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John Redmond: The National Leader - Dermot Meleady

Ireland has its share of political heroes, men from Daniel O'Connell to Charles Stewart Parnell to Michael Collins and Eamon de Valera who fought for the sovereignty of the Irish people and are memorialized today for their efforts. By contrast there is no memorial for John Redmond, who is in many ways the forgotten man of Irish history. Yet as leader of the Irish Nationalist Party at the start of the 20th century he came closer to achieving the longstanding goal of Home Rule for Ireland than any of his illustrious predecessors, only to witness his aspirations outpaced by events.

 

One of the merits of Dermot Meleady's account of Redmond's later career is to give Redmond's achievements their due. The second volume of a two-book study of the political leader, it begins with Redmond's assumption of a party newly reunified in 1900 after the schism caused by Parnell's involvement in a divorce case. Redmond took over the party as an inauspicious time, when the anti-Home Rule Unionist Party dominated British government, yet the new leader bided his time and pursued other issues important to the Irish people while awaiting his opportunity. When it came in 1910 with the political crisis sparked by the "People's Budget," Redmond seized it, leveraging his party's support of the ruling Liberals in return for Home Rule. Though this brought Ireland to the brink of a civil war by 1914, Meleady argues that Redmond was close to a compromise that would have brought about a peaceful result but for the outbreak of war in Europe. With the passage of a Home Rule bill finalized Redmond pledged his party's support for the war effort, a stance that alienated radical nationalists who spearheaded the Easter Rising in 1916. Though an ailing Redmond pursued compromise, by the time he died in 1918 his vision of an autonomous Ireland existing within the British empire had already been eclipsed by the demand of a radicalized electorate for full independence.

 

Meleady's biography is the first full-length study of Redmond in three-quarters fo a century, As such it benefits form the perspective of time and the work of generations of historians in understanding the events of Irish independence, While Meleady devotes space to addressing Redmond's family life, this is predominantly a political biography, which is understandable given his focus on political activity, Together with Meleady's first volume, Redmond: The Parnellite, this is likely to remain the standard by which all future biographies of Redmond are judged, and a fitting tribute to a leader who nearly achieved peacefully what ultimately was accomplished with bloodshed.