W.B. Yeats described Ireland in the 1890s as a nation ‘now plastic’ like ‘molten wax’ ready to be shaped and transformed. But those who sought to mould that destiny were contentious and divided. The Home Rule movement had been riven by the fall from grace of its charismatic champion, Charles Parnell, after the exposure of his adulterous affair with Kitty O’ Shea. The Irish Parliamentary Party which he had led split into Parnellite (the Irish National League [INL]) and anti-Parnellite (the Irish National Federation [INF]) factions led respectively by John Redmond and John Dillon. In the 1892 general election, the INL gained 72 seats, and the INF nine, while Ulster was reliably dominated by the Unionists. More importantly, the Liberals won the election: their leader Gladstone was a convert to Home Rule and secured its passage through the Commons (1893), although it was massively defeated in the Lords.
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