FH#51  Jesus Christ was born on December 25th?

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The timing couldn’t be better, at least in the northern hemisphere. Although we’ll have just had the shortest day of the year we will still be in the grip of the dark season with barely eight hours of daylight at Irish latitudes. Even the malign effects of global warming won’t mitigate the seasonally low temperatures. Could there be a better time to have a massive week long party (or more like two weeks if you don’t work in an essential industry, or retail)? Which is why it’s highly unlikely that the man after whom Christianity is named was actually born on the day also named after him.

While Jesus Christ was undoubtedly an historical figure who caused anxiety to the Romans towards the beginning of the first millennium, there were numerous compelling reasons for fixing his birthday at the end of December every year. None have anything to do with the timing of his actual birth.

So, where did Christians come by the date the 25th of December and decide to fix it as the birthdate of Christ? The answer is they didn’t, or at least not all of them.  Roman Catholics and Protestants celebrate Christmas at the end of December. But in places like Russia, Ukraine, Serbia, Belarus, Egypt and many other countries, Orthodox Christians still use the Julian calendar, and celebrate the feast day on 7 January. Only aficionados of the more recent Gregorian Calendar opt for 25 December. Which, of course means, that clever  Orthodox Christians who have migrated to Western Europe, get to celebrate twice as much as the rest of us over an extended Christmas period. If they’ve emigrated to the USA they get a third knees up, at Thanksgiving, in late November.

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Who chose the 25th December as Catholic Christmas in the first place, you might well ask? And the answer would be Pope Julius 1, bless his red socks. He called it the Feast of the Nativity and, when he named the day, he probably didn’t have in mind an orgy of high street and online selling. But then the American Pilgrim Fathers probably had no idea they would ultimately establish Black Friday when they began to celebrate Thanksgiving.

Christmas wasn’t an instant hit either. Julius named the day in the 4th century, AD obviously, but it didn’t catch on in Europe until 400 years later. Such was the determined rivalry from Thanksgiving that it didn’t become a national holiday in the USA until 1870. Odd that, from the nation that invented the image of the jolly, red cheeked, white-bearded Santa Claus, albeit via the pen of the German-born cartoonist Thomas Nast.

And what was it that possessed Julius to opt for 25th December as the Feast of the Nativity? Well, in the best mercantile traditions of Christmas it was to see off the competition. The teachings of Jesus Christ were slower to make inroads than you might think. There are those who would argue vehemently that his ideas are yet to catch on to this day. Back in the fourth century anno domini the good people of Europe still clung to many of their pagan beliefs and red letter days. So Pope Julius had a bright idea. They could hang on to their bleak midwinter festival, but he would rebrand it as nothing less than the birth day of Christ himself. Think of the Marathon bar becoming Snickers. Or was it the other way around?

Of course the English Puritans, twelve hundred years later, were wise to the Julian PR coup. They spotted that there was no reference to the date of Christ’s birth in the bible. They suspected that an earlier Roman Antichrist (they loved their demonic hyperbole those Puritans) had merely lifted a pagan festival, mistletoe, yule logs and all, and put a Christian gloss on it. So, in 1644 they outlawed Christmas. Three years later they did the same with Easter and Whit Sunday. American Puritans, anxious to assert the superiority of that quintessentially All-American feast day, Thanksgiving, did likewise.

However, even the Puritans were forced to bow the knee to retail. With the rise of Chambers of Commerce and the restoration of the Monarchy, Christmas was restored to its full glory just in time to be turned by the Victorians into the festival we know today, where monthly household food spending increases by 20% and alcohol purchases soar by 30%. That grating sound you hear is not Santa Claus coming down the chimney, it’s Oliver Cromwell and the American Pilgrim Fathers turning in their graves.

So, was Jesus Christ born on Christmas Day? Well, there’s always a one in three hundred and sixty five chance that he was, but, on balance, probably not.

 

Fake Histories #50  Santa Claus is an entirely fictional character?

