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Calls for memorial to Holywood's forgotten man - The Irish News

Calls for memorial to Holywood's forgotten man

A Co Down man who dedicated his life to Charles Parnell has become a neglected figure in Irish history. Suzanne McGonagle reports on calls for a more permanent way to honour Henry Harrison, the forgotten man

EACH year, on the anniversary of his death, a small group of people gather at the graveside of Henry Harrison in Holywood, Co Down.

The simple tribute at the Old Priory cemetery remembers the huge contribution he made to Irish history.

But 60 years after his death there are growing calls for his legacy - which many believe has been neglected - to be marked in a more permanent way.

Historian Deirdre O'Keefe Larkin, whose late father was friends with Mr Harrison, last night described him as the "forgotten Parnell link to Holywood".

A Protestant nationalist, Harrison was born in 1867 into one of north Down's most prestigious families.

His grandfather, a wealthy Belfast ship owner, had built the mansion Holywood House and acquired 3,600 acres in the district in the 1850s.

The family owned much of Holy-wood. Henry's ancestors also created the maypole in the town, the only surviving one in Ireland.

He was the son of Henry Harrison, the Squire of Holywood and Ardkeen, and Letitia Tennent, grand-niece of Henry Joy McCracken.

After studying at Oxford University he developed a strong admiration for Charles Stewart Parnell, the Irish nationalist and statesman who led the fight for Irish Home Rule in the 1880s.

Henry became a nationalist celebrity overnight after becoming involved in physical confrontations with the Royal Irish Constabulary over land war evictions in Co Donegal.

This partly prompted Parnell to offer Harrison the vacant parliamentary seat of Mid-Tipperary, which he took up aged just 22.

He became a close confidant of Parnell, acting as his personal secretary and bodyguard and travelling widely with him on campaigns in Ireland and Britain.

His support never wavered, even when the politician became embroiled in the divorce scandal with Katharine 'Kitty' O'Shea, which led to his downfall.

Following Parnell's death in 1891, Harrison devoted himself to the service of his widow and heard a completely different version of events surrounding the divorce - something that planted the seeds of his later books.

He joined the Royal Irish Regiment during the First World War and served on the Western Front with distinction, reaching the rank of Captain and earning the Military Cross, bar and OBE.

Harrison later worked as a journalist and author and returned to Irish politics working with the Irish Dominion League, an organ-isation campaigning for dominion status for Ireland within the British Empire.

He wrote two influential books defending Parnell, which led to a more favourable view of his role in the O'Shea affair.

Harrison died in Dublin aged 87 in 1954. He was buried in Holy-wood. Sixty years after his death, there are calls for him to be posthumously honoured.

This week in his home town an event will be held recalling his contribution to Irish history.

Ms O'Keefe Larkin, secretary of the Parnell Society, will give a lecture in Holywood Library focusing on the "life of this great Irishman".

Harrison was a close friend of her late father Terence O'Keefe, who was editor of The Irish News from 1966 to 1980.

Mr O'Keefe edited Harrison's last book on Parnell, which was printed and published by the newspaper in 1953.

"When he died in 1954, Henry Harrison was the last surviving member of the Irish party led by Charles Stewart Parnell," Ms O'Keefe Larkin said.

"Although he only knew Parnell for less than two years - years of triumph and tragedy - Harrison never lost his admiration and loyalty for his 'chief'.

"Throughout his life, he defended his chief's honour against all false accusations and innuendo. He was the scourge of all who wrote inaccurately about Parnell."

Ms O'Keefe Larkin said she believed Harrison had become a "neglected" figure in Irish history who should now be honoured.

"I've been agitating for the past 10 years to recognise Harrison," she said.

"He was a major figure in the last crisis of Parnell, a decorated Captain and a nationalist journalist until his dying days. He's certainly a neglected figure whose politics didn't fit Holywood.

"I feel something more permanent should be put in place, perhaps a blue plaque, something to honour him in some way."

She said this week's event, which will attended by Anne Chisholm, a grand-niece of Harrison, will focus on the "life of this most gallant of Parnell's lieutenants, a loyal friend, a staunch Irishman and a Holywood war hero".

The lecture 'Henry Harrison: Parnell's Last Lieutenant' will be held in Holywood Library on Thursday at 7.30pm.

* ACHIEVEMENTS: Left, Henry Harrison at his desk. He worked as a journalist and author including writing books about Charles Stewart Parnell. Below, Mr Harrison with Terence O'Keefe, editor of The Irish News from 1966 to 1980. Above, Holywood's maypole, created by Mr Harrison's ancestors, is the only surviving one in Ireland

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