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Parnell Commission Inquiry

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Parnell Commission Inquiry

Post by Karen on Mon 4 Mar 2013 - 9:00

One hundred and twelfth Day of Proceedings - October 24, 1889



The Parnell Commission resumed its sittings in the Probate Court of the Royal Courts of Justice, today, after a vacation dating from the 25th of July. Though there were a larger number of applicants for admission today than at the latter part of the proceedings in July, there was an absence of that absorbing interest which formerly characterised the proceedings. Up to the adjournment, the Commission had been engaged in its inquiry 113 days, including that spent in determining the preliminaries. Up to the present no less than 499 witnesses had been examined, and of these 98,177 questions had been asked. The official record covers 6,296 pages, containing, it is estimated, 3,462,860 words. The largest number of witnesses examined by an single counsel were those who passed through the hands of Mr. Murphy, Q.C. - 117. Next comes Mr. Atkinson, Q.C., who examined 98; and then the Attorney-General, who disposed of 84. To the other Counsel witnesses fell - for examination only, of course - in the following proportion: - Sir Charles Russell, 14; Sir H. James, 45, Mr. Reid, Q.C., 43; Mr. Graham, 5; Mr. Ronan, 39; Mr. Harrington, 10; Mr. Hart, 14; Mr. Lockwood, Q.C., 12; Mr. A. O'Connor, 6; Mr. Arthur Russell, 17; Mr. Biggar, 13; and Mr. Davitt, 18. In cross-examination Sir Charles Russell disposed of 175; Mr. Asquith, 8; Mr. Atkinson, 31; the Attorney-General, 20; Sir Henry James, 52; Mr. Ronan, 1; Mr. Murphy, 19; Mr. Harrington, 21; Mr. Lockwood, 72; Mr. Arthur O'Connor, 9; Mr. Reid, 91; Mr. Biggar, 37; Mr. Davitt, 91; and Mr. Sexton, 5. It is a singular fact, that of those called before the Commission 22 rejoiced in the patronymic of Murphy, 11 in that of O'Brien, 28 in that of O'Connor, 14 in that of Sullivan and Kelly, 16 in that of Burke, and 24 in that of Walsh. There have been during the proceedings no fewer than 45 places mentioned bearing the prefix of "Bally."
Up till within a few minutes of half-past ten this morning it seemed as though proceedings would be resumed in an almost empty Court. However, as time went on the spectators increased in number. Mr. Davitt was the first gentleman directly interested in the case to enter the Court. He took his old seat by the solicitors' table, upon which now rested a large black deed box. Next came the counsel for the Times, the Attorney-General leading the way, and being followed by Mr. Graham, Mr. Atkinson, Sir Henry James, and Mr. Ronan. Mr. Biggar resumed his old seat near Mr. Davitt, and in the front of the Times counsel sat Mr. Houston, while in the vicinity of the Court was Major Le Caron.
It was twenty-five minutes to eleven when the Commissioners took their seats.


Mr. Biggar at once rose, and explained that he was desirous of saying a few words on the case, which would be amplified by Mr. Davitt. He proceeded to pay what at first appeared to be a compliment to the Attorney-General, but which, it was soon revealed, had a totally opposite purpose. He said the learned gentleman deserved great praise for the very clever way in which he had presented the case for the Times. In Ireland they were accustomed to regard as singularly clever legal gentlemen who, having no case, managed to throw so many facts and so much evidence into the whole as to weave an inextricable web of confusion. "In that respect," said Mr. Biggar, "the Attorney-General has exhibited a great deal of talent." Dealing with the charges and the evidence, Mr. Biggar declared that the Attorney-General had never shown any connection between crime and the speeches he had produced. It was all very well to pick out disconnected sentences here and there and declare that they had a criminal meaning, but he contended that the whole tenour of the speeches was totally opposed to outrage, and anyone considering them fully, fairly, and dispassionately must arrive at that conclusion. With regard to threatening notices, he asserted that in many cases it had been shown that the persons who were alleged to be the recipients of them were those who were, above everybody else, just the persons who desired to make a good case for themselves. Then Mr. Biggar turned his attention to the evidence of agents and landlords, dealing in the first case with that of Mr. Leonard, the Kenmare agent.


From this he went to the evidence of the police, many of whom, he said, "shuffled and prevaricated" in their stories, their ordinary demeanour showing a desire to present a good array of facts for the case of those who were employed by. As a matter of fact, it was notorious that the police of Ireland did not attempt to prevent outrages, but rather tended to foster them until they reached a certain point, at which they attracted public attention. "Under the circumstances," Mr. Biggar concluded, "I think that the Commission ought to report that no evidence of a substantial nature has been brought against me and the other defendants."


