On this day, June 25, in 1891, one of Ireland’s most famous couples married. Charles Stewart Parnell, the Irish political hero and Katherine “Kitty” O’Shea tied the knot after a tumultuous start, to say the least.
After a stupendous political career, a massive public scandal of a shameless affair a divorce the pair was finally married, however, just months later Parnell was dead.
In the 19th-century Charles Stewart Parnell, originally from Cork city, was known as the “uncrowned king of Ireland.” A brilliant politician he held great power and influence and campaigned for the rights of the Irish people who were living under British rule.
Representing Ireland in the House of Commons, in London, he showed great intelligence and skill in mobilizing his followers. The members of parliament even gave Parnell a standing ovation after he cleared his name when The Times newspaper made false allegations against him.
At the height of his power and influence, everything he had built for himself, came crashing down all because he met Katherine – the wife of a member of parliament, Captain William Henry O’Shea. His reputation was destroyed when it was publically revealed that Parnell had been having a relationship with Katherine (Kitty) and the Irish politician was named as co-respondent on the couple’s divorce.
Parnell and O’Shea had been seeing each other for years in plain sight and had children together. Their relationship was called “the worst kept secret in London.”
The Captain had kept quiet about the relationship as he was waiting to receive his cut of an inheritance from one of Kitty’s aunts. However, when it was clear the inheritance was not going to appear he proceeded with the divorce.
At the time divorce was almost unheard of. It became a national scandal.
Despite the fact that Parnell knew what kind of damage the scandal could cause to his career he was not prepared to give up Kitty. He allowed all proceedings to go ahead in public and the effect on his career was massive.
The Irish Party called a meeting to decide if Parnell could stay on as leader. Many turned against him because of the affair. The British Prime Minister William Gladstone told Parnell that if he did not resign the alliance would be finished along with the prospect of Home Rule for Ireland. Parnell was ousted from the party and his career was destroyed.
However, on June 25, 1891, Parnell and O’Shea were married in a registry office. They had failed to get permission to have the wedding at a Church. He was also denied support for those in Ireland, those who had previously supported him so passionately.
Parnell died in Kitty O’Shea’s arms in October of that year, just four years after their wedding, at the age of 45, having succumbed to pneumonia. It was reported that 200,000 people attended his funeral. O’Shea lived the rest of her life in relative obscurity.
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After his death, O’Shea wrote her reminiscence of when she first knew she loved Parnell. It was the autumn of the year 1880. They had met earlier that summer and carried on an affair even though she was married.
“On the platform for Eltham at Charing Cross (train station) stood Mr. Parnell. As our eyes met he turned and walked by my side. He did not speak. He helped me into the train and sat opposite me.
"I leant back and closed my eyes and could have slept but that the little flames deep down in Parnell’s eyes kept flickering before mine though they were closed.
"He took off his coat and tucked it around me but I would not open my eye to look at him. He crossed over and leaning over me to fold the coat more closely around my knees he whispered, “I love you” and I slipped my hand into his and I knew I was not afraid.”
If their tale doesn’t melt your heart…consult a doctor.