Monday 23 October 2017

Poetry - Ulick O'Connor: Parnell's sister who wrote for Irish freedom

Fanny Parnell
Fanny Parnell

Someone who is in danger of being forgotten for their contribution to Irish freedom is Fanny Parnell, the Irish leader's sister.

She and another sister, Anna, helped to keep the Land League going when their brother Charles and Michael Davitt were in Kilmainham prison in the 1880s.

They both shared a deep dislike of British rule in Ireland, which originated from their mother, an Irish-American who was the daughter of Admiral Charles Stewart of the US Navy.

The sisters made the case for Irish freedom and were known in America, where Fanny wrote regularly in the Boston Pilot.

Davitt, the Fenian leader, referred to her poetry as the "Marseillaise of the Irish peasant".

Fanny died at the age of 33, which is perhaps why we don't know more about her contribution to Irish freedom.

Here is one of her poems, a little over the top perhaps. But then she was writing in America at a time when she was often compared to the poetess Julia Ward Howe, the author of The Battle Hymn of the Republic. Praise indeed.


Shall mine eyes behold thy glory, oh, my country?

Shall mine eyes behold thy glory?

Or shall the darkness close around them ere the sun-blaze

Break at last upon thy story?


When the nations ope for thee their queenly circle,

As sweet new sister hail thee,

Shall these lips be sealed in callous death and silence,

That have known but to bewail thee?


I should turn and rend the cere-cloths round me-

Giant sinews I should borrow-

Crying, "Oh, my brothers, I have also loved her

In her loneliness and sorrow!

"Let me join with you the jubilant procession,

Let me chant with you her story;

Then, contented, I shall go back to the shamrocks,

Now mine eyes have seen her glory!"

Fanny Parnell 1848-82

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