The Great Famine of 1845 to 1849 left over 1
million dead with a further 1 million emigrating
over the following 10 years. One of the effects
of the disaster was to demonstrate to ordinary
Irish people that the English Government had
failed them in their time of need and that they
must seize control of their own destiny.
Out of the Famine grew several revolutionary
movements which culminated in the 1916 Easter
Rising. In the second half of the nineteenth
century the main concern of the Irish people was
their land and the fact that they had no control
whatsoever over it ownership.
Charles Stewart Parnell was born in 1846 at
Avondale House, near Rathdrum in Co. Wicklow.
He was the son of a
Protestant landowner who organised the rural
masses into agitation against the ruling Landlord
class to seek the 3 Fs: Fixity of Tenure, Freedom
to Sell and Fair Rent.
Violence flared in the countryside but Parnell
preferred to use parliamentary means to achieve
He was duly elected as a member of
Westminster Parliament 1875 as a member for
County Meath. Two years later he and Michael
Davitt founded the Irish National Land League.
They campaigned for agrarian reform,
peasant land ownership and Home Rule.
The result greatly improved the conditions
under which the Irish agricultural class toiled.
His main ambition was Home Rule for Ireland
(local Government) and he led the Irish Party,
deposing Isaac Butt in the process to achieve this
aim. He and colleagues such as Joseph Biggar made
a science out of 'fillibustering' and delayed the
English parliament by introducing amendments to
every clause of every Bill and then discussing
each aspect at length. His popularity in Ireland
soared to great heights.
Trouble loomed for Parnell however, in his private
life. He had secretly courted a married woman,
Kathleen O'Shea, the husband of whom filed for
divorce in 1890, naming Parnell
as the co-respondent. It caused
a split in his party and fairly well finished his
career. He tried to ignore the scandal and continued his
public life. He also married her but public pressure in Ireland and from
Gladstone in England eventually brought his
downfall and he died shortly afterwards, in 1891.
The Home Rule Bill that he had forced Gladstone
into introducing was passed in the House of
Commons, but was defeated in the House of Lords.
In his last speech in Kilkenny in 1891 he said:
'I donât pretend that I had not moments of trial
and of temptation, but I do claim that never in
thought, word, or deed, have I been false to the
trust which Irishmen have confided in me'.
But perhaps he will be most remembered for the
quotation that can be found on his statue at the
junction of O'Connell Street and Parnell Street
in Dublin City Centre:
'No man shall have the right to fix the
boundary to the march of a Nation'.