Mr. Davitt followed, at the outset re-stating a few facts in connection with his evidence in the box. He said he felt that he was about to undertake a duty which was extremely arduous for any layman, and demanded all the energy and talent which any lawyer in the three countries could bring to bear upon it. Though emphasising the fact that he appeared there solely as representing himself, Mr. Davitt said he felt that he was especially called upon to "defend the name, and the character, and the cause of the peasantry of Ireland, whose protests against wrong and whose cries for redress I have tried, in season and out of season, to organise and put into force in organised and articulate action." After a very touching reference to his sufferings in penal servitude, and the fact that the Land League really had its birth in his mind during the long, dark days of his prison life - days during which "the land for the people" was the only thought that came to Flamine a dreary existence - he asked that the consequences of any folly he had been guilty of in early life might be put down to his own and not to anyone else's account.


He appealed to Sir Henry James not to use against others any mistake he in the course of his speech might be betrayed into making, but he did not appeal to him as counsel for the Times - an opponent which he wished to continue in its unmitigated rancorous hostility - but rather as a gentleman who was always courteous to opponents and comparatively omnipotent to himself. Addressing himself directly to the case, Mr. Davitt and the Commission was trying the Irish nation on an indictment drawn up by Richard Pigott. He repelled the entire case of the Times, which sought to place at his door and on the name of the Land League the commission of crimes of a most abhorrent nature. They said that those deplorable and unhappy deeds were the rank undergrowth of an unjust and unnatural social system. He contended that the whole of that crusade against the Irish leaders was an undisguised and deliberate attempt to ruin political opponents for purely political objects.


He wished to explain to their lordships and the public outside the origin and growth, the scope, meaning, and develop of certain movements in both Ireland and America, with some of which movements he had been declared by the Times to have had criminal relations. He was also anxious to dwell upon the social condition of Ireland, the efforts at constitutional amelioration, and their future, which immediately preceded the Land League movement. The line of defence which he intended to take up was to contend that the Land League was a bona fide constitutional organisation, and that its origin was the inevitable growth of Irish political and economical principles; that its means and objects were constitutional, that its work had been beneficial, and had influenced, and was still influencing, the course of enlightened organisation in that country. At the same time he would contend that the crimes and the outrages which took place in Ireland at the time of the foundation of the League, and which the Times had charged to its agency, were incidental to the system which the League was established to abolish - the programme of that League which the Legislature was now contemplating as a measure of justice and sound policy.


Having read the particulars of the charge preferred against him by the Times, Mr. Davitt said he admitted very candidly that he had been a member of the Fenian organisation, but for that membership, or through his connection with that body, he had spent a period of nine years' penal servitude. But he did not for one moment believe that the Commission was appointed, or intended, to retry him on that charge, and he gave it as his opinion that it was the massed up by the Times with the direct effect of showing the connection between the Parnellite movement and himself. He admitted that he was a Fenian, and he declared that under circumstances similar to those of twenty years ago, he would become one again. He quoted the language used by Mr. Goldwin Smith and Lord Derby in 1881, which, he said, would explain, if not justify, his connection with Fenianism, and asked - "Was the spirit of ______ which breathed in Shakespeare and given on behalf of England, and in Shelley on behalf of Italy, not to be applied to Ireland." As to the charge that he spoke in favour of the Manchester Martyrs, he declared that he did so, not because a policeman was killed, but because of the three men in what they believed was a patriotic duty, and because they were offered up as a sacrifice to anti-Irish feeling in England.


Then came a reference to the letter found on the man Forrester, which, it will be remembered, was produced at Mr. Davitt's trial, and is generally regarded as having largely influenced the Judge in passing sentence upon Mr. Davitt, in 1870. In connection with that Mr. Davitt had made a personal appeal to a man to come forward and release him from an obligation of silence, and to confess that the letter had been written with the object of preventing - and did prevent - the perpetration of one of the most foul murders conceivable. Assassination was (said Mr. Davitt) absolutely foreign to his nature as it was to that of every other Irishman, and he declared most solemnly that the letter was written solely for the purpose of preventing the perpetration of the crime of murder.
At this point the Court adjourned for luncheon.


After luncheon, Mr. Davitt resumed his speech. He brought before the Court a very interesting incident in his career. He said he remembered that years ago he called upon the late General Sheridan and asked him how many men of Irish blood in the United States, he thought, would take up arms against England if war should break out between America and England. "I shall never forget the answer," said Mr. Davitt. He said, "Inside of forty-eight hours after war would be declared a million of men of Irish blood would leap to arms."
(The report will be continued.)

The Freeman's Journal says Mr. Gladstone's speech will shortly be followed by "a still more powerful statement."

United Ireland comments on the alleged fact that one of the Jurymen on Coll's trial stated before he was sworn that he would hang Father McFadden. The Leinster Leader offers to give the name of the Juror.

Source: The Echo, Thursday October 24, 1889, Page 3

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

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