Local Hero | The accidental election of Charles Stewart Parnell

October 6th is marked in the Irish historic calendar as Ivy Day, the day which saw the passing of the ‘Uncrowned King of Ireland’ Charles Stewart Parnell in 1891. His passing was mourned greatly across Ireland, including in Cork, a city he represented as an MP at the time.

Parnell had no business or family ties to Cork. Still, in the Spring of 1880 he established strong enough of a connection to the rebel county that he was chosen by it’s electorate to represent them at Westminster.

Parnell’s nomination in Cork came about in bizarre circumstances. The story goes that an anonymous man from the Home Rule movement was paid £250 by Cork Tories to nominate an extreme candidate in order to split the nationalist vote. The extreme candidate was a young chap from Wicklow by the name of Charles Stewart Parnell and on Saturday April 3rd he hopped on a night train to Cork to accept the nomination and spend a weekend campaigning on Leeside.

It was shortly after 2am Sunday morning before Parnell’s train arrived in Cork and he was greeted by ecstatic crowds who took him to his lodgings at the Victoria Hotel on St Patrick Street. As crowds assembled outside Parnell’s window he was busy getting down to the truth of the matter regarding his nomination. The £250 from the Tories was produced by the man they had paid and after much deliberation it was decided to hold on to the £250 for campaign expenses and try to beat the Tories with their own money.

Parnell set about campaigning straightaway and in the early hours of that Sunday morning he opened his room window facing Pana and gave a speech to those assembled below. It was a festive feeling that night on the city’s main thoroughfare as hundreds gathered in jovial mood. Some were swigging from ale jugs while others belted out ballads.

On Sunday April 4th Parnell and a troop of canvassers headed for Douglas Village to canvass the rural vote. Parnell arrived in a horse drawn car while two more followed behind carrying his campaign team. The village was incredibly quiet and it worried Parnell who thought the journey would be wasted but then the bells rang from St Columba’s Church and the Parnell bandwagon rolled in its direction. As mass goers were filtering out from St Columba’s Parnell stood on the steps of his mode of transport and launched into a campaign speech in the church yard while his canvassers distributed leaflets to the crowd that had assembled around. Half an hour later Parnell and his troupe were on the road headed for Blackrock to do as he had done in Douglas – win votes.

Parnell finished the day back in the city centre where he addressed 30,000 people. The next morning heralded in polling day and the accidental nominee won a seat.

On October 3rd of that same year Parnell made his triumphant return trip to Cork and it was an event which saw thousands throng the city to welcome their newest MP.

Parnell arrived at the train station in Blarney shortly after 1 o’clock that Sunday afternoon and was met by several representatives of the Cork branch of the Land League. Blarney was bursting with onlookers who lined the route out for the city.

Charles Stewart Parnell Land League | HeadStuff.org
Land League

Several carriages were used to carry Parnell and his entourage of election committee members, of which there were many. His popularity resulted in many hangers-on but the cab men of Cork did not complain, they got a nice financial return for driving all those who alighted the train with Parnell.

The master of Avondale made a short speech outside the train station in Blarney to please the hundreds who had waited there since early morning for his arrival. Then the cortege set off for Cork City but, as it did a group of men on horse back rode up in a frantic fashion and held up Parnell’s carriage.

Six masked men brandishing revolvers stopped Parnell’s carriage and ordered two of its occupants to be removed. Those on horse back with the guns were local Fenians who had a gripe with a Mr. Cronin and a Mr. O’Brien who were travelling in Parnell’s carriage.

With little resistance O’Brien and Cronin left the carriage and the procession was allowed to go on its way with Parnell enjoying the extra leg room with two less occupants in his carriage.

Weeks before the arrival of Parnell, both O’Brien and Cronin were chairing a Land League meeting in Douglas where they strongly condemned a Fenian raid for arms on a ship called The Juno at Passage West. Because of this, Cronin and O’Brien were seen as anti-national and those involved in the raid wanted to make an example of them. The Fenians did nothing else with the two Land League officials that day, only leaving them bitter on the side of the road in Blarney as the Parnell procession went off without them.

That incident did not stir any fear in Parnell or the rest of his crew as the procession made it’s way to the city. At a snail’s pace it made it’s way down Shanakiel Road and Sundays Well. It then crossed Wellington Bridge where it was met by the Mayor with his ceremonial mace along with members of the Corporation decked out head to toe in ceremonial gowns. It had already taken several hours to get to just that point of the procession.

The procession went down Western Road where bands assembled there struck up rebel rousing favourites such as ‘The Wearing of the Green’ and ‘Let Erin Remember.’ It was a very impressive reception in the city and created a party like atmosphere in the streets on that Winters evening.

From Western Road Parnell’s procession turned up for North Main Street crossing the North Gate Bridge and down the quays and over St. Patrick’s Bridge. When the procession crossed onto St Patrick Street it was met by a 60,000 strong crowd waving flags, holding banners aloft and giving an outrageous outpouring of affection. The sort of thing you might have seen with a returning All-Ireland winning team.

Parnell delivered a speech to his adoring faithful on Pana while all businesses in the surrounding streets closed for the day in his honour. Parnell would remain an MP for Cork City when he was returned in subsequent elections and died with the title on October 6th 1891.

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