Did Parnell swear the IRB oath? A sceptical review

Between 1987 and 2011, two respected historians, Paul Bew and Patrick Maume, presented evidence suggesting that Charles Stewart Parnell swore the Fenian oath following his release from Kilmainham in 1882. 

 Parnell and the IRB Oath: thesis without antithesis  Between 1987 and 2011, two respected historians, Paul Bew and Patrick Maume, presented evidence suggesting that Charles Stewart Parnell swore the Fenian oath following his release from Kilmainham in 1882.[1] It should be stressed that neither Bew nor Maume positively asserted that Parnell was a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB). As one reviewer of his biography of Parnell, Enigma, commented, Bew "raises the strong possibility that Parnell took the Fenian oath ... immediately upon his release from Kilmainham in May 1882, but admits the evidence to be circumstantial."[2] Nonetheless, it is difficult to present evidence that cannot be entirely discounted without seeming substantially to endorse it. Indeed, in his 2004 Oxford Dictionary of National Biography essay, Bew had concluded that Parnell "seems to have actually taken the oath, on condition that his doing so would be kept a secret during his lifetime". As will be discussed below, the qualification effectively makes nonsense of the alleged gesture, but the point is that the basic story tends to be accepted rather than rejected.[3] Other historians will naturally take account of the evidence submitted, while noting the scholarly reservations about its accuracy. Unfortunately, it seems that, over time, acceptance has tended to become less qualified. Thus in 2003, Alvin Jackson observed that it was "just possible that Parnell ... thought it wise to take the IRB oath after his release from Kilmainham: the evidence ... is persuasive but not, it should be emphasised, indisputable."[4] Such doubts were gradually downgraded. In 2009, Myles Dungan wrote that "there is evidence that Parnell, in the aftermath of the Kilmainham Treaty, allowed himself to be sworn into the IRB".[5]  In 2021, Roy Foster wrote of "the possibility (indeed, probability) that Parnell himself took the Fenian oath".[6] The danger is that the nuances may be discarded altogether as the interpretation becomes more widely accessible in the public domain. In March 2021, a thoughtful and well-researched discussion of Parnell's career in the online encyclopaedia Wikipedia stated: "The evidence suggests that ... following the signing of the Kilmainham Treaty, Parnell did take the IRB oath, possibly for tactical reasons."[7]

Three reflections may be offered at this point. First, no historian who had alluded to the possibility that Parnell swore allegiance to the IRB appears to have considered the implications of taking such a pledge. As discussed below, the essential component of Fenian oath was a promise of unquestioning acceptance of orders from a shadowy and unaccountable leadership. Swearing allegiance to the IRB represented not some simple gesture of support, akin to Parnell's ceremonial role as a Patron of the Gaelic Athletic Association, but a life-changing step of enlistment in a secret army. Second, if the process of simplification points to an eventual public consensus that Parnell was a secret member of a terrorist organisation, it will not merely be the rounded historical appreciation of a fascinating individual that will suffer. During the Northern Ireland Troubles, he was invoked as an inspiration, a leader who sought to harness anger and divert violence into peaceful but effective political campaigning. To conclude that Parnell had felt obliged to subordinate himself to the men of violence would be to sacrifice – and, it is argued here, needlessly to sacrifice – an important symbol of hope, for Ireland in general and for Ulster in particular. Third, this process seems to run counter to half a century of the writing (or re-writing) of Irish history, which has been characterised by a vigorous process of revisionism, subjecting cherished shibboleths of national legend to controversial re-evaluation. Yet here we may be witnessing a countervailing process, in which a specific reported episode is gradually being incorporated into a synthesis, which will itself in fact be substantially transformed by its absorption. Accordingly, this review, while recognising Maume's scholarly achievement in establishing the provenance of the story, challenges its validity as historical evidence.

The dissenting case is advanced under three headings. First, it is highly unlikely that the episode could have occurred at the time indicated, or in the location and the manner described. Second, the suggestion that Parnell swore an oath of allegiance to a secret paramilitary organisation is not only internally contradictory but contrary to everything we know about his attitude to the boundary between terrorist violence and vigorous constitutional action. Third, it is argued that the primary source for the story, Patrick Sheridan, cannot be regarded as trustworthy.

A story in An Phoblacht: tracing the provenance The possibility that Parnell had sworn the IRB oath was initially sketched by Paul Bew in 1987, in his study of the relationship between the Home Rule movement and the agrarian radicals in the twenty years after 1890.[8] Briefly suggesting that Parnell "may have made significant pro-Fenian gestures", he quoted an article published in the republican newspaper An Phoblacht in 1930, which announced that it was "not generally known that Parnell took the Fenian oath". The report described a casual meeting on the streets of Dublin "immediately after the signing of the Kilmainham Treaty" between Parnell and an unnamed Land League organiser from the west of Ireland. The two adjourned to the library of Trinity College to consult Griffith's Valuation,[9] where they fell into a quiet discussion – appropriate to a library – of the relative merits of physical force and constitutional politics. The upshot was that "in that singularly incongruous setting, and at Parnell's own suggestion, he was sworn a Fenian – with the proviso that his doing so would be kept secret during his lifetime." Beyond the statement that Parnell's companion lay in "an exile's grave" in Colorado, An Phoblacht offered no clue to his identity.[10]

The provenance was established by Maume's discovery of a letter written to William O'Brien early in 1928 by T.J. Quinn, a Fenian and Land League organiser from County Mayo, which named another Mayo activist, Patrick Sheridan, as both the source of the story and the other participant.[11] Both Quinn and Sheridan were imprisoned in Kilmainham, both emigrated to the United States soon after and settled, separately, in Colorado.[12] Quinn described a conversation with Sheridan "a short time before his death", which occurred in December 1917. Sheridan "confided in me that … he happened by accident to meet Parnell in the street one day and the latter taking him by the arm asked him to accompany him to Trinity College library", where he was going to "hunt up" information from Griffith's Valuation. This led to the conversation "seated in a quiet corner of the library" described in An Phoblacht and "Parnell's own request" to take the IRB oath. In Quinn's account, Parnell's alleged qualification of secrecy specifically referred to Sheridan, who was "never to mention it while he – Parnell – lived." This presumably meant that Sheridan was barred from confidentially reporting his recruitment conquest even to the IRB leadership – with whom, as it happened, he was not then on close terms.

The reliability of Quinn and Sheridan as witnesses is assessed later. Here we should note the understandable reservation which Maume noted: Quinn was writing a decade after a conversation that had referred to events around 35 years earlier.[13] Some recollections from distant days may be sharp and even detailed, but the contexts surrounding them are often difficult to recover – where and when did the conversation take place, how had the encounter come about? Sheridan's story about Parnell was hardly likely to have represented a sudden recollection of a half-forgotten incident. Charles Stewart Parnell was probably the most celebrated personage he had ever met, and he may well have held forth about their discussions before. In that case, the tale may have grown in the telling.  It is possible that the story Sheridan related to Quinn represented the conflation of two episodes. Sheridan and Parnell worked together for about two years during the 1879-81 Land War, and they might well have made a joint visit to the library at Trinity to search out information from Griffith's Valuation – if it happened, no doubt a memorable excursion into an exotic world for a Sligo hotel-keeper.[14] It is equally possible that Parnell debated with Sheridan the respective merits of constitutional agitation and revolutionary violence, a frequent theme throughout his career. But we must deal with the story as reportedly told by Sheridan and transmitted through Quinn. In its pristine form, it is in the highest degree unlikely.

The impossibility of time and place: a] Parnell The episode was said by An Phoblacht to have happened "immediately after the signing of the Kilmainham Treaty".[15] Noting that "[t]he time span within which Parnell could have taken the oath is very narrow",[16] Maume concluded that "[i]t seems possible" that the Sheridan-Parnell encounter took place "on 2 or 3 May 1882".[17] Examination of Parnell's movements makes this very unlikely. We may rule out Tuesday 2 May altogether. Parnell left Kilmainham, along with John Dillon and J.J. O'Kelly, at 10.50 p.m.[18] The late hour can be explained partly by delays in the required paperwork and also by Parnell's desire to avoid any public demonstration: at such a sensitive time it was best to avoid demands for speechmaking, and indeed any risk of disorder. (There was also some problem in finding a cab so late in the evening.) Parnell instructed the cab to drive along Dublin's South Circular Road, thus avoiding the city centre, to Harcourt Street Station, where – so he had told reporters waiting outside the prison – the three intended to catch the night goods train to Rathdrum. They planned to spend a few days relaxing at Avondale, before heading for London, where an Irish land debate was scheduled in the House of Commons on Friday 5 May.  Keen to file copy for the morning papers, journalists reported that the three had indeed left Dublin. This would give rise to the story that Parnell arrived home to an "icy" welcome from his sister, Emily Dickinson, who languidly wondered why he had not been hanged, an outcome that Parnell equably agreed might still come about.[19] In fact, on discovering at Harcourt Street that the night train would terminate at Bray, the three drove on to the Royal Marine Hotel at Kingstown (Dun Laoghaire), where they checked in at about 12.30 a.m. The proposed excursion was quickly overtaken by events, Eltham offered comforts that Avondale lacked, and Parnell was not to see his ancestral home until late in the summer.[20]

Given their prison ordeal – which observers noted had left its mark on all three[21] – and their late night arrival in Kingstown, it is hardly surprising that they were slow to surface the following morning, Wednesday 3 May. Furthermore, they awoke to take stock of the changed political landscape caused by the resignation of the lord-lieutenant, Earl Cowper, and Parnell's particular adversary, the chief secretary W.E. Forster. Their resignations had been announced at Westminster around 5 o'clock the previous afternoon, and the news reached Dublin that evening, to be celebrated by a band playing triumphant themes outside Dillon's house in North Great George's Street.[22] Having briefly chatted with reporters on leaving the prison, Parnell and his colleagues probably knew of the government upheaval late on Tuesday night. They would almost certainly have discussed its implications on the Wednesday morning. Forster would obviously take the first opportunity to make a resignation statement in the House of Commons, and attack the new course of government – and Parnellite – policy. A relaxed visit to Avondale was now out of the question. However much they needed a break, they had to travel to Westminster as quickly as possible.

Late in the morning, Dillon, looking shaken by his incarceration, left the hotel to catch the train into Dublin, where he was evidently preparing his house to become a temporary political headquarters.[23] Parnell and O'Kelly followed "some hours later",[24] cheered by crowds both as they left Kingstown and on their arrival at Westland Row.[25] Parnell travelled by cab to North Great George's Street, dropping off O'Kelly at the telegraph office in Sackville Street.  Reports of timing were approximate but it seems Parnell reached the city some time before 3 o'clock.[26] Using Dillon's home as his base, "Mr Parnell paid several visits in the city, and ... was most warmly greeted wherever he appeared."  The one specifically reported call was to Mrs W.F. Moloney in Mountjoy Square. Her husband was in Kilmainham, and it would have been a courtesy to offer her reassurance.[27] More important, Kate Moloney was the treasurer of the Ladies' Land League, which had energetically backed the agrarian revolt during the incarceration of the movement's male leadership. Its weekly executive meeting the previous day had noted that subscriptions were still flowing in, allowing its treasurer to report expenditure during the previous seven days of £1,784 in support of tenants evicted for obeying the Kilmainham No Rent manifesto – precisely the strategy that Parnell had just abruptly abandoned.[28] There would follow a sharp struggle, in which Parnell differed from his feminist allies both on strategy and gender roles, before he secured the demise of the Ladies' Land League in August.[29] It seems likely that Parnell's call to Mountjoy Square would have been more than just a brief chat. At some point during the afternoon, a deputation from the Ladies' Land League called at Dillon's residence, no doubt to offer their congratulations, but whether they encountered the Irish leader there is not recorded.

That evening, Parnell and his colleagues dined with Dublin solicitor, George Fottrell, Dillon's neighbour in North Great George's Street.[30] Also present was Dr J.E. Kenny, Parnell's medical adviser in Kilmainham (where he had also been interned for a time), who had apparently taken the first opportunity to check his patient's health. It must have been an early meal, for Fottrell and Kenny accompanied the three MPs to the North Wall, where they boarded the steamboat to England that sailed at 7.30 p.m.[31] Parnell reached London the following day, Thursday 4 May, in time to stage a dramatic entrance into the House of Commons just as Forster had begun to speak.

Overall, then, Parnell spent around five hours in Dublin on the afternoon of Wednesday 3 May. During that time, he visited Kate Moloney for what may have been an awkward conversation about strategy, possibly made other calls, perhaps received a deputation and probably submitted himself to a medical examination. He then shared a meal with the Fottrells and headed for the half-past seven boat at the North Wall. It seems highly unlikely that Parnell could have fitted in a visit to the library of Trinity College in so constricted a schedule. In any case, his priority would almost certainly have been to renew contact with activists and not to chase up details from Griffith's Valuation.[32] On Thursday 4 May, he reached London. Two days later, on Saturday 6 May, T.H. Burke and Lord Frederick Cavendish were hacked to death in the Phoenix Park. As Maume acknowledged, Parnell – who was horrified by the crime – would not have been minded to make gestures to men of violence after that ghastly event.[33] Among Land League activists who came under suspicion was Patrick Sheridan. If Parnell ever took a friendly stroll with him to Trinity College, it certainly did not happen after 6 May 1882. Seven years later, Parnell told the Special Commission that he had last met Sheridan in the autumn of 1881.[34] His evidence was certainly marked by some remarkable bouts of amnesia, but it would have been foolish to have made such a statement had he been seen – as he would almost certainly have been noticed – in open fraternisation so soon after his release from Kilmainham.

The impossibility of time and place: b] Sheridan  Patrick Sheridan was born in Mayo in 1844.[35] The child of tenant farmers who emigrated to Lancashire as a young man, he fitted the classic profile of a Fenian recruit.[36] He was said to have taken part in the failed raid on Chester Castle in 1867, and to have infiltrated a British militia regiment where he persuaded susceptible comrades to take the Fenian oath. He later settled at Tubbercurry in County Sligo, where he became an innkeeper and continued his involvement with the IRB.[37] In the winter of 1879 he also became the regional organiser for the Land League. His relations with the Fenian movement during the Land War were complex. Devoy noted in November 1880 that Sheridan had been "shunted" from the Supreme Council of the Irish Republic Brotherhood for engaging in Land League activities.[38] Owen McGee, in the Dictionary of Irish Biography, states that he had been expelled altogether that year altogether for distributing arms to non-members: accordingly, McGee argues that this makes it "very unlikely" that he had any standing to swear Parnell, or anybody else, into the movement.[39] Sheridan was certainly a prominent figure in the Land League. He was one of the thirteen "traversers" unsuccessfully prosecuted by the government in December 1880 and January 1881. However, his activities were temporarily halted by internment in Kilmainham between 15 March and 18 September 1881.[40] Describing Sheridan as "one of the most prominent agitators connected with the west", The Times explained that "the state of the locality justified his release".[41]

There can be little doubt that in placing trust in Sheridan, Parnell made a serious error of judgement.[42] It is hard to believe that he did not know that weapons were seized at Sheridan's home in January 1880, although he may have been unaware that Sheridan intrigued (almost certainly for financial gain) to undermine the return of Parnell's nominee Thomas Sexton at the 1880 general election by running an additional candidate to split the Nationalist vote.[43] Parnell took an indulgent view of his lieutenant, sharing with O'Brien and other well-educated Nationalists "a good deal of merry comment" at a harangue in which Sheridan had called for the hanging of landlords, "but always in a strictly constitutional manner".[44] In reality, the amusing rider should have been taken as a warning that the speaker was less than totally committed to non-violence.

