Sometimes he was Smith, sometimes he was Stewart, and sometimes he was Preston, but the most telling of the aliases Charles Stewart Parnell used to conduct the liaison with Mrs O'shea that eventually destroyed him was undoubtedly 'Mr Fox'. Revealed by the divorce proceedings of November 1890, which, in wrecking his alliance with Gladstonian Liberalism, cost him his leadership of the Irish Parliamentary party, it rebounded savagely on him in the last, desperate convulsions of his career, as he struggled in a punishing series of by-elections to recover the dominance of the Irish national cause which had been his unchallenged possession for over a decade. Harried around North Kilkenny to the cry of 'Tally-ho' by 'hounds like Davitt' (his own phrase) who had been his colleagues a few weeks earlier, Parnell was stripped of the aloofness that had been his trademark and forced into the mud of a contest that deprived not only him but the Home Rule cause of the moral dignity he had battled to assert, and, as Frank Callanan notes, delivered to Unionist enemies the propaganda gift of an apparent reversion to the old, burlesque Ireland, the pantomimic Paddyism, of their most cherished prejudices, an image only intensified by Davitt's snivelling exculpation of the vicious Kilkenny fight as 'full of fun and Irish good humour throughout'. It was no better in Sligo, or in Carlow, where the unhappy choice of Andrew J. Kettle as the Parnellite candidate provoked so vigorous a tattoo on the appropriate utensil at Parnell's meetings as to turn his last campaign into a hideous skimmington.
LRB 7 April 1994 | PDF Download