Home Page

1850-1920ContentsIntroductionChapter 1Chapter 2Chapter 3

Chapter 4Chapter 5Chapter 6Chapter 7Chapter 8Chapter 9

Chapter 10Chapter 11AppendicesBiographyBibliography

[TOP][IIreland 1850-1920 Copyright © 2005 by Desmond Keenan. Book available from and]

Chapter Five



Summary of chapter. Irish agriculture, which earlier in the century was among the most progressive in the world was falling behind developments elsewhere. But now there came a re-awakening. Denmark, formerly a backward country was setting new standards of production and marketing and was making inroads into English markets which Irish producers had considered theirs. A mechanical milk separator was introduced and butter was increasingly produced in creameries where hygiene could be controlled. The agricultural co-operative movement spread. The industries around Belfast grew enormously. The Conservative Government steadily introduced beneficial legislation, notably the formation of the Congested Districts Board to deal with areas with the worst poverty. The great political event of the period was the Times Commission which carefully examined the connection of the Home Rule Party with the systematic terrorism of the Land League. The Home rule Party itself split over the issue of Parnell's divorce.


[Parnellism and Crime 1886-1889]


The Ministry July 1886 to August 1892 (Conservative) 

Prime Minister             Marquis of Salisbury (2nd Ministry)

Home Secretary           Henry Matthews

Lord Lieutenant          Marquis of Londonderry; 1889 Earl of Zetland

Chief Secretary            Sir Michael Hicks Beach; March 1887 Arthur Balfour; Nov 1891, William Jackson

Under Secretary           Robert Hamilton; Dec 1886 Sir Redvers Buller; Oct 1887 Sir Joseph Ridgeway 

          [July 1886] Henry Matthews, whose family came from Herefordshire in England, had a Catholic mother and was reared as a Catholic. Being debarred from Oxford and Cambridge he went to the University of Paris, London University, and Lincoln’s Inn.  In 1868 he became a QC, and was elected as a Conservative for the Irish borough of Dungarvan at a cost he later said of 800 bottles of whiskey. He however supported Gladstone over disestablishment and university education. He became a friend of Lord Randolph Churchill and was elected for East Birmingham in 1886. He was the first Catholic to sit in the cabinet since 1689. An arrangement had to be made that any ecclesiastical patronage attached to the office of Home Secretary should be transferred to the Prime Minister. Charles Stewart Vane-Tempest-Stewart, 6th Marquis of Londonderry, was from a County Down family, whose most famous member was Lord Castlereagh (1769-1822) who together with the Duke of Wellington from County Meath ended the ambitions of Napoleon. In 1878, as Lord Castlereagh, he was elected for County Down which he represented until he succeeded on his father’s death to the House of Lords as Earl Vane. (Many Irish peers also had lesser English peerages to allow them to sit of right in the House of Lords.) Two years later he was asked by Salisbury, at a time of great turmoil, to be Lord Lieutenant. The wife of Lawrence Dundas, 3rd Earl of Zetland was a cousin of Lady Gore-Booth of County Sligo. The Countess of Fingall used to take Lady Gore-Booth and her daughter Constance to vice-regal parties (Fingall, Seventy Years Young, 190; this entertaining book is essential background reading for the period covering the next forty years. Her husband was the State Steward at Dublin Castle and so responsible for state banquets etc. In this way she got to know all the Lords Lieutenant and the wives.) Arthur Balfour was the Marquis of Salisbury’s nephew on his mother’s side. He was educated at Eton and Cambridge and became a writer on philosophical subjects. In 1874 he was elected as a Conservative, but for some years played little part in the House. Mr William Jackson held the office for a few months after Balfour became Leader of the House. Sir Redvers Buller was a very experienced army officer who, in addition to other campaigns, became chief-of-staff to Lord Wolseley in the Sudan campaign. In August 1886 he was sent in a civil capacity to a disturbed district in Kerry. Salisbury decided that discipline and morale should be tightened up in the Royal Irish Constabulary, so he was appointed Under Secretary in December 1886, Robert Hamilton being regarded as too closely involved in the Home Rule Bill (1886). Sir Joseph Ridgeway was appointed in 1887. He worked so closely with Balfour that the Liberals removed him in turn in 1893. He was from Essex and was an officer in the Bengal Infantry until in 1869 the Viceroy, the Earl of Mayo (Lord Naas) selected him for civilian administration in Central India. He then became political secretary to Major General Frederick Roberts (Bobs) and accompanied him on the march to Kandahar in 1880. With brevet rank of lieutenant colonel he continued operations in Afghanistan, and was then involved in boundary negotiations with the Czar Nicholas II in July 1887.

          Peter O’Brien (Baron O’Brien) a Catholic barrister was made Solicitor General in 1887 and Attorney General in 1888. In 1889 he became Lord Chief Justice when Michael Morris was promoted to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. He worked closely with Arthur Balfour, Edward Carson, and Stephen Ronan who was Assistant to the Attorney General or ‘Attorney General’s devil’. Carson succeeded Ronan in that position in 1887. Michael Morris (Lord Morris and Killanin), a Catholic from Galway became Lord Chief Justice in 1887. Under O’Brien’s clear and firm lead terrorism was gradually conquered. The entry on Stephen Ronan in the Dictionary of National Biography claimed that if he belonged to one of the major political parties he would rapidly have been made a judge. As it was he was sixty seven before he was promoted to the bench.

          In the year 1886 there occurred the greatest sectarian rioting in Belfast for a generation. The next rioting on a similar scale was in 1907. One former member of the Royal Irish Constabulary blamed it on the structure of the police force. Like the army (and the National Board of Education) it recruited its policemen and police officers separately. In the Belfast riots in 1886, he maintained, the rioting was fanned by incompetent RIC officers who did not know their own way back to barracks; he had spoken openly to criticize his superiors at the special commission of enquiry that followed. For this he was totally discredited and condemned; the Lord Lieutenant’s guarantee that constabulary witnesses would be protected was blatantly disregarded, and since he retired on pension every indignity was heaped on him. He blamed it on the system of cadet officers, sons of gentlemen, who alone are promoted to the higher ranks. The ordinary constable on the beat who starts at the bottom, and who knows policing, has little chance of promotion. If the cadet has friends in the Castle he is sure of rapid promotion (Constabulary Gazette 10 February 1900.) It was a grievance that did not go away, even though Sir Redvers Buller was drafted in to deal with the discontent. The police, already in 1883, had been agitating for higher wages. An English Catholic judge, Sir John Day, in October 1886 chaired a Royal Commission to enquire into the riots (Day DNB). The origin of the riots was alleged to be a remark of a Catholic shipyard worker to a Protestant that after the Home Rule Bill (1886) was passed, no jobs would be given to Protestants. The attacks of the Protestants on the Catholics which led to a loss of 40 lives continued sporadically until 19th September. Thirty public houses, 28 Catholic-owned, were burned, and 3,000 people were driven from their homes. A rumour was spread that Catholic policemen were to be sent to Belfast to deal with the Protestants (Pearce, Lines of Most Resistance, 95-6).


