Parnell's Later Days

Justin McCarthy
Chapter XII | Start of Chapter

In the meantime, Ireland suffered a memorable and melancholy loss. Her greatest political leader died at Brighton on October 6, 1891. The close of Parnell's career was darkened by a miserable scandal. He and his principal followers had come triumphantly out of the ordeal which they had claimed, in justice to themselves, when The Times newspaper made against them its charges—of inciting to the commission of crimes and paying men to commit crimes, and the less serious charge of promoting a dangerous agitation—founded on letters attributed to Parnell. The Special Commission of Judges appointed by the Government for the investigation of these charges found that the letters alleged to have been written by Parnell were forgeries. The forger, Pigott, fled to Spain, and committed suicide in Madrid to avoid arrest and extradition. Parnell and his colleagues were acquitted by the Special Commission of all the serious charges brought against them.

When Parnell appeared in the House of Commons after the report of the Judges, he was received with a welcome from the whole Liberal party, including the occupants of the front Opposition bench and even some brave and independent men among the Tory ranks, such as had probably never been given to a private member before. This was in 1890. Soon after came the trial in the Divorce Court, and its result brought a political calamity along with it. Gladstone and the leading Liberals who stood by him believed that it would be impossible to carry a Home Rule measure if Parnell should retain the leadership of the Irish party. A division took place in that party. A large majority called upon Parnell to resign, while the minority insisted that he must be maintained in the position of leader at all hazards. As no agreement could be effected, the majority seceded and formed a separate party under a new leader. Parnell and his followers set out on a campaign in Ireland for the maintenance of his power over the people, and there were many fiercely contested elections. Under the excitement and excessive fatigue, Parnell's health, which had been much impaired by overwork for some years, utterly broke down, and he came to his early death.

So melancholy a close to a great political career is not often recorded in history. Even the scandal in which Parnell came to be involved did not convict him of any absolutely unpardonable moral delinquency, and he made every reparation in his power. The one fault and the one mistake of Parnell were soon forgotten by Ireland as she bent over his grave.