1889 Thomas Tracy and the Parnell Commission



The Parnell Commission was a judicial inquiry in the late 1880s into allegations of crimes by Irish parliamentarian Charles Stewart Parnell which resulted in his vindication.


On 6 May 1882 two leading members of the British Government in Ireland, Chief Secretary for Ireland Lord Frederick Cavendish and the Permanent Under-Secretary for Ireland T.H. Burke were stabbed to death in Phoenix Park, Dublin by the Irish National Invincibles (Phoenix Park Murders). In March 1887, The Times published a series of articles, "Parnellism and Crime", in which Home Rule League leaders were accused of being involved in murder and outrage during the land war. The Times produced a number of facsimile letters, allegedly bearing Parnell’s signature and in one of the letters Parnell had excused and condoned the murder of T.H. Burke in the Phoenix Park. In particular the newspaper had paid £1,780 for a letter supposedly written by Parnell to Patrick Egan, a Fenian activist, that included: "Though I regret the accident of Lord F Cavendish's death I cannot refuse to admit that Burke got no more than his deserts" and was signed "Yours very truly, Charles S. Parnell". On the day it was published (18 April 1887), Parnell described the letter in the House of Commons as "a villainous and barefaced forgery." Also on 18 April the Perpetual Crimes Act had its second reading and debate in the Commons. It appeared to nationalists that it was more than coincidental that the Times article on the letter was published on the same day, and was obviously intended to sway the debate.


Ref: The National Archives, Kew, England

1888 CRIMINAL - LIST OF CRIMINAL CASES, INCLUDING EXTRADITION CASES: TRACEY, Thomas COURT: - OFFENCE: Brought from Ireland to English Prison to give evidence before Parnell Commission HO 144/222/A49553B  



The following are some of the exchanges in the House of Commons (HC) on the involvement of Thomas Tracy. It would seem that there was a conspiracy, by The Times and the government, to get him to testify against Mr. J. F. O'Brien, Member for South Mayo, and Father O'Malley, P.P. Father John O’Malley, was a member of the Land League, who encouraged protesters at Boycott’s home and told his servants and farm workers to leave.

THE SPECIAL COMMISSION.HC Deb 01 March 1889 vol 333 cc710-7


MR. MATTHEWS I will answer the Question of the hon. Member for North Longford and that of the hon. Member for South Down at the same time. Mullett and Nally were not visited by Head Constable Preston. They were brought over from Ireland under order of the Special Commission for the purpose of giving evidence. A prisoner named Tracy is in Millbank. His offence was making use of threatening language, and his sentence was to find bail to keep the peace and be of good behaviour for 12 months, or in default to be imprisoned for that time. The removal of Tracy took place, I understand, under similar circumstances to that of Mullett and Nally. He was accompanied by a prison warder, who still remains here. He has been twice visited by Mr. Preston, in pursuance of a request of Mr. Soames. The purpose of the application to visit was not stated. These visits were allowed in accordance with the ordinary rules. I am not aware of any limit of time during which a prisoner may be detained if his presence is required by the Court.


IRELAND—THE PRISONER TRACY.HC Deb 04 March 1889 vol 333 cc829-31 829


§ MR. M'CARTAN (Down, S.) asked the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, whether he will state under what order of a Court of Law Thomas Tracy was removed from Belfast Gaol to Millbank Prison, where he still remains; for what purpose Tracy was previously removed from Castlebar to Belfast Gaol; when, and on what charge, Tracy was convicted, and what sentence was passed upon him; whether, during his imprisonment in Belfast, he was daily supplied with dinners of the first quality, and also with beer or porter, and by whom same were supplied; whether the Freeman's Journal was sent him daily from a local police barrack; whether County Inspector Heard, and District Inspector Gibbons, or any other officer of police, paid several visits to him there, and saw him without the presence of a warder; whether he is aware that Tracy alleges these officers of police promised him his liberty if he 830 would swear against an Irish Nationalist Member of Parliament, and a certain priest in connection with a murder in the West of Ireland; whether, on his refusal to swear what he knew to be false, Tracy was threatened with imprisonment for life; whether Head Constable Preston, or any other constable, told Tracy on his way to Belfast that he was wanted as a witness for the Parnell Commission, gave him money, and said that he would be visited in Belfast Gaol by gentlemen, who would tell him what he was wanted to swear; and whether, under the circumstances, he will grant an independent inquiry into these serious charges made by Tracy?


§ THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR,) Manchester, E. 1. I am informed that the man referred to was brought over to England under an order from the Special Commission Court. 2. While this man was in Castlebar Prison it was publicly announced in a local Roman Catholic Chapel that he had turned informer, and there was also reliable information that he was being tampered with to prevent him from giving information. He was accordingly removed to Belfast. 3. He was committed to prison for 12 months on the 16th of August, 1888, in default of finding sureties to be of good behaviour, for having made use of threatening language towards one Patrick Connors. 4 and 5. I understand that he was treated like other bail prisoners. 6. County Inspector Head did not visit this man, but he was visited by County Inspector Milling and District Inspector Gibbons, both in Castlebar and Belfast Prisons, in consequence of the man's having previously disclosed important information with reference to serious crimes, which it was the duty of these officers to investigate. No warder was present.


§ MR. SEXTON (Belfast, W.) How did it happen that the solicitor to this man several times applied to the Irish Prisons Board to be allowed to see him and was refused, and is it true that access has been permitted to certain police officers transferred by the Government to the service of the Times? I also wish to know whether, in view of the grave allegations contained in the Question of my hon. Friend that this man was promised his liberty by certain police 831 officers if he would swear against an Irish Nationalist Member; that he was wanted as a witness for the Parnell Commission, and that he would be visited by a gentleman who would tell him what he was wanted to swear, and that on his refusal to swear he was threatened with imprisonment for life; the Chief Secretary will be content to allow the allegations to rest upon the denial of the persons incriminated?


§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR I believe these allegations to be untrue, but as the man is to appear before the Special Commission an opportunity will be afforded of ascertaining all the facts.


§ MR. SEXTON Will the right hon. Gentleman be good enough to say why the solicitor to the prisoner was refused admission to him, while free admission was given to the Times emissary?


§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR I am not aware that such was the fact. There is no suggestion of the kind in the Question.


§ MR. M'CARTAN The right hon. Gentleman did not answer paragraphs four and five of my question, namely, whether during Tracy's imprisonment in Belfast he was daily supplied with dinners of the first quality and also with beer or porter; by whom the same were supplied; and whether the Freeman's Journal was sent to him daily from a local police barracks?


§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR I did answer he right hon. Gentleman. I stated hat I understood from the report of the Prisons Board that the prisoner was treated like all other bail-prisoners.


IRELAND—THOMAS TRACY.HC Deb 05 March 1889 vol 333 cc966-8 966


§ MR. M'CARTAN I wish to ask the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, with reference to the treatment of the bail prisoner Tracy, recently removed from Belfast to Mill-bank Prison, whether he can now say if the prison authorities supply dinners of joint, dessert, and beer or porter, to bail prisoners in Ireland; and, if not, whether such dinners were supplied at the expense of the proprietor of the Times to Tracy during his imprisonment at Belfast, or by whom these dinners were supplied to him there; whether he will state by whom the Freeman's Journal, containing reports of the proceedings at the Special Commission, was supplied to Tracy daily at Belfast Gaol; and, whether the Prisons Board, while 967 allowing him to be visited by officers of the Royal Irish Constabulary to get up evidence for the Special Commission, without the presence of a warder, refused to grant such visits to the solicitors acting for him, and who at his request made application to be allowed similar visits?


THE SPECIAL COMMISSION.HC Deb 08 March 1889 vol 333 cc1277-85


MR. SEXTON In reference to the statement just made that while Tracy was in Castlebar he was publicly denounced in the Roman Catholic Chapel, as he had turned informer, I beg to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether his attention has been drawn to a letter of the Rev. Patrick Lyons, P.P., of Castlebar, who is Chaplain of the prison, in which he states:— I feel it my imperative duty to give that statement an emphatic and unqualified contradiction. It is utterly and absolutely untrue that Tracy's name was mentioned either directly or indirectly, under any circumstances whatsoever, either in the Prison Chapel or the Parish Church at Castlebar. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he now withdraws the statement.


