the 1890s felt betrayed by the home rule party’s rejection of Parnell in
favour of that of the Liberal alliance. They saw this as a betrayal of both ‘the Chief’ and the
national cause for a corrupt alliance with the English establishment. In fact as the INL had
chosen to work through the parliamentary system this was illogical as only with the support
of a major British political party (the Liberals) could home rule ever become law. Parnell
had opted for parliamentary politics throughout his career (though the ‘New Departure’ had
involved an accommodation with Fenians but on his terms rather than theirs). Apart from
the period of the 1890/91 party split when he had appeared to flirt with the ‘hillside men’,
(i.e. those with an extreme outlook) he had stayed within the framework of
constitutionalism. This view has been challenged by Frank Callanan (The Parnell Split) who
sees a continuity between the radical Parnell of the Land War and the embattled figure of

The young men of the ’nineties tended to remember the Parnell of the last months, the
apparent extremist rather than the calculating parliamentarian. Therefore some potential
INL recruits were alienated from constitutional politics and were attracted to the IRB, Sinn
Fein or the catalytic cultural movements: GAA, the Gaelic League and the Irish Literary

The Gaelic Athletic Association
The Gaelic Athletic Association was founded in 1884 by Michael Cusack and provided a
disciplined non-British physical environment that was to be of military value to the IRB as
well as an attractive recruiting ground for the rural youth of catholic Ireland. The GAA
fulfilled much the same role as the gymnastic movement in Germany earlier in the century,
combining national commitment with physical training and recreation. Archbishop Croke of
Cashel became a patron, indicating a post-Cullen tendency for members of the hierarchy to
become involved in nationalist political matters. The organisation was significant as it was
one of the few grounds where the church and IRB were able to meet and jointly influence
young men. This is not to say that they always saw eye to eye – for instance Parnell’s coffin
was escorted by an element carrying hurley sticks whose attitude was not approved by the
church. Although the IRB established a hold on the GAA’s leadership in 1887, the National
League was also prominent in the movement; Parnell was a patron as was Davitt. It would
be too simplistic to see the GAA and the other cultural movements as wholly antagonistic to
home rule politics. The GAA’s “advanced” political approach was not incompatible with an
ability to work with home rulers; that, after all, had been the unofficial Fenian approach
since the days of the New Departure and the Land League. Moreover even after the split in
the home rule party the GAA acted as a forum where advanced nationalists, Parnellites,
anti-Parnellites and the apolitical could meet. This ability to act as a bridge or catalyst was
in the long run to be a vital element in the radicalisation of Irish politics.

The GAA operated a ban on its members playing ‘saxon’ sports or associating with
members of the Crown Forces (i.e. the Army and RIC), thus showing its obvious separatist
and extreme nationalistic aspirations. Such an organisation proved to be a useful front for
the IRB, very many of the IRA of the 1916-23 period were GAA members and had imbibed
part at least of their revolutionary views through this organisation. Often such radicalisation
came from more than one source, not just physical, but also cultural and political. This was
also instanced in the emerging labour circles of Britain at the time, many activists evolved
and were educated by passing through different organisations such as the SDF and the
Fabians. The younger activists received the Parnell myth at second hand – they themselves
being too young to remember the Parnell of the ’80s or even in some cases the tragic and
increasingly irrational figure of the 1890/91 period.

