In the roaring days of the now deceased Celtic Tiger the SNP leader Alex Salmond was fond of pointing to Ireland as “an independence success story.”
Salmond looked at the Scandinavian countries Iceland and Ireland and said an independent Scotland could join this well-heeled club if it left the UK.
He also discovered the career of Charles Stuart Parnell. Here he quotes him in his speech at the SNP conference in Inverness earlier this year.
Just as Salmond’s “arch of prosperity” speech came back to bite him as the banks failed in Iceland and the IMF moved in to run Ireland then so his foray into 19th century Irish history in search of sound bites might prove embarrassing.
Even a cursory knowledge of the career of the “uncrowned king of Ireland” would know that he became a force in the land when he embraced the Land Question and those who were willing to fight for it-the Fenians.
I regularly walk past the spot, commemorated by a monument, on the Newport road going into my father’s town of Westport County Mayo.
It was on this spot that Parnell, at Davitt’s prompting, addressed a meeting of the Land League in June 1879.
He left the Mayo crowd, including my grandmother’s father, in no doubt that change was coming in rural Ireland and, indeed, across the island. He told them:
“You must show the landlord that you intend to keep a firm grip on your homesteads and lands. You must not allow yourselves be dispossessed as you were dispossessed in 1847.”
In doing so Parnell’s Parliamentarians got themselves a mass movement in the nation of the townlands. He also acquired the veiled threat of Fenian violence if Ireland’s claim of right wasn’t met by London.
It was this generation of Irish people in Glasgow, Famine survivors who would form Celtic FC.
Celtic was formed in the era of Parnell and the Fenians.
Michael Davitt connects Celtic to Parnell to that entire period of Irish history and it is central to the origins of the Glasgow Irish consciousness and, of course, the origins of Celtic.
This is a period in the history of Glasgow’s Irish community that is brilliantly evoked by Paul Cuddihy’s novel “Saints and Sinners.”
Nor is the association of Parnell to the Fenians merely by his astute alliance with Michael Davitt.
British historian Andrew Roberts even claims that Parnell was possibly sworn into the Fenian brotherhood (IRB) the IRB in the Old Library at Trinity College Dublin in May 1882 and that this was concealed for 40 years. Based on a letter in 1928 from Land League activist Thomas J Quinn to William O’Brien. He was recounting a conversation he had with Patrick Joseph Sheridan. Sheridan told O’Brien that it was he who had privately sworn in Parnell.
Historians Paul Bew and Patrick Muame have discovered material that suggests that Quinn was reporting accurately what Sheridan had told him.
No matter the fact of Parnell’s formal membership of the IRB, a “terrorist” organisation in treasonable opposition to the crown, given his close alliance with these “hillside men” it is believable that Parnell was in the IRB.
When it came to winning Ireland’s freedom Parnell, ultimately, had nae limits.
So it is ok for Alex Salmond on live TV in Scotland in 2011 to remember, quote and laud Charles Stuart Parnell the man with Fenian sympathies.
Is it ok for others to do the same?
Given Alex Salmond’s rather clumsy shopping trip for a politically useful Irish hero perhaps someone in Hollyrood can ask him the following question:
“How does the First Minister feel about people of Irish descent in modern Scotland celebrating their Fenian tradition and their Irish heritage?”
This is a rather pressing question as it would appear that his government is about to criminalise just that act of remembrance.