Richard Pigott, the Forger

Richard Pigott, the forger, was a very bad man,
And to gainsay it there’s nobody can,
Because for fifty years he pursued a career of deceit,
And as a forger few men with him could compete.

For by forged letters he tried to accuse Parnell
For the Phoenix Park murders, but mark what befell.
When his conscience smote him he confessed to the fraud,
And the thought thereof no doubt drove him mad.

Then he fled from London without delay,
Knowing he wouldn’t be safe there night nor day,
And embarked on board a ship bound for Spain,
Thinking he would escape detection there, but ’twas all in vain.

Because while staying at a hotel in Spain
He appeared to the landlord to be a little insane.
And he noticed he was always seemingly in dread,
Like a person that had committed a murder and afterwards fled.

And when arrested in the hotel he seemed very cool,
Just like an innocent schoolboy going to school.
And he said to the detectives, “Wait until my portmanteau I’ve got.”
And while going for his portmanteau, himself he shot.

So perished Richard Pigott, a forger bold,
Who tried to swear Parnell’s life away for the sake of gold,
But the vengeance of God overtook him,
And Parnell’s life has been saved, which I consider no sin.

Because he was a man that was very fond of gold,
Not altogether of the miser’s craving, I’ve been told,
But a craving desire after good meat and drink,
And to obtain good things by foul means he never did shrink.

He could eat and drink more than two ordinary men,
And to keep up his high living by foul means we must him condemn,
Because his heart’s desire in life was to fare well,
And to keep up his good living he tried to betray Parnell.

Yes, the villain tried hard to swear his life away,
But God protected him by night and by day,
And during his long trial in London, without dismay,
The noble patriot never flinched nor tried to run away.

Richard Pigott was a man that was blinded by his own conceit.
And would have robbed his dearest friend all for good meat,
To satisfy his gluttony and his own sensual indulgence,
Which the inhuman monster considered no great offence.

But now in that undiscovered country he’s getting his reward,
And I’m sure few people have for him little regard,
Because he was a villain of the deepest dye,
And but few people for him will heave a sigh.

When I think of such a monster my blood runs cold,
He was like Monteith, that betrayed Wallace for English gold;
But I hope Parnell will prosper for many a day
In despite of his enemies that fried to swear his life away.

Oh! think of his sufferings and how manfully he did stand.
During his long trial in London, to me it seems grand.
To see him standing at the bar, innocent and upright,
Quite cool and defiant, a most beautiful sight.

And to the noble patriot, honour be it said,
He never was the least afraid
To speak on behalf of Home Rule for Ireland,
But like a true patriot nobly he did take his stand.

And may he go on conquering and conquer to the end,
And hoping that God will the right defend,
And protect him always by night and by day,
At home and abroad when far away.

And now since he’s set free, Ireland’s sons should rejoice
And applaud him to the skies, all with one voice,
For he’s their patriot, true and bold,
And an honest, true-hearted gentleman be it told.

Parnellism and Crime

Mr Parnell and the Phœnix-Park Murders

In concluding our series of articles on “Parnellism and Crime” we intimated that, besides the damning facts which we there recorded, unpublished evidence existed which would bind still closer the links between the “constitutional” chiefs and the contrivers of murder and outrage. In view of the unblushing denials of Mr. Sexton sud Mr. Healy on Friday night, We do not think it right to withhold any longer from public knowledge the fact that we possess and have had in our custody for come time documentary evidence which has a most serious bearning on the Parnellite conspiracy, and which, after a most careful and minute scrutiny, is, we are satisfied, quite authentic. We produce one document in facsimile to-day by a process the accuracy of which cannot he impugned, and we invite Mr. Parnell to explain how his signature has become attached to such a letter.

It is requisite to point out that the body of the manuscript is apparently not in Mr. Parnell’s handiwriting, but the signature and the “Yours very truly” unquestionably are so; and if any member of Parliament doubts the fact, he can easily satisfy himself on the matter by comparing the handwriting with that of Mr. Parnell in the book containing the signatures of members when they first take their seats in the House of Commons.

The Times, 18th April 1887


Charles Stewart Parnell (pictured right) was known as the “Uncrowned King of Ireland”. Born into a protestant land-owning family, he nonetheless took up the nationalist cause becoming the champion of the poor tenant farmers against their absentee English landlords.

As first President of the Irish National Land League he called upon his followers to shun anybody who took over a farm from which a tenant had been evicted, putting him into a “moral coventry”. So effectively was this sanction applied to one Captain Boycott, a County Mayo land agent, that a new verb was added to the English language. A Land Act was passed in 1881, but it did not go far enough for Parnell or his supporters, some of whom expressed their opposition through violent means. The Land League was suppressed, and Parnell and the other leaders were thrown into Kilmainham Prison.

Prime Minister Gladstone, however, believed the situation could be retrieved and negotiated the “Kilmainham Treaty” with Parnell in which agitation would be discontinued in exchange for a new Land Bill. Parnell was released and Lord Frederick Cavendish came to Ireland as Chief Secretary to begin the fresh start. However, six days later Cavendish and his under-secretary T. H. Burke were stabbed to death in Phoenix Park by a gang of republican radicals known as “The Invincibles”.

Parnell publicly condemned the murders and rode out the storm of public indignation to push for a policy of Home Rule for Ireland. This would establish a parliament in Dublin not unlike that which sits in Edinburgh today, though it was probably intended to be a stepping stone to full independence. In 1885 Parnell’s party won a landslide victory in Ireland which left them holding the balance of power in Westminster, the following year he supported Gladstone’s government, though the latter’s (unsuccessful) introduction of a Home Rule bill split the Liberal Party.

Richard Pigott rose from being an errand boy to publish and edit a number of Nationalist newspapers in the 1860s and 70s, serving time in prison for Sedition. However, his lifestyle of drinking and gambling got him ever deeper in debt. In 1881 he sold his interest in the papers and began to make a living betraying and blackmailing his erstwhile politcal allies. In 1886 he procured some letters implicating Parnell in the Phoenix Park murder which inspired a series of articles entitled “Parnellism and Crime” in The Times the following year.

Parnell vehemently denied the charges and a Special Commission was set up by the government to look into the truth of the matter. The investigation took nearly two years, but when Pigott was brought to the stand in February 1889 he broke down under cross-examination and admitted to forging the letters. Seeking to escape justice and the vengeance of the Nationalists, he fled to Madrid where he apparently committed suicide.

Parnell was at the peak of his political career and received a standing ovation when he re-entered the House of Commons. It was not to last. In December 1889, Captain William O’Shea named Parnell as co-respondent when he divorced his wife, Kitty. Victorian Britain might have been prepared to tolerate a man loosening the bonds of Empire, but to loosen the bonds of matrimony was a step too far. Parnell’s position was in ruins, and though he strove to retain control of the Home Rule party the strain was too great – he died in 1891 at the age of only 45.

This poem was presumably written in 1889 during Parnell’s period of public popularity. As a man of Irish extraction himself, McGonagall might be expected to be one of his supporters anyway. His support for Home Rule wavered with Parnell’s fall – in the (presumably later) The Demon Drink he decries it as a cause favoured by drunkards.

Further Reading

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