‘As a Nationalist, I do not regard as entirely palatable the idea that forever and a day Ireland’s voice should be excluded from the councils of an empire which the genius and valour of her sons have done so much to build up and of which she is to remain.’ –John Redmond
Born in Kilrane, Co Wexford into a Catholic family, Redmond was educated at Clongowes Wood College, Clane, Co Kildare and at Trinity College, Dublin. After graduating he became a clerk in the House of Commons and devoted his life to politics.
Redmond was first elected as an MP in 1881, and served both Wexford and Waterford in his lifetime. He became leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party after the death of Charles Stewart Parnell and secured the Land Act of 1903 which provided an impetus for land purchase. Redmond faced stiff opposition to Home Rule from the Ulster Unionist Party, led by Sir Edward Carson, which became a serious threat. But he was responsible for the introduction of the Home Rule Bill (1912) and believed Ireland’s support for the war in 1914 would secure it.
Despite being opposed to the use of physical force Redmond offered the services of the Irish Volunteers for the defence of Britain and Ireland during World War 1 but by encouraging the Volunteers to join the British army, he split the organisation.
Committed to keeping Ireland within the Union, he regarded the Rising as treason and a ‘German intrigue’. Pádraig Pearse, who had in 1913 stood with Redmond on the same platform where the Rising took place, had at that time praised Redmond’s efforts in achieving the promise of Home Rule. However, Redmond pleaded for leniency in the House of Commons after the executions had started in Dublin. His brother was one of 120,000 Irishmen killed at the front in 1917. Redmond died suddenly on 6 March 1918. Later that year, in the general election of December, Redmond’s party’s representation at Westminster collapsed, resulting in a Sinn Féin triumph.
John Redmond’s home town of Wexford remained a strongly Redmondite area for decades afterwards. The seat of Waterford city was one of the few outside Ulster not to be won by Sinn Féin in the 1918 general election. Redmond’s son William Redmond represented the City until his death in 1932. Taoiseach, John Bruton, hung a painting of Redmond, whom he regarded as his hero because of his commitment to non-violence in Ireland, in his office in Leinster House. However, his successor, Bertie Ahern TD replaced the painting with one of Pádraig Pearse.
Image | John Redmond (l) with John Dillon (r) | Circa 1910 | Credit: Hulton Archive/Getty Images