Mary Kenny

Parnell’s Passion

Ireland’s Misfortune: The Turbulent Life of Kitty O’Shea

By

Atlantic Books 586pp £19.99 order from our bookshop

First, Charles Stewart Parnell’s mistress was never actually called ‘Kitty O’Shea’, as Elisabeth Kehoe quite properly explains in this meticulous biography. ‘Kitty’ was a public, and perhaps pejorative, nickname that has principally lived on as a name for Irish-themed pubs: the Kitty O’Shea Tavern and Inn. It is supposed to signal an ooh-la-la sauciness and Madame Naughty in a basque – Parnell’s fancy-woman who was allegedly the cause of ‘Ireland’s Misfortune’.

But of course it wasn’t like that at all: it never is. It was an infinitely more complicated and multi-layered story of passionate commitment, involving poor judgement, character blindspots, and, above all, a chronic problem with money. Far from being a saucy sexpot, Mrs Katharine O’Shea was a strong-minded, cultivated and self-assured Victorian matron with whom the otherwise frighteningly icy Parnell was utterly smitten. 

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • Why did the 'bold and determined' Empress Matilda never manage to become Queen regnant? Peter Marshall reviews a n… ,
    • From the Archive: Martyn Bedford on Ian McEwan's 'Atonement' ,
    • In 'Silenced Voices' reports the ongoing story of the human rights lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh, who has been… ,
    • The mystery of Jack the Ripper's identity has long been agonised over. But what do we know about his victims?… ,
    • A piece of Literary Review history from way back in 1983: John Haffenden talks to the great Iris Murdoch. ,
    • Britain’s only travelling lit fest, the Garden Museum Literary Festival is heading to Houghton Hall, Norfolk, for a… ,
    • 'The 19th-century German sage is not my idea of a pleasant travel companion' goes hiking with Friedr… ,