Now I can really get stuck in.
But first its important to explain for those new to Victorian British politics,just who these Fenians were.The Fenian Society had been formed in Kilkenny in 1857.In the beginning it had links with Revolutionary exiles in Paris.It remained unimportant until after the American Civil War which thousands of Irish emigrants served with distinction.After the war many of these old soldiers were ready to put their military skill at the service of Ireland.The Fenians soon gained strength.
The Fenians ,being a political organisation began to draw their strength from agrarian discontent:the Land League was founded in 1879 to defend the economic interests of the peasants .Large numbers of peasants had been evicted from their small holdings following an economic decision in Westminster to repeal the Corn Laws and the small holdings were to be "cleared" to make way for large grazing farms.These small holdings were the sole means of survival for the peasants.
However the Land League ,as an organisation,only gradually became drawn into political action.Its tactics were to fight eviction by means of a boycott,and members ppledged themselves:
never to bid for take or hold the farm from which our neighbour has been evicted for non -payment of an unjust rent,and never to takle any hand,act or part sewing or saving criops thereon and to hold the man who will do so as a public enemy.
It soon developed into a nationwide resistance to the landlords and the Government.
Closely connected with the Land league struggle was the fight for political self government.The Home Rule Party had been formed in 1872 and had swept the field at the General Election of 1874.In the next year Parnell was returned to Parliament for Meath.
Parnell,though a Protestant Landlord,had a bitter sense of Irish wrongs.He saw the Land League as a means of uniting the agrarian struggle with the struggle for national liberation and formed a close alliance with its leader Michael Davitt.
2]The famine of 1879 brought misery and yet another wave of "evictions" and caused Parnell and Davitt to become irresistable as leaders of the struggle to the peasants -especially those facing eviction and its consequent starvation. The Irish Landlords in particular ,who drew huge rents from the peasants ,which they then spent investing mostly in England, were hostile to the peasants concerns in a way that surprises us today.They were also deeply opposed to the Land League and to Home Rule.
The whole history of Ireland, from a rapidly crushed attempt at National liberation from British Rule in 1778 through the "Act of Union" of 1800 ,which destroyed the Irish Parliament in Dublin and imposed sole rule from Westminster ,London ,created continuous struggles by the workers and peasants to free themselves from British exploitation.All rebellions were crushed at the point of the bayonet.
By 1881,Gladstone and his Westminster Government were thoroughly alarmed.So Gladstone passed his "Coercian Act" which made it possible for any one supporting the "Land League' to be imprisoned and held without trial.Davitt and most of the League leaders were arrested and soon Parnell was sent to join them in Kilmainham Goal.
Concessions were made by the Land Act of 1881, which had satisfied a section of the peasantry.On the other ,the mass struggle was breaking up with the leaders in Goal and Parnell decided it was time to retreat, and while in Kilmainham reached an agreement with the Government by which violent or illegal methods were to stop in return for an amnesty and legislation to end evictions.Parnell was released in 1882.A few days later a splinter group from the Fenians calling themselves ," The Invincibles" using twelve surgical knives which had been bought off Oxford Street in London, set upon the new Irish Secretary Lord , Lord Frederick Cavendish and his under secretary Burke who had come to Dublin to implement the new "agreement" were assassinated in fenzied stabbings and a throat cut in Phoenix Park.The agreement was all but ended.Parnell"s new found rapport with the Government was deeply compromised by such an outrage.
Parnell had never believed in methods of terrorism
and he decided to turn more and more of his energies into a campaign for Home Rule.That is for Irish Self Government within the British Empire.
It is said that Parnell had a genius for parliamentary tactics, and that this was demonstrated when he succeeded in bringing into being a perfectly disciplined body of nationalist MP"s.He worked on the assumption that such a body would be strong enough to command serious attention so that when the LIberals and the Tories were evenly divided, this sizeable group could hold the balance and extort large concessions in exchange for their support.Under his leadership these tactics were successfull although much later, at the outbreak of WW1,in 1914 ,they spelt disaster for Parnell"s party----but by then, Parnell was long dead.
Just to add to what Natalie has written here, Parnell was very much like a modern politician in that he made sure that his statements could be read in as many ways as possible, and appeal to as many people as possible. This is most often shown with the "Land of Ireland for the people of Ireland" and trust me Irish school kids have this drummed into them by the Leaving Cert (or at least we did 9 years ago). That statement to the RC church could be seen as meaning Ireland for the Catholics. To the Fenians it could be seen as support for their goals of an Irish Republic. To Land Lords and Unionists it would not exclude them and for Davitt and his fellow agrarian socialists it could mean land nationalisation.
In this way Parnell could be compared to modern spin driven politicians such as Tony Blair or Bertie Aherne, both of whom would be all things to all people except when it came to certain core issues.