News from Times Past with Brian Gabriel, Blarney & District Historical Society

Charles Stewart Parnell in Blarney 1880

The Trip South. The extent of the popularity he enjoyed at this point in his career can be gauged from the reception he received on making the trip to the southern home of his new constituents on the 3rd of October 1880. Not since the days of O’Connell had Cork witnessed such an outpouring of affection and regard for a political leader. Huge numbers flocked in to the city from towns, villages and the surrounding countryside. Eagerly they awaited his arrival on a night train but the news quickly spread that he was due to alight instead at Blarney at 1p.m. and would proceed by carriage to the city, accompanied by an extensive escort which included local supporters. A newspaper report from September 24th said that every farmer from far and wide was being encouraged to bring his horse so that a mounted escort numbering as many as 2,000 could be provided. One journalist, who made the trip out to Blarney to see the day unfold firsthand, reported that a drive of three quarters of an hour brought him to the village “universally identified with dulcet persuasiveness of speech”. Initially things appeared calm and quiet until he came upon the hotel which was heaving with “more or less bona fide travellers vigorously elbowing each other in the quest after liquid refreshments”. Several open carriages for Mr. Parnell and his election committee were stationed along the “Main Street”, while other cars of various shapes and sizes were backed into all kinds of nooks and distributed file-wise along the roadway. They belonged to “eager sightseers of both sexes” who were either clambering in or out or simply sitting in them waiting expectantly. Having passed the square on his way to Blarney train station, our reporter found his progress slowed by a body of horsemen composed of farmers and farmers’ sons, who had formed themselves into a “cavalry escort” for the great man. Beyond them, the road (this would have been the Station Road) was densely thronged as far as the station, the hedges lined with spectators “and the fields thickly dotted with country people in their holiday attire” (their Sunday best). A distant cheer coming from the direction of the station announced that the Member for Cork City had arrived and the procession shortly afterwards began to move towards the village. By this time, it was packed with excited masses of people on foot and in vehicles which caused some congestion and confusion but that was quickly dispelled by the good humour that prevailed. Soon after, Mr. Parnell’s carriage came to a stop and an address was read by Mr. McSwiney, one of the members of his election committee. Every time Mr. McSwiney paused, the crowd sent up a vociferous cheer and the noise level was such that, in any case, he could not be heard clearly beyond a few yards. After Daniel Ryan, Chairman, signed the address, Parnell, who had been standing all the while, began his reply and the enthusiasm of the crowd “translated itself into a yet louder outburst of applause”. When he had concluded the procession moved off towards the city at such a “snail’s pace” that our journalist friend willingly accepted the suggestion of an alternative route back to Cork. Circuitous and comparatively deserted, this went through the Colthurst estate and passed overhanging woods and heights that reminded him of Parnell’s native county of Wicklow. Coming upon the Ballincollig road, he found it occupied for a considerable distance by more crowds converging on the city, while further in again he saw the tradesmen of Cork wearing sashes, stoles and rosettes of green and mustered under their respective banners. If Blarney had provided a rousing reception it was to be magnified many times over by the preparations awaiting the new M.P. in Ireland’s southern capital. But it took several hours for him to get there. The whole procession was reckoned to have grown to be as much as a couple of miles in length. At the head of it was the large body of young men moving in military formation and “understood to be of the National body”; they were asked to make way but “peremptiously refused” to do so. It left the village in the direction of Killard, went up Faggot Hill, past Clogheen Cross and down the then-new Shanakiel Road to Sunday’s Well and Wellington Bridge. At Shanakiel it was joined by the strikingly costumed officials of Cork Corporation bearing sword and mace. Dynamite Stuff But there was something that many of the people gathered in Blarney that day missed, despite the fact that Parnell was the focus of their attention. In a mysterious incident, two men, Mr. Cronin and Mr. O’Brien, were seized and compelled to leave Parnell’s carriage. The reasons were not immediately clear and neither was willing to