 

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One of the purveyors of this particular blasphemy was none other than the wisecracking, avuncular, piano virtuoso Chico Marx himself. It happened in the manic Marx Brothers movie hit from 1935, A Night at the Opera. Chico is playing off his brother Groucho in one of the best comic scenes in this still hilarious movie. The two men are discussing a contract, the contents of which Chico doesn’t much like. Groucho is, quite literally, tearing strips off it, physically deleting its terms until the two are down to a tiny strip of paper. Chico inquires about this final residue of the original document. Groucho assures him, ‘It’s all right. That’s, in every contract. It’s what they call a sanity clause.
‘You can’t fool me.’Chico hits back. ‘There ain’t no Sanity Clause.’

And there you have it, at its most stark, the sinister allegation from a childlike vaudeville performer that Santa Claus is a figment of the childish imagination. The first thing to be said in refutation of this pernicious heresy is that Chico, as a Marxist, would have been a logical positivist, scorning religion and magic in the same way as he rejected market-led capitalism. To Chico, an acolyte of his namesake, Karl, religion was ‘pie in the sky when you die’ and Santa Claus was ‘a faux ho ho ho in the midwinter snow’.

Of course, with the collapse of European communism in 1989, Santa Claus had the last ‘ho ho ho’.

But who exactly is Santa Claus, other than an extremely generous inhabitant of the North Pole whose gig economy elves should have been unionised centuries ago?

Apparently, he’s a fourth century bishop who became St. Nicholas. Bishop Nicholas was a wealthy man who gave covert gifts to the poor. The secretive nature of his bounty derived from his reluctance to offend his fellow aristocrats, who merely exploited them. The origin of many Christmas practices seems to have come from a gift he bestowed on an impoverished householder with three daughters. The unfortunate man could not afford the dowries required to marry them off. So, Nicholas climbed up on the man’s roof and dropped a bag of gold down the chimney. This got stuck in a stocking that had been hung out to dry, et voila, we have the very first Christmas present. After his death St. Nicholas, in spiritual form, appears to have ramped up his operation to include children all over the world. At what point he requisitioned a sleigh and recruited his reindeer is still a fertile area of historical dispute. English nationalists, for example, claim that it was a leftover chariot from the warlike Queen Boudicca. Obviously with the whirling swords removed from its spokes.

As is the case with other magical beings—the Tooth Fairy is a perfect example— there have been doubts expressed by professional grinches and curmudgeons, normally between the ages of ten and fourteen, about the existence of Father Christmas. Scathing references are often made to his physical appearance and his advanced age, and consequential doubts are expressed as to his ability to descend from roofs given his own considerable circumference as compared to the dimensions of most modern chimneys.

However, the one inescapable and irrefutable fact that gives the lie to any assertion that Santa Claus is a myth, is, of course, the millions of mysterious presents to which children all over the world wake up on Christmas day. If you need hard and fast proof that Santa Claus exists you can find it under the Christmas tree in the early morning of 25 December—usually very early indeed. It is impossible to counter such a massive volume of evidence of the existence of this jolly rotund figure with the white beard and the distinctive red and white uniform.

So, in answer to the peevish myth that Santa Claus does not exist, don’t be either fooled or alarmed, it’s fake history.

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FH#49  The Anglo-Irish Treaty involved the swearing of allegiance to the British monarch?

 

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There were nine names on the piece of paper. One of the men who appended his signature observed that ‘I may have signed my political death warrant’. Another responded lugubriously, ‘I may have signed my actual death warrant.’ It turned out he was right.

In Ireland we don’t have an ‘Independence Day’ as such. Easter Monday, the day on which the 1916 Proclamation was read by Patrick Pearse, outside the GPO, changes date every year. The actual date, 24 April, hardly even merits a mention, so pervasive is the Easter Week mythology.

