Par­nell courted con­tro­versy




CHARLES STE­WART PAR­NELL (1846-91) was born at Avon­dale on 27 June, 1846, to John Henry Par­nell (1811-59), deputy lieu­tenant and high-sher­iff for Co. Wick­low and Delia Tu­dor (1816-1896), daugh­ter of Com­modore Charles Ste­wart (1778-1869) of New Jer­sey. He was the sev­enth of eleven strong minded and in­di­vid­u­al­is­tic chil­dren that num­bered five boys and six girls. Par­nell's dom­i­neer­ing, im­pul­sive and self-willed na­ture was noted early as his sis­ters nick­named him ‘ Butthead' due to the in­abil­ity of any­body to con­trol him. His si­b­lings also called him ‘ Tom Thumb' as he was small in stature as a child. Par­nell's child­hood in Wick­low was rel­a­tively idyl­lic - spend­ing sum­mers pan­ning for gold in the river near Aughrim, as well as shoot­ing and fish­ing with his fa­ther in Augha­vanagh. Even so, Par­nell's early years were not with­out trauma, suf­fer­ing ty­phoid and scar­let fever. He was also deeply af­fected by the death of his brother Hayes in 1853, while the sep­a­ra­tion of his par­ents that year was up­set­ting, lead­ing him to be sent for ed­u­ca­tion to Eng­land. On 3 July, 1859, Par­nell, aged thir­teen, in­her­ited the in­debted Avon­dale es­tate upon his fa­ther's death, be­com­ing a ward of the court of chancery as he was still a mi­nor. Avon­dale was let, while Par­nell re­turned to Eng­land.

It is pop­u­larly thought that Par­nell was mis­er­able when he was in Eng­land - though this view needs qual­i­fi­ca­tion. Be­tween 1865-69 Par­nell stud­ied at Mag­da­lene Col­lege, Cam­bridge. But due to the fi­nan­cial trou­bles of Avon­dale, he spent much of his time in Wick­low. Par­nell's Cam­bridge ca­reer ended on 26 May, 1869. Then in ac­cor­dance with col­lege rules, he was sent down for the re­main­der of the term fol­low­ing his pros­e­cu­tion for as­sault on 21 May. The ev­i­dence re­veals that an abu­sive and drunken Par­nell had as­saulted a mer­chant who dealt in ma­nure. To make mat­ters worse, Par­nell was ar­ro­gant enough to of­fer a con­sta­ble a shilling ‘ set­tle the af­fair.' Al­though he in­tended to re­turn to his stud­ies, he never did. Par­nell's wild days con­tin­ued. The Wick­low News­let­ter of 24 Septem­ber, 1869, re­ports that Ralph Jor­dan, pro­pri­etor of the Glen­dalough Ho­tel, brought a case be­fore the Rath­drum petty ses­sions against Par­nell and Arthur Dick­in­son aris­ing from a drunken punch up in the ho­tel dur­ing the night of 27 July. On this oc­ca­sion, Par­nell was ac­quit­ted.

Through­out 1870, Par­nell strug­gled to de­velop Avon­dale, con­struct­ing saw mills. In spring, 1871, he sailed for the US to meet a Miss Wood whom he met in Paris. When she re­jected him, he joined his brother John Howard Par­nell on a tour of the Amer­i­can south - re­turn­ing to Ire­land in Jan­uary 1872. At this point there was noth­ing to mark him out from the other gen­try fig­ures, in­dulging in the past-times of cricket, horses, and hunt­ing. Dur­ing the early 1870s, Par­nell joined the Wick­low mili­tia as an of­fi­cer, ap­pear­ing in uni­form at so­ci­ety balls held at Dublin Cas­tle, dancing with all the pretty women. In 1872 Par­nell be­gan to show an in­ter­est in pol­i­tics. His brother John Howard Par­nell sug­gested that he should con­sider stand­ing for par­lia- ment. Par­nell de­clined but de­clared that he was in favour of the ten­ants and Home Rule.

His first ven­tures into pol­i­tics were atyp­i­cal of his back­ground, be­com­ing a jus­tice of the peace and a grand ju­ror in the Wick­low As­sizes. Like his fa­ther be­fore him, Par­nell served as high-sher­iff for Wick­low be­tween 1874-75. He also be­came a mem­ber of the synod of the dis­es­tab­lished Church of Ire­land, rep­re­sent­ing his dio­cese. In 1874, Par­nell sought to stand for elec­tion as a Home Rule can­di­date for Wick­low but his of­fice of high-sher­iff dis­qual­i­fied him.

John Howard Par­nell con­tested the elec­tion, fin­ish­ing last in the poll on 12 Fe­bru­ary, 1874. How­ever, the Home Rule League saw the ad­van­tage of hav­ing a man such as Par­nell on their ticket. So af­ter Par­nell's term as high-sher­iff ended, he en­tered a by-elec­tion as a Home Rule can­di­date in Dublin on 18 March, 1874. His cam­paign was unin­spir­ing, los­ing heav­ily (2,183 votes to 1,235). Un­de­terred, Par­nell of­fered to con­test an­other by­elec­tion in Tip­per­ary. The Home Rule League ex­ec­u­tive groomed him, en­dors­ing him in April 1875 for the seat in Meath va­cated by the death of John Martin. Such was their ar­dour for Par­nell that the ex­ec­u­tive pres­surised the lo­cal can­di­date J.T. Hinds un­suc­cess­fully to with­draw. With the sup­port of the lo­cal Catholic bishop, Par­nell won the by­elec­tion on 17 April (1,771 votes to 1,050) - tak­ing his seat on 22 April. On 26 April Par­nell made his maiden speech in the com­mons, ask­ing: ‘Why should Ire­land be treated as a ge­o­graph­i­cal frag­ment? Ire­land was not a ge­o­graph­i­cal frag­ment but a nation.'

Charles Ste­wart Par­nell.

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