CHAPTER II. A LEADER IS DETHRONED!

In the cabin, in the shieling, in the home of the "fattest" farmer, as well as around the open hearth of the most lowly peasant, in town and country, wherever there were hearts that hoped for Irish liberty and that throbbed to the martial music of "the old cause," the name of Parnell was revered with a devotion such as was scarcely ever rendered to any leader who had gone before him. A halo of romance had woven itself around his figure and all the poetry and passion of the mystic Celtic spirit went forth to him in the homage of a great loyalty and regard. The title of "The Uncrowned King of Ireland" was no frothy exuberance as applied to him - for he was in truth a kingly man, robed in dignity, panoplied in power, with a grand and haughty bearing towards the enemies of his people - in all things a worthy chieftain of a noble race. The one and only time in life I saw him was when he was a broken and a hunted man and when the pallor of death was upon his cheeks, but even then I was impressed by the majesty of his bearing, the dignity of his poise, the indescribably magnetic glance of his wondrous eyes, and the lineaments of power in every gesture, every tone and every movement. He awed and he attracted at the same time. He stood strikingly out from all others at that meeting at Tralee, where I was one of a deputation from Killarney who presented him with an address of loyalty and confidence, which, by the way, I, as a youthful journalist starting on my own adventurous career, had drafted. It was one of his last public appearances, and the pity of it all that it should be so, when we now know, with the fuller light and knowledge that has been thrown upon that bitterest chapter of our tribulations, that with the display of a little more reason and a juster accommodation of temper, Parnell might have been saved for his country, and the whole history of Ireland since then - if not, indeed, of the world - changed for the better. But these are vain regrets and it avails not to indulge them, though it is permissible to say that the desertion of Parnell brought its own swift retribution to the people for whom he had laboured so potently and well.

I have read all the authentic literature I could lay hold of bearing upon the Parnell imbroglio, and it leaves me with the firm conviction that if there had not been an almost unbelievable concatenation of errors and misunderstandings and stupid blunderings, Parnell need never have been sacrificed. And the fact stands out with clearness that the passage in Gladstone's "Nullity of Leadership" letter, which was the root cause of all the trouble that followed, would never have been published were it not that the political hacks, through motives of party expediency, insisted on its inclusion. That plant of tender growth - the English Nonconformist conscience - it was that decreed the fall of the mighty Irish leader.

It is only in recent years that the full facts of what happened during what is known as "The Parnell Split" have been made public, and these facts make it quite clear that neither during the Divorce Court proceedings nor subsequently had Parnell had a fair fighting chance. Let it be remembered that no leader was ever pursued by such malignant methods of defamation as Parnell, and it is questionable how far the Divorce Court proceedings were not intended by his enemies as part of this unscrupulous campaign. Replying to a letter of William O'Brien before the trial, Parnell wrote: "You may rest quite sure that if this proceeding ever comes to trial (which I very much doubt) it is not I who will quit the court with discredit." And when the whole mischief was done, and the storm raged ruthlessly around him, Parnell told O'Brien, during the Boulogne negotiations, that he all but came to blows with Sir Frank Lockwood (the respondent's counsel) when insisting that he should be himself examined in the Divorce Court, and he intimated that if he had prevailed the political complications that followed could never have arisen. On which declaration Mr O'Brien has this footnote: "The genial giant Sir Frank Lockwood confessed to me in after years: 'Parnell was cruelly wronged all round. There is a great reaction in England in his favour. I am not altogether without remorse myself.'"

Not all at once were the flood-gates of vituperation let loose upon Parnell. Not all at once did the question of his continued leadership arise. He had led his people, with an incomparable skill and intrepidity, not unequally matched with the genius of Gladstone himself, from a position of impotence and contempt to the supreme point where success was within their reach. A General Election, big with the fate of Ireland, was not far off. Was the matchless leader who had led his people so far and so well to disappear and to leave his country the prey of warring factions - he who had established a national unity such as Ireland had never known before? "For myself," writes William O'Brien, "I should no more have voted Parnell's displacement on the Divorce Court proceedings alone than England would have thought of changing the command on the eve of the battle of Trafalgar in a holy horror of the frailties of Lady Hamilton and her lover."