But if we had an actual Independence Day, like 4 July in the USA or 14 July, Bastille Day, in France, then it might well be today, the 6 December. Because on this day, in 1921,  five Irishmen, Arthur Griffith, Michael Collins, Robert Barton, Eamon Duggan and George Gavan Duffy, signed the Treaty that ended the Anglo-Irish war and led, a few weeks later, to an independent Irish Free State. It may not have been independent enough for some, but it was recognised as such by the colonial power that had legislatively encompassed Ireland since 1801.

None of the five Irishmen who added their signatures to those of Lloyd George, Austen Chamberlain, F.E.Smith and Winston Churchill, were exactly overjoyed at what they had just done. The ‘death warrant’ remark had been made by Smith, by then trading as Lord Birkenhead. The prescient response was, famously, made by Michael Collins, who would indeed be dead within eight months.

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Conspicuous by its absence was the signature of one Eamon de Valera. The President of the fledgling Irish Republic had travelled to London in July 1921 to negotiate a truce with the British Prime Minister, Lloyd George, but had given responsibility for negotiating the Treaty itself to Arthur Griffith and Michael Collins. The move has been debated for the better part of a century, and we still have no definitive answer to the question, ‘why did de Valera stay in Dublin?’. Was it because he knew, after his talks with the wily Welsh Prime Minister, that the negotiation of a Republic was off the table?

Would he, as head of the delegation, have compromised himself on the issue of partition, as did Arthur Griffith, when he privately agreed to a Boundary Commission? Would he have caved in to Lloyd George’s threat of total war, as did Michael Collins, a man better placed than most to evaluate the capacity of the IRA to continue the struggle against even greater odds than before?

It’s the question for which the phrase ‘what if …?’ might have been invented.

But what, precisely, did the Irish delegation agree to? As far as doctrinaire republicans, like Cathal Brugha and Austin Stack, were concerned, they had settled for a deal that was barely a whisker removed from the Home Rule solution emphatically rejected by the Irish electorate in December 1918.

But if you wanted to be Jesuitical about it, and you were a Gaeilgóir, you could argue the opposite. While, in the English language, the Treaty brought into being the Irish Free State, rather than the Irish Republic, sufficiently cherished by many of the members of Sinn Fein and the old IRA to go back to war in 1922, in Irish it brought Saorstát na hÉireann into existence. In Dáil proceedings during the War of Independence the word ‘saorstát’ had been used to mean ‘republic’.

Then there was the issue of the infamous ‘oath of allegiance’ to the King. This was repugnant to many of those who believed they had fought the British Empire to a standstill in pursuit of the ideal of complete separation from the English Crown. Now they would have to swear an oath to the King.

Or would they?

Treaties are all about semantics, and while one may dismiss the ‘republic’ and ‘saorstát’ issue as special pleading (and certainly it was not advanced as a triumphant coup by the plenipotentiaries) Collins secured a concession that he possibly believed would appeal to Dev’s inner Jesuit.

What exactly were Irish public representatives required to swear? Well, the wording was as follows … ‘I do solemnly swear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of the Irish Free State as by law established and that I will be faithful to H.M. King George V, his heirs and successors by law …’  If you decided you didn’t want to go to war with your brother over a form of words then, perhaps, you might stretch a point and accept that you were being required to demonstrate mere fidelity to the British monarch rather than to swear allegiance.

In the January debate on the Treaty sixty-four Sinn Fein TDs decided they were prepared to accept that form of words, fifty-seven were not. But, technically, the plenipotentiaries had ensured that future TDs would swear ‘allegiance’ to the Irish Free State and would pledge to be faithful to the British Crown.  It was a nice point, but it wasn’t enough to avoid a Civil War.

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Fake Histories #46     Truman Capote’s ‘In Cold Blood’ was the first ‘non-fiction novel’ to win the Pulitzer Prize

 

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‘I didn’t want to harm the man. I thought he was a very nice gentleman. Soft spoken. I thought so right up to the moment I cut his throat.’