The Gaelic League
The Gaelic League was created as a non-political movement to explore and develop the
Irish language and its culture. This started as a genuinely non-political movement
patronised amongst others by upper and middle class protestants. In time it became a
vehicle for Sinn Fein and IRB, it became a vehicle for ultra-nationalist views and politics. It
had a wide following among schoolmasters and clerks, who were to play such a significant
part in the Irish revolution of the early twentieth century. Douglas Hyde, its apolitical
founder, resigned in 1915 due to its politicisation. In fact Hyde was naive in not perceiving
that the Gaelic League would become an important vehicle for expressing national political
identity. Cultural identity could not be separated from nationalism and separatism. Though
at times organisations such as the Gaelic League could be politically exclusive, the League
like all (except TD Moran’s “Irish Ireland”) the movements could act as a forum for those
with a variety of political goals and those with none who were merely interested in the
cultural or recreational aspects. (As late as 1892 Ulster Unionists were prepared to use an
Irish language slogan above the front of their Convention building at Belfast’s Botanic
Gardens. Within a very few years Irish would be considered as an exclusively nationalist, if
not advanced nationalist medium and vehicle; the language would become an anathema to

The Anglo-Irish Literary movement
Unlike the Gaelic League the Anglo-Irish Literary renaissance used English as its medium
but by-and-large dealt with traditional Gaelic and quasi-Gaelic themes. Yeats, Synge and
‘AE’ Russell were the leading figures, writing under the patronage of Lady Gregory. Their
impact through the Abbey Theatre and their writings was immense although not always in
harmony with the other political and cultural forces active at the time. Yeats saw the
movement as inclusive and outward looking, distinctly Irish but part of the general culture
of Europe. Yeats had helped create a national theatre, but there was an ambiguity not least
in his own mind – was it a nationalist theatre? Ultimately the wider horizons of Yeats and
Synge were to clash with the narrow ideals of the Gaelic catholic revolution, which
contrasted the piety of the “noble peasant” with the corrupt and materialistic world to all
things English. Yeats’s play Cathleen ni Houlihan (1902) had a tremendous impact on the
‘angry young men’ of the post-Parnell generation some of whom were already disillusioned
with parliamentary politics and imbued with cultural nationalism. The play was a summons
to rebellion; in fact it stressed the role of sacrifice for Ireland. It had the impact of religious
ecstasy on its audiences i.e.: - “a sort of gospel”, “a sort of sacrament”. Yeats, despite
being a member of the IRB since perhaps 1887, eventually recoiled from what he had
created – the Frankenstein-type monster of the blood sacrifice; hence in one of his last
poems he wrote:

“…did that play of mine send out
certain men the English shot?”

Certainly the 1916 Rising was partly conceived as a blood sacrifice, the timing was
significant (Easter); however the concept of the purifying nature of death and blood was
stressed by a number of writers and political figures in the pre- and early War years
throughout Europe.

Linked to the concept of theoretical rebellion, sacrifice and example was the actuality of the
Boer War. Some Irishmen volunteered to fight for the Boers, obtained military experience
and helped show that the British Empire was not invincible. Conor Cruise O’Brien has
emphasised the importance of the Boer War in promoting the concept of physical force.
Irish Brigades fought for the Boer republics and Arthur Griffith, the founder of Sinn Fein
published a pro-Boer newspaper in South Africa before returning to Ireland to start his
political movement. The contrast between Ulster’s imperial attitude towards the war and
that of lukewarm attitudes in the south to official recruitment together with the pro-Boer
attitudes mentioned above were very significant and should be borne in mind when
contrasting North and South and the growing divisions between the two parts of Ireland.

Sinn Fein
Griffith, although inspired by the Parnell myth, was never a republican revolutionary, nor
was the pre-1917 Sinn Fein the extremist organisation that the British supposed it to be.
Griffith was certainly disillusioned by the actions of the existing parliamentarians and the
Westminster system. His solution was based on the 1866 Austro-Hungarian model, that of a
Dual Monarchy, i.e. a union that would be replaced by two co-equal parliaments (Great
Britain and Ireland) each with its own executive. The only common link was to be that of
the Crown. Such an oddball scheme found few permanent supporters and Sinn Fein only
prospered due to the authorities treating it as an extreme revolutionary movement. It was
also a temporary haven for protest voters alienated from home rule politics. In fact the
Sinn Fein programme was a glorified form of home rule that fell well short of true
independence. Passive resistance rather than violent revolution was preached. Griffith
advocated a withdrawal of Irish MPs from Westminster and a boycotting of British
institutions much as the Hungarians had done in 1866. Griffith’s economic policy was based
on protection and self-sufficiency which were of course unacceptable to both tariff
reformers and free traders in Britain.