MR. M'CARTAN I beg to ask the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, with reference to the Times witness Tracy, who was removed some months ago from Belfast Gaol to Millbank, whether he can state on what grounds the Irish Prisons Board refused the application made on his behalf to have an interview with his solicitor without the presence of a warder, though officers of the Constabulary were allowed to visit him alone; whether he is aware that Tracy alleges that County Inspector Melling and District Inspector Gibbons, during their private interview with him at Belfast Gaol, wanted him to swear against the honourable Member for South Mayo and Father O'Malley, P.P., The Neale, county Mayo, in connection with a conspiracy to murder, and that Tracy was then threatened with continued imprisonment when he refused to swear against either of these gentlemen, on the ground that such an oath would be absolutely false; whether Head Constable Preston, on the occasion of his last visit to Tracy at Millbank, further pressed him to consent to swear against these two gentlemen, and promised him 1285 his liberty if he would attend the Special Commission and swear accordingly; whether Tracy, having again refused to swear falsely as required, was told by Preston that be would not be called as a witness; whether these officers of police were the only persons who held communication with Tracy on behalf of the Times; and, whether, considering the serious nature of the allegations made by Tracy as to threats and promises of reward held out to him by the police officers who visited him at Belfast, in the event of his refusing or consenting to swear as instructed at the Special Commission, he will grant an independent inquiry into all the circumstances in connection with these visits, and as to the communications made to him by the police at and since his removal from Castlebar Gaol?


THE PRISONER TRACY.HC Deb 14 March 1889 vol 333 cc1649-50 1649


§ MR. SEXTON I beg to ask the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, with reference to the statement that the prisoner Tracy, when in Castlebar Gaol, was denounced as an informer in the local Roman Catholic church, whether he is aware that there is but one Catholic church in the town of Castlebar, and that the parish priest, the Rev. Patrick Lyons, who is also chaplain to the prison, has declared the statement in question to be wholly untrue, and has challenged proof of it; whether, in consequence of the course pursued by him in regard to the public statement of Father Lyons, the reverend gentleman has indicated his intention of resigning the chaplaincy of Castlebar Prison; and whether, in view of subsequent information, he is now prepared to make any further statement on the subject?


§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR My statement was that it was publicly announced in a local Roman Catholic chapel that the prisoner Tracy had turned informer. The chapel alluded to was Cappaduff, which is one of the localities in which there is evidence of the man having been actively engaged in the commission of crime.


VOTE ON ACCOUNT.HC Deb 21 March 1889 vol 334 cc415-89


...MR. A. J. BALFOUR ... The right hon. Gentleman has asked about the action of Head Constable Preston with reference to Tracy. The right hon. Gentleman does not appear to have fully grasped the fact, which I have myself stated more than once in this House, that the whole investigation with regard to Tracy had no reference to the Times case, but had reference to information which Tracy himself volunteered to the police in the first instance. Tracy subsequently refused to complete his information; but, even in its imperfect form, I hope it may enable the Government to get at the root of some very serious crimes in the West of Ireland. Tracy is a man who I believe has been implicated in a large number of the most shocking and criminal operations that have occurred in that part of the country. He volunteered, for reasons of his own, to give information to the police; that information he would not complete, having been restrained probably by illegitimate influences, and in visiting him Head Constable Preston was only fulfilling what was unquestionably his duty, to get to the bottom of these dark transactions. I am informed that this had no reference to the case of the Times, but was simply an investigation carried on by Preston for the detection of crime. It is perfectly true—and I do not deny it—that an investigation into crime in Ireland may have great relevancy to the inquiry by the Commission...

... I said that, no doubt, it was secret crime in which Tracy was involved, and that, like other secret crime, it had a bearing on the Commission. But the primary object was an inquiry under a section of the Crimea Act.


MR. HARRIS (Galway, E.) The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary has referred to the man Tracy in an insinuating manner. Well, if he had any charge to make against the man, or if there was anything behind what he was saying, the proper course for him to have pursued was to have put his facts before the House like a man. I do not know that anyone has ever been worse treated by the Irish Office than I myself, with regard to papers seized in my house. I was subpœnaed to produce certain papers, and I had not got them, as they had been destroyed. Many of them were of no value, and even these that were of value were not my property, but the property of persons who had corresponded with me, so I thought it my duty to destroy them. But the Government did not destroy the copies they had, and as soon as the Special Commission was opened they were produced for the use of the Times' lawyers...

