At long last, Anna Parnell (1852-1911), one of the many forgotten people in Irish history, was remembered in September 2021 with a blue flag on the Allied Irish Bank at the top of O’Connell Street in Dublin, the site of the Ladies’ Land League, which she founded.
During 1880, it had became obvious that the arrest of the Irish Land League leaders was only a matter of time, and its founder Michael Davitt was determined that their work should be continued in their absence. He asked the Land League executive to authorise the formation of a provisional committee of ladies to carry on the work. The proposal was opposed vehemently by the executive, but Davitt persevered and secured a passive assent. Prior to that, numerous women were involved with the Land League, but not in a leadership role. On January 31, 1881, Anna Parnell (a sister of the Land League president, Charles Stuart Parnell) presided at a meeting in 39 Upper Sackville Street, Dublin, at which the Ladies’ Land League was formally established. It was the first political association led by Irish women.
As general secretary, Anna Parnell spoke at the first public meeting of the Ladies’ Land League in Claremorris, County Mayo, on February 13, 1881. She was reported in the Connaught Telegraph of February 17 as stating that the Ladies’ Land League was not going to be a charitable organisation but a ‘relief movement’. From its inception, it had a difficult relationship with the Land League, most of whose members had strong views on the role of women in society and deemed political activity by them as inappropriate, views strongly reinforced by Charles Stewart Parnell, who never approved of the Ladies’ Land League. As a result, the role of the Ladies’ Land League was never clearly defined and its champion, Michael Davitt, was imprisoned only three days after its inauguration. The Ladies’ Land League, however, established branches around the country and raised money to support families of those evicted or imprisoned. It became very active following the suppression of the Land League in October 1881, taking over the League’s functions and extending its relief activities, including the provision of pre-fabricated huts for evicted families and paying court expenses for tenants fighting ejectment notices.
The Ladies’ Land League built up a very efficient organisation within a few months became quite radical in its approach. This was illustrated early in 1882 when the imprisoned Land League leaders ordered the ladies to call off the ‘no rent campaign’, but they refused, as well as taking a more aggressive stand at evictions. During the imprisonment of William O’Brien, the Ladies’ Land League published and circulated the United League newspaper. The Ladies’ Land League was suppressed on December 16, 1881, and some members were imprisoned for their activities.
After the suppression of the Ladies’ Land League, Anna moved to England, living as a virtual recluse for the rest of her life. She wrote The Tale of the Great Sham in 1907, which was not published until 1986, expressing her disillusionment with the outcome of the land war in placating large tenant farmers and achieving very little land distribution for those on small holdings. Anna Parnell died in a drowning accident at Ilfracombe in Devon, England, on September 20, 1911, at the age of 59. Only seven attended her funeral there beside Holy Trinity Church; her grave remained unmarked until the Parnell Society erected a stone in her memory in 2002. Anna Parnell deserves to be remembered in Irish history for the courageous pioneering feminist and patriot that she was.
The print version of Bernard O’Hara’s book Exploring Mayo can be obtained by contacting www.mayobooks.ie.
It is also available as an eBook from the Apple iBookstore (for reading on iPad and iPhone), from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk (Kindle & Kindle Fire) and from Barnesandnoble.com (Nook tablet and eReader).
An earlier publication, a concise biography of Michael Davitt, entitled Davitt by Bernard O’Hara published in 2006 by Mayo County Council , is now available as Davitt: Irish Patriot and Father of the Land League by Bernard O’Hara, which was published in the USA by Tudor Gate Press (www.tudorgatepress.com) and is available from amazon.com and amazon.co.uk. It can be obtained as an eBook from the Apple iBookstore (for reading on iPad and iPhone), from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk (Kindle & Kindle Fire) and from Barnesandnoble.com (Nook tablet and eReader).