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William Hoey Kearney Redmond (15 April 1861 – 7 June 1917) (commonly known as Willie Redmond) was an Irish nationalist politician. He was a member of parliament (MP) in the Irish Parliamentary Party for 34 years, a land reform agitator imprisoned three times, a determined advocate of Irish Home Rule, a barrister and a First World War fatality.

Major William Redmond bronze bust
in the Redmond Memorial Park, Wexford

Family background

He came from a Catholic gentry family of Norman descent associated with County Wexford for seven centuries. His father, William Redmond, was a Home Rule Party MP for Wexford Borough from 1872 to 1880 and was the nephew of the elder John Edward Redmond who is commemorated in Redmond Square near Wexford railway station. Willie Redmond's five-year elder brother was John Redmond who became leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party, and he had two sisters. His mother was a daughter of General R.H. Hoey of the Wicklow Rifles and the 61st Regiment.

Early life

Redmond grew up at Ballytrent, County Wexford, the second son of William Archer Redmond and his wife Mary, née Hoey of Protestant stock from County Wicklow. William like his father was educated at Clongowes Wood College from 1873–1876, previously attending the preparatory school at Knockbeg College and St. Patrick's, Carlow College (1871–72). After school he first apprenticed himself on a merchant sailing ship, then took a commission in the Wexford militia the Royal Irish Regiment on 24 December 1879 (Stephen Gwynn commenting "he was an instinctive soldier") . At first contemplating a regular army career, he became a second lieutenant in October 1880, then resigned in 1881.[1]

Land agitation

He immediately joined in the Irish National Land League agitation. In February 1882 he was arrested in possession of seditious literature and sentenced under the Irish Coercion Act and imprisoned for three months in Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin, with Charles Stewart Parnell, William O'Brien and others. He never waived in his loyalty to Parnell even after the latter's fall. He went to the United States in June 1882 with Michael Davitt to collect funds for the Land League He and his brother John Redmond then travelled to Australia in February 1883 to raise funds, collecting £15,000 sterling for the nationalist cause. They developed close links with James Dalton of Orange, New South Wales, meeting two lady members of his wealthy and very influential family who later became their wives. They both then travelled to the United States where they collected a further £15,000 sterling, many others following their example in the next years (Davitt, O'Brien, John Dillon, Eduard Blake).[2]

Political career

In his absence in 1883, he was elected as MP for his father's old constituency of Wexford Borough, taking his seat in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. When that constituency was abolished at the 1885 general election, he was returned for Fermanagh North. In 1892, he was elected MP for the Clare East constituency, from which he was returned unopposed from 1900 until his death.

His father was a typical member of the Catholic middle class who supported the Home Rule Movement and in his election address in 1874, he declared "Home Rule is absolutely essential to the good government of the country".[3] At the centre of Willie Redmond's political philosophy stood the belief he had inherited from his father on Irish home rule. Home Rule was necessary he declared, because the Union has "depopulated our country, has fostered sectarian strife, has destroyed our industries, and ruined our liberties".[4] He was an ardent, extrovert parliamentarian and like other Irish members "hated British Rule in Ireland with fierce intensity". He was ejected several times from the House of Commons for his verbal excesses and involved in several violent confrontations with Unionist MPs, but nevertheless remained popular even with his political opponents. On Irish platforms he often spoke of insurrection though he remained a constitutionalist at heart. For resisting a tenant's eviction in 1888 he was imprisoned for three months.[5]

On 24 February 1886 he married Eleanor Mary Dalton (died 31 January 1947), eldest daughter of James Dalton. They had one son who died early in 1891 at the age of five.

Singular stand

When the Irish Party split after Parnell's fall and death in 1891, Redmond who had supported Parnell entirely, though a devout Catholic voiced deep grievance at the opposition of his Church to Parnell, which necessitated changing his constituency from Fermanagh to Clare. He was called to the Irish Law bar as a barrister in 1891, after obtaining a law degree from Dublin University*, but never practised. For most of his career he lived on a salary from the Irish Parliamentary Party.

Redmond plaque on the Redmond
monument, Redmond Square, Wexford

In condemning the South Africa Boer War in 1899 he joined with the younger nationalists such as Arthur Griffith and Maud Gonne. He was co-treasurer of the Irish Transvaal committee. The United Irish League (UIL) gave him opportunity to re-unite with the anti-Parnellites in the Irish Party under his brother's leadership in 1900, when he again travelled to the United States with Davitt to announce the re-unification.[6]

William was very different from his brother John, he was volatile, spontaneous, open-hearted and more radical on many social issues, such as female suffrage. A First World War colleague, Colonel Rowland Fielding, was to describe him as a "charming fellow with a gentle and very taking manner."