... With regard to the case of the man Tracy, the Chief Secretary says this man was visited by Head Constable Preston in Millbank Prison on a letter from Mr. Soames, and he gives as the reason for this visit that Tracey had been concerned in most serious and abominable crimes in Ireland. Now, if Tracy had been concerned in such crimes, why was he not tried for them? The Chief Secretary is probably under the idea that the man Tracy is in Millbank under sentence. Nothing of the kind; be could walk out of prison to-morrow were he so minded. The fact is that he is there of his own free will, and is kept there, in lavender, by the police, fed by them, and supplied with luxuries by them. Let us see what are the facts. What is the abominable crime Tracy has committed? Will the House believe that Tracy has been for months and months in prison in Ireland, at first in Sligo, and then in Belfast, where there was ample opportunity for the Irish Government to send Head Constable Preston to him, and finally in Millbank? And for what has he been in gaol all this time? He is in gaol because he refuses to find a £5 bail to be of good behaviour. And why was be called on to find a £5 bail? He was never brought before any Court, and never sentenced. If he were, I challenge the records of that Court. I challenge the production of the summons to which he appeared, and the sentence to which he was subjected. He was brought before one of the Resident Magistrates in a police barrack in secret, a pretended trial was gone through, and the man was committed to gaol with his own connivance, the imaginary £5 bail having been put upon him so that the police might have him under their thumbs at the time they might want his evidence, he being in the meantime supported in luxury, as far as a gaol affords luxury, in the matter of food, reading, and so on. That is the case of the man Tracy. What, then, becomes of the Chief Secretary's suggestion that Preston visited him in Millbank because his bosom was the repository of the darkest secrets of Irish crime? What ground is there for the suggestion that any attempt has been made to tamper with Tracy on the part of the Irish Members? Who was to tamper with him? Was he not under the Government lock and key? Nobody can get access to a prison except Shannon and Pigott—I beg pardon—and Mr. Soames. Who was it that was tampering with Tracy? I submit we are entitled to information on that point. For my part, I never heard of Tracy until about a month ago, and then I heard this man was placed under a pretended bail of £5, in secret, in a police barrack—the law providing that such cases should not be heard except in Petty Sessions, when the ordinary magistrates are able to sit. The Government raise up a tribunal when they want one just as a jury-mast is raised on board ship, and after a pretended trial and an imaginary bail, the man, in connivance with the Government, goes to prison. This man, I presume, is really an informer. I know nothing of him, except that I believe him to be as arrant a rascal as ever breathed, who has drawn money from the Times and is trying to draw money from us—which be will not get, as we are not such fools as Mr. Soames. That is the story of the man Tracy, and I ask what becomes of the charge that he was being tampered with by us; and what becomes of the suggestion that he was visited by Preston for some purpose connected with the detection of Irish crime? What, then, was Head Constable Preston doing in London? He was here for months, and you will to-night be voting his salary for doing duty for the Times...

MR. A. J. BALFOUR...Then, Sir, the hon. Member was very indignant about the action taken with regard to Tracy, and said he had never heard of him. That is very likely. But Tracy was a man who had been well known to the police for a long time. I do not mean to insinuate by that that he was a man who ought to have been known to the hon. Member, but what I meant to point out is, that Tracy has been engaged, as the Government know from many sources, in the commission of serious and organized crime in the West of Ireland. I repeat what I have stated before, that Tracy volunteered information in Ireland to the police on the subject of crime to which he had been a party, implicating also other persons. Soon after that he was denounced in the neighbourhood of the prison in which he was confined as an informer. Thereupon he was removed to Belfast, and the police attempted to obtain a fuller confession from him. He was removed at the suit of the Times to London, but it was in pursuit of the inquiry begun at the instance of Tracey himself that Head Constable Preston acted as he did. That appears to be a clear and lucid statement. As I understand, there would have been no harm in Preston's visiting Tracey on behalf of the Times, But, as a matter of fact, Preston did not visit him on behalf of the Times, or for the purpose of forwarding the Times' case, but for the purpose of making further investigation into the important matters with regard to which Tracy had already given partial information. I admit, of course, that the permission to make the visit was given on the application of Mr. Soames. Not only has the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary stated that in this House, but I have stated it myself also.

MR. T. M. HEALY Will the right hon. Gentleman tells us what Tracy was in gaol for? And for how long?


MR. BALFOUR I believe he was in prison in default of finding bail in connection with a charge of intimidation and threatening life.



Last update: 11 December 2009