The Fall of Parnell

Orla Finnegan and Ian Cawood show that the reasons for Parnell’s fall in 1890 are not as straightforward as they may appear at first sight.


In 1890 Charles Stewart Parnell, head of the Irish Nationalist party, was being cited as co-respondent in divorce proceedings between Captain and Mrs O’Shea. Despite this scandal, he refused to step down as leader, but the Liberal Party and the Irish clergy declared against his leadership. William Gladstone confirmed that ‘the continuance of Mr Parnell’s leadership’ would mean the ‘cessation of relations and of common action between the Irish party and the Liberal party’. With Gladstone’s threat to abandon support for Home Rule, the Irish party split on 6 December 1890, with the majority of Parnell’s party opposing their leader. Led by Justin McCarthy, 44 members withdrew from his leadership and Parnell was left with only 28 followers. He fought fiercely to regain his leadership but failed, and on 6 October 1891 he died.

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