That was the chilling testimony of executed murderer Perry Smith, who, along with his accomplice, Richard Hancock, was responsible for the homicide of four people on 15 November, 1959. Although the crime was infamous when it was committed sixty years ago, we would probably have forgotten it by today were it not for that fact that the brutal killing of the Cutler family of Holcomb, Kansas was recorded in the modern classic In Cold Blood by Truman Capote.

The basic facts of the case are as simple as they are distressing. Smith and Hancock had just been released from Kansas State Penitentiary. They been tipped off by a fellow inmate that the remote Cutler farm housed a safe which contained large amounts of cash. In the early hours of the morning of 15 November 1959 they broke into the farmhouse, failed to locate the safe—because it didn’t exist—murdered Herb and Bonnie Cutler and their teenage children Nancy and Kenyon. Herb Cutler had his throat cut, as Smith described, the others were shot in the head. Smith and Hancock got away with a total of $50. Fingered by the very Kansas prison inmate who had identified the Cutlers as easy targets, Smith and Hancock were arrested and tried in March 1960. Both pleaded temporary insanity, both were pronounced sane. Their jury took less than an hour to find the two men guilty. After five years on ‘Death Row’ they were hanged in April 1965.

Enter Capote. There is a difference of opinion—one of many when it comes to In Cold Blood—over why, precisely, Truman Capote travelled to Kansas in 1960 to cover the story. He claimed he was prompted by an account of the killings in the New York Times and that he undertook research for the book on his own initiative. Another version suggests he was simply assigned to the story by the New Yorker magazine, where the book was first serialised in four parts in 1965. One thing is certain, Capote did not travel to Kansas alone. He took a young female friend with him, Nelle Lee, figuring she might be able to help when it came to extracting information from the people of Holcomb. As it happened she was working on a book of her own at the time, unconnected to the Clutter family murders.

Capote set about interviewing locals in Holcomb and, when Smith and Hancock were awaiting execution, manged to secure access to both of them as well. He assembled more than eight thousand pages of notes. It took him five years to hammer out what he described as his ‘immaculately factual’ novel, In Cold Blood. The book first appeared in 1966 after the publication the previous year of the four New Yorker articles. It was immediately hailed as a ground-breaking masterpiece. It still ranks as the second highest-selling ‘true crime’ book in history (after Vincent Bugliosi’s account of the Charles Manson murders Helter Skelter). It has never been out of print in five decades.

But, as to its ‘immaculately factual’ pretensions? Not so, according to numerous sources, unless Capote redefined the meaning of the word ‘factual’ just as he pushed out the boundaries of non-fiction writing. His version of events has been challenged frequently, often by some of the central participants, who are included in the novel. There is, for example, evidence to suggest that Capote may have been too quick to take Richard Hancock at his word in an eagerness to highlight the utter senselessness of the killings. Contemporary investigators were of the opinion, but were unable to prove, that Hancock and Smith had been hired to murder Herb Cutler. It was a banal and squalid ‘hit’ rather than an inexplicably brutal slaying. Not so great for psychodrama.

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However, despite the prodigious commercial and artistic success of In Cold Blood it did not earn Capote a Pulitzer Prize in 1966, much to the surprise of the literati and to his own personal chagrin. So, that’s fake history. There was, however, one Pulitzer prize associated with the research trip for the novel. You remember Capote’s friend Nelle Lee? She’s probably better known by her middle name, Harper. While Capote was trying to make sense of his notes she won a Pulitzer Prize in 1961 for her first novel. It’s called To Kill a Mockingbird. It hasn’t been out of print for six decades!

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Fake Histories #44  The GAA was founded at a large and well-attended public meeting in Thurles in 1884?

 

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Today is the Gaelic Athletic Association’s birthday. The organisation has reached the grand old age of one hundred and thirty-five, boasts around half a million members worldwide and has probably done more for rural Ireland than electricity. In addition to the obvious sports of football (men’s and women’s), hurling, camogie and handball the organisation also administers a rather less visible pastime … any guesses?