The year 1902 saw him imprisoned again in Kilmainham for an inflammatory speech in support of the UIL, causing "social discord". He was unhappy at the renewed Party split with O'Brien in 1903. A strict teetotaller but committed smoker, he devoted much time to encouraging tobacco growing in Ireland. In the following years he travelled widely visiting Irish communities around the world. Impressed by the dominion status enjoyed by Canada and Australia, it influenced his concept of self-government for Ireland, for which he made impassioned speeches, canvassing for it in 1911 and 1912 across Britain. That William O'Brien's independent All-for-Ireland League party withheld voting for the third Home Rule Act 1914 was "of great sadness to him".[7]

  • Although he attended Trinity College (the only college in Dublin University) for lectures, he was probably not a graduate of the College. His name does not appear in the War List of Trinity College, which lists students and graduates of the College who served in the Great War,[8] or on the War Memorial in the College.[9]

First World War

With Ireland's involvement in World War I, John Redmond called on Irish Volunteers to enlist in Irish regiments of the 10th and 16th (Irish) Divisions of the Kitchener's New Service Army in the hope that this would strengthen the cause of later implementing the Home Rule Act, suspended for the duration of the war. This caused a split in the Volunteer movement and William Redmond was one of the first to volunteer for the army as a member of the National Volunteers. He addressed vast gatherings of Volunteers, Hibernians and the UIL, encouraging voluntary enlistment in support of the British and Allied war cause. In November 1914 he made a famous recruiting speech in Cork when standing at the open window of the Imperial Hotel he spoke to the crowd below: "I do not say to you Go – but grey haired and old as I am, I say Come, come with me to the war”. He felt that he might serve Ireland best in the firing line – “if Germany wins we are all endangered”.[10] He was one of five Irish MPs who served with Irish brigades, J. L. Esmonde, Stephen Gwynn, William Redmond and D. D. Sheehan being the others, as well as former MP Tom Kettle.

He was commissioned as a captain in the Royal Irish Regiment, with whom he had served 33 years before, at the age of 53. He went to France on the Western Front with the 16th (Irish) Division in the winter of 1915–16 and was soon in action, winning a mention in dispatches from Sir Douglas Haig. The Easter Rising of 1916 shattered him, as he seemed to realise that the tide was turning away from constitutionalism. He gained his Majority on 15 July 1916 but this promoted him away from the action much to his displeasure.[11]

Redmond was convinced that the shared experience of the trenches was bringing Protestant and Catholic Irishmen together and overcoming the differences between Unionists and Nationalists. In December 1916, he told his friend Arthur Conan Doyle: "It would be a fine memorial to the men who have died so splendidly if we could, over their graves, build up a bridge between North and South. I have been thinking a lot about this lately in France – no one could help doing so when one finds that the two sections from Ireland are actually side by side holding the trenches!"

When on leave he made a moving parliamentary speech in March 1917 defending Ireland's involvement and sacrifice in the war, demanding that England introduce the suspended Home Rule Act. The speech concluded: "In the name of God, we here who are about to die, perhaps, ask you to do that which largely induced us to leave our homes; to do that which our mothers and fathers taught us to long for; to do that which is all we desire; make our country happy and contented, and enable us, when we meet the Canadians and the Australians and the New Zealanders side by side in the common cause and the common field, to say to them: 'our country, just as yours, has self-government within the Empire'."

On 4 June 1917, three days before his death, at a dinner organised by officers of the 7th Leinsters, he made a speech in which he 'prayed for the consumption of peace between North and South'.[12]

He was as obsessed as Pearse with the idea of a blood sacrifice for Ireland, confiding to an old friend before he returned to the front "I'm going back to get killed". He believed that by serving together in the trenches the Unionist and Nationalist traditions could be reconciled and was convinced that Irish Protestants would thereby come to accept Home Rule.[13]

Death

Dublin Four Courts Plaque inscribed: In Memory of the Irish Barristers who fell in the Great War 1914–1918. The list includes the name of William Redmond

Redmond Memorial Park, off Spawell Road, Wexford

During preparations in Belgium for the Battle of Messines Redmond, by now 56 years old, succeeded in obtaining special permission to join his battalion, returning to his beloved 'A' Company of the 6th Battalion, Royal Irish Regiment, the night before the planned assault of 7 June 1917. During that night Redmond visited every company of the 6th Battalion and, according to his commanding officer Major Charles Taylor, 'spoke to every man'.

