Charles Stewart Parnell although the son
of a country landowner from Avondale in County Wicklow, became one
of the greatest campaigners for democracy in Ireland. He was educated
at Magdalene College, Cambridge University.
Parnell entered the British House of Commons
in 1875 as a member for County Meath. He united the Home
Rule party, and tried to make it powerful by obstructing all
other legislation until Irish demands were met. To unite Ireland,
Parnell came to terms with Irish revolutionaries, he together with
Michael Davitt founded the Land
League. The league wanted land reforms that would end with tenant
farmers owning their farms.
In 1879, Parnell visited the United States
where Irish emigrants and their descendants were only too happy
to donate large amounts of money for the Land League cause. When
he returned to Ireland, he suggested boycotting the landlords in
order to force land reform . For this policy and for trying to obstruct
legislative proceedings, Parnell was arrested and imprisoned for
six months. From prison, he urged tenant farmers not to pay rent.
This advice added bitterness to the situation. After his release
in 1882, Parnell returned to Parliament and tried again to force
home rule. For a time he seemed about to succeed. In 1886, Parliament
passed the Tenant's Relief Bill, which improved farmers' conditions.
But the next year, Parnell had to defend
himself against charges that he was involved in the Phoenix Park
murders. Irish terrorists had committed these murders in 1882. Parnell
proved that letters which seemed to implicate him were forgeries.