Anna Catherine Parnell

Life

1852-1911 [Catherine Maria Anna Mercer]; b. Avondale, Co. Wicklow, 13 May; d. 20 Sept., Ilfracombe, Devon; 10th of 11 children to John Henry Parnell (d.1859) and Delia Tudor Parnell, his American wife; s. to Charles Stewart Parnell; organised Ladies’ Land League, 1881; resisted attempts by Chief Sec. W. E. Foster to suppress the League under legislation addressed to prostitution;
 
 
distributed £60,000 in relief; disbanded at request of Charles Stewart Parnell, who distrusted her politically; Old Tales and New (Dublin: Sealy, Bryers & Co. 1905), in verse; also wrote The Tale of a Great Sham, published in 1986, ed. Dana Hearne (see als Maeve Cavanagh, supra); drowned Ilfracombe under circumstances suggesting suicide, 20 Sept. [No ODNB entry.] DIB DIH [FDA]

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Works
Beverly Schneller, Anna Parnell’s Political Journalism [Irish Research Ser., 22] (MD: Academica Press LLC 2005), 312pp.

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Criticism
Jane McL. Côté, Fanny & Anna Parnell, Ireland’s Patriot Sisters (London: Macmillan 1991), xix, 331pp.; Patricia Groves, Petticoat Rebellion: The Anna Parnell Story (Cork: Mercier Press 2009), 256pp.; Mary Cullen & Maria Luddy, eds., Women, Power and Consciousness in 19th-century Ireland (Dublin: Attic Press 1995), 304pp. [incls. life of Anna Parnell with 7 others].

See also J. TeBrake, ‘Irish Peasant Women in Revolt: The Land League years’, in Irish Historical Studies, 28 (1992), pp.63-80; , and Niamh O’Sullivan, ‘The Iron Cage of Femininity: Visual Representation of Women in the 1880s Land Agitation’, in Ideology and Ireland in the Nineteenth Century, ed. Tadhg Foley & Seán Ryder (Dublin: Four Courts Press 1998), p.181-96.

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Commentary
T. W. Moody, ‘Anna Parnell and the Land League’, in Hermathena CXVII (Summer 1974), pp.5-17. Moody gives a general account of relations between Parnell, the Fenians, and the Land League, especially Davitt. He finds that her fault was in pursuing the League policy literally, while being misinformed and castigated by the male executive. When Parnell emerged from prison he was deterimined to curb the Ladies’ Land League, but he met his match in his sister and it was only by cutting off their supplies at the bank that he put a stop to the activities of the ladies.’ (p.8) He notes that League policy was to withhold rent on estates where tenants had been evicted, but that no such policy was in fact followed. ‘Members of the Land League executive assured Anna that there was “not a [13] single tenant in Ireland who would not pay the rent if he could’. The the terribel truth dawned on Anna and her colleagues that the Land League was fraud. And they took the logical but perilous step of attempting themselves to carry out the Land League’s own principle of resistance to rent in defiance of the league’s own policy.’ (p.13-4). ‘Her contention that the Land League as a failure would have been understandable if she had been writing in 1882; but writing as she did in 1907, she must have shut her mind to all the evidence of the previou 25 years ... including Davitt’s classic, The Fall of Feudalism in Ireland, or the story of the Land League Revolution (1904).’ Secondly, he faults her determination to write her history in the impersonal mode, such that we have no inkling from it that the League was directed by two men who towered above their contemporaries. She is the primary source of information on the Ladies’ Land League. She first published a slim volume of bleak satiric erse, Old Tales and New (1905), with concealed help from T.P. O’Connor and others (vide Memoirs of an Old Parliamentarian, 1929, I, 219-20, I, 329; [also I, 200].

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T. W. Moody (‘Anna Parnell and the Land League’, 1974) -cont.: Anna Parnell’s treatise, entitled ‘The tale of a great Sham’, is dated Oct 1907, and runs to 275 foolscap pages; she entrusted it to Helena Monlony in 1910, having become acquainted in 1908 when Anna spoke at a meeting of Inginidhe na hEireann; the MS passed out of her hands after 1916, but turned up in the home of a friend in 1958; put at the disposal of Moody, and now in National Library [MS 12144]. Bibl., bitter letter by Anna, 7 May, 1882, publishing in The Times, 9 May. [In this letter, it appears that she held up Viceroy Lord Spencer in order to expostulate with him, by seizing his horse’s bridle while he rode with an armed escort through Westmoreland St.; on this incident, see also also Katherine Tynan, Twenty-five years, reminiscences (London 1913), ‘Miss Parnell was the stuff of which heroines are made, perhpas she alone of us. And what soft, gentle stuff it was! ... One would have said she was masculine if she had not been so feminine. The small pale face, strangely attractive, was very sensitive, somewhat nervous. Varying expressions flitted over it, troubling it for a second being passing. Her hair was very soft and fine, a sure index of a sensitive nature.’ (pp.82-83). Also William O’Brien, Recollections (London 1905, pp.376-7, 385, 462-3; Davitt, The Fall of Feudalism, pp.301-2; 309-10; cf A. J. Kettle, The material for Victory (Dublin 1958), pp.39-41. Ladies’ Land League activities documented in NLI MS materials, MSS 17699-704; 17705, 17709, 17714. [End.]

