Kilmainham Treaty Makes Concessions to Irish Nationalists Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

An agreement between the British government and Charles Stuart Parnell, the imprisoned leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party and the Irish National Land League, stipulated that upon release Parnell would openly support the 1881 Irish Land Act and would condemn violent tactics. In return, the 1881 act would be amended to include a large number of indebted Irish tenant farmers. The treaty, know popularly as the Kilmainham Jail Treaty, secured Parnell’s leadership of the Irish Home Rule Party but divided Irish nationalist opinion.

Summary of Event

The Kilmainham Treaty of May 2, 1882, was a verbal compromise between Charles Stewart Parnell, the Irish Parliamentary Party and Irish National Land League leader, and the British government under Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone concerning the 1881 Irish Land Act. The compromise ended what was called the Irish Land War Irish Land War (1879-1881) of 1879-1881. The treaty foreshadowed not only the series of political negotiations and tough compromises that led to the ultimate political independence and division of Ireland in 1921 but also the tensions between Irish militant and constitutional groups. Moreover, with Parnell’s acceptance of the 1881 act, the dismantling of the Irish Protestant land-owning class had begun. Kilmainham Treaty (1882) Ireland;Kilmainham Treaty Dublin;Kilmainham Treaty Irish National Land League Great Britain;and Ireland[Ireland] Ireland;and Great Britain[Great Britain] Parnell, Charles Stewart Gladstone, William Ewart [p]Gladstone, William Ewart;and Ireland[Ireland] Ireland;home rule Home rule, Irish [kw]Kilmainham Treaty Makes Concessions to Irish Nationalists (May 2, 1882) [kw]Treaty Makes Concessions to Irish Nationalists, Kilmainham (May 2, 1882) [kw]Concessions to Irish Nationalists, Kilmainham Treaty Makes (May 2, 1882) [kw]Irish Nationalists, Kilmainham Treaty Makes Concessions to (May 2, 1882) [kw]Nationalists, Kilmainham Treaty Makes Concessions to Irish (May 2, 1882) Kilmainham Treaty (1882) Ireland;Kilmainham Treaty Dublin;Kilmainham Treaty Irish National Land League Great Britain;and Ireland[Ireland] Ireland;and Great Britain[Great Britain] Parnell, Charles Stewart Gladstone, William Ewart [p]Gladstone, William Ewart;and Ireland[Ireland] Ireland;home rule Home rule, Irish [g]Ireland;May 2, 1882: Kilmainham Treaty Makes Concessions to Irish Nationalists[5200] [c]Government and politics;May 2, 1882: Kilmainham Treaty Makes Concessions to Irish Nationalists[5200] [c]Agriculture;May 2, 1882: Kilmainham Treaty Makes Concessions to Irish Nationalists[5200] [c]Business and labor;May 2, 1882: Kilmainham Treaty Makes Concessions to Irish Nationalists[5200] [c]Social issues and reform;May 2, 1882: Kilmainham Treaty MakesConcessions to Irish Nationalists[5200] Davitt, Michael Dillon, John O’Brien, William

Since the late seventeenth century, most Irish landlords were Protestants, and a majority of the tenant farmers Ireland;tenant farmers were Roman Catholics. Within this religious and economic divide, Irish Catholics campaigned vigorously for complete political independence from Great Britain during the early nineteenth century. The combination of religious, political, and economic grievances among Irish Catholics spurred continued demands for broad-scale change either through constitutional or revolutionary methods.

To galvanize the numerous groups seeking Irish independence in a nationwide movement, Parnell and other home rule leaders attempted to find a singular issue on which to base their platform. Throughout Irish history, the key issue was land ownership and landlord-tenant relations. Rents, leasing terms, and rent increases by Irish landlords had been subject to previous legislation in the 1870 Irish Land Act, but fell short of Irish tenant expectations.

The 1870’s were punctuated by several poor harvests and outright crop failures, particularly in western Ireland. Through 1879, County Mayo tenant farmers formed local organizations to pressure Irish landlords to redress grievances of increasing rents and evictions during periods of agricultural failures. The County Mayo tenant organization was expanded into a national organization by Parnell and Irish Republican Brotherhood Irish Republican Brotherhood member Michael Davitt Davitt, Michael in October, 1879. Through the Irish National Land League, Parnell and Davitt linked the issues of land ownership reform with the political campaign for Irish home rule.

Parnell campaigned vigorously in the British parliament, the United States, and across Ireland for legal and economic redress of the tenant-landlord relations and eventual Irish independence. However, sporadic violence and the murders of several Irish landlords and their land agents during 1879 and 1880 pressed Gladstone to enact stiff legal prosecution against Irish militants via the Protection of Persons and Property Act of March, 1881. Through this three-year “war,” the British cabinet, the press, and popular opinion often viewed Parnell, home rule leaders, and the Land League as fronts for Irish militant groups, but Parnell distanced himself from any militant organization.

