Parnell's Leadership

Justin McCarthy
Chapter XII | Start of Chapter

Butt was a thoroughly Parliamentary politician, and set himself altogether against Parnell's plans; but Parnell proved too strong for him, and soon had the whole strength of Irish Nationalism at home and abroad under his command. Butt died in May, 1879, and after a short interval Parnell was elected leader of the Irish Parliamentary party. Parnell was a close and keen debater, with a genius for the work he had to do. No man since O'Connell's time had had anything like the same command over the Irish people, and Parnell had a clearer and more practical Parliamentary policy than that of O'Connell's later days. Parnell especially wanted to force the Irish question on the attention of Parliament and of the public, and this he was well able to accomplish. The House of Commons, at the instance of successive Administrations, introduced new rules for the prevention or restriction of obstruction, but the discussions on each new proposal gave fresh opportunities to the obstructive policy. New coercive measures were introduced for Ireland, and legal prosecutions led to the imprisonment of Parnell himself and many of his leading supporters, but the power of Parnell could not be broken. Enlightened English statesmen were beginning to ask themselves whether there must not be something calling for consideration in a cause which could thus inspire the great majority of the Irish people.