Monday, September 22, 2008



Name's John. Postgrad student in the (wonderful) History Department in UCC. My topic? Well, I'm glad you asked..............
A Cork man, a hero to many, suddenly goes mad and tries to achieve the seeminlgy impossible with an eclectic band of misfits. No, I'm not talking about Roy Keane and a certain club in the north-east of England. What I seek to find out is the following (bear with me):

William O'Brien, born Mallow 1852. Peasant champion and co-leader of the wonderfully titled "Plan of Campaign" whereby Irish agricultural tenants would pressurise their landlords into either (a) reducing their rent or (b) selling them their holdings of land. Also one of a group of seven M.P's (Members of the British House of Commons) who considered themselves as lieutenants of the chairman of the Irish Parliamentary Party, Charles Stewart Parnell.

Arrested in 1890 for disturbance of the peace. Jumps bail and flees to America with his co-conspirator, Mayoman John Dillon. Whilst in America, Parnell's position becomes untenable as leader following divorce proceedings brought against his lover Katherine O'Shea by her husband Captain William O'Shea, who cites Parnell as the reason for his marriage becoming unworkable. Chaos follows (see Frank Callanan's wonderful but heavy going book The Parnell Split 1890-1891 for more details). O'Brien becomes disillusioned by the whole scene and retires from Parliament. Marries rich daughter of a Franco-Russian banker and settles down near Westport in Co Mayo.

Concern for the welfare of the peasant in the west of Ireland, as well as driven by a desire to reuinte the factions of the previously strong Irish Party,led O'Brien to found the United Irish League. Success of the League brings about re-union of the Party under the auspices of the League, which becomes its grassroots organisation. O'Brien turns down the chance to lead the new Party and instead recommends John Redmond, who becomes chairman in 1900. Influence of the Conservative British Government brings about conference on the land issue in Dublin in 1902. The resulting legislation, the Wyndham Land Act, brings about a shift in the pattern of Irish peasant socio-economic development, and also brings about a seismic shift in O'Brien's thinking.

O'Brien becomes convinced of the merits of co-operation with the landed unionist gentry, evenatually arguing that the solution to Irish problems of self-government would necessarily envisage co-opoeration amongst "all classes and creeds" of Irish people. This line of thinking does not sit easily with the other power-brokers in the Party (Dillon and Redmond) so O'Brien resigns from the Party in 1903. The next five years saw the zenith and collapse of government-sponsored plans for limited self-government for Ireland.

O'Brien returned to national prominence in late 1908 as he rejoined the Party. However, less than six months later, he quit the Party for good following the infamous 'Baton Convention' in February 1909. In response to what the saw as the unnecessary rough treatment handed down by the members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians (the new power source within the Party), and also to try and solidify his support, O'Brien founds the All-for-Ireland League in March 1909 at Kanturk, Co. Cork. Illness means the body is not formally consecrated until the following March, after good results in Cork city and county during the January 1910 General Election.

My research is a narrative of the period 1903-1910, when O'Brien struggles to find his niche, and an in-depth look at the two general elections in the Cork region during 1910. I hope to publish some of the more interesting titbits here. So stay tuned!

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