By early April, 1881, a new Irish land reform bill was completed and was passed by Parliament in August. The 1881 Irish Land Act incorporated the main points (the three “F’s” as they were known) demanded by Parnell and the Land League—tenant right to fair rental price, tenant right to fixed tenure on rented land, and tenant right to freely sell their lease—but the act did not include provisions for indebted Irish farmers. In a series of public speeches across Ireland during the summer and autumn, Parnell denounced the new land act for this oversight.

Charles Stewart Parnell.

(Library of Congress)

Gladstone and his cabinet, feeling betrayed by Parnell for his public criticism and believing Parnell was stoking violence among the Irish crowds, ordered his arrest and imprisonment, along with other Land League leaders, including John Dillon Dillon, John and William O’Brien O’Brien, William , and some one thousand other members on October 13-15, 1881, under the recently passed Protection of Persons and Property Act. On October 18, Parnell, O’Brien, and Dillon issued their No Rent Manifesto from Dublin’s Kilmainham jail. The manifesto called on Irish tenant farmers Ireland;tenant farmers to withhold rents due in protest of the Land League leaders’ arrests.

The following day, Gladstone declared the Irish National Land League an illegal organization. Through the autumn, violence continued in the Irish countryside not only between tenants and landlords but also between large-scale farmers included under the provisions of the land act and tenant farmers excluded from the act. By early 1882, Gladstone and his advisers believed the only way to limit these Irish “outrages” was to release Parnell and other Land Leaguers on the condition that they denounce any and all violent action in Ireland.

Intermediaries between Parnell and Gladstone communicated a willingness of both to reach a compromise by early April, 1882. Gladstone and some Irish officials believed Parnell could restore order to an increasingly militant Irish populace and convince them that legal and constitutional methods could attain much more progress in the land reform and home rule question. Parnell demanded from Gladstone that indebted farmers were included under the act. Although this would cost the British government and Irish landowners dearly, Gladstone finally accepted Parnell’s terms in the face of increasing violence in Ireland and the stark disapproval of government officials and Irish landlords.

Parnell and other Land Leaguers were released from Kilmainham jail on May 2, 1882. Each party kept their word. Parnell officially dissolved the Irish National Land League and publicly supported the revised land act, while denouncing criminal activities. Gladstone implemented the necessary legal revisions to the act. However, on May 6, 1882, the newly installed Irish chief secretary, Lord Frederick Cavendish, and his under-secretary, Thomas Burke, were murdered by Irish militants known as the Invincibles while walking in Dublin’s Phoenix Park. The gory publicity surrounding the Phoenix Park murders led to a series of recriminations against Parnell and Gladstone, though Parnell had no knowledge of this militant group, nor did he support violent action. The murders heightened the tension between Irish and British leaders and demonstrated the difficulties Parnell was to face in leading the home rule movement.

Significance

The Kilmainham Treaty cemented Charles Stewart Parnell’s position as leader of the home rule movement until his scandalous downfall in 1890. However, the Kilmainham Treaty split the British government and the Irish home rule movement. Some British and Irish officials resigned in protest on the release of Parnell, and some Irish militant and nationalist groups distanced themselves from what they viewed as Parnell’s compromising tone toward the British government. In one sense, the Land War Irish Land War (1879-1881) , the 1881 Land Act, and the treaty did more to divide than it did to unite the parties seeking resolution in Ireland.

Although Parnell’s release from prison brought an overall decline to agrarian violence and set a constitutional path toward Irish self-governance, the long-term tension between constitutionalist and militant elements remained in Irish politics. The stresses and occasional overlaps between these forms of political activism remained a centerpiece in Irish and, later, Northern Irish, politics well into the twentieth century.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bew, Paul. Land and the National Question in Ireland, 1858-82. Dublin: Gill & Macmillan, 1978. A critique of Irish tenant-farmer organizations and multiple divisions in the Irish land reform movement.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Clark, Samuel. Social Origins of the Irish Land War. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1979. An analysis of the socioeconomic structures in late nineteenth century Ireland and the origins of “collective action” campaigns.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kee, Robert. The Laurel and the Ivy: The Story of Charles Robert Parnell and Irish Nationalism. New York: Penguin Books, 1993. Exhaustive biography, tracing Parnell’s political career and analyzing his impact on Irish nationalism and British politics.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">King, Carla, ed. Famine, Land, and Culture in Ireland. Dublin: University College Dublin Press, 2000. A history of land tenure and the general land question in Ireland, with chapters on Parnell and Davitt, evictions, the social conditions of rural life, agricultural laborers, and the “hidden history” of the land wars of the late nineteenth century.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">O’Day, Alan. Irish Home Rule, 1867-1921. Manchester, England: Manchester University Press, 1998. An examination of the evolution of the Irish home rule movement and its relationship to other nationalist groups in Ireland. Includes a time line and a biographical dictionary.

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