Well done to whoever said ‘rounders’, which, some day, someone will definitively establish is a) Irish in its origins – we certainly set the first official rules  b) the grandparent of modern baseball.

It’s astonishing to think that, at one point, the entire membership of the GAA could fit in the billiard room of a family hotel! You can still see the hotel any time you walk down the main street of Thurles, County Tipperary. The Hayes Hotel is, understandably, very proud of its seminal association with organised Gaelic games. However, it’s hardly likely that, back in 1884 the Hayes family would have had any idea the inconvenience caused to their regular billiard players, when an odd bunch of people hired the room for the night, would be well worth it.

Of course the games themselves long predated the establishment of an organisation to administer them. Hurling, as anyone in Tipperary will tell you proudly, existed in their county, before the first Kilkennyman climbed down from the trees and learned to walk on two legs. In Kilkenny, where they have only recently become aware of the existence of the ancient sport of Gaelic football, they will inform you that ‘the sport played with the larger ball’ (which is how they refer to it) is an unsuccessful adaptation of faction fighting. They will also insist that no one from Tipperary knows what they’re talking about.

Raise the subject with a Kerryman and he’ll tap his nose,  whisper the word ‘Sam’, and smiling enigmatically. The official Cork GAA website reckons the Thurles meeting was really only a scoping exercise and that the real inauguration was in Cork on 27 December! A Meathman will direct you to the GAA’s own website where you will be informed that ‘the earliest records of a recognised precursor to modern Gaelic football date from a game in County Meath in 1670, in which catching and kicking the ball were permitted.’ Eat your hearts out Dubs!

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It was the Clare man, Michael Cusack, himself a huge cricket fan apparently, who decided that our ancient sports (including rounders) needed to have their rules properly codified. It was no accident that they chose 1 November to establish the new Gaelic Athletic Association for the Preservation and Cultivation of National Pastimes—thankfully they dropped the bit after ‘Association’. The date had a mythological significance as the ancient feast of Samhain, positioned half way between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice. Cusack may also have had a vague notion that the date would mark the beginning of the off-season. I wonder how that one worked out?

Right from its birth the GAA was much more than a mere sporting organisation. It was its close affiliation to extreme nationalist politics that almost caused its undoing. Back in the nineteenth century Irish Republican Brotherhood never managed to find a cultural association it didn’t want to infiltrate. Such was its overt influence within the GAA that the organisation began to haemorrhage members, and almost foundered. But you would have to say that it’s recovered pretty well since then.

Back to the contents of that billiard room on 1 November 1884. It’s a bit like the GPO during Easter week 1916, no one is absolutely sure who exactly was there. Definitely among those present were the seven acknowledged founder members of the GAA. These included Cusack, Maurice Davin—who presided over proceedings—two journalists, John Wyse Power from Waterford and Belfastman John McKay, a local politician J.K.Bracken (ironically, he was the father of Churchill’s ‘bestie’ Brendan Bracken), local solicitor Joseph O’Ryan and, mirabile dictu, a district inspector of the excessively unpopular Royal Irish Constabulary, Thomas St. George McCarthy, clearly included because they desperately needed someone from Kerry. Later, Cusack acknowledged that a Nenagh man, Frank Moloney, also wielded a billiard cue on that fateful night, though he tends to be overlooked. Local newspaper reports also mention six other men, mostly from Thurles, as being among those present.

You might assume that an organisation of the stature of the Gaelic Athletic Association was established at a really well-attended public meeting in Thurles in 1884, which, for the record, started at 3.00 p.m. But no, that’s fake history. The fact is, back then, they all fitted around a billiard table. But look at them now! Happy birthday to the GAA.

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FH#42  Did Al Capone kill three men personally with a baseball bat, as depicted in the film The Untouchables?

