First published in The Scots Observer, March 8th 1890. Collected in Barrack Room Ballads and Other Verses (1892), Inclusive Verse, Definitive Verse, the Sussex and Burwash Editions, and the Cambridge Edition (2013) Ed. Pinney (p.295).
Britain had ruled Ireland since the sixteenth century, and it had never been an easy relationship. For many years the Irish were banned from practising Catholicism or speaking their own language. In the 1840s the potato famine had led to mass starvation, and many Irish people had emigrated to North America and elsewhere to seek better lives away fron the British. Much of the land of Ireland was in the hands of English landlords, often absenbtees living in Britain, leaving their agents to collect the rents. Rents were imposed with little negotiation, arbirary evictions of tenants were frequent, and there was deep discontent. Against this background the Irish National Land League, founded in 1879, with the support of the Irish MPs in the Westminster Parliament, waged a largely fruitless campaign for reform.
Charles Parnell, leader of the Irish in the House of Commons, was the first President of the Land League. In March 1887 The Times published a series of articles “Parnellism and Crime” accusing Parnell and his fellow Irishmen in Parliament with supporting and encouraging violence in the Irish land rights movement.
The most notorious example of violence had been the “Phoenix Park Murders” on 6 May 1882. Lord Frederick Cavendish, Chief Secretary, and Henry Burke, Under Secretary, were assassinated in full daylight, within view of the viceregal lodge. Cavendish had just been appointed and was only killed because he happened to be walking with Burke. Burke, however, had been Under Secretary since 1869 and was seen as the chief agent of the punitive policies of his political masters.
At the time Parnell spoke in Parliament, expressing his “unqualified detestation of the horrible crime.” But one of the Times articles printed a letter dated 15 May1882, nine days after the murders, supposedly written by Parnell, saying that he only denounced the murders as an act of policy, and that Burke had got no more than his just due. Parnell dismissed the letter as a forgery, but did not sue The Times for libel.
A year later, in 1888, another Irish M.P. Frank O’Donnell did sue The Times, and lost. Parnell was forced to take action. He wanted a House of Commons Select Committee, but the Government set up a Royal Commission of three judges and left The Times to prove its case. (This is why, two years later, Kipling was so happy when The Times finally quoted his poem.) The Commission opened in October 1888. Until February 1889, it concerned itself with the links between the Irish National Land League (of which Parnell had been President) and agrarian violence and intimidation.
The Land League’s weapon was social ostracism, which Parnell recommended in a speech in September 1880:
When a man takes a farm from which another has been evicted you must shun him on the roadside when you meet him, you must shun him in the streets of the town, you must shun him in the shop, you must shun him in the fairgreen and in the marketplace, and even in the place of worship, by leaving him alone, by putting him in a moral Coventry, by isolating him from the rest of his country as if he were the leper of old, you must show your detestation of the crime he has committed.Charles Boycott, an estate manager who tried to serve eviction notices, was one of the first to be treated in this way, and gave his name to the process.
The ostracism soon spread, from the occupier of the farm to any one who worked for him or bought his produce or sold him food. It was directed against those who paid their rent when others refused to pay. And behind every boycott lay the threat of violence: during the heyday of the League, agrarian outrage grew from 863 incidents in 1879 to 2590 in 1880.
In February 1889, when the Commission had been sitting for 4 months, it finally got round to the heart of the case against Parnell: a number of letters apparently showing that Parnell approved and organised agrarian violence, including the notorious one justifying the Phoenix Park murders. The Times had got the letters, through an intermediary, from a disreputable Dublin journalist, Richard Piggott. Called to give evidence before the Commission, Piggott broke down under cross-examination and confessed that he had forged them all. He fled to Madrid, where he committed suicide. With the revelation that all the “incriminating” letters were forgeries, the core of the prosecution case collapsed, though the Commission did find Parnell and his associates guilty of a number of offences. They concluded:
We find that some of the respondent Members of Parliament joined in the Land League organization with the intention by its means to bring about the absolute independence of Ireland as a separate nation.Kipling considered the verdict a whitewash, and this poem is his response.
