The John Kenny Story

Part 9

Scandal and Murder (continued)

In Chicago, Devoy launched a campaign to remove Sullivan from power, accusing him of, among other things, embezzling the money in the Clan na Gael funds. He became good friends with another outspoken enemy of Sullivan, a doctor named Cronin. Shortly after Sullivan was overheard to say that he wished Dr. Cronin could be “removed” Cronin disappeared. Three weeks later, on May 22, 1889, the decomposing body of Dr. Cronin was discovered in a sewer drain, with multiple wounds to the scalp made by a sharp, narrow weapon such as an ice pick.

Sullivan and seven others were arrested for the murder. The trial lasted three and a half months, with three of the men being found guilty of first degree murder (one was acquitted on an appeal). Sullivan was released for lack of evidence, but he had been ruined, losing his once powerful hold over the Clan na Gael and the Land League.

Unfortunately the Clan na Gael itself was all but destroyed in the process as well. The trial, called “The Trial of the Century” was followed nationwide, and laid bare many of the secrets of the clandestine Clan na Gael, portraying it as an organization rife with violent rival factions and financial embezzlement. Many members left the organization; those who stayed remained bitterly divided into pro- and anti-Sullivan camps, for years.

Once again, Devoy was faced with a Clan na Gael that was a hollow shell of its former self.

Disaster loomed in Ireland for Parnell, as well. A Home Rule Bill had been introduced in 1886, but was defeated in the House of Commons, never making it to the House of Lords. But Parnell’s star continued to rise, and in 1889, at the peak of his popularity, he was known as “The Uncrowned King of Ireland.”

It was then that the husband of his long-time lover, Katharine O’Shea, decided to sue her for divorce, naming Parnell as co-respondent. Parnell did not contest it, hoping the divorce would go through so he could at last marry Mrs. O’Shea, who was the mother of his three children. Divorce in Victorian times, and in a Catholic country no less, was highly scandalous. His enemies jumped at the chance to use the scandal to destroy Parnell’s political career. In time the country had split into two factions: pro-Parnell and anti-Parnell. One by one his allies deserted him, and his health deteriorated. On June 25, 1891, Parnell and Katharine O’Shea were finally married. On October 6, 1891, less than four months later, he died, at the age of 45.

His funeral at Glasnevin Cemetery was attended by 200,000 people.

James Joyce wrote:

“In his final desperate appeal to his countrymen, he begged them not to throw him as a sop to the English wolves howling around them. It redounds to their honour that they did not fail this appeal. They did not throw him to the English wolves; they tore him to pieces themselves.”

The dream of Home Rule, just about within grasp, now lay in ashes.

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