          The year 1886 was not noted for its legislation. However the state of local government at the time can be gauged by the regulations concerning rabies. Rabies was first scheduled as a    disease under the Diseases in Animals Acts by an Order in council in 1886 which enabled the local authorities, the 159 Boards of Guardians, to make regulations including one for the muzzling of dogs. The magistrates in the 608 petty sessions districts in Ireland and about 119 other local authorities of boroughs, towns, and townships also had powers under the Dogs Act (1871), when a case of rabies or suspected rabies was found in their district to make regulations for restricting dogs not under control. There were also over 700 sanitary districts, with various other powers. There was however little concert among these numerous local authorities in the exercise of the various powers vested in them, while there was considerable overlapping of authority, resulting in conflicting and confusing, however well-intentioned, regulations (County Councils Gazette 4 May 1900).

          In this year the milk separator was introduced into Ireland. The invention of the centrifugal separator marked a new era in dairying throughout the world. Carl Gustaf de Laval in Sweden in 1883 first used a steam turbine to drive a milk separator. The introduction about 1886 into Ireland of the Petersen separator was the beginning of a notable advance in this country. Though quickly obsolete it was the basis of all subsequent machines, and it was based on the principal that when a liquid is spun in a circular vessel it is forced to the outside, with the heavier parts furthest out and the lightest remaining in the middle. The older method relied on gravity for separation, namely the milk was allowed to stand in a container so that the lighter cream rose to the top, from where it was skimmed off by hand. The centrifugal separator formed the basis of all future butter manufacture. About three years later it was recognised that if the milk were heated the separation was better, and at the same time the dairy thermometer came into use. The Petersen was followed by the Alexandra and it by the Alpha Laval. Mechanical milk testers were also developed, and the next 14 years saw a transformation in Irish dairies (Farmers’ Gazette 30 May 1903).

          To this year may be dated the beginning of the modernisation of Irish farming. Irish farmers read the farming magazines and the best of them were not far behind the Danes. But Irish farmers never matched the systematic approach of the Danes and their embracing of wholesale, retail, and producers’ co-operatives and a programme of systematic agricultural education. In 1886 the Co-operative Retail store on the Rochdale system was opened in Belfast. The bulk of the capital was owned by working men and women. Besides the profits the members had the benefit of insurance schemes and educational facilities. Four co-operatives were opened at the time in Belfast but only one survived (Irish Industrial Journal 26 March 1910).

          In October 1886 the Royal Irish Agricultural Society and the Royal Dublin Society were amalgamated. This merger, in itself, was an indication that the drive towards agricultural improvement which had marked the 1840s was running out of steam. In 1879 the Earl of Pembroke leased 15 acres of land at Ballsbridge to the Royal Dublin Society and it was in the process of erecting buildings there and transferring the shows from Kildare Street (White, The Royal Dublin Society, 125). In 1886 the brewing firm of Arthur Guinness was floated as a limited company.

          Between 1815 and 1870 steam propulsion and the electric telegraph had revolutionised communications round the world. Within a few hours the Vatican could notify the great majority of the Catholic cardinals around the world on the death of a Pope, and a Cardinal in Chicago, for example, could set out for Rome, knowing to the minute the time he would arrive.

          The next few decades were to witness an astonishing series of inventions, 1873 barbed wire, 1874 the Remington typewriter, 1876 the telephone, 1877 the phonograph/gramophone, and the use of phosphoric ores in steel-making, 1878 Otto’s internal combustion engine, Swan and Edison’s incandescent electric light bulb, 1880 discovery of the transmission of malaria by the mosquito, 1883 the machine gun, Benz’s motorised tricycle, 1885 Parsons’ staged steam turbine, the Rover safety bicycle, 1888 the Eastman Kodak camera, the Hollerith punch card, 1892 diesel engine, 1895 X-rays and first cinema projector, 1896 radio-activity of uranium, 1898 discovery of radium, the modern double-hulled submarine, 1900 use of radio waves, and 1903 the first flight by the Wright Brothers. All of these appeared in Ireland within a few years of their invention, though sometimes it was a few decades before they were widely adopted. One of earliest and most popular inventions was the Rover safety bicycle with wheels of equal size and driven by pedals and chain. It played an important part in the emancipation of women who were allowed out on their own on their bicycles.

          Salisbury’s remedy for Ireland was ‘twenty years of resolute government’. Sir Michael Hicks Beach returned to the office he had held twelve years before, but he was not happy, for he felt that he might be obliged to enforce landlord’s rights. When Lord Randolph Churchill, whose views on Ireland were more akin to his own, resigned from the Government in December 1886, he felt himself isolated in the Cabinet. He resigned in March 1887, pleading ill-health and was succeeded by Salisbury’s nephew, Arthur Balfour (Beach DNB). Writing of Balfour’s period in office the Irish Times noted in no other period was so much ameliorative legislation introduced, drainage acts, light railway schemes, new purchases of land Bills which created the Congested Districts Board, and in 1891 an appeal for relief of those suffering  from the potato failure (Weekly Irish Times 19 July 1902).

          About this time began Parnell’s involvement with Kitty O’Shea the wife of Captain William Henry O’Shea whose election in Galway Parnell had secured in 1886. Mrs O’Shea began to live permanently with Parnell from 1886 onwards though she had been his mistress for several years before that. Tim Healy felt that this entanglement was causing Parnell to lose interest in politics. In addition, Parnell’s health began to decline though he was only forty. At this time also some of his more extreme assistants began to act without consulting him. John Dillon and William O’Brien began to ‘organise’ the tenants on the Marquis of Clanrickarde’s 56,000 acre Galway estate. Much of this was wasteland, but he had 1,159 tenants. He was not a harsh landlord, and there is no indication that the tenants were unable to pay the rent. But the Land League had been determined in principle to force down rents, and the marquis decided in principle not to reduce them. Of the tenants 186 were evicted and other tenants installed in their place. This led to an outbreak of murders, but the marquis, who lived in the Albany in Piccadilly in London, asked ‘Do they think they will intimidate me by shooting my bailiffs?’

          The measure Dillon and O’Brien devised and called the Plan of Campaign was simple. Tenants would not refuse to pay their rents absolutely; they would offer to pay the landlord what they considered a fair rent, and if he refused to accept their offer they would pay the money into a fund for supporting evicted tenants. Parnell disapproved of the plan which had in fact two major drawbacks. The first was that it was illegal, and the second was that it was immoral. In February 1887, O’Brien was convicted of a conspiracy to intimidate tenants so that they would refuse to pay their rents. He was sent to prison. But unlike Daniel O’Connell and Parnell he was not given special treatment but was treated as an ordinary convict (Lyons, Ireland Since the Famine, 188-190, 195; DNB O’Brien, Dillon).

          [1887] It was typical of the attitude of the Catholic Church that while two Archbishops, Croke of Cashel (possibly) and Walsh of Dublin (definitely) approved of the ‘Plan’ two other bishops wrote to Rome complaining about boycotting and the involvement of priests therein. The Pope, Leo XIII sent his own emissary, Mgr Persico to Ireland in 1887 and the reply from Rome in 1888 was unequivocal. The Plan of Campaign involved grave sins of injustice and so required restitution before absolution could be given. The activities were condemned by Leo XIII in 1888; Leo said that a tenant could not unilaterally diminish an agreed rent, especially as there were tribunals established to deal with cases of grievance. Nor was it allowable to extort rents from tenants and deposit them in the hands of unknown persons to the detriment of the landlord. For 'it is  contrary  to justice and charity to persecute by a social interdict those who are satisfied to pay the rents they agreed to, or those who, in exercise of  their right, take vacant farms' (Warder 12 July 1902). Archbishop William Joseph Walsh, a political priest and strong nationalist, was appointed Archbishop of Dublin in 1885, having formerly been president of Maynooth College. His outspoken views on politics meant that he never was made a cardinal. His views on education were similar to those of Cullen and MacHale.

