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Parnell Commission Inquiry

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Parnell Commission Inquiry

Post by Karen on Wed 20 Feb 2013 - 21:31

Eighty-third Day of Proceedings - Tuesday, May 21, 1889




The audience was not large this morning, but amongst those who found seats in the different parts of the little Court, were Mrs. Gladstone, the Duchess of Westminster, the Duchess of St. Albans, the Duchess of Abercorn, Lady Smith (wife of Mr. Justice Smith) and daughter, Sir Henry Roscoe, M.P., and Lady Roscoe, the Hon. Ethel Roche, and Mrs. Ponsonby. Mr. Davitt, after an absence of a little more than a week, put in an appearance again today, with Mr. H. Campbell, Mr. T.D. Sullivan, who has not been a very regular attendant, had a seat on the Q.C.'s bench.
The Judges were late. They were engaged in their rooms with Mr. Parnell - Mr. Asquith and Mr. Lewis being also present, together with Mr. Soames and Mr. Graham - and it was a quarter to eleven when they entered the Court.


Father Fineran, the parish priest of Moore, Balinasloe, was in the box when the Court rose on Friday. He again entered it today. He is a very stout, elderly gentleman, with a round, full, good-humoured face. Speaking of the League, he said it lead to a diminution of crime in every respect in the locality, and he declared most vehemently that it was quite untrue to suggest that the League ever countenanced crime. The rev. Father gave a brief history of local agrarian controversies, observing that one of the landlords applied to by the tenants for more advantageous terms replied he would rather hear the footfall of a beast on the land than that of an Irish tenant.


The cross-examination by Sir Henry James had reference particularly to the relations between Mrs. Blake and her tenants. Father Fineran said there were always differences between them, always processes, or ejectments, and always unpleasant quarrels going on. Certainly Mrs. Blake could not be generous to her tenants, because she had not the means. She, however, did little to help them.
Against this statement Sir Henry James read a letter which purported to be written by Father Fineran, in which a cheque was enclosed towards a fund raised by Mrs. Blake for building a pier for the benefit of the tenants and local fishermen.
In the face of that letter Father Fineran could not say that an ill-feeling existed between Mrs. Blake and her tenants until 1879, but undoubtedly ill-feeling existed between the tenants and Mrs. Blake's husband and his father.


The Father next referred to the cases of seven tenants who were sued for non-payment of rent, and were unable to set up a defence, owing to the costs. Two of those tenants, he added, died of a broken heart.
Sir Henry James smiled incredulously at this statement, and Mr. Parnell, who was seated near him, exclaimed, sotto voce, "I don't think it anything for Sir Henry to laugh at."
The Land League was the subject of Sir Henry's further interrogatories. "Was it ever part of the duty of the Land League to induce men to crime?"
"Never," came the emphatic reply.


This concluded the examination of the rev. Father; and Mr. W. O'Brien, M.P., was at once called. Since his appearance in Court some days ago he appears to have regained some of the energy and life that he so prominently lacked when he first came over from the Irish jail. He was, however, allowed a seat in the witness-box on the solicitation of Mr. Reid, by whom he was examined.
Mr. O'Brien described himself as M.P. for North-east Cork and a journalist. He knew the district of Mallow since 1868. During that period there had been several outrages in the district, dating back a long time prior to the establishment of the League.
Were you ever a Fenian? - No. Through my brother I had great sympathy with the body.
You were never a Fenian yourself? - No. I never took an oath; but it is one of the proudest thoughts of my life that they always trusted me without taking an oath, without being a Fenian.


Had the Fenian body any connection with outrages? - Oh, dear, no. That is one of the grossest delusions possible. About sixteen or seventeen years ago I endeavoured to reconcile the differences existing between the various sections of the Fenian body, but since that time I have had no connection with them at all.
Mr. O'Brien went on to describe the various outrages, such as murders, attempted murders, burning of properties, &c., which he, in his earlier experience as a journalist, investigated. Three cases occurred some years prior to the existence of the Land League, and included the murder of a landgrabber and of a landlord.
Have there been any murders in Tipperary since the Land League has been there? - I know Tipperary very well, and I have made inquiries, but cannot find that there has been one.
Is the Land League strong there? - It is one of the strongest districts in Ireland. Prior to the establishment of the League, I had never heard of the existence of any combination on the part of the tenants.
Reverting again to his journalistic experiences, Mr. O'Brien incidentally mentioned that in 1874 or 1873 Mr. Smith Barry, a landlord, was in great danger. He had to have police protection, and it was popularly supposed he went about in a coat of mail.


Were you introduced to the late Mr. Isaac Butt in 1870? - Yes; it was at a banquet to several Fenian prisoners, who had been let out under the amnesty.
In his speech (continued the witness) he urged them strongly to give fair play to the constitutional movement which he was then contemplating, and added that the ambition of his life was to put an end to that wretched and unhappy state of things, and give the peasants some better hope than the blunderbuss, and the young men some better reward than penal servitude.


Mr. Reid afterwards questioned Mr. O'Brien with regard to a prolonged struggle which had been going on on the Countess of Kingston's estate during the time of the Land League. Mr. O'Brien stated that there was no blood-shed during that struggle - excepting, he added, the death of the three men who were shot by the police at Mitchelstown.


The hon. Member added that in 1877 he visited the county, and went immediately into the condition of the tenants on the Buckley estate. He described with considerable feeling the wretched condition in which he found the tenants. They were badly housed, badly clothed, lived on poor potatoes and Indian meal, and were up to their necks in debt. "The impression of their poverty and of their industry," added Mr. O'Brien, "has never left my mind." "The heavy rents," he added," were exacted until the tenants were in a hopeless condition. When the Land League was started the rents were lowered voluntarily, and there had been no further trouble on the estate."