"The question is," the Belfast Telegraph asked in 1887, "what became of Sheridan after his release?"[45] A formal narrative answer can be supplied. After a brief visit to Tubbercurry, he probably briefly visited Dublin soon afterwards. This would explain Parnell's statement to the Special Commission that his last meeting with Sheridan was "in the autumn of 1881", and that they had no contact, direct or indirect, after that time.[46] Sheridan was back in Tubbercurry when he heard of Parnell's arrest, and he returned to the capital two days later.[47] Anticipating a general crack-down, he removed Land League records and relocated the campaign headquarters, temporarily, to Holyhead in Wales.[48] This hardly put the League beyond the long arm of British justice, and he soon made a further move, delivering the books to Patrick Egan, the Land League's treasurer, who had prudently decamped to Paris earlier in the year.[49]

However, the full story of Sheridan's activities throughout the winter of 1881 and the spring of 1882 will probably never be known. His vigorous championing of the No-Rent campaign sparked the issue of a further warrant for his arrest on 21 December, by which time he had apparently fled to France. But, as he later acknowledged to a New York journalist, he made one or more clandestine visits to Ireland, disguised as a priest.[50] Sheridan offered two explanations for taking such a huge risk. The first, the need to arrange "the recovery of some property of which I had been robbed during my imprisonment and exile", was probably tendered to arouse sympathy. A fugitive from the law travelling in disguise could hardly institute proceedings in the courts, although he might have mobilised extra-legal forces. Sheridan's piously professed second reason was a desire to suppress agrarian violence and support the No-Rent campaign "by the process of social ostracism, that being, in my opinion, the most potent as well as the most moral weapon within the people's reach."[51] This, of course, precisely echoed the role assigned to him by Parnell. He also claimed to have toured Ireland to distribute relief funds to evicted tenants.

The authorities took a different view, which historians have generally endorsed. In Ireland, he seems to have been distributing arms to Land Leaguers. Presumably he hoped for some incident that would spark a wider uprising. This would only make sense if Leaguers could instantly transform themselves into a revolutionary movement, and Sheridan seems to have been attempting to construct some form of neo-Fenian organisation. R.V. Comerford concludes that he was "almost certainly one of the organisers of the Invincibles", the murder gang that carried out the Phoenix Park assassinations.[52] Perhaps there was the usual element of muddle that tended to characterise such conspiracies. If Sheridan was attempting to recruit an armed and potentially revolutionary network, it would have been constructed on a hermetically-sealed cell structure: operating in the west of Ireland, he may well not have known what was planned in Dublin. The strong possibility that Land League funds financed the purchase of the surgical knives used in the Phoenix Park can be explained by lax financial management, itself the likely by-product of an organisation trying to operate under the radar in a foreign capital. Eight years later, the Unionist Attorney-General Sir Richard Webster, argued that "the extraordinary disappearance from the United Kingdom of persons intimately connected with the Land League" pointed to their complicity in the murders of Cavendish and Burke.[53] Unfortunately, it was something of a circular argument. Sheridan thought it prudent to decamp to the United States during the summer of 1882. The British government failed to extradite him, so the allegations against him never came to trial.

If Parnell was naïve in trusting Sheridan, he was equally arrogant in assuming that he could mobilise his Sligo lieutenant in support of the pacification strategy that he had endorsed to extricate himself from Kilmainham. Forster was shocked when Parnell's sometimes meddlesome intermediary, Captain O'Shea, explained to him on 30 April 1882 that "Parnell hoped to make use of Sheridan, and get him back from abroad, as he [Sheridan] would be able to help him [Parnell] to put down the conspiracy (or 'agitation'…) as he knew all the details in the west." Forster grimly noted that this was "quite true. Sheridan is a released suspect, against whom we have for some time had a fresh warrant, and who under disguises has hitherto eluded the police, coming backwards and forwards from Egan to the outrage-mongers in the west."[54] O'Shea later claimed that he had told Forster that Parnell was also relying upon others – Davitt (who was still in prison), Egan (who was in Paris) and Boyton, the Land League's organiser for Leinster, but he confirmed that "Mr Sheridan's influence was of special importance in the west".[55] As late as the evening of Friday 5 May, the day before the Phoenix Park murders, O'Shea assured Gladstone that Parnell was "confident" that Egan and Sheridan were "the instruments on whose aid he reckons. … Sheridan was the man who organised the anti-legal agitation throughout Connaught, and who would now be an effectual agent for putting it down."[56] Speaking in the House of Commons on 15 May in reply to Forster's allegations against Sheridan, Parnell confirmed he had argued that "if Mr. Sheridan were permitted to return to Ireland, he believed he would be able to use his influence to discourage the commission of outrages, and to induce the tenantry to accept this settlement of the Arrears Question. This influence, however, was one solely arising from a knowledge which he understood Mr. Sheridan to have obtained during the time he was acting as an organiser of the Land League." Yet, remarkably, Parnell admitted that not only had he no suspicions about Sheridan's activities, but he had not consulted him on the change of policy: "he knew Mr. Sheridan; he had seen him on several occasions, and he had had no reason to believe that he had ever incited to the commission of any crime. He believed so still…. He had believed that it would have been well to have permitted Mr. Sheridan and Mr. Egan to have returned to Ireland, and he believed so still."[57]

How does this exploration of Sheridan's activities during 1881-2 relate to the material presented by Maume? There were few opportunities for Parnell and Sheridan to meet between 15 March 1881 – when Sheridan was arrested -- and 2 May 1882, when Parnell was released from Kilmainham: as noted, Parnell denied any encounter after the autumn of 1881. However, that is of only marginal relevance to the reports: An Phoblacht said the oath-taking encounter happened "immediately after the signing of the Kilmainham Treaty", while Quinn remembered Sheridan telling him that their meeting happened "on his return to Dublin from Paris". It has already been argued that it is almost impossible to reconcile this reminiscence with Parnell's known movements. It may be further pointed out that Sheridan was on the run. Strolling through the centre of Dublin in company with the most celebrated person in Ireland was hardly a sensible way of keeping a low profile. If Sheridan was disguised at the time as a priest, he would have been an exotic figure within the Protestant portals of Trinity, all the more so if he had been seen administering an oath to the country's uncrowned king.

The impossibility of time and place: c] Trinity  An exaggerated tradition that Parnell was not bookish has obscured the extent to which his parliamentary successes, especially in land legislation, were based on detailed knowledge based on library research. In 1876 and 1877, immediately after his first election to parliament, he had remained in London during the Easter and Whitsun recess to read himself into Irish subjects in the House of Commons Library. As late as 1888, although his fragile health now ruled out intensive research, Parnell spent the Easter recess there, helping to draft a Land Bill.[58] Hence a recollection that he checked information from Griffith's Valuation in a library is wholly plausible. However, the notion that the institution contained a "quiet corner" where a revolutionary oath might safely be sworn cannot be related either to the operation or to the culture of Trinity College Library.

Then as now, the core of Trinity's library was the magnificent Long Room, one of the finest academic spaces in Ireland or Britain. Its atrium is flanked by large alcoves, demarcated by high bookcases. Since these are open to inspection by anyone passing along the central walkway, they can hardly have provided the seclusion apparently described by Sheridan and certainly imagined by Quinn. However, not only is it unlikely that the Long Room could have been the location of Sheridan's triumph, but there is the further complication that only professors and fellows of Trinity were permitted direct access to the books.[59]

Trinity was one of the five institutions in the United Kingdom entitled to a free copy of every published work under copyright legislation.[60] This arrangement was not popular with publishers, and it made political sense for Trinity to admit suitably qualified external readers. Regulations were revised in 1856 to grant permanent access to graduates of Cambridge and Oxford. Other suitable persons (presumably male) were admitted by the Library Board for a period of six months, which was renewable by the Librarian.[61] Parnell had not taken his degree at Cambridge, but perhaps this inconvenience was overlooked. At the time of his election to parliament in 1875, he was clearly someone with a claim to admission – a gentleman from a celebrated family, a member both of the Westminster parliament and the Synod of the Church of Ireland.  There seems to be no independent evidence that Parnell ever used Trinity Library, but it is entirely plausible that he might have done. However, it is not clear, whether Sheridan could have been admitted on so reportedly casual a basis.

Students and external readers applied for books by filling in a docket. The modern profession of librarianship barely existed. Trinity employed a very small senior staff to undertake administration and cataloguing, but these scholarly individuals probably had few direct dealings with readers. Books were fetched by porters to the Reading Room, which was located in the East Pavilion adjoining the Long Room. The history of the library describes the Reading Room as "not a pleasant place to work, being overcrowded and poorly ventilated". Plans for an extension during the eighteen-seventies had come to nothing. In 1882, the College considered banning junior undergraduates from using the Library altogether, diverting them to a textbook collection, the Lending Library, located in a nearby building.[62] This was definitely not the "quiet corner" reportedly described by Sheridan and certainly imagined by Quinn in what was probably an idealised notion of a scholarly sanctuary.

It is just possible that Sheridan's recollection was in fact a visit to the National Library, which had been founded in 1877 and was based on the collections of the Royal Dublin Society. It, too, operated on a closed access system, with books fetched to busy reading rooms. With a public mandate, it was probably more flexible in admitting short-term visitors from out of town. However, the evidence presented by Maume specified Trinity, and must be assessed accordingly.[63]  Here we should note the massive cultural barrier that surely makes it utterly implausible that Parnell could have sworn a Fenian oath in such a hostile environment. Proponents of the story have acknowledged that the library of Trinity College was, as An Phoblacht put it, "that singularly incongruous setting", without facing the obvious deduction that the tale is simply absurd.[64] Trinity was the solid bastion of an Ireland that was Protestant, Unionist and land-owning: much of the College's own endowment was invested in property. Its graduates sent two MPs – invariably Conservatives – to Westminster. At the general elections of 1874, 1880 and 1885, they were unopposed, but two Home Rule candidates flew the Parnellite banner in 1886. They polled 56 and 57 votes, against the victors' 1,871 and 1,867.[65] Although the formation of Isaac Butt's Home Government Association in 1870 was in part the result of a Protestant backlash against the disestablishment of their Church, only two Trinity academics joined the initial committee. George Shaw has been described as a "maverick" who operated on the margins of the institution.[66] Even the Irish Times accepted that it was an "open secret" that his active nationalism harmed the College career of Joseph Galbraith, who is believed to have coined the term "home rule".[67] Parnell's indifference to the animosity of the House of Commons proves that he had no problem about operating in a hostile environment. But it is surely highly improbable that he would have engaged in so risky and provocative gesture as swearing the Fenian oath in the heart of the enemy citadel.[68]

Did Parnell swear the IRB oath?: a] the terms of the oath  In assessing whether Parnell might have allowed himself to be sworn into the Irish Republican Brotherhood, it is surely  useful to begin by examining the terms of the oath that he was alleged to have taken. Its terms were altered at least three times between 1859 and 1873, creating some accumulated overlay of meaning. In the 1859 version, the recruit pledged not merely a theoretical "allegiance to the Irish Republic, now virtually established", but also promised that "that I will do my very utmost, at every risk, while life lasts, to defend its independence and integrity".[69] The central point here is the "famous phrase"[70], as Robert Kee called it, which asserted that the Irish Republic was "now virtually established". The adverb tantalises, and clarity has hardly been helped by the creation of a "virtual" universe on the Internet giving the vivid appearance of reality to non-existent entities and beings. The Oxford English Dictionary offers overlapping definitions: "As far as essential qualities or facts are concerned .... In effect; practically; to all intents; as good as". Presumably it was intended to mean that the republic had been formally promulgated, but was not yet operational. The phrase replaced an earlier pledge that "I will do my utmost, at every risk, while life lasts, to make Ireland an independent Democratic Republic", although it is hard to see what had happened in 1859 to advance the target from aspirational to prospective status. Pressed to swear the oath himself, John O'Leary recalled: "I refused peremptorily and point blank, alleging as one of my reasons that I could not in the least see that an Irish Republic was virtually established."[71] Over twenty years later, one may suspect that Parnell would have raised the same objection with rather more force. However, by that time the Supreme Council had adopted a simplified form which reverted to the prospective: "I will do my utmost to establish the national independence of Ireland" – a diluted form of the pre-1859 oath, as quoted above, which had specified a democratic republic.[72] That was a sentiment that Parnell would have endorsed, and perhaps in some discussion he expressed agreement with the defined aim of the IRB, thereby leaving Sheridan with the impression that he had pledged his allegiance. After all, what else was he doing than giving his utmost to establish the national independence of Ireland?

However, the 1873 version of the oath also included provisions that were less likely to appeal to a constitutional politician. One was a promise to "preserve inviolable the secrets of the organisation." Of course this was an implied condition of joining a secret society, and hence may not have been taken seriously. When Davitt attempted to draw Parnell into the IRB in May 1878, he assured him there was no question of asking him to take "the silly oath of secrecy".[73] Oath-taking made some sense in underpinning recruitment among soldiers, as a symbolic way of freeing Irish soldiers from allegiance to the Queen sworn on joining the British Army. Such rituals made an awesome impression upon young men who had grown up under the spiritual discipline of the Catholic Church. It is likely that neither the ceremony nor the content of the Fenian oath would have appealed to Parnell.[74]

If the first element of the Fenian oath bound the new recruit to theoretical allegiance to a shadowy entity, the second part demanded a very direct and practical course of action: "I will bear allegiance to the Supreme Council of the Irish Republican Brotherhood and Government of the Irish Republic, and implicitly obey the constitution of the Irish Republican Brotherhood and all my superior officers".[75] As already noted, Quinn's report of Sheridan's story specifies that Parnell took the IRB oath "with the admonition to Sheridan that he was never to mention it while he – Parnell – was alive."[76] It would have no sense whatsoever to have pledged unquestioning obedience to the IRB command structure but on the condition that its Supreme Council might only learn of its trophy recruit after his death. Had the terms of the IRB oath been considered as part of the assessment of the Sheridan-Quinn evidence, the story would surely have been discounted.

It should be stressed that no historian has ever suggested that Parnell actually functioned as a member of the IRB, still less that any political decision he took was dictated by his alleged obedience to orders from its Supreme Council. No Fenian leader ever publicly claimed the Home Rule leader as a subordinate, and no evidence has surfaced that any of them privately referred to him as their tool.[77] The closest approach to any such claim was Devoy's statement, three weeks after Parnell's death, that he had "entered into an alliance with the Irish revolutionary element in America" at a meeting in Morrison's Hotel, Dublin in May 1879. The alleged terms of this agreement required the Irish Party to remain independent of British political alliance, and – according to Devoy – it was out of loyalty to this commitment that Parnell resisted the engulfing Liberal alliance during the Split. However, Davitt, who was also present, later insisted that "at no time did Parnell enter into any compact or agreement to carry out any proposal that would be likely to involve him in any treasonable proceedings. ...  [N]either compact nor treaty, agreement or understanding of any kind" was ever mentioned "that could warrant any one in saying a union between Mr Parnell and the revolutionary bodies had been entered into or was in contemplation."[78]

Did Parnell swear the IRB oath?: b] his attitudes to secret societies Everything we know, or think we know,[79] about Charles Stewart Parnell indicates that he drew a line between constitutional action and violent revolution. Sometimes that line bent and buckled, and – in speech at least – he came close to the subsequent "slightly constitutional" politics of Seán Lemass. But the idea that he subordinated himself, even symbolically, to a secret society runs counter to the central strategy of his political career. Barry O'Brien had summed up Parnell's position in 1882: "the Extremists should be taught that he was master. He would take money from his American allies. He would remain in alliance with them. But the direction of the national movement should rest in his hands, and in his hands alone."[80] Should Sheridan's story force some modification of this ringing declaration?