          Though the estates targeted by the ‘Plan of Campaign’ were not very numerous, extending to only 116, and the number of tenants evicted for non-payment of rent was not more than 1400 at any one time, yet the associated violence and intimidation was such that Hicks Beach and Balfour with their Irish advisers decided on a perpetual Crimes Act instead of the various temporary Acts passed from time to time. It fell to Balfour to introduce the Criminal Law and Procedure Act (1887) or Crimes Act (1887) which allowed the Lord Lieutenant to have trials by special juries in proclaimed districts, and allowed the Lord Lieutenant by proclamation to prohibit or suppress 'dangerous associations', and described them as those who interfere with the administration of the of the law and disturbed the maintenance of law and order. From 1881 to 1906 the Arms Act (1881) was renewed annually and gave the Government complete control over the importation and sale of arms and ammunition. The Explosive Substances Act (1883) applied to the whole of the United Kingdom, and contained severe penalties for the unlawful possession of explosive substances including ammunition (Weekly Irish Times 8 July 1916). Like the temporary Acts the Crimes Act gave power to designate by public proclamation those parts of the country deemed to be disturbed, to state the limits of the area, and the limits of time when the powers given under the Act could be invoked. This was called popularly ‘proclaiming a district’. It was strictly speaking a power to issue an Order under a given Act. Powers to issue Orders became very common in the twentieth century when various ministers were given permanent powers to issue Orders under a given Act. It was not long before there was need to invoke the Act. A clash at Mitchelstown, County Cork resulted in three deaths and two woundings. This was a gift to the terrorist propagandists who promptly labelled the Chief Secretary ‘Bloody Balfour’. Their propaganda was directed at the Liberal Party in England. They claimed they were only trying to get free collective bargaining. The propaganda was successful and opinion in the Liberal Party began to swing towards Parnell. In Ulster, some persons were prosecuted for drilling. They were defended by James Campbell, a future Lord Chief Justice.

          Despite the emphasis in nationalist propaganda, enforcing the law was only a minor part of the Irish Government’s activity. In October Sir Redvers Buller left, and the office of Under Secretary was given to Joseph Ridgeway just home from St. Petersburg. The normal process of law-making continued. By the Land Act (1887) a whole new class of leaseholders 50,000 in number were admitted to the benefits of the Land Act (1881). Under the Land Purchase Act (1888), the money advanced under the Ashbourne Act being exhausted, a further £5 million was advanced to the Land Commission for land purchase. In 1888 no fewer than 67 members of the Nationalist Party voted against the Land Purchase Act. Balfour came to recognise that the existing system of land tenure brought in by Gladstone’s Land Act (1881) was unworkable and began to consider compulsory sale and purchase, but could not get support in the cabinet. Land purchase was opposed by the Liberals and Nationalists and became a distinctive Conservative policy (Beckett, Modern Ireland, 406; Weekly Irish Times 26 July 1902).

          Balfour wished to proceed further with land purchase, but his Bill was constantly obstructed by the Liberals and Home Rulers. Some years later the Chief Secretary, Wyndham, pointed out the problem the Nationalists had: they could not agree among themselves on a policy.  He said ‘The trouble in Ireland does not rest with the police or the Government. It rests with those who find it easier to inflame the peasants of Ireland by rhetoric than to persuade the House by argument. It is far easier to organise an agitation than to master a problem for remedial legislation and present it in a convincing manner. The charge against the Irish Government is that they do not proceed in the right direction, or fast enough with their remedial legislation. Two different policies were thrown at their heads at the same time. Immediate compulsory and universal purchase was one policy; another was the policy of dividing all the large farms and distributing them amongst those in possession of only small holdings. These two could not be carried out at the one and the same moment' (Weekly Irish Times 26 July 1902). The Home Rulers were in the meantime pursuing their strategy of bankrupting the landlords through the Land Court whose policy it had become always to reduce the rent at the fifteen year review.

          But at last, the Land Purchase Act (1891) was passed. It proved unpopular with the landlords for they were to be paid in land stock backed by the Treasury which was subject to fluctuations in market value. Wyndham pointed out that some landlords sold under this Act and the 1896 Act but many did not. The remainder were prevented from selling because they cannot afford it now that land stock has fallen from 111 to 92 to 94, and partly from two practical obstacles; the first of these is the high legal cost of proving title, and the second is the distribution of the purchase money. In fact the legal costs of selling an estate of 5,000 or 6,000 acres are out of proportion to any return from the sale. Another is the prevalence throughout Ireland of holdings which are very poor and very small, often too small to support a family, sometimes in detached plots at some distance from each other, and with occupiers who have vague and undefined rights to cutting turf. The Land Commission often refuses to advance money from the public purse to acquire these, and from the landlord's point of view they impeded his ability to sell (Weekly Irish Times 29 March 1902). It is not obvious why the Government’s Land Stock should have fallen below par.

          The Conservatives were becoming more and more convinced that something would have to be done to relieve the landlords from the impositions of Gladstone’s Land Act (1881), and that a comprehensive Land Purchase Act was the way forward. The greatest problem was that not even the United Kingdom, the richest country on earth, could afford to pay for all the land at once. Nor were the Liberals willing to confiscate the land as they had done with Church property in 1869.

          Mr D. H. Madden, the Attorney General got the Local Registration of Title (Ireland)  Act (1891) passed to enable a Registry of Land Titles to be established in which the purchase must be registered and which conferred indefeasible title. It was estimated in 1922 that there were about 550,000 titles to be registered and of these 304,000 were already registered. The Land Registry Office buildings were completed in 1914.  Their registered titles covered ¾ths of the land of    Ireland. The building in the Four Courts complex was destroyed in 1922 in the street battles between Free State and Republican forces (Irish Law Times 8 July 1922).    


          The Probation of First Offenders Act (1887) was another in the long series of acts dealing with young offenders. Belfast got another Act to deal with drainage. In 1887 an Act was obtained to spend £300,000 on a main trunk sewer, to collect the sewage from all the sewers and discharge it far out at sea (Irish Presbyterian August 1922).

          A Royal Commission on Irish Drainage was set up in 1887 to examine the working of the Drainage Acts (New Irish Jurist 2 May 1902). The arterial drainage of Ireland was under the Drainage and Improvement of Lands (Ireland) Act (1863), which remained largely unaltered, and a sum of £961,235 had been expended on arterial drainage The number of Drainage Districts formed in Ireland was 60; the area of flooded land dealt with was 128,638 acres; this cost a total of £961,235 or £7 10 shillings per statute acre, towards which £50,725 was recovered from Grand Juries. The total annual instalments repayable were £31,944. The increased value of the lands was estimated by the Commissioners at £37,622; this was a purely fanciful figure as the land would not be improved except by proper land drainage. The costliest was the Lough Erne drainage at £181,557 for 15,327 statute acres; the Inn in Westmeath £92,496 for 11,675 acres; the Raman, Kildare cost £77,607 for 884 acres. The cess varied from £6s 11d for the Lerr to £1 9s 4d an acre for the Garristown and Delvin. The largest of all, that of the Suck in Galway was peculiar in that half the expenses were placed on the proprietors and half on the occupiers. The matter had been considered by the Royal Commission on Public Works of 1887 chaired by Sir James Allport of the Midland Railway and condemned. By 1902 there was only one district still operating, though vast areas still needed drainage (New Irish Jurist 10, 25 April, 2 May 1902). Sluices on the river Shannon were erected by the Government in 1889 at a cost of £860,000 (Irish Investor’s Guardian 28 March 1903). (Arterial drainage was eventually taken up by the two Governments in Ireland, and continued until after the Second World War. Even then the drainage of the Shannon basin had become a long-term joke.)


