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A Letter from Kilmainham Jail: Charles Stewart Parnell and the Land War

Letter from Charles Stewart Parnell to William Kerr 1882, RCB Library Ms 994.
Letter from Charles Stewart Parnell to William Kerr 1882, RCB Library Ms 994.

The Representative Church Body Library, the Church of Ireland’s central library and repository for archives, is renowned for its extensive collection of parish registers, and holds a wide range of lesser–known documents covering many diverse aspects of Irish history.

Among these hidden treasures is an extraordinary letter written by Charles Stewart Parnell, the influential leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party. This article examines the historical significance of the letter, which was discovered by chance within the library’s holdings. Dated February 1882 and composed during Parnell’s imprisonment in Kilmainham Jail, the letter offers a valuable snapshot of the activities surrounding the Land War, and highlights Parnell’s role in advocating for the rights of tenant farmers.

The memo addresses a seemingly paradoxical situation as Parnell, known for championing the tenants’ cause, requests the collection of rents owed by his own tenants. Exploring the context and motivations behind this letter, the article highlights Parnell’s political strategies, and the delicate balance he maintained between parliamentary lobbying and grassroots activism.

This particular period of incarceration culminated in the Kilmainham Treaty, a pivotal agreement between Parnell and Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone, which brought significant concessions for Irish tenants, and marked a watershed moment on the Irish political scene.  By unveiling this captivating letter, the article contributes to a broader understanding of Parnell’s leadership, and helps to illustrate the multi–faceted historical resources available within the RCB Library.

The full feature about the letter is available at this link.

Peter Cheney

Press Officer
Tel: (028/048) 9082 8880
Mobile: +44 (0)7774 295 369

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