Griffith was perhaps the political figure most influenced by the fall of Parnell, he
hero-worshipped the man and was instrumental in developing the myth of the dead hero.
He also drew on the inclusive and fairly advanced political romanticism of the Young
Irelanders of the 1840s. A cultural nationalist and a catholic he came close to advocating an
exclusively Gaelic or catholic Ireland. (He was on moral and ideological grounds prepared
to stress the purity of catholic and native virtue and condemn Yeats and Synge together
with the Abbey Theatre at the time of the celebrated production of Playboy of the Western
World.) He saw himself as an enabler of an inclusive nationalism, which he promoted
through his newspaper (United Irishman). His emphasis – as could be deduced from the
title of the newspaper was unity, he therefore advocated strategies that called for a
“minimum of agreement,” thus enabling maximum political cooperation and the
development of a pan-nationalist front. Despite the title “United Irishman” he was critical of
the ’98 rebellion as it precipitated the end of the College Green parliament and the coming
of the Act of Union. His movement, Sinn Fein (meaning “ourselves”) advocated equality
between Great Britain and Ireland, linked only by the Crown. However his own political
solution was of far less importance than his inclusive and eclectic willingness, advocated
through his newspapers (firstly the United Irishman and then Sinn Fein) to work with others.
This belief in the development of a broad political front explains why when circumstances
made Sinn Fein a refuge for the politically disillusioned in 1908 and 1917, he was willing for
his movement to be utilised by others. Griffith was prepared, when the occasion demanded,
to be self-effacing as in 1917 when he took second place to deValera or in 1922 when he
was eclipsed by Collins.

The Home Rule party (1)
But what of the Irish National League – split by Parnell and the O’Shea divorce case? The
attitude of the “angry young men” was not just due to the betrayal of “the Chief” by his
parliamentary colleagues, it was also a product of frustration at the fact that the IPP not
only split into Parnellites and anti-Parnellites, but subsequently into three and then four
factions. Much nationalist energy was dissipated during the ’90s by the in-fighting between
the various groups. Not only did it enable the Unionists to maximise their seats in Ulster but
also for some young activists it revealed a moral bankruptcy characterised by personal
vested interests, vanity and egotism.

The splits were inevitable given the departure of the autocratic Parnell; the land-oriented
and church-oriented factions tended to pull in separate directions and this was exacerbated
by the strong personalities of John Dillon and Tim Healy respectively. John Redmond, the
leader of the Parnellite faction, was a more ameliorative figure who tended to find common
ground with others, perhaps due to an instinct based on Parnell’s post-1882 approach. It is
no coincidence that it was under Redmond that the home rulers reunited in 1900 as the
United Irish League. The movement was set back by the defeat of the 1893 Home Rule bill
(the 1886 bill had created a sort of optimism based on the very clear alliance between the
National League and the Gladstonian Liberals; 1893 on the other hand seemed to bring out
a feeling of humiliation and pessimism). 1893 showed clearly that Gladstone had failed (and
was finished) and that home rule seemed to be little more than a pipe-dream given the
crushing nature of the bill’s defeat in the Lords and the obvious lack of enthusiasm for
home rule amongst Rosebery, Harcourt and the other post-Gladstonian Liberals.

The 2nd Home Rule Bill
The Liberals won the general election of July 1892. In Great Britain they obtained 272
seats; the Conservatives had 249 and the Liberal Unionists 42; there was also TP O’Connor
sitting as a nationalist in Liverpool. In Ireland the nationalists obtained 80 seats (71
anti-Parnellites; 9 Parnellites); there were also 19 Unionists and 4 Liberal Unionists.
Gladstone became Prime Minister in mid-August for the fourth and last time. In February of
the following year he introduced the second Home Rule bill to the Commons.