          [1888]In 1888, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Goschen, estimated that the ratio of the taxable capacities of England, Scotland, and Ireland to be 80:11:9. The ‘Goschen ratio’ excited endless discussions among nationalist over the respective incomes and expenditures. The United Kingdom was treated as a whole for tax and expenditure purposes, but that did not prevent endless ingenious arguments to ‘prove’ that Ireland was over-taxed. Up until 1911 when National Insurance was brought in Ireland may indeed have been paying more in tax than she received in benefits, but after 1911, and especially after 1921 Ireland (Northern Ireland) was the nett beneficiary. The computation was made difficult by the fact that in Ireland some things like policing and primary education were a charge on the central exchequer, but in England on the counties. The Local Government Act (1888) established modern county councils in England in charge of county and local government in place of the boards of magistrates. The details of the Act are given under Ritchie (DNB Ritchie). A similar Act was passed for Scotland the following year, but the Act for Ireland was not passed for ten years. (Balfour’s Bill in 1892 was withdrawn after its Second Reading.) Goschen transferred the revenues from publican’s licences and those on guns, dogs, game and carriages to the new county councils (Briggs and Jordan, Economic History 592).

          As Ireland had no county councils an equivalent sum was transferred to Ireland for expenditure on education. The Local Taxation (Customs and Excise) Act (1890) was intended to benefit technical education in England, but was given to the National Board and the Intermediate Board. Technical education as distinct from apprenticeships started in Britain with the founding of the Science and Art Department, South Kensington. The Department gave grants to schools which took its examinations and by 1868 there were 76 such schools in Ireland. However as the value of the grants fell so too did the number of Irish schools teaching science diminish. The grants of the Intermediate Board after 1868 were larger. A proposal to establish an Irish Department of Science and Art was turned down, and was not taken up again until 1899. Then the ‘whiskey money’ was transferred to it (Dowling, Irish Education, 136).

          Belfast was made a city in 1888 and its mayor was made a Lord Mayor in 1892. A free public library, museum and art gallery was commenced in Belfast and opened in 1890. The reason given for the late opening of a public library was the presence of excellent subscription libraries in Belfast. Two libraries were opened in Dublin in 1885. The Hawkers Act 1888 regulated hawking goods for sale. A case under this Act came up in 1902 when it was adjudged that a man demonstrating sewing machines which were very popular in rural Ireland was a hawker under the Act (New Irish Jurist 16 May 1902). The power of cleansing and disinfecting of houses was given under the Public Health Acts. The Infectious Diseases (Notification) Act (1889) gave additional powers. An obligation to notify the sanitary authority was imposed, and to prevent the spread of the disease, powers were given to provide hospitals, mortuaries, and burial grounds, and to control these latter (Irish County Councils Gazette 2 Feb. 1900). Under the Lunatic Asylums (Ireland) Act (1889) the justices of the peace before whom an alleged dangerous lunatic was brought might allow the Medical Officer of the Dispensary District £2 for his services (New Irish Jurist 10 June 1904).

          There was always a particular problem with railways in Ireland and that was the lack of heavy minerals, the transport of which formed the backbone of English, Scottish, and Welsh railways. Irish railways were, from the start, constructed to the standards of English railways. In America, at the beginning very light track was laid, and the number of wheels on the engine increased. Rail freight charges therefore were always higher than in England which was a perpetual grievance to those who were exporting cattle, the great export of Ireland. The Irish Government was always anxious to develop light railways, nearly all with a three foot gauge. Ireland had 570 miles of narrow gauge railways, more than in all the rest of the United Kingdom. The first narrow gauge railway, the Ballymena, Cushendall, and Red Bay Railway in County Antrim in the north-eastern corner of Ireland was built in 1872. The Allport committee severely criticised the Tramways and Public Expenses (Ireland) Act (1883). It was clear that future funding would have to come from the Exchequer, and the Light Railways Acts of 1889 and 1896 provided for this, though the railways would be managed by existing companies (Prideaux, The Irish Narrow Gauge Railway, 5-6).

          Because of the small size of the country and its relative poverty of many parts of it the Irish Government was always being involved in local matters traditionally known as ‘the parish pump’. The ubiquitous Board of Works could be anywhere. The idea of a British ‘colonial’ administration composed of foreigners sitting in Dublin and dictating to the local Irish what they were to do was a carefully constructed nationalist myth. The Irish Government was largely composed of Irishmen. (A spokesman for British Railways once explained why some new trains could not function in a slight snowstorm by saying ‘It was the wrong kind of snow’. Nationalist propagandists regarded anyone working for the Irish Government as ‘the wrong kind of Irishman’.) Every Lord Lieutenant and Chief Secretary coming to Ireland was instantly besieged with requests for a little Government assistance for this project or that. [TOP]


          [1890] A perennial topic in Ireland was forestry. No laws protecting Irish woodlands had been enforced for at least a millennium and Ireland (apart from Iceland) became the least forested country in Europe. (Predictably, the nationalists attributed this to the actions of the British Government.) In 1890, the Irish Government attempted an experiment in forestry. It procured 960 acres near Carna in Connemara with a view to planting it with trees. The property was placed under the Irish Land Commission who spent £2,000 in draining, fencing, and planting. On the formation of the Congested Districts Board, the forest called the forest of Knockboy was transferred to it. They entered into the scheme with enthusiasm, for it was maintained that if the experiment was successful at Carna, on a mountain slope covered with a shallow boggy soil, and exposed to the Atlantic winds, it would prove that Ireland could be re-afforested anywhere. Planting was carried out on a large scale in 1893 and 1894. In 1895 it was reported that the trees were not thriving and planting was suspended, and in 1898 the experiment was abandoned. The total amount spent had amounted to £10,500; total receipts were £24 4s; it was a costly failure (New Irish Jurist 6 Feb 1903). Later, all the Governments in the British Isles established successful Forestry Departments.

          The Housing of the Working Classes Act (1890) was a far-reaching Act consolidating previous legislation. It had three main divisions dealing respectively with unhealthy areas, unhealthy dwelling houses and the erection of healthy dwellings and lodging houses. The Local Authority could declare an area unsanitary, and put a scheme for improvements before the Local Government Board, get permission to clear dwellings and sites, lay sewers, pave streets etc. and  to do this it could borrow money under the Public Health Acts. Unsuitable dwellings could be demolished and new houses constructed on the same site or elsewhere (Weekly Irish Times 13 February 1909). The Act remained in force even after the establishment of county and urban councils in 1898. It was not until after the First World Was that Local Authorities began taking ‘council housing’ seriously (Cork Weekly News 3 Jan 1920). By then it was realised that houses for the working classes at rents affordable by a majority would always require a public subsidy.

          In 1890 Balfour secured permission for denominational training colleges to borrow from the Board of Works to erect buildings. He allowed grants to each college in proportion to the numbers they trained, and also to recompense the total cost of the buildings. The Government paid the full cost of the Baggot St. College for Catholic women in Dublin.

