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Parnell Commission Inquiry

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Parnell Commission Inquiry

Post by Karen on Sun 3 Feb 2013 - 22:52

Sixty-ninth Day of Proceedings - Thursday, April 11, 1889





Sir Charles Russell resumed his speech on behalf of the Irish Party before the Special Commissioners this morning. The Court was again crowded with a very fashionable gathering of ladies and gentlemen, including Mrs. and Miss Gladstone, Sir Walter and Lady Phillimore, Lady Cavendish-Bentinck, Lady Hayter, Sir Charles and Lady Forster, Mr. Burne Jones, Lady Rodney, Lady Tenterden, and Mrs. Asquith.


Before Sir Charles Russell resumed, the President made a brief reference to the extract Sir Charles read on Tuesday from the evidence of Sir Redvers Buller before the Cowper Commission. He reminded the learned counsel that he had said Sir Redvers Buller was reported as saying the Irish people had sympathy with the Land League "because they believed it had been their salvation," whereas it was a matter of common knowledge that the expression should have been, "because they knew it was their salvation." He (the President) did not think it necessary to call Sir Redvers Buller to go into the point; but he wished to say he had received a letter from that gentleman explaining that he, in the course of his evidence, used the expression as reported, viz., "because they believed it to have been their salvation."


Sir Charles Russell accepted the explanation at once, and explained that his justification was two-fold - in the first place, he had seen it publicly printed, and in the next, the subsequent question seemed to imply that Sir Redvers Buller had used the words "knew it had been their salvation." The learned counsel further explained some mistakes made in certain newspaper reports of his speech. One of these represented him as having said that Mr. Parnell visited and addressed certain camps of the V.C. or U.B. in America. He wished it to be distinctly understood he never said anything of the kind.
The President - I remember you mentioned the name of Mr. Davitt only in that connection.
Sir Charles Russell replied that was so. He was further represented as having said that Mr. Parnell paid these visits at the risk of his life. He never said anything of the kind, and the statement had no reference even to Mr. Davitt's visits.


Having made these explanations, Sir Charles again resumed his speech, which, it will be remembered, was broken off last night in the midst of a mass of facts dealing with the American side of the question. The learned counsel, first of all, considered the reports sent home from America by Le Caron, and produced by that witness in his examination, and then dealt with the conventions mentioned by Le Caron. Sir Charles now came to the Philadelphia Convention of April, 1883. Mr. Michael Davitt, who was in prison at that time, was invited to attend, and it would be, perhaps, necessary to read Mr. Davitt's reply to that invitation, because it was important, in face of the suggestion that had been put forward, that the party, of which the two prominent leaders were Mr. Parnell and Mr. Michael Davitt, were in alliance with the party acting upon and advocating a policy of dynamite in America. Mr. Davitt wrote - referring to "a few men who called themselves the dynamite party" - that political agitation by means of dynamite in England was a war against the democracy of England, against those who lived in the cities and towns, and not against the English Government, which alone should be opposed. The only outcome of such a policy would be the arming of public opinion against them at all points, and the alienating, from a just and moral cause, of the sympathy of every nation to whose shores would be flashed the news, of women and children slaughtered in the name of Ireland. Any persons (Mr. Davitt added) who advocated that dynamite crusade - it could be taken for granted - did not represent any influential section of Irish-American citizens.


Was it not then - asked Sir Charles - sheer absurdity to ask the Court to believe that at that time the party of which the two great leaders were Mr. Parnell and Mr. Michael Davitt, were connected with the wild, wicked scheme adopted by the secret organisations in America? Contemporaneous with the publication of that letter Mr. Parnell made a speech in the House of Commons, in which he denounced Patrick Ford and his dynamite policy. At the Philadelphia Convention, Sheridan, Boyton, O'Donovan Rossa, and Byrne were present; and it had been suggested by the Attorney-General that they took an active part in that Convention. As a matter of fact, however, they did not take any active part in it, and were not present as delegates, but merely as spectators. And there was a significant fact associated with that Convention. In all there were about seven hundred delegates present, and of that number those representing the extreme section did not amount to more than thirty, forty, or fifty.