The Irish troops of the 16th and 36th divisions advanced shoulder to shoulder in the great attack on the Messines Ridge towards the small village of Wytschaete (now Wijtschate) next to Messines. Upon going over the top Redmond, one of the first out of the trenches and leading his men, was hit almost immediately in the wrist and then, when hit in the leg, could do no more than urge his men on. Stretcher bearers of the 36th (Ulster) Division, notably Private John Meeke of the 11th Inniskillings, who was himself wounded, brought him in and eventually he reached the Casualty Clearing Station at the Catholic Hospice at Locre (now Loker) in Dranoutre where he died that afternoon – almost certainly from shock.[14]

Almost all the newspapers in Britain and Ireland, both local and national, reported his death. His wife and his brother John Redmond received over 400 messages of sympathy from all parts of the British Empire and beyond. Among the people who paid tribute to his memory were the Unionist MP Sir Edward Carson and the poet Francis Ledwidge. Irish Major-General William Hickie paid the tribute that Redmond's "presence within the Division and his affection for it were a great asset to me".[15] Lloyd George introduced the Irish Convention on 11 June quoting Redmond's sacrifice.[16] The French Government posthumously awarded him the Legion of Honour.

A lonely grave

Willie Redmond grave, Loker, Belgium

He was buried nearby in a single grave which stands on its own outside the Locre Hospice Cemetery where men of his brigade are buried. The men of the Ulster Division made a donation of £100 to a memorial fund for him and formed a Guard of Honour at his grave. Willie Redmond was the 'Grand Old Man of the Irish Division' and the most typical representative figure of the Irish nationalists who fought in the 1914–18 war. His 'lonely grave' is emblematic of the distance and alienation most Irish Catholics continue to feel for their fellow countrymen who chose to take part in the war.

The local people of Loker continue to attend to his symbolic grave with great respect, organising Commemorations, the last in 1967 and 1997, refusing to allow the grave to be moved. Redmond's Bar, an 'Irish' pub in Loker is named after him.

In the town of Wexford there is a bust of him in Redmond Park which was formally opened as a memorial to him in 1931 in the presence of a large crowd including many of his old friends and comrades and political representatives from all parts of Ireland. It was relaunched by the Wexford Borough Council in 2002.

All Irishmen who died in the war are commemorated at the Irish National War Memorial Gardens in Dublin and the Island of Ireland Peace Park, Messines, Belgium.

House of Commons panel
listing Major WHK Redmond killed

House of Commons Great War centre Memorial Members killed

Fictional Reference

The novel 'A Long Long Way' by the Irish author Sebastian Barry was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2005. It is a historical novel dealing with the experiences of a private in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers in the First World War. Although Willie Redmond does not appear in it as a character, he is referred to several times. Part Three of the novel includes the reactions of the characters to his final speech in Parliament, his presence with the soldiers in the front line and the shock of the news of his death in action.

Notes

  1. Denman, Terence: A lonely Grave: The Life and Death of William Redmond, p.17-21; Irish Academic Press (1995), ISBN 0-7165.2561.1
  2. Denman, A lonely Grave, p.24
  3. Denman, A lonely grave p.21
  4. Denman, A lonely grave p.22, sub-note: Fermanagh Times, 3 December 1885
  5. Denman, A lonely Grave pp. 30–43
  6. Denman, A lonely Grave pp.47–61
  7. Denman, A lonely Grave pp.62–72
  8. University of Dublin, Trinity College War List, Dublin, Hodges Figgis, 1922
  9. "Irish War Memorials". Irishwarmemorials.ie. 20 February 2008. http://www.irishwarmemorials.ie/html/showMemorial.php?show=458. Retrieved 20 September 2012. 
  10. Denman, A lonely Grave pp. 81–84
  11. Denman, A lonely Grave p.86
  12. Denman, A lonely Grave p. 116
  13. Denman, A lonely Grave p. 123
  14. Denman, A lonely Grave p. 119
  15. Denman, A lonely Grave p. 126
  16. Denman, A lonely Grave p. 129

Writings

  • W. H. K. Redmond, Through the New Commonwealth, Dublin, 1906
  • William Hoey Kearney Redmond, Trench pictures from France, A. Melrose, 1917

References

  • Terence Denman, A lonely Grave – The Life and Death of William Redmond, Dublin: Irish Academic Press(1995) ISBN 0-7165-2561-5
  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Vol. 46 p. 282/3, Oxford University Press (2004–05)
  • Sebastian Barry, A Long Long Way, London: (Faber and Faber Ltd)
  • Tom Burke MBE, A Guide to the Battlefield of Wijtschate – June 1917, The Royal Dublin Fusiliers Association, ISBN 0-9550418-1-3, (pub June 2007)

Great War Memorials

External links

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Timothy Michael Healy
Member of Parliament for Wexford Borough
1883–1885
Constituency abolished
New constituency Member of Parliament for Fermanagh North
1885–1892
Succeeded by
Richard Martin Dane
Preceded by
Joseph Richard Cox
Member of Parliament for Clare East
1892–1917
Succeeded by
Éamon de Valera

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