 

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Today is the anniversary of the conviction, in 1931, of the notorious Chicago gangster Alphonse ‘Scarface’ Capone. He was famous for aphorisms like, ‘you can get much further with a kind word, and a gun, than you can with a kind word alone’. He was probably also responsible for the deaths of more than thirty fellow human beings. Did he go down for murder? Was he sentenced to a stretch in Federal prison for racketeering? Did he even end up in Alcatraz Prison on San Francisco bay for bootlegging? None of the above. Famously he went to jail for tax evasion. Al Capone was, in the eyes of the law, a white collar criminal.

‘I am like any other man. All I do is supply a demand’ he once said. And this simple businessman, with the ethics of Wall Street banker and the sensibilities of a shark with a taste for Bondi Beach surfers, took advantage of America’s Prohibition legislation of the 1920s to make a huge fortune for himself and others.

In 1925 at the tender age of twenty-six Capone took over illegal breweries on Chicago’s south side, and a liquor distribution operation that stretched as far as the Canadian border. Capone, whose mantra was ‘I just give people what they want’, became something of a folk hero in an era where millions of drinkers were happy to encourage the flouting of an utterly senseless law. He encouraged and clearly enjoyed the attention of the media, including the new medium of radio. Basing himself in the Chicago suburb of Cicero, where he controlled local politics, Capone quickly became a national celebrity. His only rival was an Irish-American gang led by a lesser hoodlum named Bugs Moran, which dominated organised crime on the north side of the city.

While local and Federal prosecutors took an interest in Capone, he also managed to bribe countless public officials and policemen. He made things difficult for investigators by never registering any property in his own name. This was despite the fact that he owned a mansion in Miami where he spent more and more time in the late 1920s. He also never opened a bank account, though I suppose that probably looked quite clever after the Wall Street Crash.

Capone’s hold on the Chicago criminal underworld was abetted by the accession to the office of mayor of ‘Big’ Bill Thompson, a man who never saw a bribe he didn’t like. Capone allegedly bankrolled Big Bills 1927 campaign to the tune of $250,000 – a huge sum of money back then.

Capone’s most notorious ‘hit’ came on 14 February 1929, the so-called St Valentine’s Day massacre!

Bugs Moran’s HQ was a warehouse and garage at 2122 North Clark Street. On the morning of 14 February a group of policemen showed up to raid the premises. Except that they weren’t cops, they were Capone’s gunmen. They lined up the seven occupants of the warehouse (one of whom was not even a member of Moran’s gang) and opened fire, killing all seven in the most horrendous crime of the Prohibition era.

            The killings quickly shattered any aura of romance or begrudging tolerance of Capone’s activities, after photographs of the slain mobsters were published in local and national papers. Scarface, so-called because of an old knife wound, had overreached himself.  Law enforcement in Chicago and Florida now began to harass Capone and threaten his operation

His ultimate downfall, however, was due to a 1927 Supreme Court ruling that illegal earnings were subject to income tax just like all legitimate earnings – evidence was adduced, in a 1931 Federal trial, of Capone’s massive spending, and in October of that year he was convicted of tax evasion, sentenced to eleven years in jail, fined $50,000 and found liable for the payment of more than $200,000 in back taxes and interest.  He served the first part of his sentence in a Federal prison in Atlanta, where he was also officially diagnosed with syphilis and gonorrhoea

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He was later transferred to Alcatraz in San Francisco Bay, the high security Federal prison, becoming, after the Birdman, Robert Stroud, the facility’s most famous inmate.  When he was released in 1939, already in the advanced stages of syphilis, he headed for Florida where he died in his mansion in 1947.

Capone is believed to have been involved in the deaths of thirty-three men between 1923 and 1930, including the seven Valentine’s Day Massacre victims. Despite suggestions, in the Brian de Palma film, The Untouchables, that he personally beat three men to death with a baseball bat, it is unlikely that he actually killed any of the thirty-three himself. That’s fake history.

 

 

Fake Histories #40  Katharine O’Shea was a British spy whose job was to destroy Parnell?