          The Congested Districts Board was established in 1891. It was obvious that because of the determination of the crofters and small-holders to hold on to their tiny pieces of land, the unwillingness of many of them to emigrate, the failure of traditional industries, and above all the dependence of many of them on the potato over forty years after the Great Famine, the Government itself would need again to take measures. This was nothing new. Early in the nineteenth century roads were built and fishing quays along the coast. But all that resulted was that the population again stabilised just above absolute poverty. It would not be correct to say there was no improvement. There was this dependence on the potato, and when it failed, as it did regularly, the Government had to get an Act passed to enable it to supply seed potatoes the following year, while the Poor Law Unions supported the population over the winter (Irish County Council Gazette 9 March 1900; Farmer’s Gazette 15 Dec. 1900). This had to be done in 1890 and again in 1891 and 1895.

          The Congested Districts Board was formed in 1891 to improve the conditions of some of the poorer classes in the west of Ireland.  The legislature indicated certain lines on which it might proceed, for example the enlargement of holdings, the development of fisheries and other industries, instruction in agriculture, and the improvement of the breeds of livestock. An annual  sum  of £41,250  was granted; in addition the Treasury  was  to provide additional sums for  salaries and travelling expenses of members of the Board, and other administrative  costs, telegraphs, stationery, office rents etc. Subsequently the annual grant was raised to£86,000 out of which all expenses had to be paid. Some were under the  impression that the grant was £204,938,  but  this  included grants  for  land  purchase which could not be used for any other purpose (New Irish Jurist 23 Dec. 1904).

          By its constitution it was able to spend its money without any reference to the Irish Government or the British Treasury. It included men widely differing in religion and politics. When it commenced destitution was common in the areas confided to it, so in the early years it was necessary at times to start relief works, but these later became unnecessary. Land Settlement became its most important work but such powers were not          granted in the Congested Districts Board Act (1891) establishing the Board. The first thing it did was to do a survey of the about 80 districts or sub-districts confided to it. They then undertook general schemes for the improvement of agriculture and livestock, but also particular schemes tailored for each district, especially those most likely to suffer from the failure of the  potato crop. For example in Erris in County Mayo, and in particular the parish of Pulathomas, a large proportion of the inhabitants had an income of less than £10 a year in addition to the crops they produced; this in effect  meant that if the potato failed, the family starved. So a scheme to provide female employment by the production of lace and crochet was started, the women proved apt, and few girls earned less than £50 a year. This money was judiciously invested in improving the cattle and sheep.

          Another district was in the Lettermore district in south Connemara, a notoriously    distressed district. By a Government relief project in 1890-1 under Col. Peacock R. E. a chain of bridges and causeways linking the impoverished islands was in progress, and this was taken over and completed by the Board. The result was that the islanders were able to market their produce, and average earnings rose from £20 a year to £70, and family expenditure rose from £28 a year to £60 year. In 1891 nearly all were in debt to the shop-keepers but afterwards few were in    debt. An Irish-speaking instructress was appointed a few years ago to teach domestic economy to the women, teaching them how to cook, wash clothes, and do general housekeeping.  As there were few beds or other articles of furniture a manual instructor was appointed to teach basic carpentry. The people slept on piles of straw or ferns, with little in the line of bed-cloths, as they had done for centuries, never leaving the islands, and knowing nothing of the outside world.

          With regard to fishing, in 1892 there was not a single decked boat capable of launching a full train of nets; the fishing was done from the open currachs. Earnings varied from £3 to £20 per family per year. The Board supplied decked boats, and experienced instructors, and only young men were allowed as the fishing was now carried on ordinary commercial lines. The Board marketed the fish and enabled good prices to be paid to the fishermen, while involving the Board in no losses; later the ordinary fish merchants took over the marketing.  Repayment of the loans for boats, fishing gear, and later motor engines has been most satisfactory. Incidental to fishing a sum of £107,650 was spent by the Board on piers, boat-slips, lights, and beacons (Irish Industrial Journal 29 June 1920).

          It is not clear why exactly the Congested Districts Board was formed, for it very quickly ran out of projects other than restructuring the holdings of lands by the cottiers.  Public assistance with regard to fishing and road-making had commenced around 1820 and had continued ever after often largely as work-making schemes. The result was that Ireland had more little roads than almost any other country in the world. In 1923 the Board was dissolved by the Free State Government and its functions transferred to the Land Commission.

          In conjunction with the establishment of Congested Districts Board in 1890 the Irish Government and the Royal Dublin Society undertook a survey of the West Coast fisheries, each paying half the cost. The survey was under the direction or the Rev. William Green, the Inspector of Irish Fisheries. A marine laboratory they established came under the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction. As White remarks there were endless Reports of Royal Commissioners, the Board of Works, and the Inspectors of Fisheries on the subject of Irish fisheries (White, The Royal Dublin Society, 162-4).


          [1891] At the census in 1891 it was revealed that 18% of the total population of Ireland could not read or write. In County Galway 33.9% were illiterate. This was the part of the country where Archbishop MacHale so strenuously rejected the National Board. In England in 1891 the Government introduced free compulsory primary education. It was recognised that if education was to be universally compulsory there could be no parental contribution. The following year the Compulsory Attendance (Ireland) Act (1892) was passed. The adoption of the Act was however left to local towns. In Ireland there were 125 towns and townships within which  the Compulsory Attendance Act might  be applied, but only 85  had  adopted  the Act by 1900 (Warder 22 Dec 1900). The Act raised teacher’s salaries by 20%. The National Commissioners early in 1918 considered the Compulsory Attendance Act of 1892; it was estimated that one third of the local authorities had still not after 26 years put its provisions into force. It was observed that ‘children are often "sowing or gathering the potatoes” from February to November’.  Every loophole allowed by the sympathetic framers of the Act was exploited to the hilt. Children could be kept at home by rotation, so that when a  summons  was issued with regard to one he returned to school after an absence of two months, and was replaced on the farm by his brother’ (Irish School Weekly 24 Jan. 1920). 


          Ireland was beginning to follow the lead set by Denmark. About the same time the creamery movement and the co-operative movement commenced. Sir Horace Plunkett as far back as 1889 had formed small co-operative creameries, and several small farmers’ societies. In 1890 the creamery industry commenced in the South of Ireland and in the North of Ireland about 1897. By that date 600 creameries had been established, of which 260 were on co-operative lines. The change in Ulster was more marked than elsewhere for it had not been known as a dairying region. But in less than three years 108 co-operative creameries were established in Ulster and 30 more were being planned (Irish Homestead 12 May 1900). Progress in adopting these two systems does not seem to have been as swift or widespread as in Denmark.

          The creamery system was simple and straight-forward. A site or a building with a good supply of clean water was chosen. Milk separators and churns, where possible driven by machinery were acquired, and a good boiler for hot water for sterilisation and pasteurisation. Reasonable roads over which the milk churns could be carted were not a problem, for as the result of make-work schemes Ireland had an abundance of these. Above all, a good manager who could insist on good hygiene was required. The creamery could be owned by an individual merchant, by a limited company, or by a co-operative. In the case of a limited company the creamery was owned by the shareholders; in the case of a co-operative it was owned by the members. The owners of companies always opposed Government assistance to co-operatives.

          Butter had been made in Ireland for thousands of years. It was heavily salted and usually contained over 15% of water. Flavour was very variable, for milk and butter were easily contaminated. When there was a surplus of butter for sale it could be taken to the local market on market day, but for a century and a half in the South of Ireland it was collected by butter merchants, taken to Cork, and packed in firkins for export, usually to Britain. This was called farm butter. To get a more homogeneous product the practice grew up of mixing all the supply of butter in a mill before packing it. This butter was known as factory butter. (The Danes invented the custom of weighing out exact blocks and wrapping them in paper.)