Michael Davitt had tried to persuade Parnell to throw in his lot with the IRB in 1878, although without subjecting himself to "the silent agencies of occult action", as he termed the embarrassing oath. "Men who would break a pledge of loyalty to a cause would not be bound to fealty by a hundred oaths." Instead, Davitt outlined a strategy which would combine the forging of an armed force with the creation of a disciplined Irish party (which had not yet been achieved in 1878).  At a strategic moment, Ireland's MPs would demand the repeal of the Union. On the expected refusal of their ultimatum, the politicians would secede from the House of Commons and constitute themselves as a national convention – "an informal national assembly" – in Dublin. "And what next?" came Parnell's cutting reply.[81] He faced the inevitability that Davitt was trying to obscure, that all Fenian scenarios ultimately depended upon an armed uprising. This was the Parnell who, during his American tour two years later, would refuse to accept "the great responsibility of hurling our people on the points of British bayonets."[82] Furthermore, Parnell made clear that he disagreed not only with the trajectory of Davitt's scheme, but with the fundamental nature of the IRB. Speaking slowly but clearly, he insisted: "I will never join any political secret society, oath-bound or otherwise. It would hinder and not assist me in my work for Ireland."[83]

Davitt's statement so completely encapsulates the received view that Parnell stood resolutely apart from the men of violence that it merits critical scrutiny: is it simply too convenient?  Like Sheridan's recollection, it described an encounter over thirty years earlier. Lyons took account of the possibility that Davitt was back-projecting ideas based on "a position that he actually reached somewhat later". Real-life conversations rarely take place in blocks of succinct prose: even if the exchange of sentiments was accurately recalled, Davitt may well have spliced together comments to present a coherent analysis – although Parnell was usually both effective and economical in conveying his ideas. Overall, however, Davitt's evidence has the ring of truth. Even if the dialogue was rearranged in tidy form, he not only quoted the words that he attributed to Parnell – sentiments that, as Lyons pointed out, were "consistent with the line he [i.e. Parnell] was to follow repeatedly in the months and years ahead" – but his inclusion of the putdown, "And what next?", demonstrates that the tale was not intended to convey the superiority of his own wisdom. By contrast, Sheridan apparently quoted no narrative, but merely recounted his own persuasiveness in persuading Parnell to take the Fenian oath.[84] Moreover, unlike Sheridan's account, Davitt's can be at least indirectly confirmed.  A senior Fenian – probably John Barry – told Barry O'Brien that he, too, had invited Parnell, probably in 1877, to join the IRB. "He said 'No' without a moment's hesitation", explaining, in effect, that he wished the two streams to work in parallel. "He felt that he could turn the parliamentary machine to good account. He had no doubt on the point. He was not disposed to argue the question."[85] Opposing the government's policy of Coercion in 1880, Parnell warned the House of Commons that "they are doing their best to thrust men like myself … and many others, outside the lines of the Constitution. We shall not oblige them." He respected those who believed in violent revolution, but "I have never been able to see that a physical force policy was practicable or possible to adopt, either in Ireland or out of it, as regards the relations between the two countries; therefore, I have always avoided connection with it."[86] He would have placed a good deal at risk had he engaged in the charade described by Sheridan two years later.[87] The evidence, then, seems persuasive that, at least between 1877 and 1880, Parnell was determined to pursue a parliamentary campaign that would not be subordinate to any secret society or violent conspiracy. But events moved fast and political horizons rapidly shifted in that period. To Barry, he had said, "give me a trial for three or four years. Then, if I cannot do anything, I will step aside."[88] Had the situation changed fundamentally by 1882?

Did Parnell swear the IRB oath? c] a change of strategy after Kilmainham?  The trial period he had requested was presumably completed by 1882. Following the Land War and Kilmainham, was Parnell perhaps open to embracing a different strategy, one that accepted the primacy of the Fenians in the fight for nationality? Could he have made, as Maume suggested, "a spur-of-the-moment attempt" to persuade Sheridan, whose co-operation he required, that the terms he had negotiated to get out of Kilmainham represented "merely a change of tactics and that the separatists could still rely on Parnell"?[89] Bew concluded that "Parnell appears to have been concerned that radical nationalists would feel that he had made a discreditable deal with the enemy", a concern that he endeavoured to set aside by allowing Sheridan "to swear him into the Irish Republican Brotherhood".[90] It might seem a plausible line of speculation. Yet, in other respects, Parnell's emergence from Kilmainham may be seen as the least likely moment for so seismic a change in strategy. If the preceding four years represented the trial period for which he had pleaded, a fair verdict by 1882 was surely that it had proved to be a period of extraordinary achievement, from the creation of a disciplined and determined party at Westminster to the successful first stage in undermining the viability of landlordism in Ireland. On policy grounds alone, there was no need for Parnell to defer to the men of violence. Even the routed Forster, in sardonic defeat, advised the House of Commons to "acknowledge that he is the greatest power in Ireland today".[91]

Indeed, the very fact of incarceration gave Parnell a moral ascendancy that he would have been foolish to discard. Thousands of Irish people who believed the Fenians had been wrong-headed in their attempts at revolution nonetheless felt that their hearts had been in the right place. Fenians were romantics prepared to endure penal servitude (and worse) for Ireland. By contrast, the pragmatic parliamentarian policy of going to Westminster lacked any glamour of martyrdom.[92] There had been massive support for the Amnesty movement which demanded that the prisoners be freed from punishment that had come to seem both disproportionate and vindictive. At its height in the mid-seventies, the sheer breadth of the movement represented a tacit acceptance that Fenianism seemed a thing of the past. Home Rulers kept the campaign alive, in 1878 securing the release of Michael Davitt and three other prisoners. In what one historian has called "an innocent piece of exploitation", Parnell staged a welcome breakfast for the four at a Dublin hotel. Tragically, one of them, Charles McCarthy, died during the event. A coroner's jury blamed his treatment in prison, and the numbers witnessing his funeral procession were compared with the death of O'Connell.[93] Six and a half months in Kilmainham hardly equalled McCarthy's sufferings but, in the aftermath of his release, it did give Parnell the cachet of having suffered imprisonment for Ireland. In short, it was the last moment in his career where he had any interest in subordinating himself to the Irish Republican Brotherhood.

May 1882 was also a highly unlikely moment for Parnell to affiliate himself to the local wing of the Fenian movement. Fenianism was represented by two organisations, the IRB in Ireland and Britain and Clan na Gael in the United States. Throughout the previous five years, attempts at co-ordination between the two branches had seen the Clan, and its leader John Devoy, secure the upper hand over the Brotherhood and its increasingly isolated president, Charles Kickham. Although it operated as a secret society, the Clan had the advantage that the American authorities had no interest in its activities. Hence, in 1876, it had been able to organise a spectacular rescue of prisoners from Britain's penal colony in Western Australia, a project that could hardly have been attempted in or from Ireland itself, and certainly not with any chance of success. But the Clan's major advantage was its ability to raise funds among the exiled Irish, which effectively made it the IRB's paymaster. In 1878 and 1879, Clan emissaries conducted detailed inspections of the IRB organisation, directly intervening at local level, restructuring branches and appointing new officers. When Devoy wished to strike a deal with Parnell, he politely routed his New Departure telegram through Kickham, but quickly bypassed the ageing president's veto by publishing his terms. By the time of the Land War, there was no point in negotiating with the IRB: nothing would induce Kickham to bless the parliamentary movement; nothing could prevent his rank-and-file in the west of Ireland from throwing themselves into the Land League agitation. Kickham's determination to purge the Supreme Council of backsliders was the product of an impotent reflex that placed the purity of principle above the reality of power. By 1881, IRB units in Dublin "had deteriorated into a miscellany of purposeless gangs". The formation of the Invincibles was to a considerable extent an attempt to fill a vacuum in the spectrum of violence.[94]

Of course, Parnell knew much of this. He had advised Joseph Biggar in his struggle with Kickham in 1878.[95] He negotiated directly with Devoy in 1879. The Clan effectively organised his American tour in 1880. Although it was never proved that he knew about the Invincibles – probably he did not – he would have emerged from prison conscious that the IRB had been outflanked on two fronts, controlled by American money on the one, ignored by agrarian agitation on the other. Parnell dealt with Clan na Gael indirectly, but he dealt on equal terms. As Roy Foster put it in 1991, "he kept the Fenians at arm's length, and the remarkable thing is how little direct connection was decisively proved between Parnell and IRB emissaries" – notwithstanding the many hostile attempts to incriminate him.[96] May 1882 was hardly the moment to break that policy by going through the motions of enlisting in a semi-moribund subordinate organisation.[97]

Did Parnell swear the IRB oath?: d] his use of the language of violence  Against all of this, it should be noted that Parnell did on occasion abandon his usual cautious reserve to utter some surprisingly aggressive sentiments – some of them, as reported during his American tour, from the public platform. Two reported private statements from 1881 are worth noting. On a visit to Paris in February, Parnell was sought out by William Mackey Lomasney, who was keen to assess his attitudes. The clarity of Lomasney's account is not helped by the Fenian practice of using juvenile aliases and ersatz codes, but it seems clear that he referred to Parnell in his verdict that "he is eminently deserving of our support, and means to go as far as we do in pushing the business." Lomasney was a contact whom Parnell would have been well advised to have treated with circumspection: a veteran of the 1867 uprising who had served penal servitude, he was in fact the celebrated "Captain Mackey" who had seized a Martello tower on Cork harbour in one of a series of arms raids. The "little captain" arranged for John O'Leary to cross-examine Parnell as well. "He told him the same as myself, that as soon as he secured the means he would start in business with us, and smash up the opposition firm."  This sentence has been quoted less often, presumably because its precise meaning—as distinct from its general sense – is not clear. The Fenians referred to their enterprise as "the firm". The "rival firm" was presumably the British regime in Ireland, since it was hardly likely that Parnell would lightly talk of breaking up either the Land League or the parliamentary party, both carefully constructed as part of his own support base.[98]

Unfortunately, O'Leary did not mention the conversation in his own memoirs, but supporting evidence came from the British spy, Henri Le Caron (Thomas Beach), who had infiltrated Clan na Gael and gave evidence to the Special Commission about a conversation with Parnell three months later, in May 1879.  (The encounter reportedly took place in the corridors of the House of Commons, which was even more dangerous a location to talk sedition than the library at Trinity.) Although the two had only just met, Parnell startled his guest by declaring "that he had long ceased to believe that anything but the force of arms would accomplish the final redemption of Ireland." Le Caron claimed that he had promptly relayed this information to his superior at the Home Office. He was undoubtedly one of the most credible witnesses to come before the Special Commission, and Parnell was forced to make an unconvincing denial that the encounter ever took place, arguing that such an exchange within the walls of the Palace of Westminster was "most improbable and unlikely".[99]

However, it was a story that caused considerable problems for Parnell's major modern biographer, F.S.L. Lyons. He had to accept that "it would be naïve to deny that the balance of the evidence favours Le Caron." Committed to an analysis that saw Parnell as an essentially constitutional politician – a view shared by scholars in general – he could only suggest that his comments to Le Caron did not reflect his "inmost views". Hence Lyons could conclude that, in dealing with emissaries from Clan na Gael, Parnell found it useful "to employ the language of insurrection, without intending the reality of insurrection".[100] This has the sound of special pleading, but it is probably the only way of assimilating Parnell's reported comments to Lomasney and Le Caron with the received overall interpretation of his career.

It is possible that, at some stage, Parnell uttered similarly exaggerated sentiments to Sheridan, remarks which eventually settled in the latter's memory as an endorsement of the IRB. But it is more likely that he would have been circumspect in discussion with a lieutenant whose threats to hang landlords "in a strictly constitutional manner" he found so amusing – and Sheridan was not an emissary from Clan na Gael. In reality, Parnell's tough talk to Lomasney and Le Caron throws very little light upon Sheridan's story of an informal oath-taking ceremony in 1882. Let us suppose that, on leaving Kilmainham, Parnell had decided to bring the IRB under his control. Of course, it was an unlikely course of action, one that would have run counter to his new policy of pacification. At the political level, it would have risked a turf war with Clan na Gael. In personal terms, with delicate health and a fragile emotional life,[101] he would hardly have wished to risk being arrested again. Yet the point of the speculation is not to assess its plausibility, but to explore its likely methodology. He would almost certainly have followed the course indicated by Davitt when asked to throw in his lot with the Fenians in 1878, by seeking to establish an organisation "relatively small in numbers, but strong in reliable and representative measure ... less 'conspirators' but more character."[102] He would have mobilised front-rank and trustworthy members of his parliamentary team – Barry, Biggar, O'Kelly – all with recent experience of high-level involvement in Fenianism – to push the ailing Kickham aside. Davitt himself would have been a useful addition, once he was extricated from prison, and Sheridan, another former member of the Supreme Council, would probably have had some part to play. But Parnell would hardly have turned first to a regional Land League organiser who was outside his parliamentary cohort. He would not have launched a takeover at the top by enlisting in the ranks, and he could not have opened communications with the existing high command by imposing a bubble of confidentiality upon the whole proceedings.

The more the oath-taking story is examined, the less plausible it appears – certainly in terms of timing, of location and of the known attitudes of Parnell himself. Thus its claim to credibility increasingly depends upon the standing of the only other person alleged to have been involved.  It is argued here that Sheridan does not inspire credibility as a witness.

Sheridan as a witness: a] New York 1882-84  Eight years after Patrick Sheridan fled to the United States, the Conservative Attorney-General Sir Richard Webster made the point that "Egan, Sheridan and others who were undoubtedly proved to be prominent Land Leaguers, disappeared from the United Kingdom when the evidence of the Phœnix Park murders came out in Dublin. What have we a right to assume from the absence of these men, when no reason is given for their going away?" Webster was in no doubt that their flight proved them to be "men who were Invincibles and leading members of the Land League".[103] When the informer James Carey mentioned Sheridan's name during the trial of the Invincibles in February 1883, the British government attempted, without success, to extradite him.[104] It became generally accepted that he had been engaged in recruitment for the organisation, mainly in his home region, even though he may not have known what was being planned by the cell in Dublin.[105]

Guilty or innocent, many people under such suspicion would have kept a low profile. Sheridan was not one of them. In February 1883, he gave an interview to a New York journalist, portraying himself as an advocate of moral force. He insisted that allegations against him had been "concocted in Dublin Castle", and sworn to by Carey the informer "to save his miserable neck".  "I never met the man in my life."[106] A less sympathetic source at the same time reported that "a certain 'soi-disant' 'Irish patriot' named Sheridan was extremely anxious to sell his account of the Kilmainham Treaty; and hawked it around amongst the correspondents of London newspapers in search of the highest bidder."[107] The apparent absence of buyers suggests that he had no sensational revelations about Parnell to offer. In any case, if he had wished to implicate the Irish leader in terrorism, he had an ideal platform, since he was employed on Patrick Ford's outspoken newspaper, the Irish World. Unfortunately, this arrangement did not last very long. Not surprisingly, the paper received a great deal of incoming mail each day. Its business manager (and co-owner), John T. Hoag, placed the envelopes face down in a pile and used a paper knife to slice open their back flaps. Either for security reasons or because he did not have a permanent home, Sheridan was using the Irish World office as his own correspondence address. On three occasions, Hoag found that he had opened letters addressed to his employee, although he insisted that he had simply passed them on unread. It should be recognised that Sheridan was under considerable stress: the British government was not attempting to extradite him with the intention of entertaining him to afternoon tea. Yet it is also fair to conclude that he massively over-reacted. He began by writing an angry letter of complaint which triggered a row, in which Hoag, addressing Sheridan as "you cur", dismissed him from his job. Sheridan then launched a prosecution in a local police court, alleging (without success) not only that Hoag had "wilfully" intercepted his letters, but – sensationally – that he was an agent in the employ of the British consul in New York.[108]

Sheridan's pose as a man of peace did not long survive his re-emergence on the public platform. In March 1883, he hailed an explosion at a government building in London as the work of Irishmen, describing it as "only an advanced picket to be followed by much more".[109]  At New York's Cooper Institute in July, he delivered "a most incendiary speech",[110] praising the five Invincibles recently hanged for their part in the Phoenix Park murders as "great Irish heroes" who would be "revered by every Irish patriot". He called upon the cheering throng "to renew their vows so that as long as one representative of English tyranny remained on Irish soil, Irishmen would never rest until he was driven into the sea". Although avoiding explicit reference to dynamite (the audience helpfully shouted the word for him), he talked of carrying on "scientific warfare" against England. The one-time distributor of weapons for the IRB now asserted that "if one-tenth of the money that had been spent for guns and ammunition which rusted and were ruined in the bogs had been applied to scientific methods of warfare, Ireland would to-day be free".  By using "these Godlike means of warfare," the Irish could "inflict more injury upon England than Germany had inflicted upon France. Within a year they would have England upon her knees."[111] The audience loved it, but it was empty stuff. It is unlikely that Patrick Sheridan had any knowledge of Clan na Gael's plans for a bombing campaign in London, and his menacing invective could only put the enemy on guard.