Next came the Boston Convention of August, 1884. This, again, was preceded by the circulation of a secret circular from the U.B., in which the delegates were ordered to vote down every resolution which denounced a resort to physical force. Having read a report of the proceedings through, Sir Charles asked how it came to pass that in the whole lot of these communications there was no suggestion of any alliance, while there were suggestions over and over again of attempts on the part of the body of which Le Caron was a member secretly to gain influence in the control of the League Conventions? Coming to a later Boston Convention, the learned counsel read extracts from a speech which Mr. Davitt delivered shortly before the Convention. A Boston paper commenting on this speech, describing it as being tempered with the greatest moderation towards England. In the course of the speech Mr. Davitt strongly denounced a resort to physical force, and stated that he was willing to plod on quietly in the struggle for the establishment of a national government for Ireland.


In summing up the evidence given by Le Caron in relation to his alleged interview with Mr. Parnell, Sir Charles asked their Lordships to consider that upon a very narrow basis, indeed. Le Caron had sought to build up a story, making an imputation which had no foundation. Le Caron had not written to Mr. Parnell in relation to that interview, had made no memorandum for report of it, and had not attempted to "draw Mr. Parnell on," or in any way connect him, as might have been expected in view of the infamous part Le Caron was undoubtedly playing. But the crushing and conclusive argument against the inferences contained in Le Caron's story was the history - which he (Sir Charles) had now thoroughly gone into - of the secret movement in America. That history showed that the secret organisation in America had made persistent efforts, which proved to be unsuccessful, to gain the control and manipulation of the open Land League organisation. It was, in fact, a wonder, seeing how that secret organisation crossed his path, that Mr. Parnell had been able to keep both branches of the movement as free from that dangerous association as he had done.


Now Sir Charles came to the part of the case which he described as "the history of the Invincible conspiracy, coupled with the history of the forged letters." He coupled those two subjects together, he remarked, because, he contended, - that, but for those forged letters, those libels never would have appeared, and, but for the possession of those letters, the suggestion of any complicity, pre-knowledge, with subsequent condonation, of the doings of the Invincible conspiracy, would never have been made against Mr. Parnell, Patrick Egan, or any of his leading associates. How was it, asked Sir Charles - after he had criticised Delaney's evidence - that the other men who were now undergoing penal servitude for complicity in the Phoenix-park murders had not come forward to corroborate Delaney's story? Solely because they would not add to their other serious offences that of infamous perjury. The only suggestion thrown out by the miserable man Carey, whose life was one of hypocrisy, was that the money the conspirators received came, some thought, from America, and others from the Land League. "Indeed, there is nothing," said Sir Charles, concluding this part of the case, "which can justify any reasoning, impartial mind in suggesting that upon any of the leaders of the movement, or upon the organisation itself, rests the shadow of an imputation of complicity in these crimes, always apart from the question of the letters, which, in truth, formed the whole foundation for the whole of this part of the case."


This brought him to a consideration of the part which dealt with the letters. Had there ever been, he asked, in a Court of Justice, such a story of calumny put forward with such recklessness, he might almost say with such criminal negligence, as the story of these letters? He knew not one. Not only had it been put forward, but in the face of public denial they had been persisted in, vigorously persisted in, and, even when the letters were absolutely discredited, there was not the generous disclaimer, that absolute and complete withdrawal, which was the act of common justice and common charity, and which should have proceeded from those who had launched these infamous accusations. He was not going to suggest that the Times people knew the letters were forged when they put them forward, but he was going to suggest that they put them forward with utter carelessness, utter recklessness, and without taking any of those precautions which in a serious matter should have been taken.


As to the apology which followed the collapse of the latter portion of the case, the learned counsel said he was willing to believe that if the Attorney-General had been allowed a free hand, and had not been cramped by those who were his clients, the apology would not have been so cramped, narrow, and grudging.


Mr. Parnell did not believe the story that had been put forward by Houston as to his having gone about this business himself. He believed that behind this quondam-reporter there was a conspiracy which, if it were the function of the Commission, he should invite the Court to endeavour to unmask, and which, if it were not a function of the Court so to do, Mr. Parnell was determined to search to the bottom. He believed that behind Houston were those gentlemen who had advanced him the money for the prosecution of his inquiries, and those gentlemen were, for the most part, members of the Finance Committee of the Irish Loyal and Patriotic Union. He did not know whether Houston was master or man, or whether he could be sent about his business, but this he declared, that after his conduct in the Court, he was not worthy of the least confidence of any men or of any body of men


Reviewing his conduct, the learned counsel said he was very anxious to see how Houston could explain his act in destroying the letters he had received from Pigott after he had received Mr. Lewis's subpoena.