          The Farmer’s Gazette in 1900 had scathing article on the backward condition of butter-making on small farms, as reported by dairy instructresses. Often traces of cow hairs and buttermilk remained revealing careless straining of the milk and washing of the butter. This had a smoky flavour from keeping milk indoors, while other odours were picked up from keeping the dairy to near the byres. Very few had thermometers. There was poor packing or protection; butter wrapped in a calico cloth was put into a farm cart, and then often left in the sun. Dairies were often used as stables in the winter. They had earthen floors, and the walls were rough and not limewashed. Cement or flagged floors were rare; utensils, particularly churns, were defective. For creaming, oak keelers and earthenware pans were preferred to the tin-ware, the latter being accused of giving a bad odour to the milk. The cream was left on the milk until it was sour, instead of creaming at regular intervals. The ripening of cream was often not understood, and results in the failure of butter-making during winter. Ripening is often allowed to go too far in summer, and a starter is not used in winter, and when it is used it is invariably too sour (Farmer’s Gazette 3 Nov. 1900).

          Milk supplied in Dublin could be as bad or worse. When scientific analysis was introduced some results were astonishing, Reports on tests on milk supplied to Dublin carried out at the pathological laboratory, Trinity College, Dublin, which examined 100 samples of milk supplied to the city from County Dublin. 49% of the milks supplied to Dublin would have been pronounced unfit for human consumption if the standards of Boston, Massachusetts were applied, and only  23% if the standards of Rochester, New York, were applied. 1 sample in every 12 contained bacilli of tuberculosis. Dublin had a very poor record, and those who dealt in this trade seem entirely ignorant of the fact. One supplier had 28 million bacteria per cubic centimetre, and that was not the worst which was 73 million bacteria; one would have thought they were selling bacteria not milk. Dr Biggar went to one farm and instructed the farmer how to milk and under his instruction with regard to cleanliness and hygiene the bacteria count dropped to one thirtieth of what it had been. Around Belfast the farmers co-operated to supply pure milk to the city (Irish Homestead 11 June 1921). 


          [1894] In 1894 Horace Plunkett established the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society (IAOS) which gradually brought the local co-operatives under its wing. He had been appointed to the Congested Districts Board on its foundation. In 1892 he was elected to Parliament as a Unionist in South County Dublin. Though he was not the first to suggest adopting the co-operative system, in Ireland the movement is always associated with its greatest protagonist. Because he was a Unionist politician he was detested by Nationalist politicians who did their best to hinder him. But he was probably the Irishman who did the greatest good for Ireland between 1850 and 1920. Horace Plunkett (always with 2 t’s except with regard to the family of Archbishop Plunket of Dublin) was a cousin of the Earl of Fingall though he was of the Protestant branch of the family while the earl was of the Catholic branch. He was infatuated with the Countess of Fingall but there seems to have been no impropriety in their relationship. The Countess in her book gives amusing accounts of Horace’s various enthusiasms, including one to develop an Irish tobacco industry (Fingall, Seventy Years Young, passim).

          Modern consumer cooperatives, usually called co-ops in the United States, are thought to have begun in Great Britain in 1844 with the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers. The society created a set of organizational and working rules that were widely adopted. They included open membership, democratic control, no religious or political discrimination, sales at prevailing market prices, and the setting aside of some earnings for education. These societies concentrated largely on retailing and afterwards on wholesaling. The system was adapted to production on a large scale in Denmark where education and training were regarded as being of prime importance. The Danes realised that a single bad batch of butter or eggs could loose them an entire market. Because of Ireland’s advantages with regard to soil and climate the Danes had higher costs of production so they had to improve the product not under-cut on price. Pasteurisation of milk and sterilization of equipment became standard practice in the co-ops. Retailing co-operatives were commenced in Belfast.

          By the year 1900 of the 457 co-operative agricultural societies only 225 had dairying as part of their business; the remaining 232 were agricultural, credit, flax, poultry, and home industries societies (Irish Homestead 9 June 1900). The Irish Homestead, the organ of the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society IAOS, was founded by the Rev. Thomas Finlay S.J. M.A; Professor of Political Economy at University College Dublin and Vice-President of the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society. Its editor from 1906 to 1923 was George W. Russell (AE) when it was widely read in Britain and America. In 1896 Horace Plunkett and Fr Finlay launched their co-operative movement in Ulster by addressing the September meeting of the Drummully Farm and Garden Society. After many  meetings  and  addresses in the surrounding  towns the Drummully (now  Killeshandra) Co-operative Society  was formed in 1897, the first in Ulster; it is probably by now the largest in Ireland (Irish Homestead 7 April 1900).

          If many of the enthusiasms of the zealous promoters of the co-operative movement in Ireland came to naught, they had one outstanding success. This was the creamery co-operatives which in the following century were to form the backbone of the Irish dairy industry. Dairying in Ireland was in decline since the Famine. Tillage too was in decline, and farmers were turning to fattening ‘store’ animals. Fattening stores was the easiest, least labour-intensive, and most profitable branch of agriculture. The profitability was derived from the insatiable demand in the big English towns for fresh meat. The farmer had little to do except put the cattle in a field, and when they were ready for sale, sell them to a dealer who took responsibility for transporting them to England. (The farmers could probably have doubled their profits by forming co-operatives to market their own produce, or regularly tilling their land to improve its fertility, but they saw no need for this.) Farmers, big and small, had adopted the Shorthorn cow as the best adapted to the needs of Irish farmers. It was a dual purpose cow, which gave a useful amount of milk and then fattened reasonably well in not too long a period. There was profit in both cow and bull calves. (The drawback of the dual-purpose breed was that it was not as efficient at producing either milk or meat as specialised breeds.) The small farmer especially could have the benefit of the milk for some years before selling the older cow for meat. Small farmers in the West of Ireland specialised in producing calves for sale as stores to farmers in the Midlands who kept them on grass for a few years before selling them on to farmers around Dublin or the big cities in England to be finished off for the butcher. Live cattle became one of Ireland’s greatest exports. This meant that industries built on the by-products of the animals, glue from hooves and horns, leather goods, and bone meal fertiliser were lost to Ireland.

          The Irish livestock industry seems to have gotten itself into a rut just at the time that the Danes were improving in every aspect. Nobody measured how many gallons of milk a cow gave, or counted how many eggs a hen laid. In one case reported the stockman did not know which was the best milker and which the worst milker in a small herd of twenty three cows. Nor did he realise that ten of the worst were only giving 240 gallons a lactation. This was at a time when some American farmers were aiming for a 1,000 gallon cow (Irish Homestead 1 May 1921). Agriculture was progressing not only in Denmark and Switzerland, but also in the United States where they set themselves to measure every aspect of the productivity of livestock. The wake-up call came in time, and the Homestead and the Irish Farmers’ Gazette recorded the progress. It is interesting to jump ahead and look at Ireland’s export figures for 1919: Poultry (eggs, poultry, feathers) £18,449,319; Creamery (butter, cheese, condensed milk) £7,562,227; Cattle (fat cattle, stores, milch) £22,718,095; Shipbuilding £10,147,000; Linen £32, 438,805 (Homestead 6 March 1920). Linen was of course a manufacturing industry and much of the raw flax was imported. Yet, despite repeated efforts to get farmers outside Ulster to grow flax the industry never spread beyond the boundaries of Ulster.