As early as April 1883, it was reported that "the more discreet Irish leaders" in New York regarded Sheridan "as a reckless brawler whose counsels should be avoided rather than heeded".[112] Six months later, he received a magisterial rebuke from Michael Davitt. Carey the informer had been given a new identity and packed off to South Africa, where, on board ship off the Eastern Cape, he was shot dead by James O'Donnell. The incident having occurred on a British ship on the high seas, O'Donnell was brought back to London for trial, a long-distance operation that necessarily prolonged the judicial process. The maxim of English law, that the accused should be deemed to be innocent unless and until proven guilty, was not a principle that had very profound application in the trials of Irish nationalists. Nonetheless, O'Donnell's defence team hoped at least to save his life, by arguing either that he had shot Carey on impulse and accordingly was not guilty of premeditated murder, or – rather more fancifully – that he had acted in self-defence, in a cowboy-style shoot-out in which both men had gone for their revolvers.[113] Sheridan, of course, had his own reasons to delight in the removal of the man who had sought to incriminate him, and publicly glorified his killer. Davitt was aghast at this "callous and reckless" behaviour. "Did it ever occur to Mr Sheridan that in trotting out the name of O'Donnell, for the purpose of raising a cheer, he was virtually putting a rope round the neck of a man whom everybody admits to be brave man [?]… although the bounds of common sense may be traversed without exciting anything but ridicule, those of common decency cannot be allowed to be thus violated without a protest."[114]

Sheridan's time in New York was coming to an end. Patrick Ford dominated the city's nationalist pantheon. The huge circulation of his Irish World gave the newspaper a formidable fund-raising capacity, with over a third of a million dollars collected during the Land War.[115] In 1884, Ford launched the Emergency Fund, aimed at financing a range of activities in Ireland, including violence.[116] The project was a successor to the Skirmishing Fund, launched in 1876, which had also been the subject of a controversy over its management.[117] Almost by their semi-secret nature, Fenian finances tended to attract slanderous allegations of corruption.  It was perhaps predictable that Sheridan should find fault with Ford, whom he sweepingly accused of both incompetence and dishonesty. Ford retaliated by alleging that Sheridan had been expelled from the Invincibles eight months before the Phoenix Park murders. This seems unlikely: Sheridan was in Kilmainham until mid-September 1881, and it is not even certain that the Invincibles existed at that time. Ford also revealed that Sheridan had talked of organising the rescue of Patrick O'Donnell before his execution. This could only have been a fantasy project, and Ford heaped ridicule upon it.[118] No longer welcome in New York, Sheridan moved to Colorado where he purchased a ranch and – so says the Dictionary of Irish Biography – "effectively retired from public life". But if he had failed to find a role in Irish-American politics, he was too ebullient a personality to vanish altogether.

Sheridan as a witness: b] the King-Harman affair Colonel Edward King-Harman might be seen as Charles Stewart Parnell through the looking glass. A Protestant and Conservative landlord who was a founder member of the Home Rule movement, he was returned unopposed to parliament for County Sligo at a by-election in 1877, but lost his seat three years later. The Land War made him a Unionist, and an English constituency sent him back to Westminster in time to oppose Gladstone's Home Rule Bill. In 1887, he was appointed parliamentary under-secretary for Irish affairs. His role in the House of Commons was to act as a whipping boy: "rather distinguished for muscle than brains", he recited pre-prepared answers to parliamentary questions before darting from the despatch box to avoid supplementaries which he was ill-equipped to handle. H.W. Lucy, parliamentary correspondent of Punch, likened him to a penny vending machine that failed to deliver the required bar of chocolate: there was simply no point in banging the mechanism in frustration.[119] His career ended the following year in another eerie parallel with Parnell, death at the age of 49. King-Harman's journey from Butt to Balfour in under a decade made him a special target for the Irish nationalists, and – as with Parnell – it was generally assumed that the contempt and hostility with which he was treated hastened his end.

Well aware that King-Harman was "nearly always ready to boil over",[120] Irish MPs enjoyed their attempts to goad him, and one summer evening in the dying days of the 1887 session, Tim Healy touched a sore point. King-Harman was sensitive about the fact that Sheridan had been a constituent and a political activist during his time as MP for County Sligo: he had issued a terse denial of any contact between them back in April.[121] On 30 August, the House of Commons was discussing estimates in committee, where relaxed rules of procedure permitted MPs to raise peripheral issues in conversational exchanges of unpleasantness. Healy claimed the under-secretary was "an old chum of Mr. P. J. Sheridan, and used him during several election campaigns."[122] King-Harman rose to the bait: "I saw him twice in my life, and I had a conversation with him once." "He canvassed for you," Healy riposted, a remark that triggered "an extraordinary scene".[123] King-Harman began by insisting that Sheridan "never canvassed for me with my approval". The only time they had met had been during the 1877 by-election, when the candidate had visited both the public houses in Tubbercurry seeking support. Then followed an explosive revelation. During the 1880 general election campaign, as it became clear that he was facing defeat, King-Harman claimed to have received  a letter from Sheridan "offering that if a certain sum of money was paid to him he would come forward as a Nationalist, and so split that interest." He recalled commenting to a companion "that I had been told the fellow was a rascal; but I did not think he was such a scoundrel as this", and threw the letter into the fire.  

The story was not inherently implausible. During the 1880 general election campaign, a Conservative dirty-tricks group in Cork had funded the nomination of Parnell himself, without his knowledge, in an attempt to split the Home Rule vote and give their candidate a chance of slipping through to victory. Nationalists had forced the Tory agent to hand over the cash, which was indeed used to fund a successful campaign that made Parnell MP for the City of Cork until his death in 1891.[124] Although King-Harman acknowledged that the tide was running against him, he retained solid support among what was still a restricted electorate: he would poll 1,250 votes, not far behind the two victorious candidates, with 1,550 and 1,500.[125] Thus any stratagem that might divert even a small number of votes could give King-Harman a chance of scrambling home.

Although no doubt cathartic, King-Harman's outburst was an error of judgement. At the tactical level, he had admitted having destroyed the evidence that would support his statement. More broadly, he had made an allegation against a named individual under parliamentary privilege, and it could be reasonably expected that the person accused would respond. In this case, the person accused was notorious for outspoken and reckless statements, and was resident in the western United States, where he was effectively secure from any action for defamation. In fact, it took Sheridan two months to make a reply but, when it arrived, it too was sensational.[126] He revealed something of the in-fighting among local Nationalists over the choice of a suitable candidate in 1880, which had ended with the acceptance of Parnell's nominee, Thomas Sexton, "who was then an entire stranger to us". Insisting that his actions were entirely disinterested, Sheridan claimed that he had enough support to guarantee his own election for County Sligo, but he had waived his personal claims for the public good. Although he stressed that he had subsequently come to admire Sexton's "brilliant advocacy of national independence as much as any man in Ireland", in 1880 he had distrusted the incomer and decided that it would be preferable to elect the "exasperating Tory" King-Harman. His reasons for reaching this curious conclusion remained obscure.[127]

Thus far, Sheridan appeared to confirm that he had indeed penned the letter that King-Harman had consigned to the fire. But he had a further remarkable revelation. He had indeed written to King-Harman, but in reply to a letter from his agent, Michael Moloney of Sligo town, "in which the Colonel had offered over his name to pay a certain sum of money to the county treasurer of the Fenian organisation … if I secured him the support of the Nationalists or Fenians, or as many of them as would ensure his return to the House of Commons." Confusingly, Sheridan specified that the Conservative candidate's alleged proposal was that the Tubbercurry publican himself should come forward as a wrecking candidate.  However, Sheridan suggested an alternative strategy, by which he would organise a substantial section of the Nationalist vote to "plump" for King-Harman. This was a widely practised electoral technique, by which supporters of a minority candidate in a double-member constituency cast only one of the two votes which they were entitled to use, thereby maximising their man's chances of overtaking one of the frontrunners. Sheridan's price was that King-Harman should finance the purchase of five hundred rifles before polling, with another five hundred to be supplied after he was elected – in other words, that his election would be guaranteed if he supplied enough weapons to equip a small Fenian army. Again acting through Moloney, King-Harman refused the instalment terms, but – so Sheridan insisted – he "did agree to pay for one thousand stand of arms after his election was secured, which terms I refused to accept, and there the negotiations ended."[128]

Dublin's Nationalist newspapers eagerly embraced Sheridan's story. King-Harman's abandonment of Home Rule and his defection to Balfour's repressive regime made him a much-hated target. It was all too easy for censorious journalists to accept that there were no limits to the Colonel's infamous hypocrisy. "The spectacle of a gentleman who, a few years ago, was willing to pay the Fenians the price of a thousand stand of arms conditional upon his election, now doing his best to send constitutional politicians to jail, is a remarkable one."[129] It was delicious to imagine "the crazy fear and trembling" that would have overcome this "swaggering bully" on realising that he had been exposed.[130] But the Dublin chorus of execration abruptly ceased when Sheridan's revelations were greeted with less enthusiasm on his own patch.

The Sligo Champion was not only a Nationalist newspaper, but one of the most authoritative of Ireland's provincial journals.  It condemned Sheridan's willingness to "barter" Home Rule votes to the Conservatives as "unjustifiable", and dismissed his claim that he could have been elected for Sligo himself as an empty boast, "prompted, no doubt, by the invigorating breezes of Colorado". With icy irony, it commented that it was "greatly to be regretted that Mr Sheridan did not preserve the original correspondence with King-Harman".[131] Overall, it concluded, Sheridan's response "does not tend … to improve our estimate of his character." "Mr Sheridan's statements, made at such a safe distance, must be taken with a grain of salt."  [132] King-Harman issued his own brief statement a few days later. "My only communication with Sheridan in 1880 was a letter from him offering to upset Mr Sexton's candidature by standing himself if I would pay down a sum of money."[133]

Thus far, the Sligo Champion's condemnation of Sheridan might be discounted as a product of local factionalism and personal jealousies. However, there was one weak and potentially disreputable element in the thunderous missive from Colorado. As if the possibility of confirmation struck him as a mere afterthought, Sheridan had added a postscript: "I challenge Mr Maloney [sic] (Harman's agent) to deny any one of the above facts."  The Freeman's Journal had pounced on the point: "We shall be glad to know what Mr Michael Moloney, of Sligo, has to say about this business." The Nation equally marvelled that both King-Harman "and his quondam electioneering agent, Mr Michael Maloney [sic]" should be "mute as mice" in the face of "this very grave charge just brought against them."[134] The outrage was misplaced: Moloney did not defend his honour for the very good reason that he had died in 1881.  "Mr Sheridan cannot be ignorant of this fact", King-Harman insisted when he dismissed the accusations a few days later.[135] The Sligo Champion was even more disapproving. "His challenge to Mr Molony [sic], whose bones have rested for six years in Sligo Cemetery, excites suspicion even in a friendly mind."[136] In any case, King-Harman pointed out that his election agent in 1880 was not Moloney, but a solicitor called Harkin.  

For all obvious pettiness, the King-Harman episode merits consideration, not least for the curious parallels between Sheridan's claims in 1887 and his reported recollection of Parnell thirty years later. In both episodes, a mainstream political figure had unexpectedly offered support for Fenianism. In each narrative, the key corroborating witness was dead. Historians will naturally scan such evidence, in the hope of discerning some kernel of truth that had become obscured by the forgetfulness of time. In most Victorian elections, certainly until the Corrupt Practices Act of 1883, candidates were surrounded and sustained by various forms of constituency pond life, ward-heelers of whose activities they preferred to remain ignorant.  Many of these personalities were linked through normal business networks, and it would not be surprising to encounter some of them engaged in unauthorised and unorthodox back-channel negotiations during election campaigns. Perhaps sums of money had indeed been mentioned as the price of a wrecking candidacy. Perhaps, in his own mind, Sheridan had translated cash into Fenian weaponry. If so, his terms seem remarkably high: one thousand rifles could hardly have cost less than £4,000.[137] However, King-Harman insisted that "neither Mr Harkin nor Mr Moloney would have ever dreamed of entering into any negotiations with [Sheridan]."[138] Since he would presumably have been the source of the money on offer, King-Harman surely would have known about any such deal. He would hardly have issued such strong denials had he suspected that his accuser might be able to produce compromising correspondence. Furthermore, any charitable attempt to extract some core of meaning from Sheridan's story must be undermined by the simple fact that he was narrating events that had allegedly taken place just seven years earlier. The fog of passing decades might have muddled the details of Sheridan's Parnell story, but he would surely have recalled details of so recent an election campaign. The element of Sheridan's account that, as the Sligo Champion observed, "excites suspicion" is that Sheridan identified as the intermediary a man who was not King-Harman's agent in 1880 and who had been dead for six years.[139] Most damning of all is the sheer implausibility of Sheridan's allegations. It might be admitted for the sake of debate that it is possible that Parnell could have coquetted with the IRB. It beggars belief that Colonel King-Harman could have considered arming a whole Fenian regiment. As he put it himself, the charge was "so ridiculous that I need not notice it further."[140]

Sheridan as a witness: c] The Times, 1888-9  Standard accounts of the Parnell Commission give the impression that The Times was effectively routed after the collapse of Pigott and his forgeries in February 1889. In fact, the newspaper engaged in last-ditch attempts to persuade – or bribe – Sheridan to return to London to give evidence that would prove Parnell's involvement in terrorist activities.[141] An emissary from the newspaper, calling himself J.F. Kirby of Montreal, had first made tentative contact in October and November 1888, but negotiations were ratcheted up in March and April the following year, when The Times was desperate for dirt, and talks flickered on at least until July.[142] Sheridan did not come cheap: he variously demanded £20,000 in cash, or the purchase of his ranch for £25,000. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of this cloak-and-dagger exercise was the rapidity with which the cloak was ripped away. As early as November 1888, there were rumours that The Times had prevailed upon Sheridan to give evidence, even that he was already at a secret address in London. Early in December, Sheridan, who would later claim that he had threatened to have Kirby lynched, issued a statement mocking the rumours of his defection, which closed with the declaration that "my present disposition of not giving any evidence at all can only be altered by the appointment of a sub-commission authorised to take evidence in the United States and a desire by Mr. Parnell that I take the stand."[143] More solid information soon followed. Thanks to Irish operatives working in the American telegraph system, Kirby's cipher telegrams to London were intercepted, and the code quickly penetrated. On 28 December 1888, the Freeman's Journal broke the story, but without specifying its provenance. Thus far, Sheridan could be seen as the upright exile who had resisted temptation: Kirby, for instance, had dropped the information The Times already had "two men in New York who could give almost as valuable testimony", a classic ploy to encourage an informer to believe that he might as well cash in by supplying evidence that was already secured. However, in mid-February Sheridan's position was rendered potentially embarrassing when Joseph Soames, the solicitor to The Times, confirmed to the Special Commission that he had sent Kirby to Colorado the previous year. Kirby's assignment was "to go and visit Sheridan, and get from him a letter written by Mr Parnell, which was identical in terms with the letter published on May 15, 1882; which letter has been seen by other people."[144] There may have been some confusion in the recording of the evidence: Soames was obviously referring to the first of the alleged letters to have appeared in The Times two years earlier, which purported to prove that Parnell had approved of the Phoenix Park murders nine days after the event. Soames probably intended to throw suspicion upon Sheridan, who could be assumed to be the most likely source for the existence of such a letter, thereby putting pressure upon him to throw himself upon British protection by turning informer. (Sheridan would sardonically point out that this strategy had not worked well for Joseph Carey.)

