Sunday, April 13, 2008

Charles Parnell, the Irish National League and South London

The Irish National League was established by Charles Stewart Parnell (pictured) in 1882 and became a major movement for Irish home rule, with branches not only across Ireland but in England - including in South London.

In Deptford, support for Irish Home Rule pre-dated the formation of the League. On 2 October 1876 a public meeting in Deptford was attached by anti-Home Rulers, recalled in the memoirs of T.D. Sullivan : 'They invaded a hall where a Home Rule meeting was being-held; they "stormed" the platform, and made a determined endeavour to capture the Home Rule banner which was there displayed. But the flag was bravely defended, and after some fierce fighting, the attacking party were ejected from the building'.

In the 1880s, the Irish National League rallied at Sayes Court in Deptford and the Post Office Directory lists a United Irish National League and Club at 35 Albury Street, Deptford in 1911 (secretary Jas. Heirhly).

The Peckham club seems to have its own grounds judging by this report from the South London Observer (Camberwell and Peckham Times), 14 September 1889:

Garden Party of the Peckham Irish National League

On Monday last glorious weather favoured the promoters of the garden party held in the grounds of the League in Downs-street, Peckham Park-road. Too much praise cannot be accorded to the worthy president, the stewards and others for the energy displayed to make the occasion worthy of success and judging from the large numbers present, nearly 300, their efforts to meet the comfort and pleasure of the company were themes of conversation… The grounds were beautifully illuminated with Chinese lanterns, and around the walls were arranged coloured oil lamps, and at the extreme end of the garden a platform was erected, bunting giving the scene a pleasant aspect. An excellent band, under the conductorship of Mr. T. Rayman, efficiently discoursed sweet music, to which a large number of the guests , who were fond of the ‘light fantastic’, indulged to their hearts’ content to a late hour. During the course of the evening, Mr Neale gave some excellent impersonations of ventriloquism and was much applauded. Mr Mildinhall, of the North Camberwell Progressive Club, seemed to be quite at home with his audience, and at the conclusion of his song was greeted with well-merited applause.

Refreshments were provided for the visitors in the grounds, and at the conclusion of the evening’s amusement, Mr Harris, the president, proposed a vote of thanks to the stewards and officials who had worked hard to administer to the wants of those present, and who had contributed to the pleasure of the evening. Mr Blake briefly seconded the proposition, and the vote having been put to the meeting, was unanimously carried with acclamation.

A novel feature of the party was a ‘Strikers’ Fund’ box
[this was at the time of the 1889 Dock Strike] , displayed to the majority of the visitors, and judging form the jingling of the money, must have been well-patronised. The following is the programme fo the music – Waltx, ‘Sweetest and Dearest’; quadrilles, ‘Paddy’s Wedding’; schottische, ‘Enchantment’; lancers, ‘Pelican’; polka. ‘Love Light’; waltz, ‘Song of Ireland’; Irish jig, ‘National’; Caledonians., ‘Marie Stuart’; waltz, ‘Rescue’. The following gentlemen were the stewards – Messrs. Corby, Bryant, McAuliffe, Jeffery, Grannell, and Beare, Mr R. Cavilla efficiently acting as MC’.

There is another South London connection to Parnell. In 1890, Parnell was cited in a divorce case having been in a relationship with Katherine O’Shea since 1880, and indeed having children with her. She had been separated from her husband - another MP - all along, but the scandal was enough to split the movement, and Parnell died in 1891 shortly after marrying Katherine in the wake of the divorce.

At some point during the relationship, they lived at 112 Tressillian Road, Brockley, he under the name Clement Preston in an attempt to conceal his identity. They also lived in Eltham in a house called Wonersh Lodge.

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