The Life Of Katherine O’Shea

By Rebekah Corrigan

kos_clip_image001Katherine Wood was born in 1845 in Essex, England. Her father, Sir John Wood was a clergyman in Cressing Essex and her mother, Lady Emma was an artist. She came from a large family having thirteen brothers and sisters, but being the youngest she was spoiled by her father. The family later moved from their home in Essex to a mansion at Riverehall place. Even though they lived well there was actually a shortage of money. This was shown in the fact that her elder sister Maria Wood married her father’s uncle, Benjamin, who was very wealthy. Maria was then known as ‘Aunt Ben’.

The first time Katherine met Captain William O’ Shea was when she was visiting her brother Frank’s regiment. She remembered this meeting very well. “He (O’Shea) was standing near the fire. I had been so much in the companion of older man that I was pleased with his youthful looks”[1] Katherine and Willie became friends and when she went home he began to write to her. Willie had to travel a lot with his regiment. When he returned home from Spain (where his regiment had been stationed), he asked Katherine to marry him. She accepted and they were married on the 25th January 1867. Initially everything went fine for the couple. They went on to have three children, Gerade born in 1870, Norah born in 1873 and Cameron born in 1874. Katherine however was became unhappy with her life with Willie because of his constant absence from the home and his excessive gambling. So in 1875 they starting living apart, Katharine stayed in their house in Eltham with the children and Willie went to live in London.

The first time Katherine met Parnell was when she and her sister Emma went to the House of Commons “He came out, a tall gaunt figure, thin and deadly pale. He looked straight at me, and his curiously burning eyes looked into mine with a wondering intense that threw into my brain the sudden thought ‘this man is wonderful and different,”[2] Katherine asked Parnell to dinner and he accepted. “In leaning forward in the cab to say good bye a rose she was wearing on her bodice fell out on to her skirt. He picked it up and, touched it lightly to his lips, and placed it in his buttonhole. This rose was found by Katherine years later in an envelope with Katherine name and the date on it. The envelope was found in his most private things”[3] I t was belived to be love at first sight.

Over that summer of 1880 they become good friends. They would meet each other in hotels, Parnell would go under the name of Stewart. This was a happy time for Katherine and Parnell. In the following months Katherine became pregnant. During the time that Parnell spent in kilmainham foe danouring Gladstone 1881 land act Katherine birth to a baby girl on the 16th February 1882. She named the Baby Sophie Claude after Parnell’s sister. [4]“I shall love her very much better than if it had been a son” Sophie Claude became very ill and had to be registered in the name of O’Shea. Parnell was let out on parole to go to a funeral in Paris, but he went to see Katherine and Sophie Claude who were at Elthem. Sophie Claude died while she was in Parnell’s arms. “My little one died as my lover stole a kiss to us both ”[5]Parnell was released from prison after the Kilmainham Treaty. Katherine would go on to have another two children Clare who was born in 1882 and then Katie born 1884.

On Christmas Eve 1889 Willie filled for divorce on the charge of adultery against Katherine and Parnell. It was believed that Willie had waited to file divorce because he knew that Katherine had have been expecting inheritance money from Aunt Ben, who had died in 1889 and left money to Katherine in a way that Willie could not get at. The divorce case began on the 15th of November Throughout the divorce case such things were brought up like his accessive drinking and gambling. He also committing adultery with Katherine sister Anna but that he denied. Katherine had said that the only reason why he stayed with her was for Aunt Ben money. The jury took only one minute they went against Parnell and he was found guilty of adultery .The judge summed it up “it is an immoral, improper and reprehensible thing to indulge in an intimacy of this sort with a married woman whether the husband was a consenting party or not”[6]. Parnell believed that the divorce was politically irrelevant.

Katherine and Parnell got married on the morning of 25th June 1891. Before Parnell left to marry Katherine he wrote his will and left every thing to Katie and his two daughters. Parnell came knocking on Katherine’s door saying ‘Get up get up it is time is time to get married, People knew That Katherine and Parnell was getting married but they did not know were. They got married at nine-o clock in a registry office in Stenying and had their servants as their witness. They went back to the house and as they going into the house there was reporters Parnell said stand back and let Ms Parnell pass.

Parnell traveled a lot and when he was away he picked up a fever. Katherine wanted Parnell to come home but he would not. Parnell health got worse and he returned home were Katherine nursed him. On Tuesday 6th of October he opened his eyes and said “kiss me sweet wifie and I will try to get a little sleep”[7] Parnell died of rheumatic fever. In Parnells coffin Katherine put the rose that she gave him on their first meeting. Parnell was buried in Glasnevin cemetery.

After Parnell had died Katherine had a nervous breakdown. It was said that Katherine never stooped mourning Parnell. For the rest of Katherine’s life she went from house to house all over the south coast of England. It was said by Katherine’s daughter Nora that she became an alcoholic. Katherine died on the 5th of February 1921, she was seventy-five. Katie was buried in Littanpton cemetery.

Book Review

Name: Kitty O’ Shea a life of Katharine Parnell.
Author: M.R Callaghan
Published: Panda press London 1989
This book was a very good source because it gave a lot of reverent information about Katie’s life from childhood right up to when she died. This book was very detailed, concise and gave a good account of when she met both Willie and Parnell. Studying this topic I have read other books but this was the one that supplied me with most of the information I required. In addition it contained an extensive bibliography which was useful in finding other sources of information.

Two reason why it was worth studying

The two reasons why this topic was worth study are:

  1. (1)     The scandal brought an end to the career of Parnell and destroyed the unity that Home Rule party had enjoyed since the early 1880s. It shows that scandals in the past would bring down politicians like today.
  2. (2)     The tragedy of the scandal also shows how human the characters of Irish history were full of strengths and weakness. As such it puts a human face on the events that have effected our nation in the past.


Brandy, M. The love story of Parnell and Katharine O’ Shea, The Mecier Press Dublin, 1991.
Callaghan, M, R. Kitty O’Shea a life of Katharine Parnell, Panda Press London, 1989.
Tiernry, M. Ireland since 1870 Fallons Dublin 1988

  [1]M. Brandy. The love story of Parnell and Katharine O’ Shea. Mercier press Dublin 1991, page 26
[2]M.R Callaghan . Kitty O’ Shea a life of Katharine Parnel  Panda  press London 1989 page 45

[3] Ibid.

[4]M.  Brandy. The love story of Parnell and Katharine O ’Shea. Mercier press Dublin  1991

[5] Ibid. , page 45

[6] Ibid. , page 106
7Ibid. , page 136