At the time of the trial of the case of "O'Donnell v. Walter," the proprietors of the Times knew that these letters originated from Richard Pigott. Then there was Mr. Soames, of whom it pained him to speak in any terms like severe reprehension. He believed Mr. Soames to be a respectable professional man, but he had undoubtedly a most difficult part to play. He had allowed his partisanship to carry him away to such an extent as to completely blind his judgment and to commit him to a course of action which, in any other circumstances, his good sense would have saved him from. At the time of the trial of "O'Donnell v. Walter," Mr. Soames also knew that the letters came from Richard Pigott. Still, no inquiries were made, and even up to the eve of that inquiry Richard Pigott had not been subpoenaed by the Times.


He (Sir Charles) marvelled at such conduct, and did not pretend to understand it. Even up to that date could it have been thought possible that Pigott would not be required? Was it at that date thought possible that their Lordships would be content with the statement of Houston that he got the letters from somebody, without stating who that somebody was? He repeated that he could only marvel. It was not until the 25th of October that the counsel knew that Pigott was the man who had conveyed all those letters to Houston. Once that fact was established, to bring home the forgery to Richard Pigott was an easy matter.


It had been asserted (continued Sir Charles) that Mr. Parnell had evidence that Pigott had committed other forgeries. He would ask permission to state what those forgeries were.
The President - Certainly not.
Sir Charles Russell - Well, I defer at once. It is a matter which I should have been entitled to put to the wretched man if he had appeared for the conclusion of his examination. I had some of the persons here in attendance. At all events, Mr. Parnell will tell you that he had justification for the statement he made. I don't wish (added Sir Charles) to say more. I don't wish to blacken the unhappy man's memory more than is necessary. Sir Charles then again emphasised the fact that even up to November, 1888, no inquiries had been made by the Times into the character of Pigott.
The Court at this point adjourned for luncheon.


After luncheon Sir Charles Russell recounted the story told by Pigott of how he obtained the incriminating letters. He described also the journey of Houston and the late Dr. Maguire to Paris, and the reception by them of the letters, commenting especially upon the fact that, though on the spot, these gentlemen never attempted to ascertain the source of the letters, nor even asked to be informed as to whence they came. He related, too, the manner in which Pigott wrote to Mr. Forster, was assisted by him, and subsequently turned round upon him because he refused to assist him further, and intimated that he had received an offer for the correspondence that had passed between Mr. Forster and himself. Next the learned counsel dealt with the extraordinary correspondence that passed between Pigott and Archbishop Walsh. That correspondence showed that the writer (Pigott) of the letters addressed to the Archbishop knew, and wished it to be known, that he knew that the letters were forgeries; and it showed, also, that, finding that the Archbishop would have nothing to do with him, Pigott was anxious to get back those letters in which he had expressed himself so frankly.


In recounting the story of Pigott's disappearance, the learned counsel charged Mr. Shannon with being a party, in point of knowledge, to his leaving England. That was shown by the letter which Pigott sent Mr. Shannon on his arrival in Paris, in which he enclosed his original declaration, and in which he said, "I received the enclosed just before I left"; and also, Sir Charles contended, by the fact that Pigott telegraphed from Madrid to Mr. Shannon under an assumed name, which must have been pre-arranged. Pigott was a Times witness, and was looked after by two policemen. Who then, he asked, was to blame - if any one was to blame - for the disappearance, and, perhaps, death, of that wretched man?


One fact stood out prominent in the whole sad business; it was that Mr. Macdonald, on his own admission, was absolutely ready to believe anything that was said in defamation of Mr. Parnell and his colleagues - was ready to swallow wholesale, in spite of improbability, any imputation made upon them. That was the secret of a great deal of that story. The whole key of the calumny, which had lifted its head under the name of "Parnellism and Crime," was a want of common charity, a want of common care, a neglect almost criminal, and an attitude of mind which endorsed and accepted the gravest accusations against political opponents. The Egan letters, which played so important a part in the business, were purposely written to build up the theory of complicity with the Phoenix Park murders. Of course, they could not fail to be struck with the resemblance which existed between some of the genuine and some of the forged letters.
The Commission, at 3:10, adjourned until tomorrow.


The Press Association's Maryborough Correspondent says the Rev. J. Maher, C.C., who has prominently identified himself with the "Plan of Campaign" on the Luggacurran estate, will be prosecuted on three charges under the Crimes Act on Saturday next, at Stradbally. There will be a large force of police and military present.

Source: The Echo, Thursday April 11, 1889, Pages 2-3

Karen Trenouth
Author of: "Epiphany of the Whitechapel Murders"
Author of: "Jack the Ripper: The Satanic Team"

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