The new bill took into account the issue of continued Irish representation at Westminster:
80 Irish seats were to be retained; it was proposed that these MPs would only be permitted
to vote on Irish and imperial matters. It was explicitly stated that Westminster would
remain sovereign; no provision was however made for Ulster. The new parliament would
consist of a council of 48 members and a lower house of 103 members representing the
existing Westminster constituencies (Irish representation had been reduced from 105 to
103 in the 1885 Redistribution of Seats Act). Whilst the “no taxation without representation”
issue had been addressed, the possibility of Irish sabotage on imperial or defence issues
had been raised. Ulster moreover remained a major stumbling block and was becoming the
major line of Unionist opposition to the bill.

The bill’s passage through the Commons was protracted, taking up 85 sittings. Of the bill’s
supporters Gladstone and Redmond were the most eloquent (Redmond’s performance
certainly helped his eventual rise to the leadership of the nationalists). Chamberlain was
the most incisive of the bill’s critics. It passed its third reading in early September by 34
votes; Gladstone realised at the time that this was an insufficient margin with which to take
on the Lords on moral and constitutional grounds. Within a week the House of Lords had
decisively rejected the bill by 419 to 41 votes. The Duke of Devonshire (the one-time
Hartington) led the opposition to the bill, thus the Liberal Unionists had been amongst the
most active in the opposition to the bill in both houses of parliament. Gladstone’s instinct
was to ask for a dissolution so as to fight an election. His colleagues advised him that public
opinion was more concerned that the Liberals should implement the Newcastle programme.
Given the massive Unionist majority in the Lords it would have taken a huge mobilisation of
public opinion to bring about constitutional change. The public at large were hostile or
indifferent to home rule; if there was a demand for Liberal policy it was for radical social
reform, if the Liberals had won the 1892 election on a particular platform it was the
Newcastle programme and not home rule or reform of the upper chamber. Little was
achieved in Gladstone’s last five months of office; on his resignation he was replaced by
Lord Rosebery (Victoria’s choice), whose attitude towards home rule was less than
enthusiastic. He was however realistic as he pointed out that no granting of home rule could
take place until England had been convinced of its merits. In June 1895 Salisbury took
office for the third time, in the following month this was confirmed in the general election:
the unionists (Conservatives and Liberal Unionists) obtaining 411 seats; the Liberals lost
nearly a hundred seats and the nationalists (of whatever type) won 82. The Liberals had
taken a beating and had been pushed back to the Celtic fringes; home rule was well and
truly off the political agenda for the foreseeable future.

The Home Rule party (2)
Nevertheless the home rule movement of the late ’90s in some ways constituted a more
sober and mature series of groupings than previously; they then reunited at the end of
January 1900. They had experienced the euphoria of 1886, the doldrums of 1891 and 1893
and they had maintained a strong opposition to Unionist initiatives throughout the late ’90s
and the early twentieth century that generally over-rode their internal divisions. This was
partly in opposition to the no-nonsense stance of Salisbury’s governments and partly due to
a fear that positive Unionist measures would seduce voters away from the nationalist cause
(see John Dillon’s reaction to the Wyndham Land Purchase Act of 1903, below). In fact the
virulence of such opposition – as Alvin Jackson pointed out in Ireland 1798–1998 together
with the home rulers’ abusive critique of British rule revealed a “fatal inconsistency within
party strategy”; the movement was, whether it liked it or not, dependant on Liberal goodwill
and the need to work within the British constitutional apparatus and yet it snubbed and
vilified the British administrative machine and various political overtures. It was biting the
hand that – occasionally – attempted to feed it. In Jackson’s words “the Irish Parliamentary
Party had thus taken a steam-hammer to the superficially impressive shell of the British
administration in Ireland; but it was Sinn Fein that picked up the kernel”.