With the Pigott forgeries by now exposed, The Times sent Kirby once again urgently and desperately to resume its courtship of Sheridan. Telegrams to Soames were now dispatched in a more complex code. These were duly intercepted but initially seemed impenetrable. According to Davitt in 1904, the cipher was broken by "a distinguished Irishman, a learned embodiment of all the sciences". Forty years after the episode, T.M. Healy revealed the remarkable information that the code-breaker was the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Walsh.[145] There was certainly renewed concern in Irish Nationalist circles at reports that The Times had suborned Sheridan to give evidence. Parnell was reported to be sufficiently alarmed that he issued instructions that Sheridan was to be prevented from testifying "at all cost and risk", which has recently been interpreted as a threat of assassination.[146] In May 1889, a former Land League official, Thomas Brennan, was dispatched from his home in Omaha, Nebraska, to confront Sheridan at his ranch. According to Barry O'Brien, Brennan issued a blunt challenge. "The wires have been tapped, we know everything. What's your game?" Sheridan cheerfully explained that he was trying to defraud The Times of £25,000. "If I get the money, the 'Times' may whistle for my evidence. I have nothing to say, nothing to give."[147] 

From then on, Sheridan almost certainly operated under the control of Fenian handlers, with the aim of prolonging the negotiations and thereby exposing The Times to greater expense and even greater humiliation. The exchanges were hilarious, with much entertaining shadow-boxing between the two principals, neither trusting the other. Sheridan, who must have known that informers were paid by results, wanted assurance about the method by which he would be receive his reward. For his part, Kirby sought definite evidence that would connect Parnell with agrarian crime. Sheridan, who had taken charge of the Land League files in 1881, certainly possessed correspondence, which he flourished before his visitor's questing eyes. "Has shown me documents in bulk, and has every letter as to League and dynamite. Won't go into details till on ship," Kirby telegraphed to London. "Have only his word that documents in bundle are from members and leaders, implicating all with [Land] League and outrage."[148] If Sheridan was indeed attempting a scam, it seemed to be heading nowhere.

Historians will echo Brennan's question: what was Sheridan's game? His own defence, that he simply sought to defraud from The Times, seems the most plausible explanation, although – especially in the light of the recent revelation of an alleged attempt to extract cash from King-Harman in 1880 – it was hardly flattering to his sense of honour. Yet to continue discussions over so long a period as nine months does seem extreme. In April 1889, Kirby described Sheridan as "desperate and determined" although in fear of a Clan na Gael death sentence. As late as July, Kirby reported that Sheridan "won't sell [betray] us, as he wants to go and expose leaders who have condemned him."[149] Yet it is difficult to imagine what evidence he might have provided, and Kirby had made clear that payment would be made "as soon as your examination closes, provided it is deemed satisfactory."[150] It seems that Sheridan spoke exclusively of compromising documents, although his assurance that the result of his evidence would be that Parnell "would either fly the country or walk into the dock" may have hinted at other revelations.[151] Was Sheridan ready to reveal the dark secret that he had sworn Parnell into the IRB? After the destruction of Pigott under cross-examination, the witness box at the Special Commission could hardly have been an inviting prospect. In any case, the detailed affidavit that he swore on 28 May 1889 is surely conclusive evidence that Sheridan had intended to play The Times for fools all along.

In fact, the date gives reason to pause, and its significance would certainly have been apparent at the time. Henri Le Caron's evidence to the Special Commission in February 1889 alarmingly demonstrated that a trusted member of Clan na Gael was a British spy. The natural tendency towards mutual mistrust within a secret society triggered frenetic speculation that other double-agents must have infiltrated their ranks. In Chicago, Clan na Gael was already divided by a feud between Philip Cronin and local boss Alexander Sullivan. A popular medical doctor who had arrived from Ireland in 1882, Cronin had been forced out of the organisation after challenging its decision to back a dynamite campaign in England – seasoned with familiar accusations of large-scale corruption. The Sullivan faction now conveniently demonised him as a British agent. When Cronin disappeared on 4 May, his detractors even claimed that he was on his way to London to give evidence to the Special Commission. However, on 22 May – six days before Sheridan swore his affidavit – the missing doctor's body was discovered, "sepultured in a sewer" as one Colorado paper unfeelingly headlined.[152] Cronin had been slaughtered with a savagery that recalled the murders in Phoenix Park. It was no time to come under suspicion as a traitor to the Irish cause, and it is hardly surprising that within a week Sheridan had gathered the documentation he had accumulated and sworn a detailed statement before a notary public. At least for the purposes of his subsequent published account, Thomas Brennan insisted that "we had the most perfect confidence in Sheridan".[153] This view was not universally shared. Davitt criticised Brennan's "unlimited confidence in a man who, unknown to him, for six months carried on negotiations with a British detective on the question of swearing away Mr Parnell's life for 100,000 dol[lar]s".[154] Others may also have suspected Sheridan's intentions and found his game-playing unedifying.

There is one, admittedly distant, tailpiece to the story of Sheridan and The Times. In January 1918, following his death, the Denver Post ran an appreciative obituary, claiming that Sheridan had brought about the acquittal of Parnell before the Special Commission. Of course, there are many reasons to discount the report: American journalists notoriously preferred sensationalism to accuracy. However, it may be that information on which the item was based came from family sources. Mary Sheridan, his wife, had died in 1895. His children had spent much of their lives in the United States, and could be forgiven for a certain vagueness about events almost thirty years earlier. This might explain why, for instance, the emissary from The Times became "Colonel Kirby of Scotland Yard". However, the central core of the story represented a massive distortion of the facts: under the pretence of negotiating, Sheridan "procured" the code used by The Times and forwarded it to Parnell's defence team. The newspaper's intercepted messages were then read out in court "with such effect that Parnell was acquitted as far as the graver charges against him were concerned", and he was also able to take successful legal action for defamation.[155] Perhaps this was merely the concoction of a busy reporter, but there must also be a possibility that the report reflected elaborations – "spin" – that Sheridan himself had added to the episode.

There seems plenty of evidence that Sheridan enjoyed being the centre of attention – at least until he suspected that his life might be in danger. There was a touch of egotistical sarcasm in his December 1888 statement repudiating rumours that he had travelled to London to give evidence for The Times. "If I know anything about my own movements or existence, I am right here in the bosom of the Rocky Mountains."[156] During Land League times, William O'Brien had relished a saying attributed to Patrick Egan: "Sheridan would be quite happy to be hanged if he could read the report of the execution in the Freeman the next morning."[157] In 1883, the Invincible fugitive Patrick Tynan had branded Sheridan and O'Donovan Rossa as "notoriety-seekers who injure Ireland".[158] In assessing Sheridan's reliability, it is important to remember that he was – at least for some of the time – a bombastic individual keen on self-publicity, a "reckless brawler" in the opinion of New York Irish leaders. His adventure with The Times seems to have cured Sheridan's desire for the limelight. His activities may also have been restricted by a serious accident on his ranch in 1892. Reports of his death proved to be a quarter of a century premature, but he did vanish from view.[159] However, the publication of R. Barry O'Brien's biography of Parnell in 1898, and Davitt's The Fall of Feudalism in 1904 both told at some length the story of his dealings with The Times, renewing the atmosphere of suspicion around his activities. It was reported that he had intended to make 1915 the year of a return visit to Ireland – perhaps a lap of honour to coincide with the opening of a Home Rule parliament? – but the outbreak of the First World War put an end to his plans. Longevity having elevated him to the status of a survivor of turbulent times past, he was now described as "held in universal esteem".[160] However, when he next comes into view, chatting with T.J. Quinn in Denver shortly before his death, Sheridan could hardly have been unaware of the suspicions that had hovered around him.

Sheridan as a witness: d] Sheridan and Quinn There seems no reason to doubt the accuracy of T.J. Quinn's 1928 account of the conversation with Sheridan "a short time before his death", which would place the episode just over a decade earlier. Unfortunately, he gave less information about the context of Sheridan's revelation, beyond stating that they were at the Denver home of another veteran Fenian, Jack D. MacCarthy, when their conversation drifted back to "Land League days and the Kilmainham Treaty".[161] On the face of it, this sounds like an old paramilitaries' reunion, but it was perhaps more likely to have been a more formal meeting of advanced Nationalists, possibly to take stock of events in Ireland after Easter 1916.[162] It may be worth noting that, around the time of the Denver gathering, Parnell's memory was undergoing a temporary re-evaluation. The new generation of Nationalists complained that the parliamentarians who had destroyed him in 1890-1 had achieved singularly little for Ireland. After 1921, the Home Rule leader would once again emerge as a symbol of constitutional gradualism but, around the time of the Rising, he was subtly transferred to the other extreme of the national tradition. At Christmas 1915, Pearse invoked Parnell, along with Tone, Davis, Mitchel and Emmet, as angry ghosts, "fathers of the nationalist religion". Pearse's description of him as "an embodied conviction; a flame that seared, a sword that stabbed" was a masterly example of inspirational imprecision, perhaps inspired not so much by the man as by the angry statue in O'Connell Street that had been unveiled four years earlier. As Donal McCartney incisively commented, Pearse had turned Parnell into a "crypto-Fenian".[163] It may not be entirely surprising that Sheridan thought the time right to give the process a further nudge.

Quinn believed the story of Parnell taking the IRB oath "as I didn't think Sheridan would make such a deliberate statement if it were untrue." However, it should be remembered that Quinn was one of the hard men of the Fenian movement. In 1880, he had been suspected of involvement in the murder of a land agent. Nine years later he had supported the killing of Philip Cronin. In conversation with Quinn, Sheridan had good reason to inflate his own Fenian credentials. Quinn's subsequent allegation that Devoy was a secret agent of the British offers its own commentary on his judgement, and probably helps to explain why he did not question the implausible details of the Parnell-IRB oath story.[164]

Sheridan's preposterous allegation against King-Harman surely throws doubt upon the tale that he narrated in MacCarthy's parlour so long after the event. In addition to his desire to impress Quinn, three further motives may be suggested for his claim. First, in the received narrative of the Kilmainham Treaty – the episode that apparently triggered the story – Sheridan appeared as somebody Parnell assumed he could treat as a pliable tool. His boastful ego probably resented his portrayal in such a minor and biddable role. It was pleasant to turn the tables, revealing that in reality he was the master – maybe even the puppet-master – and the mighty Parnell his pupil. Second, the timing in the story is important. The Phoenix Park murders dominated the days immediately after Parnell's release from prison. A narrative that depicted Sheridan as an active recruiter for the IRB at that time implicitly acquitted him of involvement in the organisation of the Invincibles. Third, and perhaps more speculatively, the story of swearing Parnell into the Fenian movement added an additional and positive dimension to his coquetting with The Times in 1888-89. At the time, he had hinted to Kirby that he possessed incriminating documents, while denying to Clan na Gael that he could deliver any compromising evidence at all. If he had indeed possessed information so embarrassing to the Irish leader, but had refrained from selling it, then the patriotic motive behind his bizarre negotiations was reinforced.  Ultimately, of course, we can never know why Sheridan chose to spin such a strange story about Charles Stewart Parnell. We should, however, be very wary about accepting it as historical evidence. True, T.J. Quinn was convinced that Sheridan was telling the truth, but T.J. Quinn believed John Devoy was a British agent.

Summary  The sceptical arguments offered here may be briefly reviewed. We should begin by stressing once again that no responsible historian has concluded that Parnell was a functioning member of the IRB, acting under orders from its Supreme Council. Most certainly, neither Maume nor Bew has made any such suggestion. Devoy did claim that Parnell acted in accordance according with the New Departure pact with Clan na Gael, but that was an agreement between equals – and one that, Davitt insisted, existed purely in Devoy's imagination. At no point during the last nine years of his career did Parnell take any decision that might have been dictated by Fenian concerns rather than emerged from his own parliamentary strategies. Indeed, he openly disapproved of the most obvious Nationalist project of direct action, the Plan of Campaign, although it is not clear how far the IRB itself supported agrarian unrest in the late eighteen-eighties, or even if there was a functioning IRB at that time.[165] In fact, Sheridan had made a much narrower claim, that Parnell had pledged allegiance to the IRB, but under condition of absolute secrecy. The wording of the Fenian oath makes nonsense of his story: what could be the point of promising to obey orders from an organisation which is barred from knowing about its trophy recruit?

Both the time and the location of the alleged ceremony seem unlikely to the point of impossibility. Parnell was in Dublin for about five hours on the afternoon of Wednesday 3 May 1882. While his movements cannot be accounted for on a minute-by-minute basis, there is enough information to indicate that he had no time to visit Trinity College and engage in library research. His priority seems to have been consultation with associates before his departure for London in the early evening. As Maume sagely acknowledged, Parnell would not have made any gesture to the men of violence after the Phoenix Park murders three days later. There is no evidence that Sheridan was even in Ireland at that time: in his negotiations with the government, Parnell had evidently assumed that he was still in France. If Sheridan was in Dublin, he would almost certainly have still been in disguise, and a Catholic priest would have been noticed in Trinity. No contemporary report of Parnell's movements that afternoon mentions either an encounter with Sheridan or a visit to Trinity. Except for its own privileged professors and fellows, the library at Trinity operated on a closed-access system, which required visitors to use a crowded reading room. It is very doubtful whether any "quiet corner" suitable for oath-taking could be found. In any case, there remains the massive hurdle that Trinity was a bastion of Protestant Unionism. Rather than echoing An Phoblacht's square-the-circle formula that it was a "singularly incongruous setting", historians would do well to confront the absurdity of Parnell engaging in such a risky gesture in so dangerous a location.

Throughout his political career, Parnell set his face against membership of secret societies – with the exception, as he inappropriately joked, of the Foresters. In 1878 and 1879, he rejected approaches from Fenian heavyweights who offered him a leadership position in the IRB. It is hard to see what had changed to make him consider a notional subordinate role in the organisation in 1882, the more so as he would have been aware that the IRB was in disarray, and effectively subordinate to Clan na Gael, with which he had a working, if arm's length, partnership. Had he wished to open lines of communication (a possibility which Sheridan's story ruled out), it is not likely that he would have chosen a subordinate Land League organiser whose cheerful threats to hang landlords constitutionally aroused his superior mirth. At the moment of leaving Kilmainham, Parnell was on a pinnacle of acclaim which left him beholden to no rivals, and he had left prison intending to damp down agrarian unrest.  Maume's suggestion that the decision to take the oath was "a spur-of-the-moment attempt to persuade the I.R.B. man that the new policy was merely a change of tactics"[166] is not convincing. There would surely have been other ways for Parnell to win over a doubting lieutenant, even if there was the slightest evidence that such a meeting had taken place. Parnell would later tell the Special Commission that he had last met Sheridan in the autumn of 1881, a reckless claim if they had been seen together in Dublin after Kilmainham. Last of all, but by no means of least in importance, Parnell did not engage in dramatic gestures on the spur of the moment.

