Waterford born-Professor Roy Foster provided a great resume on how Waterford MP John Redmond advanced the cause of Irish independence.
Prof Foster, formerly of Oxford University, was speaking in the city as part of the ‘Redmondite Tradition in Waterford’ event held at the Large Room in City Hall to mark the centenary of John Redmond’s death. The historian and author traced how Redmond maintained the path towards independence instigated by Home Rule Party leader Charles Stewart Parnell a few decades previously. Prof Foster has written about a range of Irish leaders, from Parnell to PH Pearse but he also identified John Redmond as part of the emerging process which eventually led to independence and the Republic.
From the 1880s, Waterford was a Parnellite stronghold which Redmond would later consolidate.
In Prof Foster’s view, the Redmondites moulded Parnellism which embraced cult of leader-type status, similar to what emerged under Eamon De Valera and Charles Haughey, he argued.
Anna Parnell, a sister of CS Parnell, had been active in the Land League and became radicalised through this involvement, said Prof Foster, and had a stronger nationalist tendency than the Redmondites. She feared that a form of physical force nationalism would emerge and threaten the prospect of Home Rule, and Roy Foster claimed that Anna just stopped short of predicting the insurrection which emerged in Easter Week, 1916.
A student in the first decade of the 1900s, Anna Parnell was not alone in sharing such sentiments and it’s worth noting that advocating female suffrage was not a significant policy plank of the Home Rule Party at the time. The vote was expanded in 1898 so that women could vote in local plebiscites.
But Foster argued that CS Parnell, half-American into the bargain, was most certainly anti-imperial and could be considered a political radical at the time.
A small farming democracy was being created at the time via the Land Acts and this was being driven by then British Prime Minister William Gladstone.
The early 1900s was dominated by the Boer War, a conflict the Irish were fiercely opposed to.
This was the outset of a revolutionary generation and one which, ultimately, the Irish people embraced at the expense of the Home Rule Party’s renamed successor, the Irish Parliamentary Party. Roy Foster told the audience that he feels further analysis of pre-Rising Sinn Féin and the Irish Republican Brotherhood should be pursued.
Padraig Pearse, he stated, grew up in a Redmondite home where there was respect for the ideals of Wolfe Tone, Thomas Davis, James Lalor, John Mitchel and other Fenians.
He said there was no doubt that Parnell had inspired the movement which ultimately delivered independence for most of the island.
Parnell, like Redmond, spent a great deal of time in London and while this physical separation from the home land came at a price, great advances were made in Catholic education and in the delivery of the Land Acts. But a new emerging generation, galvanised by the execution of the Rising leaders, demanded more than the Home Rule espoused by Redmond. A “battle of two civilisations” emerged in the era linking Parnell to Pearse, with the latter keen for the creation of an Irish-speaking Republic.
However, post-1922 did not deliver the Gaelic utopia the executed leaders (or the surviving De Valera) had hoped for.
Small land holdings remained, the landed gentry had retained much of their lands post-independence and the Civil Service which had run the country under the British Crown remained largely intact.
Former British Prime Minister Arthur Balfour, who in 1913 foresaw the Home Rule Bill being a hopeless failure, added that the Bill was “an experiment in federalism of the most impossible, unexampled and preposterous character”.By 1928, he said what had been achieved in Ireland following the Rising and War of Independence was not greatly different from what had been envisaged by parliamentary Irish Nationalists in the early 1900s.
The Irish political system of the 20s mirrored the British model. The Free State administration was relatively conservative administration with some autonomy on the economy but still was under the dominion of Britain. The Republic ultimately declared in 1948, carried the imprimatur of the Catholic Church, just as the 1937 Constitution had. Balfour claimed that independent Ireland was more akin to the vision of Parnell and Redmond than that envisaged by the 1916 leaders. This, said Prof Foster, was indicative of the Redmond legacy that has not been widely referenced even a century after his death.
He cited land reform, local authority democracy, education, pensions, unemployment insurance and national insurance as developments which Redmond had advanced during his career. Most came to pass in the wake of his death.
Prof Foster, who also spoke at the opening evening of the Redmond event in Waterford, said that Cumann na nGaedheal/Fine Gael absorbed the middle class vote, winning favour with the pig and bacon industry in the city, for example. Even those who retained loyalty to the British Crown in Waterford allied with the Redmond vote, and did so for many years thereafter. An interesting anecdote shared at the talk related to the three-mile limited Licensing Law which allowed Waterford people to drink in Tramore for afternoon drinking! The Redmond weekend included the launch of a new book by Dr Pat McCarthy, titled ‘The Redmonds and Waterford – A Political Dynasty 1891-1952′ which was attended by Mary Green, a great-great-grand daughter of John Redmond. All who attended and spoke at the events were warmly welcomed by City & County Mayor Pat Nugent (FG) and Deputy Mayor John Cummins, who noted his own strong city connections, growing up near Ballybricken which gave him a great understanding of the legacy of John Redmond. Mayor Nugent said that John Redmond had been a loyal worker for the people of Waterford and Ireland and noted the family’s continued parliamentary service in the constituency all the way up to 1952, via Captain William Redmond and his widow, Bridget Mary Redmond.
Congratulations to Ger Crotty, who chaired the organising committee for the Redmond Centenary events.