          Liam Kennedy has a very interesting essay on the attitude of the Catholic clergy towards the Co-operative Movement. There were a few Catholic priests and bishops who were staunch supporters throughout. But the number of priests who actively promoted the Movement was always quite small, and declined after Plunkett’s book Ireland and the New Century. He noted that the clergy in Ireland did not give the same leadership as the clergy in other European countries. Had the Movement been identified either with the Catholic religion or with Irish nationalism the participation of the Catholic clergy would probably have been far higher. But a non-political, non-denominational did not attract them (Kennedy, Colonialism, Religion, and Nationalism 117-134). But like the Catholic Nationalist MPs they put their trust in Home Rule as the cure for all ills.


          There was developing at this time a literary renaissance in Ireland. Among those who were coming to the fore at this time were William Butler Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde, George Russell (AE), George Moore, Standish O’Grady, and slightly later James Joyce, Lady Gregory, and John Millington Synge. Some of these preferred the greater stage of London, but others went on to develop the Irish Literary Theatre which became the Abbey Theatre. O’Grady made Irish mythology familiar to young and his depictions of Ireland’s mythological past inspired generations of young people in Ireland (I as a boy actually believed the stories and I was not alone, for Irish myth was taught as fact.)

          After a slow start electricity was coming more and more into favour. Its first use was in the electric telegraph. With the development of the electric motor, trains, trams and trolley buses could be developed. Its major drawback was that it could not be conveniently stored so the motor had to be connected to the generator by a continuous wire. In and near towns, on short runs, the electric train, trolleybus and tram rapidly superseded horse-drawn transport on the main routes. In factories too electrical transmission of power to individual machines proved far more economical than the old belt system where up to half the power could be lost in friction. At first there was great loss of power in electrical transmission, but it was discovered that the higher the voltage the less the proportionate loss.

          The electric light also proved far superior to the gas light. In Bray, the Brighton of Ireland, a proposal was made by Messrs Gordon in 1891 to the Town Commissioners for a contract for public lighting. They undertook to provide lighting from 30 arc lights of 1200 candlepower, and 88 incandescent lamps of 25 candlepower at a cost of £10 per arc and £2 per incandescent,  with  the cost of the lighting and extinguishing, carbons, renewals and repairs included. Bray mills, then disused, and with a good water supply was secured for the generating station. They were one of the first firms to use the high tension system of distribution under the pavements, with transformers in street chambers combined with 100 volt 2 wire distribution; this system was later widely adopted in England. At first ordinary water wheels or reciprocating steam engines were often used, but later Parsons’ steam turbine became universal. (Sir Charles Parsons was the son of William Parsons, 3rd Earl of Rosse of Birr, Co. Offaly, and was educated privately at home in Birr Castle.)

          Before they came to Bray Messrs Gordon offered this system to Dublin where it  was rejected in favour of the older high tension distribution with transformers in individual houses;  the newer system of  having several low tension wires connected to one transformer was looked on with suspicion. At Bray they replaced one of the existing water wheels with a Victor turbine and the current was switched on in 1892.  The underground cables were covered in lead and were virtually everlasting. They were laid in puddled clay with a timber overlay to provide mechanical protection. Carlow with a population of 7,000 was 50 miles SW of Dublin. The Barrow river was navigable to above Carlow and it was also connected with the Grand Canal and the Great Southern and Western Railway. It was prosperous, with a small engineering works, a foundry, flour-mills, boot factory, knitting factory, and a large mineral water factory. Around 1890 a water-powered electricity scheme was undertaken. The waterfall was five miles away, but nobody nearer would give the permission; it was a long distance to transmit the current but the engineers were very successful. The current was generated at 2,500 volts alternating, and carried overhead in covered wires, and distributed in the town by bare overhead wires at 50 volts. Because of difficulties with the overhead cable, a patent underground system was tried, but it failed and the overhead system was repaired. The town lighting had been completed and a good number of private customers connected and all learned the hard way about electrical pioneering (Irish Engineering Review April, June 1904). The teething troubles in Carlow were not over, but by 1904 it was considered that they were mastered. It was also considered that in 1904, when transmission over 200 miles at 50,000 volts had been achieved in America, that it would be possible to supply Dublin from a generator on the Shannon, and a company was set up to do this. (This was eventually carried out (1924-29) and by 1936 it was producing 87% of the electricity in the Irish Free State.)


          In 1894 Sir Patrick Keenan, the Resident Commissioner for National Education died and with him came the end of an era. Almost immediately steps were taken to bring the education system under the National Board up to date, but the new scheme was not ready before 1900. [TOP]


          [Parnellism and Crime 1886-1889] Meanwhile, Parnell and the Nationalist MPs were in trouble. Edward Caulfield Houston, the Secretary of the Irish Loyal and Patriotic Union approached The Times of London in April 1886, the same month that Gladstone introduced his Home Rule Bill, for financial assistance in investigating the complicity of Parnell in the background to the Invincibles. His suspicions were confirmed by the flight of Land League officials following Carey’s revelations. He intimated that he was in position to purchase incriminating documents which would enable The Times to denounce Parnell. The editor declined to assist as there were too many things he could not check. But by September Houston produced the actual documents which he believed were genuine but could not prove. The sum needed to purchase them was £1,780 and so had to be referred to Macdonald the manager, who had to consult the proprietor John Walter. The cumulative effect of the letters, ten in number, was to show that the Land League funds had been lavishly used to further the murder campaign. The letters came from a collection of Richard Pigott, an impoverished Irish journalist and former newspaper editor, who was looking for money.

          One of the problems for Walter and his associates was that they had no specimens of Parnell’s signature. They placed an advertisement in The Times offering to buy specimens of the signatures of famous politicians, and got several of Parnell. A handwriting expert from the Treasury authenticated them.  Only the signature was authenticated as being Parnell's, the body of the letter presumably being by a secretary. They consulted their legal adviser, Sir Henry James,  and he advised against publication, partly because they did not contain sufficient  matter, and partly because of doubts about their authenticity. He mentioned the name Pigott, but the name  was sufficiently obscure so The Times did not check up on him. James had in fact recommended Houston to place the matter in the hands of the detectives in Scotland Yard, but Houston was not satisfied that they were whole-hearted in their efforts, and so decided to gamble that Parnell could not afford to sue (Bucke, The  History of  the Times Vol. III London 1947).

          Under the title "Parnellism and Crime" beginning on the 7th March 1887 The Times published a series of articles written by J. Woulfe Flanagan, a Catholic Unionist. The  first article  showed how the Land League was  started by Fenians out of Fenian funds, and the speeches  of  Parnell's lieutenants were placed in parallel  with the crimes that followed them and which  seemed the natural consequences of the violence of the language. The second article on the 10 March 1887 studied the connection between Michael Davitt and the Irish World edited by Patrick Ford. It was the medium through which the Land League got the bulk of its subscriptions, and in which appeared the most inflammatory articles. The third article showed that the Executive Committee of the Irish National Congress in America, a body given to applauding crimes in Ireland, was actively supported by Parnell’s immediate followers. As an Ulster Unionist Member of Parliament said, ‘He did not accuse the parliamentary leaders of committing murder personally but of associating with men they knew to be murderers’.