Thus when the story of Parnell and the IRB oath is evaluated in terms of the time, the place and the politician, its implausibility becomes apparent. Historians would probably tactfully conclude that, even though it could not have happened in the form narrated, it perhaps represented a conflation, over thirty years later, of two different events, a visit to a library and the discussion of political tactics, wrapped up in an unlikely denouement. Unfortunately, when the involvement of Sheridan himself is taken into account, the credibility of the tale is shattered completely. The problem that he was recklessly outspoken, as his New York speeches demonstrated, and lacking in proportion, as his New York quarrels underlined, might not in itself discredit him as a witness. Nor should his veracity necessarily be dismissed on account of the question marks that hung over his dealings with The Times, although the shrewdly cautious Michael Davitt was uneasy about their shadowy length. His allegation that John T. Hoag was a British agent might have been the regrettable by-product of the pressures upon him at a time when he was threatened with extradition.  No such exculpation can be offered for his charge in 1887 that King-Harman had been prepared to buy weapons for the Fenians seven years earlier. His attack on the hapless Colonel throws wholly negative light upon his trustworthiness. The best that might be said in his defence is that Sheridan attempted to cash in on the visceral unpopularity of a Tory turncoat to load him with yet further charges of selfish hypocrisy, a device which was initially – although very briefly – embraced with enthusiasm by  the Nationalist press in Dublin. But special pleading can do little to justify, let alone validate, the charges that he so recklessly levelled from distant Colorado. While it might be possible, for the sake of historical discussion, to accept the faint theoretical possibility that Parnell made some symbolic gesture to the IRB, it defies all possibility of belief that, at the height of the Land War, King-Harman was prepared to pledge the expenditure of thousands of pounds upon a Fenian arsenal that would very probably have been used for his own assassination. Sheridan's tale of Parnell taking the IRB oath should be evaluated not against Quinn's paranoid credulity, but against his ruthless invention of a scenario that its victim dismissed as "so ridiculous that I need not notice it further." A charitable interpretation might politely categorise Sheridan as a fantasist. Unfortunately, the construction of his allegations around a reputed witness, the Sligo solicitor Michael Moloney, whose ability to provide corroboration was rendered impossible by the complication that he had been dead for six years, suggests rather an unprincipled and cynical fabrication of a deliberate untruth. There are obvious parallels with the story of the IRB oath, which also depended for confirmation upon a long-dead witness, Parnell himself. It is surely impossible for historians to entertain even the possibility, let alone the probability, that Parnell made such a gesture on the basis of evidence from so untrustworthy a witness as Patrick Sheridan.

When he gave evidence to the Special Commission in 1889, the manager of The Times, J.C. MacDonald, was asked what steps he had taken to authenticate the letters allegedly written by Parnell which the newspaper had published as evidence of his complicity in terrorism. Cross-examination focused on the missive dated 9 January 1882, which condemned the Fenians for their mis-spelled "hesitency" in assassinating members of the government. MacDonald, it transpired, had not felt the need to undertake and such checks, since he had no doubt that the document was "the sort of letter Mr Parnell would be compelled to write in the circumstances."[167] Macdonald's misplaced sense of certainty should be a warning to every historian who writes about the motives and the actions of Charles Stewart Parnell. He was one of the few major figures in contemporary United Kingdom politics to have left no archive of personal papers, let alone any explanatory diary, no quarry of private evidence that might clarify his strategy.[168] Most leading British politicians enjoyed covering reams of paper with reflections and analysis. Parnell found longhand composition painful and generally preferred to keep his thoughts to himself. Those who became prominent politicians at Westminster almost invariably possessed the means and the motives to establish personal archives – spacious houses, private secretaries, dynastic pride.  Parnell's associates in the Home Rule movement had no such facilities.[169] Hence Parnell's intentions can only be distilled from Parnell's speeches, and individual pronouncements can only be assessed in terms of his overall public statements.

Studies of his career in the past half century have been based upon far more mature and profound knowledge of his actions and statements than J.C. MacDonald troubled to bestow upon a conveniently sensational forgery. Yet, in the last resort, historians can only evaluate disputed evidence by posing the same, essentially subjective, question: is this the sort of thing Parnell would have said or done?[170] On the basis of deep scholarly understanding of Parnell's contribution to Ireland in that period, Patrick Maume and Paul Bew believed that he might indeed have gone through the motions of swearing the IRB oath.[171] For what it is worth, I do not.  Ultimately, those who write about Parnell and those who read about Parnell must filter disputed evidence through their own perceptions of his relationship with Fenianism.   

Nonetheless, even if the broader issue of the relationship between Parnell and the men of violence can never be conclusively resolved, it must surely be recognised that it is in the highest degree unlikely that the alleged specific episode described by Sheridan to Quinn could possibly have taken place.  Sheridan may have accompanied Parnell to a Dublin library to check information some time during the Land War. The two probably did discuss the respective merits of physical force and constitutional politics. But historians should dismiss the story of a casual meeting on the streets of Dublin at a time when Parnell was only a fleeting presence in the city and Sheridan was on the run, and the even more incredible account of an oath-taking ceremony conducted in some imagined corner of a busy reading room in the bastion of Protestant Unionism. Just as King-Harman never offered to supply weapons to one thousand Fenians, so Parnell never engaged in a meaningless ritual of abasement to Fenianism in the library of Trinity College.

Additional note, June 2023: I am disappointed to read, in the online description for the Cambridge History Faculty course, "Rhetoric and public opinion in the world of Charles Stewart Parnell, 1874-1891" the statement that Parnell's "relationship with militant groups, like the Irish Republican Brotherhood, was much rumoured about at the time. In fact, it is likely that he was a member of that organization, though it is not clear how seriously he took his membership": https://www.hist.cam.ac.uk/rhetoric-and-public-opinion-world-charles-stewart-parnell-1874-1891. (My italics.) I can only repeat the conclusion in the paragraph above that it was "in the highest degree unlikely that [the swearing of the IRB oath in the Library of Trinity College] ... could possibly have taken place". Of course, it is rarely possible to claim 100 percent certainty for statements of historical fact, but the evidence reviewed in this essay surely argues against the possibility of any involvement by Parnell with secret societies (a statement that does not rule out tacit collaboration in specific episodes), and it may further be concluded that the conclusion of the Kilmainham 'Treaty' was the least plausible moment for him to make a formal commitment to a terrorist organisation.  

ENDNOTES Online sources were consulted in March and April 2021. 

For a review of Parnell's career, see "Charles Stewart Parnell: Economics and Politics of a Building Trade Entrepreneur"

[1] Paul Bew, Conflict and Conciliation in Ireland 1890-1910: Parnellites and Radical Agrarians (Oxford 1987), 2, esp. footnote [cited as Bew, Conflict]; P. Maume, "Parnell and the IRB Oath", Irish Historical Studies, xxix (1995), 363-70 [cited as Maume]; P. Bew, "Parnell, Charles Stewart (1846–1891)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004) [cited as Bew, ODNB]; P. Bew, Enigma: a New Life of Charles Stewart Parnell (Dublin, 2011), 95-6 [cited as Bew, Enigma].

[2] Review by D. Meleady in History Ireland, 2012, https://www.historyireland.com/18th-19th-century-history/enigma-a-new-life-of-charles-stewart-parnell-paul-bew-gill-macmillan-e24-99-isbn-9780774744/.

[3] Bew, ODNB. In Bew, Enigma, 96, he concluded a thoughtful discussion of the challenges faced by Parnell after Kilmainham by asking "why is it inconceivable…?" Maume, 370, described the evidence that he had carefully marshalled as "inconclusive" but "possible".

[4] A. Jackson, Home Rule ... (London, 2004, cf. 1st ed. 2003), 54.

[5] M. Dungan, The Captain and the King (Dublin, 2009), 321.

[6] R.F. Foster, "From Parnell to Pearse", in J. Leerssen, ed., Parnell and his Times (Cambridge, 2021), 53-69, esp. 59.

[7] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Stewart_Parnell, consulted 15 March 2021. Wikipedia entries are of course subject to revision. The statement here appears to be derived from Jackson, but without his careful qualifications. For another recent, but neutral, allusion, N. Whelehan, The Dynamiters: Irish Nationalism and Political Violence in the Wider World, 1867–1900 (Cambridge, 2012), 261.

[8] Bew, Conflict, as above.

[9] Griffith's Valuation, compiled county-by-county between 1853 and 1865, established an annual rental valuation for every land holding in Ireland as a basis for Poor Law rating. It came to be seen as the arbiter of fairness in landlord-tenant relations. In Land League times, T.D. Sullivan wrote a rousing poem: "Shout from shore to shore / Your firm determination / To pay in rents no more / Than 'Griffith's Valuation'. / That's the word to say / To end their confiscation; / That's the rent to pay – / 'Griffith's Valuation'." T.P. O'Connor, The Parnell Movement ... (London, 1886), 328.

[10] Bew, Conflict, 2 and 2n., quoting An Phoblacht, 8 March 1930. The article continued with what Maume described as "several paragraphs of reminiscence and reflection". With one exception (a claim that T.P. O'Connor was also sworn into the IRB), these do not seem to have been subjected to scholarly discussion. I am unable to consult the article. A second article by the same contributor, published on 5 April 1930, alleged that John Devoy was a British agent. An Phoblacht attached a note disavowing responsibility. Maume, 363, 367.

[11] Maume suggested that William O'Brien never saw the letter, since it is filed among messages of condolence after his death in February 1928. This, of course, has no bearing on its validity as evidence.

[12] O. McGee, "Sheridan, Patrick Joseph" and P. Maume, "Quinn, Thomas Joseph", Dictionary of Irish Biography.  Sheridan became a rancher, Quinn worked in mining. Colorado is a large State: the two perhaps maintained contact but lived about 200 miles apart.

[13] Maume, 368-9.

[14] Sheridan's attendance at meetings of the Land League Executive in Dublin was frequently reported, e.g. Irish Times, 3 November and 28 December 1880.

[15] As noted later, Parnell told the Special Commission in 1889 that he had last met Sheridan "in the autumn of 1881". This would have been shortly before his own arrest on 13 October 1881, which happened a few weeks after Sheridan's release from Kilmainham.

[16] Maume, 369.

[17] Maume, 370.

[18] Parnell's movements on 2-3 May were reported in Freeman's Journal, Cork Examiner and Irish Times, 3 and 4 May 1882. The Nenagh Guardian, 3 May 1882, pinpointed Parnell's release time to 10.50 p.m.: this was probably an agency report. The Dublin correspondent of the Cork Examiner, 3 May, noted that the cab arrived outside Kilmainham at 10.52 p.m., and the three detainees emerged "immediately after".

[19] RBOB, i, 349-50; F.S.L. Lyons, Charles Stewart Parnell (London, 1978 ed., cf 1st ed. 1977), 204. Emily Dickinson may not have been at Avondale then: she was reported to be staying in a hotel at Bray in early May. Nation, 6 May 1882.

[20] It is possible that Parnell's statement on emerging from Kilmainham that the three were heading for Avondale was a blind. Passenger trains between Dublin and Rathdrum took two hours. Goods services were slower, since they needed to shunt wagons at intermediate stations: a weekly cattle train to Dublin markets took two and a half hours from Rathdrum. Even allowing for rapid transfer on to Avondale, and advance preparation of guest rooms, the three were unlikely to get to bed much before 4 a.m., hardly an attractive prospect for their first night of freedom. Excursion trains were often advertised in the Wexford People; the cattle service was announced in the Freeman's Journal.

[21] Dillon especially suffered in prison, and withdrew from politics from two years. By coincidence, he retreated to Colorado, where his brother had a ranch near Denver. Little information survived of his exile, but it is unlikely that he had any contact with the now-controversial Sheridan. F.S.L. Lyons, John Dillon: a Biography (London, 1968), 61-70.

[22] Cork Examiner, 3 May 1882.

[23] The Freeman's Journal placed him on the 11.26 train, which seems more likely than the Irish Times report giving 12.26.

[24] The phrase used by Press Association reports.

[25] The fact that they arrived at Westland Row indicates the inaccuracy of the initial Press Association report (Cork Examiner, 4 May) that they came from Avondale. (Westland Row station is now Pearse; Harcourt Street, the terminus for Rathdrum, was closed in 1958.)

[26] Cork Examiner, 4 May 1882, placed his arrival downtown at around 3.30 p.m., but then reported a call he had made at 3 p.m.

[27] Freeman's Journal; Cork Examiner, 4 May 1882. W.F. Moloney, a Dublin solicitor acting on behalf of the Land League, had been arrested in November: Nation, 3 December 1881.

[28] Nation, 6 May 1882. The exact figure was £1,783, 17 shillings and 5 pence.

[29] Lyons, Charles Stewart Parnell, 179-80, 215-16, 226-9. According to Lyons (180), "when Parnell emerged from prison ... they [the Ladies' Land League] were peripheral, expendable and a greater nuisance to him than to the government." For Kate Moloney, see M. O'Neill, "The Ladies' Land League", Dublin Historical Record, xxxv (1982), 122-33.

[30] This was probably the "scratch dinner... shortly after his release" mentioned by Barry O'Brien. Thanks to the generosity of well-wishers, Parnell had been well fed while he was in prison. His hostess (Mary Fottrell) apologised for her improvised menu, saying: "This is worse than Kilmainham." Parnell's reply, "Ah, well, come, Kilmainham wasn't so bad after all" was an example of his innate courtesy, and not an exoneration of his incarceration. RBOB, i, 323. In 1884, Fottrell, a Catholic and a Nationalist sympathiser, was appointed to a post in Dublin Castle. His diary gives valuable information about the Home Rule crisis: S. Ball, ed., Dublin Castle and the First Home Rule Crisis.... (Cambridge, 2008).

[31] Irish Times, 4 May 1882.

[32] Bew stated that Parnell found time to give an interview to the prominent New York Irish-American newspaper, the Irish World, on Wednesday 4 May. The Irish World had sent the land reform theorist Henry George from America as its special correspondent, but he was in London in April and May 1882. R. Kee, The Laurel and the Ivy... (London, 1993), 395, 428, 433, 436, 439 ;  Bew, Enigma, 96.

[33] Maume was perhaps uncharitable in attributing Parnell's "uncharacteristic panic" on hearing of the Phoenix Park murders to a guilty conscience. The evidence surely suggests that, in common with most Irish people, Parnell was horrified by the killings. In addition, he had to face the grim truth that men he had trusted and worked with in the Land League were almost certainly implicated in the crime. Katharine Tynan wrote of the impact of the murders, "the most anti-English of us had a sick sense of guilt in those first hours." "The blackest day that has perhaps ever dawned for Ireland," was Davitt's comment in his diary: he had little reason to feel sympathy for the victims. Maume, 369; K. Tynan, Twenty-five Years: Reminiscences (London, 1913), 92; L. Marley, Michael Davitt… (Dublin, 2010 ed, cf. 1st ed. 2007), 48; Lyons, Charles Stewart Parnell, 208-10.

[34] The Times, 4 May 1889.

[35] McGee, "Sheridan, Patrick Joseph", Dictionary of Irish Biography.

[36] His wife later told a reporter that he had been arrested as a suspected Fenian in Liverpool in 1865, but released for lack of evidence.  Freeman's Journal, 26 February 1883.

[37] Sheridan was resident in Tubbercurry by 1873, when he was chosen as one of the County Sligo delegates to the Home Rule Conference in Dublin. He took over the local hotel in 1874, and was elected Master of the Swinford Union workhouse in 1876. Edward King-Harman later called him a "bankrupt publican" who had been dismissed from the workhouse for "malpractices", charges which I have not found reported: King-Harman was frequently obliged to retract sweeping allegations. Sheridan's exclusion from a Sligo Farmers Club, which he claimed to have founded, an episode that he sneeringly called "excellent food for mirth", suggests that he aroused some distrust locally by 1879: support for cottagers did not appeal to graziers. Mayo Examiner, 17 November 1873; Freeman's Journal, 24 September 1874; Connaught Telegraph, 10 November 1877; 8 November 1879; Irish Times, 14 November 1887.

[38] W. O'Brien and D. Ryan, eds, Devoy's Post Bag (2 vols, Dublin, 1979, cf. 1st ed. 1948-53), i, 555.

[39] McGee, "Sheridan, Patrick Joseph", Dictionary of Irish Biography. Tubbercurry has an alternative spelling, Tobercurry.  On the strength of McGee's statement, in 2011 Bew referred to Sheridan as "technically ... an ex-Fenian", having seven years earlier called him," that mild-mannered fanatic". Bew, Enigma, 95; Bew, ODNB.

