The Spy Behind the Speaker’s Chair

For twenty-five years, writes Charles Curran, a former major in the U.S. Federal Army acted as a British secret agent among the Irish Nationalists.

From the members’ lobby of the House of Commons a corridor leads to the Library. There it joins another corridor which runs parallel to the Chamber on the Opposition side of the House, then turns left, passes behind the Speaker’s Chair, and finishes at the entrance to the division lobby on the Government side. Bookcases, MPs’ lockers, and portraits of dead politicians line the walls of this second corridor.

One evening in May 1881, two men entered it from the Members’ Lobby. They paced it from end to end for three quarters of an hour. They walked slowly, close together, speaking in undertones as they went to and fro. The House was sitting. Occasionally, a stray M.P. came by, glanced at them, and passed on. But nobody interrupted them. One of the men was Charles Stewart Parnell, M.P. for Cork City, leader of the Irish Nationalist Party.

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