Parnell Summer School - Redmond as gun-runner

Ireland has no Redmond statue, unlike UK Houses of Parliament, says John Bruton

John Redmond: “He was a gun-runner, a back-room dealer, a strong man and, at certain crucial moments, a poor judge of alliances and less than fortunate in taking political risks”

John Redmond: “He was a gun-runner, a back-room dealer, a strong man and, at certain crucial moments, a poor judge of alliances and less than fortunate in taking political risks”

Wed, Aug 13, 2014, 01:00

John Redmond was “a gun-runner, a back-room dealer and the leader of a private army”, according to a University College Dublin lecturer in Irish history.

Speaking at the Parnell Summer School in Avondale House yesterday, Dr Conor Mulvagh said although Redmond was “a parliamentarian and reunifier of factions within Irish nationalism”, he also became “a recruiting sergeant and did so without the support of John Dillon”.

“He was a gun-runner, a back-room dealer, a strong man and, at certain crucial moments, a poor judge of alliances and less than fortunate in taking political risks,” Dr Mulvagh said.

His talk, which compared the attributes and accolades of Charles Stewart Parnell with those of Redmond, revealed that Redmond was involved in the planned importation of arms from Belgium for the Irish Volunteers after the Howth gun-running of July 1914.

“Redmond did not eschew violence in 1914, he advocated it both in Ireland and in Europe,” said Dr Mulvagh. “In this he was a man of his times, swept up by a cultural zeitgeist that saw Carson, Pearse and many more citizen statesmen across Europe descend into the cult of the gun.”

Dr Mulvagh said this philosophy “rejected the belief in the honour of settling disputes in the chambers of parliament or in the foyers of embassies. Differences were to be settled on the field of battle, through the blood-letting of nations.”

However, in support of the former Irish parliamentarian Dr Mulvagh added that Redmond remains one of Ireland’s “most modest politicians or political leaders”.

Parnell cult

“Parnell had begun to believe in his own cult shortly before his downfall,” he said. “In stark contrast, John Redmond neither possessed nor believed in the cult of Redmondism. Redmond died believing himself to be a failure.”

In response, former taoiseach and chair of the lecture John Bruton argued that any “material about gun-running” must be placed in the context of the Larne gun-running in April 1914 . . . “against the background of certain activities by our brethren north of what is now the Border”.

“The importation of arms at Larne was the reason for this, without that there would have been no necessity for Redmond to have done what he did.”

Bruton said that Redmond faced “not just the Ulster unionist resistance but deep-seated resistance by the Conservative Party at the House of Commons at the time. There had been a tremendous amount of promotion of the idea that the Irish were not capable of governing themselves.”

He said that persuading British public opinion to accept Home Rule “required a tremendous amount of toughness and courage and conviction, all of which was displayed”.

He also highlighted the importance of achieving a “balance in commemorations” in the coming years.

Home Rule law

“If we are going to commemorate the 1916 rebellion and the War of Independence, where people were killed and others died, we should also commemorate what I would regard (along with the achievement of the Land Acts) as the single biggest achievement of Irish parliamentarians, which is the enactment of Home Rule into law.”

He said : “We have a statue of Charles Stewart Parnell at the Dáil; there’s no statue of John Redmond. Interestingly, there is a statue of him in the Houses of Parliament in Westminster; perhaps they could give it to us.”