 

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Next Sunday is the hundred and twenty eighth anniversary of the death of the so-called ‘Uncrowned King of Ireland’ Charles Stewart Parnell. The honorary title is ironic as the man who conferred it on him in 1880, Timothy Healy MP, played a huge part in consigning Parnell to an early grave at the age of forty-five on 6 October 1891.

The waspish Healy had long since fallen out with his aloof and arrogant party leader before he got his opportunity to bring his animosity out in the open. This was handed to him, neatly tied up with silk ribbons, by Parnell himself, after the Irish party leader’s citation as co-respondent in the divorce of William and Katharine O’Shea.

This allowed Healy to give full reign to his vitriol in the pivotal five day meeting in Committee Room Fifteen at Westminster where Parnell’s continued leadership of the Irish Parliamentary party was being debated by its MPs in December 1890. At one point in that marathon internecine squabble Parnell squarely addressed the issue at stake by demanding pointedly ‘Who is the master of the party?’. To which Healy responded ‘Aye, but who is the mistress of the party?’ Legend has it that Parnell had to be physically restrained from assaulting his tormentor.

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In the months that followed the inevitable split in the ranks of the party, at every opportunity, Healy would refer to Katharine O’Shea—even after she and Parnell married—as ‘Kitty’ O’Shea. It’s the name by which many people know her today. But back in late Victorian Britain and Ireland the word ‘Kitty’ had an entirely different connotation. It was one of the many nicknames for a prostitute, and fed into the prurience of the political opponents of Parnell in the months before his death.

Such was the devastation the entire affair caused to Parnell’s political career, and the damage it did to any hopes of Home Rule for another generation, that many contemporaries of the nationalist leader, both supporters and opponents, wondered, and openly claimed, that Katharine O’Shea and her pompous, self-aggrandising, cuckolded husband, William, had been agents of the British, expressly charged with the task of destroying the threat posed by the biggest Irish nuisance to the British establishment since Daniel O’Connell. The entire affair, so the allegation went, had been whistled up by the Tory establishment to discredit and disrupt the forces of Irish constitutional nationalism.

It has to said, if this were true, then the O’Sheas were very good at their jobs. Double Oh Seven himself would have been proud to be numbered among their successors. Bringing Parnell down was a masterstroke, but killing him off was the coup de grace. There are no comebacks from the grave.

There is no doubt that both the O’Shea’s were well connected. Husband and wife, at different times, would have had dealings with the British Prime Minister William E. Gladstone. But the circumstances of the downfall of the Irish leader who, by 1890, was a staunch ally of the Liberal Prime Minister, were almost as much of an embarrassment to Gladstone as they were to the Irish party. That’s why it has to be a diabolical Tory plot.

The problem with that scenario is, when Parnell and Katharine met, and embarked on their ten-year affair, the Tories had just been tossed out of office. They didn’t get a whiff of power for another five years and thoroughly enjoyed the spectacle of Parnell baiting Gladstone and the Liberals for most of their period in opposition. Until they got back into government, in 1886, five years after the affair began, they would have had no interest whatever in shaming of humiliating Parnell by exposing his relationship with a married woman.

Which leaves us with the Victorian ‘deep state’, the shadowy institution that lives forever, irrespective of who is in power. It’s tempting to believe anything of an establishment that, because of its many mansions, and competing agents provocateurs,  succeeded, in 1887, in exposing a plot against the life of Queen Victoria which its own agents had concocted in the first place. But there’s not a shred of evidence for this proposition. In addition to which anyone even vaguely familiar with William O’Shea is always astonished that he was able to put on his own boots every morning. A former military type, he was always at least one brigade short of a division.

And anyone familiar with the relationship between Parnell and Katharine O’Shea would never accept that it was based on a treacherous deception.

So, even though one is prone to believe William O’Shea capable of almost anything, is it possible that he and his wife were British spies given the onerous chore of destroying Charles Stewart Parnell? Not a hope. That’s fake history.

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