Also see Parnell – his local connections

It was Meath which launched Charles Stewart Parnell onto the political stage in 1875 when he was elected as Member of Parliament for the county.

Born in 1846, at the height of the Great Famine, Parnell’s mother was the daughter of Admiral Stewart, who was known as Old Ironsides as he had fought the British in the Anglo-American War of 1812.

The execution of the Manchester Martyrs in 1867 was a turning point in Parnell’s life which set him in pursuit of cause of Irish nationalism. In 1874 Charles Stewart Parnell persuaded his brother, John, to stand for election in Wicklow in his place but he was defeated. Charles then ran as a candidate in the Co. Dublin constituency. He financed his own campaign, which was one of the attractions of his candidature for the National Party.  In this initial contest he appeared to be shy, awkward and a poor speaker. He was defeated.

John Martin, M.P. for Meath died in 1875 and Parnell sought the vacancy. Parnell visited Kells to see the Bishop of Meath, Dr. Nulty, who gave him his support. Parnell canvassed in all the towns and villages of the county and was accompanied on many of these visits by the Kells Brass Band. A drum from this band which accompanied Parnell is said to be still in existence. Parnell visited Navan, Kells, Duleek, Trim, Athboy, Longwood, Summerhill, Dunshaughlin and Rathcore. J.L. Napper of Loughcrew was nominated as the Conservative candidate and J.T. Hinds from Trim stood as an independent Home Ruler. Parnell topped the poll and bonfires blazed in celebration and the successful candidate was carried around Market Square, Trim in triumph.

In his maiden speech he declared that Ireland was not a geographical fragment of England but a nation in its own right. Parnell made few contributions in relation to Meath but did ask questions about the rights of Roman Catholics members of the Meath Militia serving at Navan to attend Mass on holy days of obligation.   By 1879 Parnell, M.P. for Meath had become the leader of the Irish Home Rule Party. In that year Parnell’s success was greeted by a crowd of twenty two thousand supporters in Market Square, Navan and a banquet.

Parnell became heavily involved in the land reform, perhaps influenced initially by Bishop Nulty. Parnell advised tenant farmers to “keep a firm grip on their homesteads.” The Land League was formed in 1879 with Parnell as President, perhaps an unusual position for a Protestant landlord. John Sweetman of Kells proposed Parnell for the position. Also on the League committee were Nicholas Ennis M.P, Claremount, Thomas Lynch P.P. Beauparc, Michael Tormey C.C. Beauparc, John Sweetman Kells and Robert H. Metge, Athlumney.

In 1880 Parnell was elected for three constituencies, Meath, Mayo and Cork and he selected to represent Cork. The following year Parnell was imprisoned in Kilmainham Jail for his Land League activities. The ladies of the Navan Political Prisoners’ Aid Society sent him a letter of support. Various tenant purchase acts were passed which eventually sorted out the land problem.

Campaigning for Home Rule for Ireland Parnell succeeded in having a Home Rule Bill introduced into Parliament in 1886 but it was defeated by the Conservatives.  

In 1887 a series of letters forged by the Meath journalist, Richard Pigott, were published in The Times of London linking Parnell to violence. When it emerged that Parnell was innocent he received a standing ovation in the House of Parliament and became known as the “uncrowned king of Ireland.” News began to emerge that Parnell was being named in a divorce case between Katharine and Captain Willie O’Shea. Many thought it was another attempt to smear Parnell. When the affair between Parnell and Katharine became known he lost the support of the British Liberal Party and most of the members of his own party. In order to win back support Parnell canvassed the country. In March 1891 Parnell visited Navan where he was greeted by a large crowd. Travelling from Drogheda he was welcomed at the platforms at Duleek and Beauparc. Many of the local political bodies presented Parnell with addresses of support. On August 16 of that year Parnell addressed a meeting in Kells on his last visit to Meath. The Parnell garden at the Convent of Mercy commemorates this visit.  In October Parnell died in the arms of his wife at Brighton. Many local bodies and people from all over the county attended Parnell’s funeral to Glasnevin Cemetery.

Parnell left behind a divided Meath and in the election of 1892 there was disputes and controversy which resulted in the elections having to be re-run the following year. Many in Meath remained loyal to the uncrowned king as was seen by the attendance at the unveiling of the Parnell monument. The statue was created by the most eminent sculptor of public monuments in the US, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, who appears to have given the statue of Parnell two overcoats.