[40] The Dictionary of Irish Biography is wrong in stating that Sheridan was released from Kilmainham on 20 October, and that he had overlapped in prison with Parnell for one week. The day after his release (after six months' internment) on 18 September, he returned to his home at Tubbercurry: police clashed with a local celebration that evening. Cork Examiner, 19 September; Freeman's Journal, 22 September 1881. I have not traced any reports of Sheridan's whereabouts during the next month, but after Parnell's arrest he removed Land League records and relocated the campaign headquarters, temporarily, to Holyhead in Wales. It is possible that he had returned to Dublin before 13 October. On 21 December 1881, a further warrant was issued for his arrest, and he fled to Paris. Cork Examiner, 19 September; Freeman's Journal, 22 September; The Times, 18 October 1881.

[41] The Times, 20 September 1881. McGee, Dictionary of Irish Biography, states that he was freed on compassionate grounds, "on account of his wife's illness", and cf. Maume, 364.

[42] In a letter to Gladstone in 1883, Captain O'Shea cited Parnell's trust in Egan and Sheridan as evidence that the Irish leader "was about the worst judge of character I ever met." O'Shea was, as usual, vaunting his own wisdom as Parnell's guide and keeper, but he had a point. Kee, The Laurel and the Ivy, 461.

[43] This episode, which came to light in 1887, is discussed later.

[44] W. O'Brien, The Parnell of Real Life (London, 1926), 72n.

[45] Belfast Telegraph, 3 May 1887.

[46] The Times, 4 May 1889, reporting Parnell's evidence, 3 May.

[47] His wife told the Freeman's Journal (26 February 1883) that she last saw him on 15 October 1881, "at my own front door, when he was leaving for Dublin."

[48] The Times, 18 October 1881.

[49] O. McGee, "Egan, Patrick", Dictionary of Irish Biography.

[50] A New York publication, The Dynamite Monthly of May 1884, stated that he "travelled all over Ireland for months as 'Father Murphy'." Sheridan, who worked in New York in 1883-4 and supported a dynamite campaign, was probably the source of this information. Quoted, P. Tynan, The Irish National Invincibles and their Times (London, 1894), 550.

[51] Cork Examiner, 7 March 1883.

[52] R.V. Comerford, The Fenians in Context ... (Dublin, 1998 ed., cf 1st ed. 1985), 243-4.

[53] Debates of the House of Commons, 6 May 1890, 191-2.

[54] T. Wemyss Reid, Life of the Right Honourable William Edward Forster (2 vols, London, 1888), ii, 437. Forster used the same words in the House of Commons on 15 May. Debates of the House of Commons, 15 May 1882, 790.

[55] The Times, 19 May 1882.

[56] J. Brooke and M. Sorenson, eds, W.E. Gladstone, iv: Autobiographical Memoranda 1868-1894 (London, 1981), 59 (memorandum, 5 May 1882); also in H.C.G. Matthew, ed., The Gladstone Diaries ..., x: January 1881-June 1883 (Oxford, 1990), 252.

[57] Debates of the House of Commons, 15 May 1882, 794-5.

[58] A. Robbins, Parnell: the Last Five Years (London, 1926), 17. Sad to relate, Parnell believed himself entitled to mark library books: RBOB, i, 269-70. Does the House of Commons Library still hold books on Daniel O'Connell, in which Parnell emphasised passages with a marginal blue-pencil line?

[59] P. Fox, Trinity College Library Dublin: a History (Cambridge, 2014), 185-6. The alcoves are replicated above, at balustrade level, linked by a corridor at the windows side. These could have provided some measure of seclusion, although they could be observed from across the atrium. However, the fact that external readers were barred from using the Long Room rules out this possibility. I am grateful to Dr David Parris FTCD for information about the Library, and for reminding me that the Trinity community c. 1880 was then very small – although this did not prevent congestion in the Reading Room. The Long Room can be "explored" on https://www.tcd.ie/visitors/book-of-kells/virtual-360/.

[60] The other libraries were in Cambridge, Edinburgh, London (the British Museum) and Oxford. The National Library of Wales was added in 1911. Despite Ireland's exit from the United Kingdom, Trinity retains its status as a UK copyright library.

[61] Fox, Trinity College Library Dublin: a History, 197. Curiously, prior to 1856, new readers were required to swear an oath. This was replaced by a simple declaration.

[62] Fox, Trinity College Library Dublin: a History, 213-14. A New Reading Room was finally built in 1937. In 2021, the East Pavilion housed the Department of Early Printed Books and Special Collections. While the Reading Room was probably shelved to carry a reference collection, there is no certainty that this would have included Griffith's Valuation. Trinity in that era was not much concerned either with recent history or the study of contemporary Irish society: a reference collection would more likely have comprised Classical lexicons and Biblical concordances.

[63] Located in temporary premises in Leinster House until 1890, the National Library was open to both women and men, and c. 1880 admitted around 700 readers a week. In 1880, John Dillon criticised the inadequacy of its funding, calling the National Library "a disgrace to Ireland and most inconvenient to every student in the city of Dublin". Katharine Tynan, who wrote a lyrical description of the less pressured facilities for ladies, noted that the general (men-only) reading room was "always crowded", although she unkindly speculated that many of the patrons were consulting the sports pages of newspapers. The National Library also operated on a closed-access basis, although the mansion's corridors were "lined to the dim richness of the ceiling with books". It would certainly have been a more congenial place for Parnell to have worked, and probably more accessible to a casual visitor like Sheridan. C. O'Flaherty, "The National Library", in B. Lalor, ed., The Encyclopedia of Ireland (Dublin, 2003), 768; Lyons, John Dillon, 37; Tynan, Twenty-five Years: Reminiscences, 85-6. Reader statistics were published in the Dublin newspapers, e.g. Irish Times, 16 November 1880, week ending 13 November, 710 male, 160 female, total 870.

[64] Bew, ODNB also uses "incongruous"; Foster (Leerssen, ed., Parnell and his Times, 59) says "of all places".

[65] Rival Conservative candidates had contested a by-election in 1875.  J. Vincent and M. Stenton, eds, McCalmont's Parliamentary Poll Book … (Brighton, 1971), part i, 92; part ii, 71. Roy Foster listed six Trinity intellectuals who joined the "armchair-Fenian" Young Ireland Society in October 1886: R.F. Foster, W.B. Yeats: a Life, i... (Oxford, 1998), 45-6, 551.

[66] C. Hayes, "Shaw, George Ferdinand", Dictionary of Irish Biography, quoting R.B. McDowell and D. A. Webb, Trinity College, Dublin, 1592–1952: an Academic History (1982).

[67] D. McCabe, "Galbraith, Joseph Allen", Dictionary of Irish Biography. The committee list is given in A.M. Sullivan, New Ireland… (New York, 1884 ed.), 444-6.  Some of the Protestant members, such as Frederick Goold, Archdeacon of Raphoe, were Trinity graduates. Butt himself had held a Trinity Chair from 1836 to 1841 (before Parnell was born) but had ceased to have any active association with the College.

[68] Oaths of all kinds were sworn on the Bible, and the Fenian oath was specifically taken "in the presence of Almighty God". Analysis of Sheridan's story has omitted consideration of this aspect of the reported ceremony. In the library of the College of the Holy and Undivided Trinity, it should not have been difficult to locate a copy of the Authorised Version, especially if it was shelved in an accessible reference collection. However, questions might have been raised if Parnell had been obliged to exit from his "quiet corner" to requisition a copy. For a  researcher seeking information on rental valuations in the west of Ireland to ask for Holy Scripture might have seemed an extreme application of the choice between Hell and Connaught.

[69] This section draws upon J. O'Leary, Recollections of Fenians and Fenianism (London 1896), 120-2.

[70] R. Kee, The Bold Fenian Men (London, 1976 ed., cf. 1st ed. 1972), 5n.

[71] O'Leary, Recollections of Fenians and Fenianism, 122. In a confusion of pronouns, the Proclamation of the Irish Republic at Easter 1916 implicitly referred to the ambiguity of its "virtually established" forerunner: "the Irish Republican Brotherhood ... having resolutely waited for the right moment to reveal itself, she [Ireland] now seizes that moment.... we hereby proclaim the Irish Republic as a Sovereign Independent State".

[72] Versions of the IRB oath given in T. W. Moody and L. Ó Broin, "The I.R.B. Supreme Council, 1868-78", Irish Historical Studies, xix (1975), 286-332, esp. 306-7, 314.

[73] M. Davitt, The Fall of Feudalism in Ireland ...(London, 1904), 111. Devoy also criticised the "absurd initiation ceremonies" and "quaint mummeries" which Clan na Gael borrowed from the Freemasons. O'Brien and Ryan, eds, Devoy's Post Bag, i, 53.

[74] By then, the Fenian oath seems to have degenerated into a must-have accessory for Dublin intellectuals. W.B Yeats denied that he was ever a sworn member, but Maud Gonne insisted he was. Roy Foster thought it "not unlikely" that Yeats swore the IRB oath, but accepts that he was a remarkably apolitical Fenian; Frank Tuohy pointed out that "Yeats suffered the disability of being notoriously unable to keep a secret." He had certainly broken with the IRB long before 1916. Foster, W.B. Yeats: a Life, i, 112-13; F. Tuohy, Yeats (London, 1976), 44.

[75] This replaced the 1859 version: "I will yield implicit obedience in all things, not contrary to the laws of God, to the commands of my superior officers. So help me God!" The 1873 version of the IRB oath did nothing to elucidate the "virtually established" mystery, since it assumed the existence of an Irish Republic that was (paradoxically) not yet independent. This may have been too metaphysical for Parnell's practical intellect.

[76] Maume, 368. Sheridan was two years older than Parnell. In 1882, he could not have been sure that he would outlive the Irish leader, least of all by a quarter of a century.

[77] Maume, of course, made no such claim. Bew went no further than saying that "Parnell made significant pro-Fenian gestures". Bew, Conflict, 2.

[78] Cork Examiner, 21 October 1891; Davitt, The Fall of Feudalism, 201; Lyons, Charles Stewart Parnell, 88-92.

[79] The qualification is important, and is discussed in the conclusion in relation to the naive acceptance of the Pigott forgeries by J.C. MacDonald of The Times.

[80] RBOB, i, 376. In 1880, an astute Dublin detective described Dillon as "a cool Fenian": a modern equivalent phrase would be "fellow traveller". But, given his emphasis upon control, it is not clear that even this imaginative phrase could apply to Parnell. Lyons, John Dillon, 15.

[81] Davitt, The Fall of Feudalism, 111-12. Davitt's complex relationship with Parnell is discussed in Marley, Michael Davitt, 47-98. In the winter of 1877-8, John Dillon had also considered a secessionist policy designed to precipitate "the final crisis between England and Ireland". An Irish parliament would urge the people "to resist carrying out English laws" while avoiding "as much as possible armed collision". Parnell, more realistically, saw that such an optimistic qualification would not work. Lyons, John Dillon, 23, 46.

[82] RBOB, i, 203, reporting a speech at Rochester, NY.

[83] Davitt, The Fall of Feudalism, 112-13.  For Parnell's relations with the Fenians generally in the late 1870s, T.W. Moody, Davitt and the Irish Revolution 1846-82 (Oxford, 1982), 300-16.

[84] Lyons, Charles Stewart Parnell, 79.

[85] RBOB, i, 137. The identification of Barry O'Brien's source, "X", with John Barry is in Lyons, Charles Stewart Parnell, 67, although it should be noted that "X" also noted that Parnell joked about Barry's portliness when he was selected to act as teller in support of a motion in support of distressed districts, RBOB, i, 139. A third activist, John Denvir, claimed to have discussed strategy with Parnell in 1878, but did not even bother to attempt to recruit him into the IRB. Denvir knew that "he would not actually join the advanced organisation" and agreed that "he was of far more service to the Irish cause as he was than if he had actually joined the revolutionary movement." But Denvir himself had been expelled from the IRB the previous year, which probably limited his enthusiasm (or, indeed, entitlement) for recruitment. J. Denvir, The Life Story of an Old Rebel (Dublin, 1910), 201; P. Rouse, "Denvir, John", Dictionary of Irish Biography.

[86] Debates of the House of Commons, 4 March 1880, 339.

[87] Immediately after his release from prison, Parnell would surely have been on his guard against entrapment by double agents.

[88] RBOB, i, 137.

[89] Maume, 369.

[90] Bew, ODNB.

[91] Debates of the House of Commons, 4 May 1882, 111.

[92] "A Constitutionalist was a man who was ready to go in to Parliament for Ireland. A Fenian was a man who was ready to go into penal servitude for Ireland." RBOB, i, 146.

[93] Comerford, The Fenians in Context, 210, and 209-11 for the Amnesty movement.

[94] Comerford, The Fenians in Context, 205-49, for an overview and analysis of Fenianism between 1877 and 1882, quotation at 243.

[95] RBOB, i, 157.

[96] R.F. Foster, "Interpretations of Parnell: the Importance of Locale" in R.F. Foster, Paddy and Mr Punch ... (London, 1995 ed, cf. 1st ed. 1993), 44.

[97] Here it should be noted that in 1881 Patrick Egan told Henri Le Caron, not knowing that he was speaking to a British agent, that Parnell had tried to join the IRB the previous year. "Some twelve months previously Mr. Parnell sought admission into the ranks of the Irish Revolutionary Brotherhood, but was refused. 'Parnell,' remarked Egan with a wise look, 'thought a good deal of the organisation, but it was not then in a flourishing condition, and we thought he would think a great deal more of it by being on the outside rather than in it.'"  Set against two pieces of evidence from relatively reliable sources (Davitt and John Barry, via Barry O'Brien) directly attributed to Parnell, this has the air of a cover story, using the moribund state of the IRB as an alleged reason for keeping him at arm's length. Egan at that time was in hiding in Paris. Giving evidence to the Special Commission in 1889, Parnell unwisely attempted to make a joke of that matter, saying that the only secret society he had ever joined was the Ancient Order of Foresters, a fraternal welfare body. He denied ever being a member of the IRB, insisting that he had never wanted to join any such organisation. There was "not the slightest truth" in the report that he had applied to Egan for IRB membership, a subject that Egan had never mentioned to him. Specifically asked if he had ever applied to join the IRB, he firmly replied, "No, I never did, and I was never asked to join." Of course, there is evidence (above) that this last statement was untrue. The Times, 1 May 1889;  'H. Le Caron' [recte T.M. or T.B. Beach], Twenty-Five Years in the Secret Service... (London, 1892), 168-9.

[98] O'Brien and Ryan, eds, Devoy's Post Bag, i, 40 (unsigned letter, Lomasney to Devoy, 18 February 1881, from Paris. Lyons, Charles Stewart Parnell, 154 quotes the first sentence but not the second. Kee, The Laurel and the Ivy, 343, also omits the second sentence, probably confirmation that its meaning is obscure.

[99] Lyons, Charles Stewart Parnell, 156.

[100] Lyons, Charles Stewart Parnell, 156-7.

[101] Katharine O'Shea had just given birth to their first child, and the baby was dying.

[102] Davitt, The Fall of Feudalism, 111.

[103] Debates of the House of Commons, 6 May 1890, 191-2. Webster added that "I am not entitled to say that they were members of the Land League as Invincibles."

[104] McGee, "Sheridan, Patrick Joseph", Dictionary of Irish Biography. The Irish World opened a Sheridan Defense Fund, but it only netted $396. Irish Times, 17 March 1883.

[105] At a conspiracy to murder case in Tubbercurry in May 1884, the principal prosecution witness claimed he had been told "that Sheridan had formed an inner circle called 'the Invincibles', that the inner circle was formed for the purpose of shooting people ... they would get any amount of money for any man they shot." He was given a knife and told to recite words from a paper. "He could not remember all the paper, but the substance of the latter end of it was that if he disobeyed orders or divulged secrets it would be death." He was then ordered to stab the paper with the knife.  Such evidence at that time can only be of marginal value. Ballinrobe Chronicle, 10 May 1884.

