Parnell Visits Birmingham
Charles Stewart Parnell (1846-1891) is often considered to be, along with Benjamin Disreali and William Gladstone, one of the three great politicians of the British Isles in the 19th century. A leader of the Irish Home Rule Party, Parnell's remarkable career as a fighter for Irish independence was only cut short by an affair with a married woman (Katharine O'Shea) and his early death at the age of 45.
In 1872, Parnell traveled to Alabama to visit his brother, John Parnell, a successful peach farmer in the eastern part of the state. Hearing of the founding of a new city, the brothers boarded a train bound for Birmingham with the idea of investing in the city's iron industry. When the train derailed outside of the city, the Parnell's changed their minds about investing, expecially when they finally entered Birmingham. Years later, in his biography of his famous brother John Parnell wrote that Birmingham "had one small, dirty wooden hotel, full of adventurers who had come there in the hope of getting work on the railroad and mines. The hotel was a miserable place and very crowded, and we were constantly in dread of having five or six not too cleanly strangers sleeping in the same room."
Parnell returned to England and began his meteoric rise in British politics. One wonders if the hotel in Birmingham had been better and the train not derailed that a career in Alabama politics might have been in the cards. But then the movie "Parnell," starring Clark Gable as Parnell and Myrna Loy as Mrs. O'Shea would never have been made.