The reunited party of the early twentieth century was a shadow of the party under Parnell.
Apart from the trauma of the split it suffered from not having a leader of status or calibre;
Redmond led the party because he was relatively acceptable to all and was not particularly
dominant, he had still to contend with stronger characters such as Dillon, who on occasion
pursued a factional line. Essentially Redmond was a trimmer and the party meandered
through a series of ultimately directionless initiatives that were not fully coherent. Redmond
operated from a position of weakness in terms of the party’s relationship with the British
governments of the day, there was no Gladstone committed to the concept of home rule.
The most important Unionist and Liberal Chief Secretaries (Wyndham and Birrell
respectively) were sympathetic to the Irish party and were responsible for useful and
constructive legislation. The UIL was unable to capitalise on these reforms (land and the
universities) and was divided or inconsistent in its approach. Moreover both ministers lost
influence and became isolated in governments that were at best luke-warm towards Irish
affairs. Redmond was unable to exploit fully the hung parliaments of 1910, unlike Parnell in
1886 one has the impression of both party and leader being mere spectators at best
reacting to rather than influencing events.

Sinn Fein however was not formed until 1907/8 and although it was to benefit from support
at the odd by-election it was not a serious electoral force until it formed a political front with
more advanced nationalists/republicans towards the end of the Great War. The IPP
therefore was effectively the only nationalist element in mainstream politics until 1916 or
1917. The “angry young men” that had excluded themselves from IPP politics had yet to
find a popular political role (as opposed to a cultural one) for themselves. If Redmond or
some other parliamentary nationalist was able to deliver home rule Sinn Fein, cultural and
sporting nationalism would merely have influenced rather than formed events. The IRB,
which had taken control of the GAA at a very early stage, was very much a fringe
organisation until some years into the twentieth century. The various mechanisms by which
the Union was to be ended within the next generation were all in place but it would take the
arithmetic of Liberal politics, the Ulster Unionists and the Great War to bring these new
forces into play.

The role of religion
As mentioned in Chapter 6 the Roman Catholic church was now becoming a marginal
(though often useful) influence in nationalist politics, it was moderate and was seen to be
associated with constitutional politics. Its anti-IRB attitude at a time when the IRB was being
revived meant that in the post-Land War non-deferential age priests would only be able to
have a large input if their political views coincided with those of their people. This was not
appreciated by Ulster protestants, who saw the political influence of the Roman Catholic
church as being as great as its undoubted control was over moral and social issues.
Nevertheless the church through its social teaching and its identification with the noble and
pious peasant came to espouse an exclusive Ireland that was Gaelic and catholic. This was
reinforced by the exclusive nationalist DP Moran, who through his journal The Leader
advocated an exclusively Gaelic and catholic Ireland. Protestants and any “saxon” cultural
elements were excluded from this “Irish Ireland”; the literary likes of Yeats and O’Casey
were also rejected.

Doc 8i
Moran’s exclusively catholic concept of Irishness is outlined in the following extract from
The Leader of 27 July, 1901.

“It has been hinted to us that it is our opinion that no one but a Catholic can be an
Irishman. We never said so, nor do we think so … We are prepared to be perfectly frank
with our sympathizers who think we are ‘too Catholic’. We have great admiration and
respect for Thomas Davis, but his ‘Tolerance’ scheme did not work … When we look out on
Ireland we see that those who believe, or may be immediately induced to believe, in
Ireland a nation are, as a matter of fact, Catholics. When we look back on history we find
also, as a matter of fact, that those who stood during the last three hundred years for
Ireland as an Irish entity were mainly Catholics, and that those who sought to corrupt them
and trample on them were mainly non-Catholics…