          At the same time, the British Government had their own spy in the Fenian movement in America. This was Thomas Miller Beach, an Englishman who had enlisted in the Federal army as Major le Caron. He reached the rank of major before the end of the Civil War. In 1866 he furnished the British Government with information regarding the activities of Irishmen in the Fenians in America. He agreed to act as a paid spy, and as he rose in the ranks of the Brotherhood was well-placed to find out what was going on. The Government therefore had accurate information not only regarding the activities of Irish Americans but of the Irish politicians who visited them. When he returned to Europe to report he went on to Paris to gather more information about Fenian activities there. He then met Parnell in London who accepted him as a senior figure in the Republican Brotherhood who commissioned him to try to bring about a reconciliation between the violent wing of the Fenians and those who worked through Parliament (DNB Thomas Beach). By this time nobody was really in doubt that Parnell and his leading associates were mixing with the violent branch of the Fenians and were accepting money from them, and that they were in general aware who was organising the murders. One of the people mentioned was a man called Sheridan, who was Parnell’s organiser in Connaught, who offered to supply arms to the Invincibles. Even Parnell’s own defence lawyer recognised that what was written in The Times was substantially true (Bucke, History of The Times).

          For one reason or another, probably because of the nature of the evidence, Salisbury’s Government did not bring charges. The Times waited for Parnell and the other Irish MPs to sue for libel, but they did not. The letters with Parnell’s undisputed signatures on them were not denied. Finally, the Government set up a Commission of Enquiry, assuming that the three judges would themselves call witnesses after the manner of an inquest, and that the Government would consequently pay their expenses. The Commissioners started with a strange ruling.  Had it  been  an ordinary libel case Parnell would have been required to say which were the passages in  The Times he complained of, and The Times would have been required to justify each. Instead The Times was informed that it must proceed as if it had made an indictment regarding every item and must proceed as if it were the prosecution (Bucke, History of The Times). Consequently the burden of proof for each statement of fact made by The Times lay on the paper. The admissions made in Irish nationalist papers on which so many of them were based would not be sufficient, so actual witnesses to them would have to be brought over from Ireland. There were 494  witnesses, and the cost of bringing them, which in ordinary cases would have fallen on the crown, now had to  be borne by The Times, nor was there any question, as there would have been in a libel action, of recovering costs if the charges were proved.

          An important moment came in the case when Pigott was put on the witness stand. Charles Russell had noted in one of the letters that ‘hesitancy’ was spelt as ‘hesidency’, so he asked Pigott to spell various words including hesitancy. When Pigott spelt it as h-e-s-i-d-e-n-c-y, Russell had proof that the letter was not an original but either a copy or a forgery. Indeed there was a likelihood that Pigott had copied a genuine letter from memory, and consequently that the substance of the letter was genuine. But it was not admissible as evidence. Parnell and the Nationalist MPs announced that the letters were forgeries and that The Times had based its allegations on the forgeries. The Liberal Party and Gladstone himself embraced this explanation and Gladstone publicly shook hands with Parnell.

          The Report of the Commission when it eventually came out in 1890 was that the defendants were cleared of any direct conspiracy to establish an independent Ireland, but they did enter into a conspiracy to promote agrarian agitation by means of a system of coercion and intimidation against the payments of agricultural rents for the purpose of impoverishing and expelling from  the country the Irish landlords who were styled the "English Garrison". They did disseminate the Irish World and other newspapers tending to incite to sedition [public disturbances] and the commission of other crime. That though they did not incite to any other crime except intimidation, they did incite to intimidation, and the consequence of that incitement was that crimes were committed by the people they incited.  That some of the defendants, notably Mr Davitt, did express bona fide disapproval of crime, but none of them denounced the system of intimidation which led to the crime, but persisted in it with knowledge of its effect. The defendants did defend persons charged with agrarian crime and supported their families, but it had not been proved that they subscribed to testimonials to notorious criminals, nor that they made payments to procure the escape of criminals from justice. They did however make payments to persons who had been injured in the commission of crime; it was also proved that they accepted money from known advocates of crime and the use of dynamite.

          Specifically of the charges against Parnell: it  was not proven that at the time of the Kilmainham negotiations that he knew that Sheridan and Boyton had been organising outrages and therefore wished to use them to put down outrages. There was no foundation to the charge that Parnell knew the leading Invincibles; nor did Mr Parnell give cash to allow F. Byrne to escape to France. With regard to Davitt it was clear that though a convicted member of the Fenian organisation he did not use its money to start the Land League, but did use it to organise the agrarian agitation; he was also mainly instrumental in uniting the Home Rule parties in Ireland and America.

          This  lengthy Report to the Queen filled 70 quarto pages, and threw the matter back into  the political arena; the Liberals hailed every ‘not proven’ as an acquittal; the Unionists showed  that their case was proven; The Times claimed that it was substantially vindicated, and said that most of the efforts of the Gladstonians for the past three years was devoted to throwing dust  into people's eyes, and still maintained that there was an organisation ‘based on terrorism, operating through outrage, and so deeply  implicated with criminality that it was not within the power, even if it were the desire, of the nominal leaders to place any effectual check upon crime’ (The Times Feb  14 1890, Bucke, History of the Times). One can only agree with that last statement.

          The Times temporarily lost the air of infallibility, and it lost much revenue by conscientiously inserting the proceedings verbatim; it also spent £200,000 [£8 million today].  Many felt that The Times should not have to bear the costs of what was virtually a public prosecution, but Walter refused to accept; the paper was financially crippled for many years to come. Neither the Liberals nor even the Conservatives emerged with much credit. The Times had courageously attempted to expose what was going on, but paid a heavy price for failing to test a particular piece of evidence.

          In December 1889 Captain William Henry O’Shea filed a petition for divorce against his wife, Kitty, on the grounds of her adultery with Parnell and on 17 November 1890 judgment was given against him. The leading members of the Liberal Party informed Gladstone that the opinion in the Party was that Home Rule would have to be abandoned if Parnell continued to lead the Nationalist Party. Gladstone and the leading Liberals doubtless had known for several years of the adulterous conduct, but it was a different matter when the ordinary voters got to know of the matter through the one-penny newspaper (Lyons, Ireland Since the Famine, 195). The Liberals were in thrall to the ‘Nonconformist conscience’. However, the Nationalist Party unanimously re-elected Parnell as Chairman of the Party. Still following further correspondence with Gladstone the Nationalist Party MPs meeting in a committee room in the House of Commons on 1 December 1890 split, the majority electing Justin M’Carthy as the new leader. Parnell continued to lead the minority group until his sudden and unexpected death on 6 October 1891. The Catholic bishops, and Michael Davitt supported M’Carthy, as did the great majority of Irish Catholic voters, as soon became clear. John Redmond was chosen as the leader of the minority Parnellite group. The hysterical campaign conducted by the ailing Parnell against his former associates produced such bitterness, that the rift was not healed for several years. The strong clerical backing given to M’Carthy’s group strengthened Protestant objections to ‘Rome Rule’.

          Meanwhile in Ulster further steps were taken to resist Home Rule. Unionist Clubs were set up everywhere, and many of those who joined them were also members of the Orange Order. The prime purpose of the clubs was political organisation at local level. On a wider level the Ulster Convention League was set up at the same time and organised a massive Unionist demonstration in Belfast on 17 June 1892. The Belfast Convention of 11,000 delegates opposed Home Rule, pledged to ignore a Dublin government, and to establish a separate Ulster police and court system.


          The Parliament having lasted six years came to an end and was dissolved on 29 June 1892 and a General Election was called.



Copyright Desmond J. Keenan, B.S.Sc.; Ph.D. ;.London, U.K.