‘Kiss me, my little wife’: Parnell recalled in Knockbrack School Records[1]

In March 1887, contractors were sought by Rev T Moriarty, parish priest of Brosna, for a national school house at Knockbrack, located between Feale’s Bridge and Headley’s Bridge in Co Kerry.  Up until then, the school was conducted in a dwelling house, as shown in the records of the Tralee Board of Guardians of May 1879:


Dr O’Sullivan, Sanitary Officer of the Brosna dispensary district, on visiting Knockbrack National School on 26 of May, found in front of it a stagnant pool which he considered dangerous to the public health and recommended that a sewer be made across the road in order to discharge the pool.  On being asked if the schoolhouse was built by the National Board, he replied that it was not, and that it was a dwelling house, a man and his family occupying one end of the property, and the school operating at the other end.[2]


A new school was up and running by January 1888 when an attack was made on it.  Seven men were arrested and brought before Cecil Roche, the Resident Magistrate.  However, Mr O’Connor, the principal of the school, failed to identify any of them and they were discharged.[3]


Knockbrack National School served the community until 2003 when falling student numbers brought about its closure.[4]


Deserted: Knockbrack National School falling into ruin, its next role yet to be determined


However, thanks to records held in The Schools’ Collection, its service is hardly forgotten.  There can be found stories about barrel-making, thatching, landlords, the Knocknagoshel Mill, as well as songs, poetry and proverbs.  One story about the politically charged Parnellite split of 1890 recalls a meeting in Castleisland that ended in a brawl.[5]


A number of persons ran at each other and fought … fists 
could be seen raised and descending in no light manner


The meeting was anti-Parnellite, T D Sullivan MP and J D Sheehan MP were the speakers who addressed the people from the balcony of the Crown Hotel in Main Street.  In the crowd were banners bearing inscription ‘Parnell’s leadership means destruction.’


A contingent of fifty men, meanwhile, led by John Daly, David O’Connell and Denis D O’Connor left Knocknagoshel.  After turning Headley’s Bridge, they met a long car drawn by two horses with Fr Casey’s band and supporters – Fr Casey, parish priest of Abbeyfeale, being an opponent of Parnell.  As the groups passed, Fr Casey’s crowd booed Parnell, and found themselves surrounded by the Kerrymen and the traces of the car were cut.  ‘One man, Daniel Grady, asked to spare their band as it played for every national cause.’


The Knocknagoshel men went on to Castleisland and they were met at Boherbawn Cross by thirty men led by Thade Doody:


When they arrived at Castleisland they were met by the Cordal men and they marched in front of the hotel where the speakers were.  With the cheering of the Parnellites no word could be heard from the speakers.


Crown Hotel, Castleisland.  In May 1887, proprietor Maurice Murphy was fined £2 for displaying a sign, ‘God Save Ireland,’ from its famous balcony


The incident was reported in the press.  During T D Sullivan’s speech, in which he described Parnell as a tyrant, coercionist and dictator who had disrupted domestic peace and brought Ireland to the verge of ruin, loud cries of Parnell were heard and ‘a crowd of about one hundred men from Brosna, some carrying blackthorn sticks, were seen approaching.  When they came near the crowd, a rush was made at them, and a very lively scrimmage ensued.’[6]


Forbidden Fruit: Charles Stewart Parnell and Katherine, youngest daughter of Rev Sir John Page Wood, and wife of Captain William Henry O’Shea, 18th Hussars.  Parnell’s affair with Kitty O’Shea broke his political career.  In the centre, Wonersh Lodge in Eltham, where the couple used to meet


The meeting descended into ‘a complete fiasco’:


The anti-Parnellite meeting in Castleisland today for the purpose of establishing a branch of the Irish National Federation was a complete fiasco.  Messrs T D Sullivan and J D Sheehan were the only members of the seceders present … at about 2.30pm the meeting was commenced and there was assembled in the street in front of the hotel not more than five or six hundred people and the majority of those, as subsequent events proved, were undoubtedly Parnellites.


The Ven Archdeacon Irwin, PP, VG, took the chair but his voice was drowned out as two-thirds of those present cheered loudly for Parnell.  Rev Father Carmody urged the people to disperse to their homes, adding that Castleisland was solid for the anti-Parnellites, a statement promptly contradicted by the crowd.  ‘The meeting broke up as it commenced, in confusion and disorder.  Nothing practical was done.’[7]


Another report described how a specially chartered train from Tralee to Castleisland was received with cheers and counter-cheers.  The Knocknagoshel brass band met the visitors outside the station and played See the Conquering Hero Comes ‘but whoever was conquering who could not be ascertained.’[8]


Six months on from the meeting, Charles Stewart Parnell was dead.  He caught a cold, and died unexpectedly from pneumonia on 6 October 1891.


An old servant of Mr Parnell told me that he had never been the same since his illness a few years ago and that she feared he had overworked himself … when in Ireland last week he complained of a severe pain in the chest and was at Creggs, Galway against the orders of his doctor.  All who took part in the land agitation in 1879, 1880 and 1881 knows the extraordinary capability and physical endurance which Parnell then displayed.  In his recent campaign, he imagined he possessed all the old form of the Land League days.  The strain proved too much, and the primary cause of his death is probably, as his servant said, due to the fact that he counted upon a strength which he did not possess.[9]


The Tralee branch of the Irish National Federation adjourned its fortnightly meeting as a mark of respect, adding ‘it was not a time for abuse but for sympathy’:


It was only a very short few years ago that Mr Parnell found the farmers of Ireland in need and misery, but by the singularity of his character and genius he welded the forces of a distracted and disturbed country into one harmonious whole, and made the Irish party the pride of Ireland and of the world, and the terror of the surrounding nations … They would all now forget the last year of Mr Parnell’s life, and remember only his brilliant career when he was fighting for the liberty of his people.[10]


[1] ‘Kiss me, my little wife,’ the last words spoken by Parnell Charles Stewart Parnell to Kitty O’Shea according to an account in the Penrith Observer, 8 February 1921. ‘They exchanged letters in invisible ink, telegraphed in code, and passed under assumed names.  Later Parnell almost made her home at Eltham his home … Katharine and Parnell were alone when he died, and his last words to her were: ‘Kiss me, my little wife; and I will try to sleep awhile’.’

[2] Kerry Sentinel, 30 May 1879.

[3] Kerry Evening Post, 18 January 1888. 

[4] ‘Community honours school for years of valued work’ (Kerryman, 23 October 2003).

[5] ‘A Local Tale of the Parnellite Split’ by James Leahy, information given by Carty Leahy, Ballinacartin, Knocknagoshel.  The Schools’ Collection, Scoil Cnoc Breac, Volume 0450, pp193-194.

[6] Kerry Evening Post, 18 March 1891.

[7] Freeman’s Journal, 16 March 1891. 

[8] Kerry Evening Post, 18 March 1891.

[9] Kerry Sentinel, 10 October 1891.

[10] Kerry Weekly Reporter, 10 October 1891.