Parnell, The Rebel Prince

Kevin Haddick Flynn revisits the career and reassesses the character of this great Irish patriot.

Charles Stewart Parnell (1846-91) haunts the Irish historical imagination. It has been said that Irish people have a sense of guilt over his fate. James Joyce put his finger on it when, in the 1920s, he recalled Parnell’s plea to his countrymen not to throw him to the English wolves, noting with savage irony: ‘they did not fail his desperate appeal; they tore him to pieces themselves’.

Shortly after the 1874 General Election which terminated Gladstone’s first ministry, a by-election was held in Dublin County owing to the appointment of Colonel T.E. Taylor, the sitting member, to government office – the rule being that a member accepting office under the Crown must seek re-election. The Home Rule League, just founded in November 1873, had difficulty in finding a suitable candidate. At last one was selected – Parnell – but he bore himself so poorly during the campaign that one of the leaders of the League, when asked about the Colonel’s increased majority, exclaimed, ‘And no wonder. Did you see the dim-witted fool we had for a candidate?’

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