Brigid's Day and the uncrowned king

Parnell's visit to Ennis.

The Champion's recent publications of a letter linking Carmody's Hotel to the fall of Charles Stewart Parnell aroused much interest in the great man's Clare connections. As Joe Ó Mhircheartaigh writes, the Banner County was a favourite haunt of the “Uncrowned King” as a famous 1891 gathering in O'Connell Square proved.

February 1st and its bright and breezy - a St Brigid's Day with a different and it had nothing to do with the clement weather. The old Great Southern Railway steam engine is southbound, puffing its way from the city of the Tribes to Ennis.

Different times for sure. And, if the steam doesn't give that away - then fast-track forward to the sad fact of life that no trains run from Galway to Clare anymore, there's no West Clare and much more.
Such eventualities would have been hard to imagine way back in 1891- those different times for sure, when railways ruled the world where transport was concerned. Railways wended their way into nooks and crannies all over Ireland. They ironed the land.

The tracks of the West Clare were laid after Charles Stewart Parnell turned the first sod in 1886. Five years on, the “Uncrowned King” was back on track to Clare - in that old Great Southern steam engine puffing its way to Ennis.

His crown was slipping, so Parnell headed for the Banner County - a home away from home. Would the banners be flying high or was the crown slipping in Clare as well?

Maybe the latter! After all, the county's two MPs - Jeremiah Jordoan and JR Cox - were among of band of 43 Irish Party brothers involved in a heave against Parnell's leadership because of his liaison with Kitty O'Shea.

Maybe the former! News of the heave prompted a telegram of support from Ennis, “Just learned unfortunate news for Ireland. Remain master of situation. Clare and Ennis with you to the core,” said his old Ennis friend Edward Finucane.

The heave came on December 6th, 1890 in a committee room of the House of Commons, three weeks after Captain Henry O'Shea's divorce from Kitty. St Brigid's Day would tell a tale - the grassroots were heaving or with Parnell to the core.

There was no fear of Parnell as that old Great Southern steam engine puffed its way south.
There were excursion trains all over the place. A busy St Brigid's Day for the signal men as the signal went out in town and country that all railway tracks led to Ennis on this day.

500 came from Miltown. 600 came from Limerick while the Parnell train was “packed to suffocation point”. Then there was the cavalcade of horsemen and carriages from everywhere.

“From every part of the county, from Carrigaholt to Scariff and from Ballyvaughan to the borders of Limerick, there were delegates representatives of Parnellite feeling.” said the Saturday Record.

“The town began to fill from an early hour, and when the proceedings commenced in the Square, there could not have been less than 12,000 people present,” added the Saturday Record correspondent.
Parnell's train steamed slowly, its arrival in Ennis being heralded by the explosion of a number of fog signals. Parnell was in the first class carriage with staunch supporters -MPs John Redmond and JJ Clancy. He was back in a home away from home alright.

“ The surging cheering mass of humanity swayed around the carriage, each struggling to find a means by which he could express his feelings that there was but one man from whose leadership there could be any hope for the realisation of the hopes of the Irish people,” the Record reported.

Parnell hadn't even alighted and the ‘Parnell Party' had cranked into action already. The “Uncrowned King's” crown was safe in Clare and the great man was moved by it all. One of his followers said so afterwards.

“Mr Parnell was for once visibly affected. That stern reserve which in the House of commons baffles all observers was thrown aside. His eyes gleamed, and with an air of confident determination he stood up to receive the plaudits of the people. Through the multitudes went that swaying motion which gives to an enthusiastic throng its most electric effect.”

Now, all the roads and alley ways in the old Franciscan town led to O'Connell Square. Ennis was en fete.

It was a triumphal and circuitous procession to O'Connell Square. Down Clare Road, through to Jail Street, on to Church Street, Harmony Row and Mill Street before ending up at the Square.

There were bands and banners. Bands from Broadford, Miltown Malbay, Kilrush, Garryowen and the home town of Ennis. Banners on every street and alley way, all preaching the Parnellite cause.
“Spanning the streets along the route were streamers, on which were written in green letters mottoes that were pithy expressed and full of meaning,” reported the Record.

“Parnell for the Irish and Ireland for Parnell” was one at Mr Finucane's. “No Dictation” was one crossing the Causeway. “Parnell must be leader at Arthurs Row

“A cheer for the hillside men” was the slogan at the entrance of Market Street and Jail Street. “See the conquering hero comes,” at Lally's Corner.

