Richard Pigott


Life
1828-1889; b. Co. Meath; proprietor and ed. The Irishman; ed. The Flag of Ireland, and The Shamrock (1866-1879), all sold to the Irish National Newspaper and Publishing Co., an agency of Parnell and the Land League (the last-named being reconstituted as United Ireland, ed. William O’Brien); devised scheme for forgery implicating Parnell in Phoenix Park murders, working with Times journalist Edward Caulfield Houston, sec. of Irish Loyal and Patriotic Union; gave celebrated champagne parties at Vesey Terrace, Kingstown [Dun Laoghaire]; amateur photographer; forged letters in Paris having failed to find information of the kind required in Paris, Switzerland, or America;
 
‘Parnellism and Crime’ (Times, 1887-88), written chiefly by Woulfe Flanagan, was based on his forged letters and information; cross-examined by Charles Russell, Lord Killowen, at Parnell Commission, 20 Feb. 1889; trapped by misspelling of the word ‘hesitancy’, 22 Feb.; absented himself from court, 26 Feb., but signed a confession before two journalists; fled to Paris; travelled to Madrid as ‘Ronald Ponsonby’; after confrontation by British official, 28 Feb., shot himself fatally in the mouth, Hotel Embajadores, 29 Feb. [var. 1 March]; Anthony Cronin: Identity Papers by Anthony Cronin concerns Pigott’s son. ODNB DIW DIH DIB [FDA] OCIL

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Commentary
M. J. MacManus, Adventures of an Irish Bookman (Talbot Press 1952), recounting his correspondence with G. B. Shaw over Pigott’s imprisonment for sedition, regarding which Shaw wrote: ‘I think you are misinformed about Dick Pigott (called the Major). He most certainly was imprisoned in Richmond Bridewell. his routine was to drink himself almost to death, at which point he would write a recklessly seditious article his paper The Irishman and get six months for it. The compulsory abstinence thus enforced restored health and enabled him to begin again ... He had a fancy for imitating other people’s handwriting. He had military moustache (hence “the major”) and was very unlike the old crock of the Parnell letters.’ Note that MacManus goes on to remark that there are no references to his term of imprisonment in the standard authors, William O’Brien, Tim Healy, T. P. O’Connor, &c.; but that James O’Connor, MP for Wicklow, in a pamphlet, recalled that Pigott had availed of the fate of the Manchester martyrs to publish an editorial in The Irishman, actually written by Sigerson but for which the editor received a sentence of six months. (MacManus, pp.109-11).

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Barbara Hayley, ‘A Reading and Thinking Nation: Periodicals as the Voice of Nineteenth-century Ireland’, in Hayley and Enda McKay, ed., Three Hundred Years of Irish Periodical (Assoc. of Irish Learned Journals: Gigginstown, Mullingar 1987), 29-48: ‘Another penny magazine of this kind was the Shamrock (a national weekly journal of Irish history, literature, arts, &c.), started in 1866 by Richard Pigott, who forged the Parnell letters in the Times in 1887. This too was a well-designed quarto production, with a very high standard of illustration by Gustave Doré, Montbard, the Grey Brothers and Edward Shiel. Its “Noctes Dublinienses” described contemporary Dublin; it was full of Irish reminiscences and anecdotes. It had romantic fiction (Ella, the Dancing Girl) and Irish comic dialect stories such as John F. O’Donnell’s “Tim Hogan’s Adventures in Fairyland”, and Captain William Lynam’s famous “Mick McQuaid the Evangeliser”. The Shamrock went on under Pigott until 1879 when he sold it with his other papers, the Flag of Ireland and The Irishman, to the Irish National Newspaper and Publisher Company, owned by Parnell and the Land League.’ (pp.45-46.)

