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Author (Amanda Green), Blogger, Life Writing Workshop coach, BACP Counsellor Dip., Aerial Photographer and Orangutan, Animal and Mental Health campaigner in Essex

Katharine Parnell (O’Shea)

Katharine O’Shea (born Katharine Wood in Braintree, Essex) was also known as Katie O’Shea, Kitty O’Shea or Katharine Parnell following her second marriage (1845-5th February 1921). She was an English woman whose relationship over many years with Charles Stewart Parnell (the Irish MP destined to bring Home Rule to Ireland, Ireland’s “Uncrowned King.”) eventually caused his political downfall.
She had an older brother who became Field Marshal Sir Evelyn Wood.
Although known to her friends as Katie O’Shea, Parnell’s opponents called her “Kitty O’Shea” because at that time “kitty”, was also a slang term for a prostitute. She wrote a biography of Parnell in 1914 it was published as by “Katharine O’Shea (Mrs Charles Stewart Parnell)” so that may well have been her preference.
Katharine was already married to Captain William O’Shea , when she first met Parnell in 1880. Parnell was the leader of the Parliamentary Irish Party in Westminster. He was a powerful and charismatic leader, worshipped by the Irish, feared by the English, the man marked by God and Destiny to bring Independence to Ireland. Their love affair is one of the great romances of all time; although it ended in death and grief it shook two nations. They continued affair for years, with Katie living in several rented houses.
Captain O’Shea knew about the affair, but kept quiet for several years. The scandal broke in 1890 when Willie O’Shea filed suit for divorce from Katie citing Parnell, as co-respondent. His reasons for filing for divorce at the time he did are a matter for speculation. Their relationship was already common knowledge among politicians, but once public knowledge of the affair broke out, it created a huge scandal which led to Parnell’s being deserted by his own party and to his downfall. Katharine and Parnell married soon after her divorce from Captain O’Shea, in a registry office, as not one of the Vicars would marry them
The people of England and Ireland were shocked and outraged, their prejudice against divorce, further enhanced by the press who blamed Katie as the adulterous seducer of a gallant leader. But it was the end for Parnell. The Irish Catholics would not accept divorce, pressure was put on Parnell to give up his leadership of the Irish Parliamentary Party and support began to fall away from him in Ireland. Gladstone then abandoned the Irish/Liberal pact and jettisoned the forthcoming Irish Home Rule Bill. Betrayed, defeated, sick, his Political life’s work in tatters, Parnell died with Katie beside him on 16th October 1891. He was only forty five years old.
Katie lived the rest of her life in poor emotional health without Parnell, cared for by one of her daughters.

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