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Kilmainham – The Treaty that Never Was

  • J. Enoch Powell (a1)

The letter dated 28 April 1882 which Parnell wrote in Kilmainham jail to Captain O'Shea has become indelibly known to history as the Kilmainham Treaty, with or without benefit of quotation marks or capital letters; and though probably few historians would today maintain that anything properly describable as a treaty was intended, let alone concluded, between Parnell and Gladstone, the influence of the name and myth persists. For example, the most recent and excellent biography of Parnell by Professor F. S. L. Lyons, while repudiating the existence of a bargain, nevertheless refers to ‘the Kilmainham settlement’ and even states that Parnell ‘negotiated the Kilmainham “treaty” that brought the ordeal [of the detainees] to an end’. A re-examination, however, of the original document, its textual content and its detailed circumstances casts a new and sinister light upon the letter, revealing Parnell as the victim of a series of malpractices by O'Shea, to which Joseph Chamberlain was at least partly privy.

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1 Charles Stewart Parnell (London, 1977), pp. 210, 186.

2 Probably the stationery had been acquired in connexion with the death of Parnell's nephew, whose funeral in Paris was the occasion of his parole just ended.

3 Gladstone evidently felt this when he remarked to Forster, W. E. (see below): ‘Parnell's letter is, I think, the most extraordinary I ever read.’

4 O'Shea, K., Charles Stewart Parnell: his love story and political life (2 vols., London, 1, 254; O'Brien, R. B., Life of Charles Stewart Parnell 1846–1891 (2 vols., London, 1898), 1, 344.

5 Hansard, 15 May 1882, coln. 674 (Forster's copy).

6 Chamberlain, Joseph, A political memoir 1880–92, ed. Howard, C. N. D. (London, 1953), p. 46.

7 O'Shea, , Parnell, 1, 253.

8 Hansard, 26 April 1882, colns. 1478 ff.

9 Hansard, 15 May 1882, coln. 786.

10 Hansard, 15 May 1882, coln. 675.

11 O'Shea, , Parnell, 1, 255.

12 Hansard, 15 May 1882, coln. 789.

13 Ibid., coln. 792.

14 See above, p. 953.

15 Chamberlain, , Memoir, p. 44.

16 Garvin, J. L., Joseph Chamberlain (London, 1932), 1, 352.

17 Lyons, , Pornell, p. 202.

18 Chamberlain, , Memoir, p. 48.

19 Chamberlain, to Justin McCarthy, , 30 04 1882:

My dear McCarthy – Many thanks for your note, with the extract from Mr Parnell's letter. I will endeavour to make good use of it. I only wish it could be published, for the knowledge that the question still under discussion will be treated in this conciliatory spirit would have a great effect on public opinion.

You may rely on me at all times to do my best to help forward the solution of the Irish problem, and in spite of past failure and past mistakes, I am still hopeful for the future.

Yours very truly, J. Chamberlain

20 See below, p. 958.

21 Hansard, 4 May 1882, coln. 129.

22 Ibid., 8 May 1882, coln. 323.

23 Ibid., 15 May 1882, coln. 672.

24 Ibid., 15 May 1882, coln. 787.

25 Ibid., 15 May 1882, coln. 792.

26 Ibid., 15 May 1882, coln. 868.

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The Historical Journal
  • ISSN: 0018-246X
  • EISSN: 1469-5103
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