Anna Parnell – the forgotten Irish leader

Posted 13 May 2020

On this day – 13 May – in 1852 Catherine Maria Anna Mercer Parnell was born into a prosperous landowning family in County Wicklow, Ireland. The tenth of eleven children of John Henry Parnell and Delia Tudor Stewart, Anna, as she came to be called, could have expected to lead a life of supervisory domestic duties, with some time for crafts and arts, the odd hunting ball and genteel good works amongst the surrounding impoverished Irish communities. Instead she would join her older brother and sister, and occasionally eclipse them, in a leadership role of one of the most astonishing cross-class revolutionary social movements of the nineteenth century. 

In my historical novel about the Irish Land War of 1879-1882, and its impact on 20th and 21st century Irish diasporas – I know , sounds terribly worthy but in fact The Country of Our Dreams is a GREAT read! – I came to learn more about Anna and her amazing and wonderful fierce courage. She was 28 years old when she led, cajoled, organised, defended and yes, sometimes patronised a rising people. She was the living example of what a generation later, a famous Irish republican leader would call “the bravest and most unmanageable revolutionaries” – ie women! She was tough, astute, relentless, and beyond brave but she was not, perhaps, the skilled politician her brother was. His politics outwitted her passion. Plus he controlled the money.

Still Anna Parnell gave us her brilliant best and some of my favourite chapters in ‘The Country of Our Dreams‘ are those with her in them. Happy birthday to Ireland’s Joan of Arc!