The Home Rule League (1873–1882), sometimes called the Home Rule Party, was a political party which campaigned for home rule for Ireland within the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, when it was replaced by the Irish Parliamentary Party.
The Home Rule League grew out of the Home Government Association, a pressure group formed in 1870 and led by Isaac Butt, a Dublin barrister who had once been a leading Irish Tory before becoming a convert to Irish nationalism. On 18–21 November 1873, the loose association re-constituted itself as a full political party, the Home Rule League, and in the 1874 general election, it won 59 seats. In that period however it was not a political party in a cohesive sense but a loose alliance of home rule-leaning Irish politicians. Because of this the party rapidly became divided, between the less committed members of Parliament, many of whom were from an Irish aristocratic or gentry Church of Ireland background, some newly dedicated former Irish Liberal Party members, such as Sir John Gray MP, and other more radical members who gathered around Cavan MP Joseph Biggar and Meath MP Charles Stewart Parnell. This radical wing of the party launched parliamentary filibusters to obstruct the passage of Parliamentary business, to the embarrassment of Butt and frustration of successive British governments.
New leader, new name, new members:
Following Butt’s death in 1879, William Shaw served as chairman (leader) for one parliamentary session. In 1880, Parnell was elected chairman of the party, and in the 1880 general election, the party increased its number of seats. In 1882, as part of a wholesale move from being an informal alliance to a cohesive unified, political movement Parnell renamed it the Irish Parliamentary Party to pursue Irish Home Rule. The party under Parnell, himself a Protestant, became more radical, middle class, and Catholic. It largely, though not completely squeezed, out other political rivals, notably the Irish Liberal Party and the Irish Conservative Party.
Photo: Isaac Butt, portrait by John Butler Yeats