The along the front of the platform ran the words: “We'll have no kings but Charlie”
A platform that received Charlie to thunderous and prolonged cheers then echoed around the town. Charlie was High King as the eyes of nationalist Ireland were fixed on Ennis.

Nationalist Ireland that was being torn apart at the seams with some of Clare's own doing the tearing. Jeremiah Jordan and JR Cox were in the dock, while the Clare clergy were in the same dock.
Clergy like Tuamgraney parish priest, Fr Murphy, who told his congregation that “Parnell is a debased wretch and a low scoundrel” who has been “living in sin with Kitty O'Shea since 1880”.

Fr Molony in Ennis labelled him “an anti-Christ”. Masses in Ennis Cathedral that day heard clergymen warn people away from attending the rally while Miltown Malbay parish priest Fr. White hit out at the “glorifying of a man steeped to the ears in sin”.

But even the power of the pulpit couldn't put supporters of Parnell down. They glorified him on St Brigid's Day, looked up to the platform that was Parnell's pulpit. They had ears for his words only. Ready to cheer his every word.

The cheering died for a few seconds as Parnell readied himself. The “Uncrowned King” was on familiar ground, on home ground because home was the hero. The hero whose every word was about to stir souls.

“Men of historic Clare Galway and Limerick and last but not least in my heart and affections, people of gallant little Ennis,” said Parnell as the first cheerful interruption rented the air.

“I have to say to you that I am proud to be here in the midst of this great and patriotic multitude. To attempt to tell you how much your welcome spurs my heart and inspires my courage, to describe to you how your reception today strikes a chord in my memory of the long bygone years when I stood upon this platform would be impossible for my powers,” he said to more sustained cheers.

“I am reminded that I have spoken oftener and have been receive more warmly in this square than on any other spot on Irish soil.” With that there were more cheers before Parnell rolled back the years.
“There are memories, sweet, magnificent triumphant memories which the place recalls to my mind; how in 1879 I won my first important victory here; how in the autumn of 1880 we commenced a great campaign of the Irish Land League here; and how at every opportunity Ennis and Clare from that day to this have stood faithful and unfailing to the cause of Ireland, to the principles of Irish nationality and of legislative independence.”

All the while there was no reference to the current crisis. All because Parnell wasn't fighting his own corner. He was fighting Ireland's corner only, with the Clare crowd cheering him on.
“I do not fight today for my own position, but for the legislative right of Ireland I still fight today. And you and I will continue to struggle together for these rights until we have got them, and when we get them we will keep a firm group upon them.

“Now fellow countrymen, I have touched on no personal topics. This meeting today showed me that you have been willing to leave the issue of the question of my own honour and in my hands, and just as always I only asked to be judged by results, so today at the foot of this statue I ask the men of Clare and Ireland to have patience and judge me by results.”

There were prolonged cheers. It was clear the Ennis crowd would have no king but Charlie.

The square had never seen anything like it. A show of solidarity for Charles Stewart, a show that moved on down the road to Charles Stewart's favourite old haunt of Carmody's Hotel.
At Carmody's deputations representing the GAA, Irish National League branches, labourers associations, the Parnell Leadership Committee and Boards of Guardians from around the county presented Parnell with addresses. Again the “Uncrowned King” was bowled over.

“I will only say gentlemen, as the floor is shaking, that it would be a faint way for me to describe my impression of today's demonstration, including the presentation of these addresses, to say that it constitutes, in my opinion, the most remarkable series of demonstrations that I have ever taken part in.

“I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your presence in such numbers. I look around and I recognise scores of familiar faces - men who never hesitated to fill the gap of danger, to go to prison, to suffer eviction, to undergo any suffering that might be necessary to stem the tide of coercion and English misgovernment from time to time. With such men round me I shall have no fear”.

The ground was shaking, so said Parnell and so the Saturday Record man in Carmody's Hotel. “So numerous were the deputations that the room, situated on the first floor, was dangerously crowded, and fears were entertained that the floor would give way”

The floor didn't give way, but it was a haunting foretelling of the fate that ultimately lay in store for the famous hotel. Instead, the Carmody's crowd just followed their leader down the road on the Railway Station.

The crowds carried lighted torches while tar barrels lined the route. Bands trumpeted the sound while a rousing rendition “God Save Ireland” filled the Ennis air.

“Leader”, “Leader”, shouted the hoards as Parnell forced his way into his carriage. “Leader', “Leader” they kept shouting as the old Great Southern Railway steam engine gently puffed out of Ennis.
Charlie was the darling' of Clare and always would be, whatever the clergy might say.

Courtesy of The Clare Champion
January 2003
By Joe Ó Muircheartaigh