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

    • He has 'raised his country’s international influence to unprecedented heights, while at the same time jailing hundr… ,
    • 'It is one of those nice linguistic ironies that English should have attempted to make sex respectable by clothing… ,
    • 'He was to my mind the father of the idea that journalism – yes, even journalism – can have a moral dimension to it… ,
    • RT : Feeling old, as exhumes a piece I wrote 37 years ago. But a joy to see Kathy O’S there too. Here’s why:… ,
    • 'Enough of his character remains just out of reach for Barnes to relish the challenge of imagining him.' Patrick M… ,
    • RT : I did a thing about the new Penguin Book Of Oulipo for this month’s Literary Review: @Lit_Review,
    • 'Moore’s work has been so influential that the former ministers who provided him with much of his information now r… ,