In Something of Myself (pp. 82-3) Kipling describes the publication of this poem:
A Government Commission of Enquiry was sitting in those days on some unusually blatant traffic in murder among the Irish Land Leaguers, and had whitewashed the whole crowd. Whereupon, I wrote some impolite verses called ‘Cleared !’ which at first The Times seemed ready to take but on second thoughts declined. Henley, having no sense of political decency, published them in his Observer. and - after a cautious interval - The Times quoted them in full. This was rather like some of my experiences in India, and gave me yet more confidence. :
Lord Birkenhead (pp. 119/20) gives details of its publication from Henley’s side:
Henley’s patron, Fitzroy Bell, and Herbert Stephen arranged to call on the author to discuss Barrack Room Ballads, and were surprised to find a farouche boy of twenty-four, who stood on the hearth rug with easy assurance and recited another of his ballads, 'Fuzzy Wuzzy'.
Charles Carrington (p.260) agrees, describing the poem as “his contemptuous attack launched against the Liberal Party and Gladstone.”
Peter Keating (p.81) holds that in “Cleared!” Kipling is “revealing a taste for virulent political satire that was to resurface periodically throughout his life.”
Kipling’s 1915 poem “Gehazi” is a later example of his “virulent political satire”. In it he flays the Attorney General Sir Rufus Isaacs for his part in the Marconi scandal. See John Walker’s notes on the poem.
(direct quotations from the Parnell
Commission’s Report are in italics)
Queenstown Bay to Donegal from end to end of Ireland
The honourable gentlemen the Irish members of the British Parliament
That grim crime beneath the surgeon’s knife the Phoenix Park murders (see Historical Background) were committed with surgical amputation instruments
The “honourable gentlemen” deplored the loss of life Parnell in Parliament expressed his horror at the Phoenix Park assassinations
burke avoid an unpleasant truth
Phoenix Park see Historical Background and V 2.
Erin Eire, Ireland
Moonlighter threatening notices were signed 'Captain Moonlight’ and ‘Moonlighter’ became the nickname for those who enforced the threats.
We have pointed out that a large portion of the outrages were committed upon persons who had taken land from which others had been evicted ; another large portion upon those who had paid their rent ; and another upon those who had disobeyed other laws of the League. These three classes of crime were generally perpetrated by means of outrage committed at night, and which is ordinarily known by the term moonlightingcattle-hocking disabling cattle by cutting the tendons of the hock, hamstringing.
counsel’s best advice
Proof has been given that the Land League systematically and indiscriminately paid for the defence of persons charged with agrarian crimes.Verse 6
card a woman’s hide card: (n) a toothed instrument for raising the nap on cloth (v) lacerate as with a card (OED)
They only said “intimidate”
We find that the respondents did not directly incite persons to the commission of crime other than intimidation, but that they did incite to intimidation, and that as a consequence of that, crime and outrage were committed by the persons incited.Verse 8
Judas-gold the reward for betrayal. Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus Christ for money.
Fenians members of a society aiming for Irish independence by armed revolution
Clan-na-Gael an American society allied to the Fenians, responsible for terrorist attacks with dynamite in England.
It has been proved that the respondents invited the assistance of the Physical Force party in America, including the Clan-na-Gael, and in order to obtain that assistance, abstained from repudiating or condemning the action of that party.traitors …… rebels
We find that some of the respondent Members of Parliament joined in the Land League organization with the intention by its means to bring about the absolute independence of Ireland as a separate nation.Verse 11
tups rams, male sheep
bell-wether the leading sheep of a flock, with a bell on its neck. In this instance, Gladstone, the Leader of the Liberal Party
snuff the taint notice the smell (of blood)
break run away
daub them yours sheep are marked with dye or in those days tar, to show who owns them
Cain the first murderer Genesis 4.8
Black terror on the countryside .
It was, however, proved before us, that the effects of boycotting were such as might be expected to and did create a well grounded terror in the minds of those who suffered under it, and we come to the conclusion that this was the intention of those who devised and carried out this system.The mangled stallion….. the tail-cropped heifer maiming of farm animals (see verse 5)
“not provens” a verdict in Scottish law when the evidence against the defendant is insufficient to convict
you that “lost” the League accounts the Land League was banned in October 1881. Most of its records were transferred to the Ladies Land League and could not be found when wanted by the Commission.
Thus we have over £100,000 of Land League funds received, but no details of the manner in which it was expended.clane phonetic spelling of Irish pronunciation of “clean”
traitors ... rebels See verse 8
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