1890 – Six days of Irish Parliamentary Party debates begin, only to end in a split, with the majority opposing Parnell.

Parnell issued a manifesto ‘To the people of Ireland’ on 29 November saying a section of the party had lost its independence, and Gladstone’s terms for Home Rule were inadequate. A total of 73 members were present for the fateful meeting in committee room 15 at Westminster. The party tried desperately to achieve a compromise, with Parnell retiring temporarily. But Parnell, a proud and passionate man, refused, saying, “If I go, I go forever”. He vehemently insisted that the independence of the Irish party could not be compromised either by Gladstone or by the Catholic hierarchy and, as chairman, blocked any motion to remove him. On 6 December, after five days of debating, a majority of 44 present led by Justin McCarthy walked out to found a new organisation, thus creating rival Parnellite and anti-Parnellite parties. The minority of 28 who remained true to their embattled ‘Chief’ continued in the Irish National League under John Redmond, the vast majority of anti-Parnellites forming the Irish National Federation, later led by John Dillon and supported by the Catholic Church. See also: Diocese of Meath.

During the meeting, Parnell had challenged Gladstone’s intervention with the question, “Who is the master of the party?” Timothy Healy, a notoriously waspish MP, responded with the quip, “Who is the mistress of the party?” Parnell retorted, how dare he in an assembly of Irishmen insult a woman. Healy continued in public with a series of polemics viciously attacking Parnell, articulating an aggressively Catholic nationalism. Parnell in contrast had insisted in a major speech in Belfast in May 1891,

It is undoubtedly true that until the prejudices of the Protestant and Unionist minority are conciliated …..
Ireland can never enjoy perfect freedom, Ireland can never be united.

All of his former close associates, Michael Davitt, John Dillon, William O’Brien and Timothy Healy deserted him to join the anti-Parnellites. The bitterness of the split was to tear the country apart and resonated well into the next century.



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