volunteer much information to the police at the time. But the incident resurfaced some three years later when it was linked with a dynamite conspiracy. Dynamite explosions haunted the public imagination across Europe and America in the 1880s and there were even said to be Dynamite Schools in New York teaching the art of explosion to revolutionaries. The year 1883 marked the peak of the Fenian bombing campaign in England. The suspicion was that those who forced the Land League officials, Cronin and O’Brien, out of Parnell’s carriage at revolver point were Fenians, who were also involved in a plot to import dynamite from Glasgow to Cork and target public buildings in the city for explosion. They had objected to the presence of these two men because they had proved themselves anti-national by proposing and seconding a resolution at a Cork Land League meeting, which condemned the robbery of arms from a ship named the Juno at Passage West. At the subsequent dynamite conspiracy hearing, Michael Ahern of Bawnafinna and James Heffernan accepted that they witnessed the attack but could not identify those involved three years on. Heffernan also admitted that he had contracted a man named Carmody to carry out repairs on his house in Blarney but declined to say whether this Carmody was the same man as another dynamite suspect, who shared the surname. Another Blarney witness at the hearing was Mary Ford, who lived in the lodge of Blarney Castle and had charge of the key with which to admit visitors. She produced the visitors book, which showed that two other suspects, James McDermott of Brooklyn and Edmond O’Brien Kennedy of St. Louis had visited the castle. Another document deemed to be incriminating contained somewhat cryptic instructions on how to manufacture explosives; it was titled ‘a Cure for Gout’. After several similar reports, the Irish Times managed to clarify matters and reported that the attack on the carriage was not directly linked with a Dynamite Conspiracy at all. In fact, the names of the six people, who took part in forcing Cronin and O’Brien from Parnell’s carriage in Blarney in 1880 were known to the Government authorities within 48-hours but no action was ever taken as nobody ever showed a wish to bring a prosecution. Parnell himself shed a little more light on the incident at the hearing of a Special Commission in 1889, which was inquiring into possible links between his activities and the physical force movement. It looked into such matters as the reputed “Five dollars for Bread and Twenty for Lead” meetings in America. At this hearing the carriage incident was given as an example of Parnell’s opposition to physical force. He himself said he had largely forgotten it now but recollected that “it was an attack on himself and his friends, farmers of the district, by adherents to the physical force party”. The assailants drew their revolvers and attacked the procession. A scuffle followed, the result of which was an arrangement whereby the physical force party would retain as hostages two of Parnell’s company and the rest should be allowed to proceed to Cork undisturbed (albeit slowly). Parnell didn’t seem to have much luck when seated in carriages in, or on his way to, Blarney. In December 1882, he was in Cork to establish a branch of the Irish National League, the successor to the Land League. This would have a wider remit and seek actively to represent the interests of artisans and labourers as well as farmers. Job done, the indefatigable Parnell, along with T.P. O’Connor M.P., Fr. O’Mahony and others, prepared to set out for Blarney. As they sat in their open carriage a member of a body known colloquially in Cork as the ‘Parnell Bodyguard’, stepped forward and presented him with a “croppy pike”, which was “with ill-concealed annoyance declined”. A police detective at once investigated, and “to his chagrin found that the rejected present, though an excellent imitation of the steel weapon, was merely wood”. The matter dealt with, Parnell proceeded on his journey to visit that model of Irish industry, Mahonys Woollen Mills, and, naturally, Blarney castle. The above item is an extract from a much larger article written by Richard Forrest and published in full in ‘Old Blarney’ Journal Issue 9. Back numbers of all ‘Old Blarney’ Journals are available from Brian Gabriel 087 2153216. Blarney & District Historical Society Annual General Meeting takes place on Thursday 11th September in Blarney Secondary School at 8.00 p.m. All are welcome. The illustrated lecture for Thursday 2nd October 2014 at 8pm in Blarney Secondary School, is titled ‘Blackpool To The Front’ and is based on the recently published and highly acclaimed book of the same name, dealing with a suburb of Cork during the Great War of 1914-18. The speaker is the author, Mr. Mark Cronin. Everybody welcome.