Such being the facts, the only thinkable solution of the Irish national problem is that one
side gets on top and absorbs the other until we have one nation, or that each develops
independently. As we are for Ireland, we are in the existing circumstances on the side of
Catholic development; and we see plainly that any genuine non-Catholic Irish nationalist
must become reconciled to Catholic development or throw in his lot with the other side … If
a non-Catholic nationalist Irishman does not wish to live in a Catholic atmosphere let him
turn Orangeman …”

The role of the land
The other traditional aspect of Irish politics – the land – was now becoming irrelevant, as
by-and-large the problem was being solved by Unionist governments (not Liberal ones) as
part of their policy of ‘killing Home Rule by kindness’. Thus the 1886 Ashbourne Act, the
1891 Balfour Act and the 1903 Wyndham Act solved the land problem in a way that the
much-trumpeted Gladstonian Acts of 1870 and 1881 did not. All but three of the years 1886
to 1905 were years of Conservative or Unionist government; therefore it could be argued
that the Liberals did not have the opportunity to enact radical land legislation. Nevertheless
it was the Unionists, the party of the landlords, who “solved” the land problem. They were
the party most suited to carry through radical legislation due to their majority in the Lords.
However the appointment of Wyndham as Chief Secretary in 1900 was a departure from
the Conservative-Unionist norm; Wyndham was a great deal more sympathetic to Irish
nationalism than any previous Chief Secretary. Moreover he enjoyed a rapport with various
nationalists unusual amongst British politicians, especially Unionists. Wyndham was,
however, working within a context where a number of landlords were suggesting a
constructive and conclusive answer to the land issue. The Unionists were prepared to sell
off the landed estates thus defusing the land issue, but at the cost of undermining the
landed basis of the Union. Thus in the long run the Land League had succeeded in
harnessing the peasantry to the home rule movement and undermining the landed basis of
British rule.

The Wyndham Land Purchase Act avoided the idea of compulsory purchase that was being
mooted at the time; nevertheless it was radical because it was generous in its
encouragement of both landlords and tenants to avail themselves of the Act. £12m was
provided to encourage landlords to sell, even before the purchase price was negotiated with
the tenants. The tenants were promised that their repayments would be generally less than
their rents. The sweeping and absolute nature of the scheme alarmed John Dillon of the
reunited parliamentary party, who not only complained that landlords were
over-compensated but that the tenants had to pay too much; he feared that the national
movement could not survive and also accommodate a constructive solution to the land
issue. Dillon’s analysis was shown to be incorrect and home rule was not killed by kindness
(or cynicism), but Dillon’s fears were not so far-fetched as it would seem; nationalism might
have been killed by constructive Unionism. Augustine Birrell, the Liberal Chief Secretary,
did produce a further Land Act in 1909 that was less advantageous to the landlords (and at
a saving to the Treasury) and as the volume of settlements decreased it can be argued that
this final British piece of land legislation altered the tenor and emphasis of the Wyndham
Act without appreciably extending its provisions.

Trades unionism and socialism
Ireland was not immune to the social and political forces that were developing in Great
Britain at the time. A number of New Unions had come into being around the time of the
split. Parnell (though essentially conservative) had seen the importance of garnering
support from whatever source possible, including fledgling labour interests. Unlike the
pragmatic Parnell, Davitt’s attitude was more principled, he was a socialist though
none-the-less a nationalist. Despite the fact that the post-split home rule movement
retained a Parnellite propensity to utilise and absorb other interests, the movement was
by-and-large hostile to labour aspirations: these conflicted with the capitalist and industrial
pretensions of the new Ireland, the particular vested interests of the existing MPs and the
outlook of the catholic church. The party (both before and after 1900) was either rural or
bourgeois in thought and origin.

Generally the more advanced nationalists who were also socially conservative in outlook
shared this attitude. Nevertheless the two leading figures of Irish labour, Larkin and
Connolly, provided essential contributions to the Irish national scene in the years
immediately before the Great War. Larkin had for a time united protestant and catholic
dockers in Belfast and had paralysed much of the city’s industry, challenging the hegemony
of conservative Unionism. Ultimately however he failed and feeling betrayed by British
trades unionism, founded the Irish Transport and General Workers Union, transferring
much of his activity to Dublin. Once more he was to fail, as the ITGWU was defeated in the
Dublin lockout of 1913. Despairing of the situation he withdrew to the USA leaving the Irish
union apparatus and Irish socialism in the hands of James Connolly.

