Charles Parnell was born in County Wicklow, Ireland, in 1846 to an Anglo-Irish landlord father and American mother, who had “inherited an anti-British republicanism” from her own father (Wallace 118). Educated in England, Parnell was an “arrogant and unruly child” who was forced out of Cambridge after his participation in a drunken brawl in 1869 (Wallace 118).
“The Irish parliamentarian Mr Charles Parnell, who bravely led the poor of his country towards some variety of liberation, was on one occasion described in the House of Commons as ‘little better than the Monster of Newgate.’”
-Star of the Sea, 366
In 1875, Parnell, with a hostile attitude toward the British government, ran for office, and was elected Home Rule MP for County Meath, Ireland. Parnell accumulated other offices in short order, including president of the Home Rule Confederation of Great Britain, president of the Irish National Land League, and, in 1880, leader of the Irish parliamentary party. Parnell advocated land reform, believing that once this was achieved, “Protestant landlords like himself would have no reason to support the Union with Great Britain" (Wallace 118).
In October of 1881, Parnell and other Land League members were jailed in Dublin; however, the British government was facing so much terrorism from secret rebel societies that they negotiated the “Kilmainham Treaty,” which put a stop to the rebels’ acts of terrorism in exchange for land reform. Parnell and the others were freed from jail in May of 1882 (Wallace 118-119).
By 1885, Parnell, who was now called “The uncrowned king of Ireland,” had 85 MPs following him, enough to control parliamentary decisionmaking (Wallace 119). However, scandal broke out in 1889 when Parnell was found to have fathered three girls by his married mistress, Katherine O’Shea. Parnell lost much of his support and power, and died in Brighton two years later, on October 6, 1891 (Wallace 119).
Within Star of the Sea, Parnell isn’t mentioned until the novel’s epilogue, which is dated to the 1916 Easter Rising. Parnell himself was just a year old during the 1847 famine, and wasn’t active in politics until the mid-1870s. His mention in the epilogue serves the purpose of demonstrating the real-life struggle for Irish independence that continued long after the famine was over, simultaneously showing the continued Irish resistance to colonization and the contempt the English held for the Irish long after the famine ended. The quotation above, which compares Parnell to the novel’s “Monster of Newgate,” suggests that the English see Parnell as no better than a brutal murderer, while failing to realize that their actions towards the people of Ireland, in particular during the famine, make this accusation rather hypocritical.
Wallace, Martin. 100 Irish Lives. Totowa: Barnes & Noble Books, 1983. Print.
O’Connor, Joseph. Star of the Sea. Orlando: Harcourt, 2002. Print.
Researcher/Writer: Audrey Gunn
Technical Designers: Lindsey Atchison and Sarah Liebig
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