Ruaírí Ó Domhnaill reviews Redmond the Parnellite, by Dermot Meleady, Cork University Press, ISBN 9781859184233, £34 hbk
"A good historian… although he be a patriot, he will never flatter his country in any respect." (de Fenelon, 1651-1715)
READERS MAY be dismayed on learning that "the period on which (Redmond's)reputation rests" is crammed into little more than the dozen pages of the epilogue. However, this is but the first of a projected two-volume work; the second is eagerly awaited.
The breadth and depth of the author's research is evidenced not simply by the number and range of the resources consulted but by the resulting scholarly composition, in which he admits many of his subject's shortcomings.
The biographical background provides a framework on which two decades of Irish history is woven in all its tawdriness, particularly:
Parnell's genius is evidenced in his management of the voters and his party's MPs - "a lot of poor weak fellows" or, "carpetbaggers". Leadership was tainted by a form of 'divine right' of 'uncrowned kings'.
"Under Which Flag?", a cartoon of 1890, depicts Irish leaders under a banner emblazoned "For IRELAND and Liberty"; Parnell stands apart with his flag - "For PARNELL". The author diplomatically avoids the term "megalomania", except in quotation. (He also employs citation to apply the anachronism "Bolshevist" to the methods of Biggar and the Land League.
An MP at 26, Redmond was sent by Parnell on fund-raising tours of Australia and the USA. In Australia, he was a chauvinistic imperialist. Finding this unacceptable to Irish-Americans, he learned to "play to the gallery".
On Parnell's death, Redmond claimed the leader's parliamentary seat in Cork but was rejected. Thereafter, Redmond found very strange bed-fellows. He formed alliances with Fenians but also advocated a public subscription for the Grand Master of the Orange Order.
This "first-rate bowler" and "smart batsman" was supported by the (pre-sell-out) GAA: he flirted with the Gaelic League and spoke for de-Anglicization of Ireland. The League saw Redmond's party as "a huge anglicizing agent". He urged tenants to vote for landlords in local government elections - to benefit from their administrative skills.
Having told workers of Waterford to strengthen their trade unions, Redmond associated with William Martin Murphy. His dealings with empire-builder, Cecil Rhodes and with the Unionist, Alfred Harmsworth (Viscount Northcliffe) are less well-known.
The author briefly and euphemistically refers to Nationalist MPs' deplorable neglect seasoned with a little exploitation of Dublin slum-dwellers, as a "blind spot".
The "good historian's" objectivity is evident, excepting polemical asides, particularly in his "Introduction", some of which may be expanded in the projected second volume. However, his comment on the Ireland's constitution implies a lack of familiarity with that document.
Connolly Association, c/o RMT, Unity House, 39 Chalton Street, London, NW1 1JD
Copyright © 2008 Ruaírí Ó Domhnaill