Both Larkin and Connolly were socialist republicans. Larkin was thwarted by the vested
interests of Dublin capitalism in the form of William Murphy, a member of the home rule
party who epitomised catholic bourgeois self-interest. Nevertheless Larkin had established
an Irish union movement that was to be no cat’s-paw of British trades unionism. Moreover
the 1913 transport strike and lockout attracted the attention and support of a number of
advanced nationalists (who were otherwise socially and politically conservative); the
horrendous living and working conditions of the Dublin slum-dwellers appalled them.
Connolly using a different strategy than that used by Larkin planned a republican socialist
revolution against British rule and the capitalist system. Although Irish labour was an
important element in the revolution of 1916, the attitude of the other participants was at
best ambivalent to the concept of socialism.

Women’s campaigners
Similarly the Irish national movement in its various forms had an equivocal attitude to
women’s suffrage. The British suffrage movement had an uphill struggle that only started to
be resolved in legal terms in 1918 and then largely due to the experience of the Great War.
It would be unrealistic to assume that the cause of women’s suffrage would have prospered
in a deeply conservative environment such as Ireland. As in Britain the hostile, the
indifferent and the positive were to be found in all political parties and movements.
Generally however as with the attitude to socialism, the nationalist outlook was grudging,
partly due to entrenched conservatism but also due to the belief that women’s suffrage was
an irrelevance when compared to the nationalist cause. Therefore although Irishwomen
obtained complete suffrage in the newly independent Ireland before their sisters in Great
Britain and Northern Ireland, the nationalist/republican movement was generally indifferent,
if not hostile to women’s rights. On the whole it was felt that such demands were marginal
or even diversionary when compared to the national struggle; much in the same way as
was felt about socialism.

Women campaigners (some such as Constance Markievicz were committed socialists, who
never stopped working for the working class) were prominent in the national cause, very
often playing a more radical role than their male counterparts. Certainly in the Treaty
debates and in the post-independence civil war, the most militant women were associated
with an uncompromising republicanism (all six women TDs in the 2nd Dail were staunch
republicans). It must be added however that whilst some of the militant women gave
priority to the national cause (such as Maude Gonne MacBride), others, like Constance
Markievicz, never let either their social(ist) commitment or their republicanism be eclipsed
by the other. By-and-large the male figures in the national struggle were dismissive of the
dedication of the female militants even when their actions outstripped those of the men.

The new issues of socialism and feminism were slow to develop in the context of a
conservative society where attentions were concentrated on the nationalist and unionist
issue. In Britain despite late nineteenth century origins, the achievement of socialist and
women’s campaigners did not bear fruit until well into the twentieth century. In the more
conservative Irish environment these two causes were integral but peripheral to the
dominating issue of the national/unionist drama.

Previous reference has been made to the emergence of an Ulster unionist identity; this was
largely ignored in nationalist and Liberal circles. Ulster Unionism was in the period 1905-21
able to sabotage part of the dream of the ‘angry young men’ but these militants were to be
inspired by Ulster Unionist tactics as the Ulstermen were to defy both the government and
the Commons they were also to arm themselves on a massive and spectacular scale.

The ghost of Parnell stalked through the decade following his death, preventing unification
of the home rule movement until 1900. The ghost helped influence a complete generation
of nationalists who adopted policies more extreme than that of the pre-1890 Parnell. His
impact can be seen clearly in James Joyce’s Dubliners, in which the theme of the death and
betrayal of Parnell occurs in poems such as To a Shade (Yeats’s poem addressed to Parnell
and written in 1913)