Again returning to the disturbances shortly before 1879, Mr. O'Brien gave it as his opinion that they were due to the action of the landlords, who endeavoured to persuade the tenants to contract themselves out of the Land Act of 1870. Mr. O'Brien painted a very vivid picture of the condition of the West of Ireland in 1879. The state of the people was simply appalling. They had already had bad crops; the blight was falling across the land, destroying the seeds; and there seemed to be no way out of it, but by famine and bankruptcy. Added to this was the lowness of prices - they were going down, and down, and down. And yes, all this while the landlords pooh-poohed the idea that there was any exceptional distress, and the Government did nothing.
"The people sank into the depths of despair," continued Mr. O'Brien. "Among the old men lingered recollections of the scenes of the previous terrible famine. The young men were becoming desperate. They were determined that they would not go through another great famine. They would not stand it, and they swore that inasmuch as they had only one life to lose, they would lose it in endeavouring to avert such a calamity.
"What do you think would have been the result had not the Land League stepped in?" asked Mr. Reid.
Mr. O'Brien's answer was given with a great deal of emphasis, and created some sensation in Court. "Had not the Land League restrained the landlords and helped the tenants," he said, "there would have been a wholesale famine and a terrible civil war."


Mr. Reid here read Mr. O'Brien's report of what he saw in the West of Ireland at this period, he having described his experiences in special articles in the columns of the Freeman's Journal. In the coast parishes Mr. O'Brien said people were literally starving. He had seen them in their cabins crowding round their fires - and that, too, was one of their troubles, for they could not save the turf that year - and with nothing but seaweed to eat. He gave one instance of the condition of the men. Four strapping fellows rowed him out to a neighbouring island, and, on returning, they were so weak that they fell back in the boat, and he had to take the oars and pull to land.


It was after witnessing these scenes, Mr. O'Brien added, that he offered his services to Mr. Davitt and Mr. Egan in connection with the Land League. He felt absolutely bound to do so. He told Mr. Egan in 1880 that he considered the state of the feelings of the tenants in the counties he had visited exceedingly dangerous. Mr. Egan and Mr. O'Connor were of opinion that if outrages were committed, it would absolutely ruin their movement.


Now, with regard to boycotting. Are you in favour of it? - I believe it is absolutely a preventive of crime, in a state of things such as exists in Ireland, where the people are utterly disarmed, and there are all sorts of forces against them. Absolutely no other mode of redress is open to them unless it is crime. Where boycotting is carried on as an expression of honest public opinion it is universally successful in preventing crime. The boycotting I speak of is entirely apart from intimidation. I think it could be established as an arithmetical fact that wherever boycotting was practised in that mild form there has been no trace of crime.


The purchase of the Irishman by Mr. Parnell was a topic of interrogation. Yes, Mr. O'Brien said, Mr. Parnell did express his wish that that paper should be suppressed. He (Mr. O'Brien), however, did not suppress it. His reason for not doing so was that he found the paper was dying a natural death. The circulation of the Irishman was only about 1,200 a week, of which 677 copies went to England. They were purchased by Messrs. Smith and Son.
(Laughter.) (They are laughing because they cleverly know that to mean "Smith and Wessons.)


The cause of the success of Mr. Parnell's movement was (in Mr. O'Brien's opinion) that he had admitted into his party young men who had formerly belonged to the dynamite policy. If he had treated them as lepers he would never have converted them to his constitutional movement. (This is actually assuming that Mr. Parnell successfully converted them from a dynamite policy to an open policy! This is akin to hiring known pedophiles to babysit school-aged children claiming their conversion!)
The Court here adjourned for luncheon.


On resuming, Mr. O'Brien was further examined as to the conduct of the Irishman and United Ireland. He declared that he never wrote an article in the Irishman, but admitted that he read every one of them before they appeared. The Irishman was published in the office of United Ireland during the whole of the period when the police were raiding the office of the latter; but they never interfered with it, because, as he had said, it was so insignificant; in fact, it was as standing joke among them that no one bought the Irishman except the Chief Secretary. (Laughter.) (In actuality the police saw no need to interfere with the Irishman while raiding the office of United Ireland because the police were acting on information received by Pigott (who still owned the Irishman) as to the goings on of United Ireland and the people affiliated with it.)
Several extracts from articles in the Irishman were read by Mr. Reid. Amongst them was one in which police spies were denounced as being at the bottom of a great many of the disturbances. Constable Talbot was held up as an instance of this system, and Mr. O'Brien explained that the article was intended to represent that there was a very serious belief in the minds of the people that the police manipulated outrages and secret societies. Talbot was a policeman who was sent to join the Fenians, who pretended to be a Catholic, and received the sacraments of the Church, while he was a Protestant, who took the oath of the Society, and who swore several young men in, afterwards appearing against them, and being instrumental in sending them to penal servitude. (Yes, this is what is known in law terms as "infiltration", which is the best way to catch criminals from the inside.) There were, added Mr. O'Brien, several cases such as this which had been admitted. Up to the time of his arrival, Mr. O'Brien continued, all the leading articles which he read in the Irishman led him to believe that the paper was conducted with moderation, even more than his own paper. The setting of the paper, said Mr. O'Brien, in emphasising his idea of its moribund state, only cost about thirty shillings a week. It was really filled with block advertisements.
Then the Court was treated to voluminous extracts from the paper, extending over a period of four or five years, all with the object of showing that the papers had advocated a constitutional policy. Mr. O'Brien had previously said that he was the first editor of United Ireland, but, added he, only ten numbers of it had been issued when he was arrested.
(The report will be continued.)

Source: The Echo, Tuesday May 21, 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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