[106] Cork Examiner, 4 March 1883.

[107] Kerry Independent, 1 March 1883, reporting New York correspondent, 24 February. The anonymous journalist's comment that "half a dozen such 'patriots'" lived in affluence while the Irish people were starving was a familiar sneer against Nationalist organisations. Speaking in the House of Commons in 1890, Thomas Sexton referred to a letter that had come to light during the Special Commission, addressed to Sheridan by the American journalist W.H. Hurlbert. This specifically referred to an "interesting conversation ... in my office in New York in 1883" which led Hurlbert to suggest that he might give damaging evidence against Parnell. Since Hurlbert was an ally of The Times, this suggests that Sheridan had talked of possessing damaging information. If so, his failure to find buyers in 1883 suggests that it was not convincing. Debates of the House of Commons, 10 March 1890, 398.

[108] Widely reported, with a detailed account in Kerry Independent, 23 April 1883.

[109] Kerry Independent, 19 March 1883, quoting Irish Times. The explosion, at the Local Government Board, was part of a campaign, in which Tom Clarke, a leader of the 1916 Easter Rising, was involved.

[110] Irish Times, 4 July 1883.

[111] New York Herald, 3 July, quoted Kerry Independent, 16 July 1883. Formally, the venue was called the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Art and Society. Its Great Hall seated 1,500 people.

[112] Irish Times, 18 April; Leinster Express, 21 April 1883.

[113] D. Murphy, "O'Donnell, Patrick", Dictionary of Irish Biography.

[114] Sligo Champion, 10 November 1883.

[115] M. Murphy, "Ford, Patrick", Dictionary of Irish Biography.

[116] Whelehan, The Dynamiters: Irish Nationalism and Political Violence in the Wider World, 1867–1900, 264, 274-5, 282.

[117] The point at issue in 1878 was not Ford's competence, but O'Donovan Rossa's honesty. O'Brien and D. Ryan, eds, Devoy's Post Bag, i, 315-19.

[118] Ford reiterated his determination "to 'smash' the British Empire and lay England waste. There is a good deal more of the same sort of writing," the Irish Times wearily commented. Kerry Sentinel, 27 May; Irish Times, 7 June 1884.

[119] "From Butt to Balfour: Edward King-Harman (1838-1888)", https://www.gedmartin.net/martinalia-mainmenu-3/337-king-harman.  

[120] O'Connor, The Parnell Movement, 380.

[121] Irish Times, 21 April 1887.

[122] Debates of the House of Commons, 30 August 1887, 523, 533-4.

[123] Irish Times, 3 September 1887. On 2 September, the courteously patient Leader of the House of Commons, W.H. Smith, noted "excessive annoyance from the Irish .... it is very galling to have to endure insult and provocation from these men, and to be quite unable to cast it back again, except at the cost of prolonging our suffering." King-Harman had indeed given way to Healy's goading, and historians may be grateful that he did. H. Maxwell, Life and Times of the Right Honourable William Henry Smith, M.P. (2 vols, Edinburgh, 1893), ii, 197.

[124] RBOB, i, 214-22. At a by-election in 1876, the Conservative candidate, William Goulding, had been elected with 1,279 votes, against two Home Rule opponents, who polled 1,168 and 841 votes. In 1880, two Home Rulers were elected, although not with overwhelming support: Daly 1,923 and Parnell 1,505 ousted both sitting members, the Conservative Goulding polling 1,337 and the Liberal N.D. Murphy 999. J. Vincent and M. Stenton, eds, McCalmont's Parliamentary Poll Book … (Brighton, 1971), 69.

[125] Vincent and M. Stenton, eds, McCalmont's Parliamentary Poll Book, 266.

[126] Sheridan's letter, from his ranch at Monte Vista, Colorado, was dated 4 October, Freeman's Journal, 7 November; Sligo Chronicle, 12 November 1887.

[127] Sheridan had openly threatened to back a candidate of his own when a Nationalist convention had strongly endorsed Sexton: Freeman's Journal, 1 April 1880.

[128] The rest of the letter abused King-Harman as, e.g., "a libeller, a liar, and a calumniator" who believed it was "perfectly justifiable, if not morally right, to run British bayonets through Irish women's hearts and shoot down Irish children at their fathers' doors like vermin". The invective was seasoned with allusions to whiskey and sodomy.

[129] Freeman's Journal, 7 November 1887.

[130] Nation, 12 November 1887.

[131] The Sligo Champion specifically regretted that Sheridan had not produced a "fac-simile" of the "most interesting document" in which King-Harman was alleged to have undertaken to purchase arms for the Fenians. This was a coded allusion to the publication by The Times, six months earlier, of letters purporting to implicate Parnell in terrorist activities, the notorious Pigott forgeries, which were widely (and rightly) disbelieved in Nationalist Ireland.

[132] Sligo Champion, 12 November 1887.

[133] Irish Times, 14 November 1887.

[134] Freeman's Journal, 7 November; Nation, 12 November 1887.

[135] Irish Times, 14 November 1887.

[136] Sligo Champion, 12 November 1887.

[137] I base this approximate estimate on various enthusiast websites quoting US gun prices in the 1880s.

[138] Irish Times, 14 November 1887.

[139] I have not traced a report dating the death of Michael Moloney (or Molony), but a court case in November 1881 referred to the "late Mr Michael Molony, solicitor". He had argued a case in May, and his death was evidently recent. Sheridan was released from prison in mid-September and left Ireland in mid-October. Thus he might genuinely not have known of Moloney's death, but he might equally have wished to give the impression that exile explained why he assumed his alleged correspondent of 1880 was still alive.  Sligo Champion, 7 May; 12 November 1881.

[140] Irish Times, 14 November 1887. A (rare) sympathetic review of King-Harman's career, in the Sligo Champion, 30 June 1888, related that, as a young man, he criticised the sufferings of Fenian convicts, and he did indeed support the Amnesty movement. "His sympathy often took the more substantial form of aiding the families of the imprisoned Fenians." By 1880, Fenians had generally been released, and King-Harman's earlier generosity could hardly account for Sheridan's story.  

[141] The Sheridan episode is not mentioned either in The History of the Times: [iii], the Twentieth-Century Test 1884-1912 (London, 1947), 43-89, nor in T.W. Moody, "The Times versus Parnell and Co., 1887-90", in T.W. Moody, ed., Historical Studies, vi (Dublin, 1968), 147-75. The complicity of the British government in support of The Times was emphasised by F.S.L. Lyons, "'Parnellism and Crime', 1887-90", Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 5th series, xxiv (1974), 123-40. This account also closes with Pigott ("a thing, a reptile, a monster" Lord Randolph Churchill called him).

[142] The exchanges were published in RBOB, ii, 220-6 and Davitt, The Fall of Feudalism, 552-60.

[143] Freeman's Journal, 28 December 1888; Nation, 5 January 1889; Cork Examiner, 11 November 1892. Sheridan's statement in a letter to a journalist, was dated 5 December 1888, and was written in reply to a statement in the New York World that he was already in London. At that time, he probably did not know that his meetings with Kirby of The Times had been discovered.

[144] The Times, 16 February 1882. A Colorado newspaper reported in February 1889 that "Kirby was sent to procure from Sheridan the original Parnell letter [i.e. Pigott's forgery]; a fac-simile of which was published in the Times." Reports of this kind did not enhance Sheridan's life expectancy. Aspen Weekly Times, 15 February 1889. (Source: the online Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection.)

[145] Davitt, The Fall of Feudalism, 551;T.M. Healy, Letters and Leaders of My Day (2 vols, London, 1928), i, 296.

[146] Parnell's concern was reported at the time, e.g. Freeman's Journal, 13 January 1890. The alleged threat is discussed by Dungan, The Captain and the King, 321.

[147] Davitt, The Fall of Feudalism, 552-3; RBOB, ii, 225. Brennan had stood trial alongside Sheridan as one of the "Traversers" in 1880-1.

[148] RBOB, ii, 224-5.

[149] RBOB, ii, 223-4. Kirby had pointed out to him that "you cannot hope for the protection here you would get in London". Davitt, The Fall of Feudalism, 554.

[150] Davitt, The Fall of Feudalism, 554.

[151] Davitt, The Fall of Feudalism, 558.

[152] Leadville Evening Chronicle, 23 May 1889. The Colorado papers had reported Cronin's disappearance, with the Daily Chieftain (published in Pueblo, about 140 miles from Sheridan's ranch) predicting as early as 9 May that he had been murdered. G. O'Brien, "'A diabolical murder': Clan na Gael, Chicago and the murder of Dr Cronin", History Ireland, xxiii (2015). I have been unable to consult Dr O'Brien's book, Blood Ran Green ... (Chicago, 2015) but understand that it does not refer to Patrick Sheridan. The prize for tasteless alliteration in a Colorado newspaper headline of this period should probably go to Boulder Daily Camera, 9 October 1891: "Plan for Planting Parnell".

[153] Davitt, The Fall of Feudalism, 553, quoting Brennan's January 1890 account in the New York Herald.

[154] Connaught Telegraph, 15 February 1890.

[155] Denver Post, undated, quoted in Alamosa Courier, 5 January 1918.

[156] Nation, 5 January 1889.

[157] O'Brien, The Parnell of Real Life, 72n.

[158] Tynan, The Irish National Invincibles and Their Times, 558.

[159] Tynan, The Irish National Invincibles and Their Times, 551.

[160] Connaught Telegraph, 25 March 1916.

[161] Maume, 367-8. It is perhaps worth noting that Sheridan is first recorded to have told his story so long after Parnell's death, which would have released him from his claimed obligation of secrecy. In the bitter atmosphere of the Split, when Parnell had appealed to the 'hillside' men, it is striking that nobody seems to have suggested that he had been a secret Fenian for some years. [Additional note, April 2021: In 1913, John Daly revealed a similar report about Isaac Butt. The story was that, to buy off the Fenians in 1873, "he signed a paper pledging himself that if the English parliament did not grant Home Rule inside of 3 years ... he would come back to Dublin and submit himself to the Fenian Party".  Charles Doran of Queenstown (Cobh, County Cork) claimed to have had the paper in his possession. "Where it is, or what became of it," Daly concluded in 1913, "God knows." It may have required more than divine omniscience to track down such a document. A lawyer, Butt was highly unlikely to have signed anything so damaging. If he did put himself in the hands of the IRB after 1876, he was surely the least effective Fenian agent of all time. D. Thornley, Isaac Butt and Home Rule (London, 1964), 161-2.]

[162] Sheridan, as noted, died on 31 December 1917. It is possible that the veterans gathered in Denver to attend a fiery lecture delivered to the local Trades and Labor Assembly by Cornelius (Con) Lehane, a Transport Workers' Union organiser on a lecture tour of America. Lehane predicted that the War would bring about a social revolution, and that the Irish working class, being the best organised in Europe, would lead the way in creating a republic. He was right in divining that Ireland was facing into turbulent times, but his predictions were almost entirely unfulfilled. Denver Labor Bulletin, 2 October 1915.

[163] R.D. Edwards, Patrick Pearse… (London, 1979 ed., cf. 1st ed. 1977), 253; D. McCartney, "From Politics to History: the Changing Image of Parnell", in D. McCartney and P. Travers, The Ivy Leaf … (Dublin, 2006), 158-65, esp. 163. An admittedly unfriendly journalist had called the 1903 annual procession to Parnell's grave at Glasnevin a "dismal fiasco .... Apparently the memory of Mr Parnell has ceased to be honoured by Dublin Nationalists." The Times, 12 October 1903, Dublin correspondent, 11 October. Parnell's memory thus seemed ripe for redefinition, and the statue formed part of that relaunch. Arthur Griffith, admittedly not yet a central figure, but a living link with the Parnellite rearguard of the Split, secured himself a prominent position at the unveiling. P. Travers, "The March of the Nation: Parnell's Ne Plus Ultra Speech", in D. McCartney and P. Travers, eds, Parnell Reconsidered (Dublin, 2013), 190-3.

[164] Maume, "Quinn, Thomas Joseph", Dictionary of Irish Biography.  

[165] Individual activists had Fenian connections, and the IRB may have used the Plan of Campaign as a cover for recruiting. L.M. Geary's comprehensive study of the episode makes remarkably few allusions to Fenianism. Kee's verdict that, by 1890, the IRB was "virtually of no significance ... a minute and isolated organization" seems a reasonable borrowing of the Fenian adverb. Devoy's correspondence does not indicate any Clan na Gael interest in the Plan of Campaign. Bew commented on the difficulty of penetrating relations between Parnellites and Fenians in the 1890s.  L. M. Geary, The Plan of Campaign 1886-1891 (Cork, 1986), 26-7; Kee, The Bold Fenian Men, 95, and cf. G. Dangerfield, The Damnable Question ... (London, 1977), 94; Bew, Conflict and Conciliation in Ireland 1890-1910, 19n.

[166] Maume, 369.

[167] The Times, 16 February 1889. MacDonald was a disastrous witness. "You formed the opinion that it was a likely letter for Mr Parnell to have written from Kilmainham? Yes." He interpreted the question "you did take steps to inquire?" as referring not to the plausibility of the content but to the security of the prison: "the mere fact of his presence there offered no impediment to his writing a letter." Asked: "This your opinion?", he replied "It is a matter of proof." MacDonald died a few months later, as much a casualty of the forgeries as Pigott himself.

[168] Intriguingly, the London correspondent of the Freeman's Journal stated in 1898 that such an archive had existed. "Mr Parnell kept, or rather his secretary kept for him, all the letters he had received during his public life". Copies of most of outgoing correspondence were believed to have been entered in notebooks kept by his former private secretary, Henry Campbell.  "After Mr Parnell's death, all his public papers, filling, I believe, several large boxes, were removed to a Brighton Bank, but whether they remain there still, or whether they are in existence, is not … known even to those who were most intimately associated with the dead leader in his closing days." Henry Campbell was Parnell's private secretary from 1880 until his death. He later became Town Clerk of Dublin, and died in England in 1924. In 1914, Katharine Parnell published private letters between the couple, but it was not clear whether the revelations were simply a selection. Parnell's papers were perhaps destroyed by the vengeful Gerard O'Shea, defender of his father's doubtful honour, after his mother's death in 1921. Parnell's business records, which he carefully checked at Eltham, may have been lost after the State acquired Avondale for forestry in 1904, the house itself being left empty. It remains a pleasant dream that a Parnell archive might surface one day. Freeman's Journal, 11 November 1898; C.J. Woods, "Campbell, Sir Henry", Dictionary of Irish Biography.

[169] The scandal of the O'Shea divorce perhaps encouraged the families of Parnell's allies subsequently to destroy documents associated with the fallen leader.

[170] The classic instance of this is Parnell's Cincinnati speech in 1880: did he speak of breaking the "last link" with England? Lyons becomes the biographer-as-apologist: "The truth of the matter probably is that Parnell did make an extreme speech", but "the exact terms of it were garbled" and difficult to report "against the background of a noisy and emotional crowd". Hence "it is not possible to determine" precisely what Parnell said. This comes close to admitting that Parnell did use the controversial phrase, but Lyons wished he had not. Lyons, Charles Stewart Parnell, 111-12.

[171] Thus after reviewing the delicate balance between violence and order after Kilmainham, Bew argued: "Sheridan swearing Parnell into the IRB is entirely consistent with the other developments documented here. Parnell would have been more than happy to enter into a private arrangement of this sort in order to gain Sheridan's support. It was a classic confidence-building measure." But he then added that "having been so close to the hard men, Parnell now had to separate himself radically." Pledging obedience (even if in strict confidence) to Fenian orders seems a strange way of doing this. Bew, Enigma, 103.