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Jane Côté & Dana Hearne, Fanny and Anna Parnell, Ireland’s Patriot Sisters (Gill & Macmillan 1991). Reviewed by Margaret MacCurtain, Irish Literary Supplement (Fall 1992). Described as strong-headed and reckless by FSL Lyons, the sisters and there mother have been unkindly treated by male historians. Anna wrote her account of the role of women in the land league in her fifties, but failed to find a publisher. The manuscript was discovered in theNational Library by T. W. Moody, and edited by Dana Hearne as a postgraduate before being published by Arlen House shortly before it went out of business in 1986, The Great Sham. The reputation of the Parnell Sisters for inefficiency and do-goodery was copperfastened by Michael Davitt in The Fall of Feudalism in Ireland. A Canadian journalist Henry Labouchère, in a crucial sketch of 1882, described Anna as recklessly improvident and cold-bloodedly ruthlss. The new work draws on recently discovered unexamined Tudor and Stewart family papers [sic], in libraries in Boston and Philadelphia, old and distinguished New England families connected to Delia, the Parnell mother. The book ends with an account of Fanny’s prolonged obsequies at Cambridge, Massachusetts; Parnell could not be prevailed on to have her remains brought back to Ireland though Kitty O’Shea attests she was his favorite sister. As Margaret War points out in Unmanageable Revolutionaries (1983), Anna Parnell is a vital link in the chain of radical women joining the Ladies’ Land League with the women to demanded the vote and who later joined Cumann na mBan. MacCurtain gives the book - which she has had difficulty securing in a Dublin bookshop that holds a library of Parnelliana - her highest recommendation for ‘historical retrieval’, perhaps meaning rehabilitation. (ILS Fall, 1992).

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Jane Cote & Dana Hearne, ‘Anna Parnell’, in Mary Cullen & Mary Luddy, eds., Women, Power and Consciousness in Nineteenth Century Ireland (Dublin: Attic Press 1995): ‘Quite early in its existence the Ladies Land League took over much of the administraton on Upper Sackville St.’ (p.271.) Davitt regarded he LLL as a purely charitable and therefore suitably feminine organisaton ... Anna Parnell viewed it as distinctly political.’ ((p.270); Archbishop McCabe: ‘do not tolerate in your sodalities the women who so far disvows her birth right of modesty as to parade herself before the public gaze.’ (p.274.) ‘Constantly on the front pages of the Irish, Irish-American, Irish-Canadian, and English press.’ (p.276); ‘Anna Parnell became permanently estranged from her brother who, she believed, had behaved towards her in an unprincipled manner.’ (p.274)

R. F. Foster (Paddy and Mr Punch, 1993), cites letter by Anna in Gaelic American, 16 Jan. 1907, giving an account of Fanny’s writing, ‘She knew nothing of the existence of the Fenians when she went to that office, and the only purpose was to see if she could make a little money ...’ (p.44.)

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References
Seamus Deane, gen. ed., The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry: Field Day 1991), Vol. 3,, fnd. Ladies’ Land League 1881], 416n; Katharine Tynan, ‘I remember so strongly the extraordinarily compelling force of her personality..,’ (Twenty-Five Years, 1913), 418 [with bio-note, 1852-1911; first woman agitator of importance in mod. Irish history; fnd. LLL on promptings of sister Frances Parnell; addressed it s first public meeting, Claremorris, Co Mayo, 31 Jan 1881; see A. Parnell, The Tale of a Great Sham, ed. D.Hearn (Arlen 1986). [Anna turned against Parnell after he disbanded the LLL on his release from prison.] See also notices in Irish Booklover.

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Notes
Circumstances of death: After the death of Fanny, 18 July 1882, she withdrew from public life except for occasional letters to the press; in 1908 she took a part in the campaign at which C. J. Dolan contested a seat in North Leitrim for Sinn Féin; in 1909 she was moving about in England as Cerisa Palmer; drown at the Tunnels bathing spot in Ilfacrombe, N. Devon, on 20 Sept. 1911; though a good swimmer she ‘never spoke or called out’, according to an attendant who tried to rescue her, as reported in obit., Freeman’s Journal, 25 Sept. 1911, and in Katherine O’Shea, Charles Stewart Parnell, His Love Story and Political Life (London 1914), I, 260-61 [See Moody, op. cit., infra, p.9].

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