Charles Stuart Parnell and the Irish Land League
Evictions of Irish People
In 1879 alone over 1,200 Irish people were evicted from their land and left to starve. They had very little land and were unable to grow enough crops to feed themselves and pay the rent. They were left by the British landlords to starve in the ditches and fields of Ireland. Charles Stuart Parnell was the President of the Irish National Land League.
This had been set up in that year to help those who were under treat of being evicted. It was lobbying the British Government to get the evictions stopped. The men of the Irish Land League were being imprisoned in Kilmainham Jail.
Irish Ladies Land League
Charles Stuart Parnell knew he would soon be in prison too. His two sisters and other women of Ireland set up and ran the Irish Ladies Land League, This was to carry on the fight for the tenants and poor Irish families while the men were in prison.
At first the women were ridiculed by the Irish and British newspapers and the Catholic and Protestant priests. By their actions of practical help and good organisation they had proved themselves to be worthy of being allowed to take part in Irish Political issues.
Anna and Fanny Parnell
The first time in Irish history that women were allowed to do this. So Irish Ladies Land league headed and ran by Anna and Fanny Parnell became very successful, too much so for the men and especially Charles Stuart Parnell.
When Charles Stuart Parnell was released from prison and concessions won from the British Government he closed down the Ladies Land League. He treated his sisters in such a terrible way that Charles Stuart Parnell broke his sister's heart. Anna Parnell never spoke to her brother again.
This is Their Story
Wealthy Catholic Family
He was the eldest son of eleven children and inherited the family estate in Avondale when his father died. The remainder of the lands and properties went to the other sons. Anna and Fanny, two of the Parnell sisters in the family received a very small allowance which was at the discretion of the brothers. They were disgusted at the injustice of this.
Anna Parnell was a painter who had studied in Paris and England and Fanny Parnell was a poet. During the time of the mass evictions Anna and Fanny were in America publishing the fight for Irish freedom from the English landlords. They had formed a Ladies Land League in New York. This was to organize funds for the starving people back home and to publicize the terrible conditions the Irish were living in.
Anna Parnell returned to Ireland at the end of 1880. The Irish Land League of Charles Stuart Parnell had been so successful in reducing the amount of evictions that it alarmed the British Government. In March 1881 the Protection of Persons and Property Bill was introduced.
It was obvious that the men of the Land League would soon be arrested. Anna and Michael Davitt discussed the idea of a Ladies Land League being set up in Ireland. It took a lot of persuading from Michael Davitt to get the leaders of the Irish Land League to agree to let the women take over the running of the Land League once the men were imprisoned.
Women and Politics
Women could not possibly grasp the complexity of politics. This was the first time in Irish history that men had asked women to take over the running of a political organisation. The men had their own prejudices against the women. The belief in the 1880's in England and Ireland was that women could not possibly grasp the complexity of politics. But eventually the men agreed.
The men did not realise they would be in prison for eighteen months. Nearly one thousand men had been arrested with Charles Stuart Parnell being imprisoned himself in Kilmainham Jail on 13th October 1881. They set about organising the files but after too much resistance from the remainder of the men in the office they decided to create their own League.
Irish Ladies Land League
The Irish Ladies Land League was formed in January 1881 with Anna Parnell as its President. The women decided to open their own office down the hall. They opened branches all over Ireland. The women in the country towns had more resistance from the men but the organisation soon had thousands of members. This did not stop them being ridiculed by the press.
The papers would not accept that women could be equal to men and they could not understand how these women thought that they could run a political organisation. The Churches, both Catholic and Protestant, were even more hostile to the idea. They stated that the women had no right to be away from the home and their domestic duties. They were there to look after their husbands and children not to stand up and make speeches and protests.
But the press soon changed their mind when the women organised and ran the organisation even better than the men. They helped the people in practical ways when an eviction could not be stopped. They supplied clothes and food for the evicted families and built huts beside the land they were just thrown out of, this way they could have some form of shelter.
They also raised money to support the men in prison and their dependants. The men were treated very well as political prisoners in Kilmainham Jail. They could have their own food brought in and associate with one another. Charles Stuart Parnell had a very large cell which he was allowed to make comfortable by bringing in his own furniture and food. He could have as many visitors as he liked. The only thing he did not have was his freedom.
The Women Are Arrested
The Ladies Land League was made Illegal on 16 December 1881. As the women were getting on with the work outside the publicity in England and America about the conditions in Ireland was making the British Government very worried. More women joined the Irish Ladies Land League. Now it was the turn of the women to be arrested. By January 1882 the women were being imprisoned in Kilmainham Jail too.
They received sentences of between one and six months. Their crime was for having leaflets about the banned Ladies Land League, talking to people who were evicted and attending meetings. They were not given political status like the men and were treated like ordinary prisoners. They had to stay in the tiny damp cells and were only allowed to have prison food. They were not even allowed to talk to one another in the exercise yard. This treatment in prison did not deter the women in fact more and more women joined the movement.
Men Took Over
The men took over again. Anna Parnell was heartbroken. They made it impossible for the women to continue to work alongside them. The money that the women had collected was now withheld from them. The women continued on by getting an overdraft from the bank but when this reached £5,000 the bank demanded payment. They assumed the men would now hand over the money that they had raised. But Parnell refused to pay the bank unless the women agreed to dissolve the Ladies Land League.
The women tried to continue with their work under very difficult conditions and held out for a few more months until September, but in the end they had to give in. Anna Parnell was heart broken that her brother had betrayed her. But he was not any different than most of the men of his time. In the late 1800’s women were believed to be too delicate for such things as political organisations.
It is not surprising when they had the likes of the philosopher Herbert Spencer writing that women should not be educated because ‘such brain forcing could lead to nervousness, anemia, hysteria, stunted growth and excessive thinness.’ And Charles Darwin wrote that ' the less evolved female brain was characteristic of the lower races and of a past and lower state of civilisation.'
Anna Parnell never spoke to her brother again. While all this was going on Anna Parnell had to deal with the sudden death of her sister Fanny, who died on 20th July of a heart attack. By this stage she was completely worn out and could not accept the betrayal of her own brother.
He had broken his sister's heart and she was never to forgive him. She never spoke to him again. If she met him by accident she would ignore him completely. On 6 October 1891, Charles Stuart Parnell died at Brighton. He was only forty-five years of age. Anna went to live in England and started painting again. She kept in touch with the political happenings in Ireland, but was never to live there again.
Anna Parnell drowned while swimming in the sea in September 1911.