independent

Tuesday 21 August 2018

'Courageous' Redmond is remembered

President attends events marking 100 years since famous MP’s death

John Redmond, 1856–1918.
John Redmond, 1856–1918.
The 3rd Battalion Irish Defence Forces and the New Ross FCA Pipe Band
Harpist Mollie Carroll with President Higgins.

Esther Hayden

Wexford man John Redmond was described as a courageous politician by President Michael D Higgins during the 100th anniversary commemoration of his death on Sunday.

The politician was chairman of the Irish Parliamentary Party from 1900 to 1918. He died on March 6, 1918, at the age of 61. He served as MP for New Ross, North Wexford and Waterford.

On Sunday there was a series of events to commemorate the centenary of his death including a Redmond 100 seminar in Wexford library and a wreath laying at the Redmond mausoleum.

President Higgins attended both events and said it was important that Redmond's death be marked in Wexford.

'Wexford has also held a special place in the history of our long road to national independence. After all it was here that a Republic, inspired by the ideas of Thomas Paine and the example of the French and American Revolutions, was first proclaimed on this island. Such a historical background in the wide sense was important. John Redmond was very influenced by the historical context from which he had sprung and the relationship which his forebears had with the struggles for independence and the folk memory of those struggles. As he put it he had 'been reared in the midst of hills and valleys that witnessed the struggles of '98'.

Speaking about Redmond, President Higgins said: 'When John Redmond took the then parliamentary seat of New Ross in 1881, he was joining a newly revived national movement, one that had, through the New Departure, brought together some of the diverse strands of the Irish nationalism - the struggle for the land, the battle for legislative independence, and the radical separatism of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, which drew on the support and organisation of Irish men and women steeped in the radical democratic politics of the United States.

'John Redmond was a wholehearted champion of the rights of tenants, and firmly committed to pursuing that policy through parliamentary obstructionism where he readily joined Charles Stewart Parnell whom he would give an extraordinary loyalty and devotion. For example, speaking on the campaign trail in New Ross in 1881 he committed himself to 'the holy crusade… being engaged against landlordism'.

'Famously it was said that he took his seat, made his maiden speech, and was expelled from the House of Commons all on the same evening, a record of which few parliamentarians, then and now, could or can boast.

'He was a brilliant parliamentary orator, described by the colonial civil servant and Conservative MP (Sir) Richard Temple - not a politician with a natural sympathy for Irish MPs - as 'fluent without being verbose, eloquent without being bombastic, earnest without being over-strained'.

'Redmond was also a committed extra-parliamentary activist in the 1880s, supporting the renewal of the Land War through the Plan of Campaign, even against the wishes of the then more cautious Parnell. Indeed, he was convicted of using intimidating language towards landlords in 1888 here in Wexford and served a period of time in prison.

'John Redmond became so associated, in the structuring of the collective memory of Irish nationalism, with the image of very particular kind of Irish Party MP - overly deferential to both parliamentary procedure and to the authority of the Parliament in Ireland - that his energy, his courage, and his commitment to defying landlordism and the legitimacy of the exercise of British power here in Ireland may not have been given appropriate weight. He was, after all, one of the most talented of a remarkable generation of Irish parliamentarians whose radicalism inspired the supporters of democracy both in Ireland in Britain, and whose activism was viewed by the establishment as nothing less than a challenge to the rule of British law in Ireland.

'May I suggest that the decision of John Redmond to stand with Parnell during those fateful days of discord in Committee Room 15 was the most defining and revealing of his political career. It took bravery and courage to side with Parnell and the Fenians against the combined influence of the Catholic Church in Ireland and William Gladstone and the Liberal Party in Britain. It took perseverance to maintain what, in retrospect, now seems a most unusual alliance of Redmondites and Fenians.'

He said that the Land Purchase Act of 1903, Labourers Acts of 1906 and 1911 and Land Purchase Act in 1909 had been defining moments in our history.

President Higgins said: 'I am delighted, as President of Ireland, to have the opportunity to participate in the commemoration of one of the greatest of those Irish parliamentarians, a patriot and a courageous politician who sought, at all times, often carrying the burden of illness, to do what he thought was right in the best interests of our people. The South-East of Ireland was always in his heart and it is so appropriate that he be honoured as his grand uncle was in Wexford.'

On Sunday President Higgins gave the opening address at the Redmond 100 seminar at Wexford Library. Other speakers included Dermot Meleady who spoke on the topic 'From Parnellite to National Leader', Ronan McGreevy who delivered a paper on 'John Redmond and World War One' and Dr Martin O'Donoghue also contributed with his presentation 'The Legacy of John Redmond'.

In the afternoon there was a Ceremony of Remembrance and Wreath Laying at the Redmond Mausoleum in St John's Graveyard, John Street.

Events got under way with a parade, led by a colour party from the 3rd Battalion, Irish Defence Forces, and which included members of the ONE Commodore John Barry Wexford branch, Mayor Jim Moore and other local dignitaries.

Following the welcoming address by the Mayor and keynote speech a series of wreath-layings took place at the Redmond Mausoleum with President Higgins laying a wreath on behalf of the State. A minute's silence was followed by the Piper's Lament played by the New Ross FCA Pipe Band, the playing of The Last Post, the raising of the national flag and Reveille.

The blessing was given by Fr Aodhán Marken and Canon Arthur Minion and this was followed by Amhrán na bhFiann, played by St Patrick's Fife and Drum Band.

As part of the centenary celebrations Talking History Wexford was launched. This innovative smart audio facility is located at three well-known Wexford sites associated with the Redmond family, the bust of Major Willie Redmond, located at Redmond Park, the Redmond family monument in Redmond Square and the Redmond Mausoleum in St John's Graveyard.

Using smartphone technology, Talking History Wexford tells the Redmond story in a new way - from the family's perspective. People can swipe their smart phone on the purple plaque at each monuments and then accepting a call from a member of the Redmond family who will tell important elements of the Redmond story. These monuments have been voiced by broadcaster Anne Doyle, actor Gary Lydon and playwright Billy Roche.

An exhibition describing the life and legacy of John E Redmond and his contribution to Ireland's political landscape is currently on display in Wexford Library until the end of April.

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