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Myles Dungan, ‘Writing Nearly on the Wall for Parnell’, in The Irish Times (13 Feb. 2010), Weekend Review, p.6: ‘[...] The centerpiece of the entire affair was the cross-examination of Dublin newspaper proprietor, blackmailer and pornographer, Richard Pigott. Pigott was “outed” by the Times as the man who had supplied the newspaper, for a considerable sum of money, with a large cache of “incriminating” letters upon which elements of the Parnellism and Crime series was based. After a few hours of incisive questioning from Parnell’s counsel, Sir Charles Russell, a former Home Rule MP, it became clear that Pigott was a pathological liar of precious little skill. By the end of the second day it was apparent that Pigott had forged the incriminating Times letters. The witness did not turn up for a third day of flame grilling. Instead, he fled to the continent and within the week had shot himself dead in Madrid.’ (For full text, see RICORSO Library, “Criticism > History”, via index, or direct.)

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Margaret Kelleher, ‘Prose Writing and Drama in English; 1830-1890 [...]’, in Cambridge History of Irish Literature, ed. Kelleher & Philip O’Leary (Cambridge UP 2006), Vol. 1: ‘Yet another penny magazine was The Shamrock, self-described as ‘a national weekly journal of Irish history, literature, arts, &c.’; founded in 1866 by Richard Pigott, later the infamous forger of the ‘Parnell’ letters, it provided a forum for many writers including Charles Kickham and the young Bram Stoker.’ (p.454.)

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References
Dictionary of National Biography
: ODNB calls him Nation Office errand-boy, manager and later proprietor of the Irishman, 1865; sold journalistic properties to the Land League, 1879; trafficking in political blackmail; dealings with the Times; ‘Parnellism and Crime’ leads to appointment of Special Commission, 1888; broke down under cross-examination; fled to Madrid, where he killed himself. FDA2 refs. at 309n, 321.

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D. J. Doherty & J. E. Hickey, A Chronology of Irish History since 1500 (Gill & Macmillan 1989), notes that Pigott paid for the education of the sons of O’Donovan Rossa while the latter was in America, and contributing to The Irishman, his paper; note also that Capt. William O’Shea was coincidentally in Madrid at the time of his suicide [DIH under O’Shea].

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Seamus Deane, gen. ed., The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry: Field Day 1991), Vol. 2, 309n, When The Times newspaper published a series of articles on ‘Parnellism and Crime’ in 1887-88, Lord Carnavon proposed a special commission to investigate the allegations; this eventually established that the letters attributed to Parnell were forgeries, the work of Richard Pigott (1829-89). Pigott’s court-room misspelling of ‘hesitancy’ as ‘hesitency’ confirmed the forgeries. This minute detail of Parnell’s career makes its way into Joyce’s Finnegans Wake.

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Belfast Central Public Library holds (biog.), D. Donovan, Crime of the Century: Life of Richard Pigott (1904). Also Sir James O’Connor, Recollections of Richard Pigott (1889).

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Notes
Henry Harrison: Harrison, the author of Parnell Vindicated, secured an emendation to the account of the Pigott forgery in The History of the Times; see also his Parnell Vindicated, the Lifting of the Veil (1931).

T. P. O’Connor issued a work entitled The Irish Question, Being the History of the Irish Question from the Death of O’Connell to the Suicide of Pigott (London: T. Fisher Unwin [1886]).

Woulfe Flanagan: The Woulfe-Flanagan family were proprietors of a country house in South Co. Dublin which became part of the premises of UCD [National University] at Belfield.

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Michael Davitt: Michael Davitt’s bailsman was the editor of the extreme Nationalist and physical force newspaper, The Irishman - a man called Pigott (See Francis Sheehy-Skeffington, Michael Davitt, 1908).

James Joyce: in Joyce’s Finnegans Wake (1939), Pigott’s forgery and its exposure in court by Charles Russell is remembered in the phrase that defines HCE as being ‘unhesitent in his unionism but a piggoted [sic] nationalist’, and other occurrences of the misspent word in the form ‘hesitency’ in Finnegans Wake [also ‘piggotry’].

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Mary Rose Callaghan, Kitty O’Shea: The Story of Katherine Parnell (Pandora 1989), contains chapter length section on the Pigott affair, Chap. 10, pp.112-20.

Anthony Cronin: Cronin’s novel Identity Papers (Dublin: Co-Op Books 1979) concerns a putative descendent of Pigott.

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