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The Independent Irish Party (1852–1858) was an Irish political party founded in July 1852 by 40 Liberal Irish MPs who had been elected to the Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. It is sometimes mentioned as the Irish Independent Opposition Party, and colloquially known as the Pope's Brass Band because of their stance on the Ecclesiastical Titles Act. Its MPs were also called the "Irish Brigade".[1]

It had two central aims:

  • The repeal of the Ecclesiastical Titles Act, which banned Roman Catholic Bishops from re-assuming pre-reformation ecclesiastical bishopric titles in the United Kingdom, as well as the prohibition of the wearing of clerical outfits.
  • The adoption and enforcement of the Three Fs, namely fair rent; fixity of tenure; free sale. (These would all have aided Irish tenant farms, all of whom lacked them.)

The Independent Irish Party initially achieved the balance of power in the House of Commons. It brought down Lord Derby's Tory ministry and enabled the leader of the Peelites Lord Aberdeen and Whigs to form a coalition government. However two Irish MPs, John Sadleir and William Keogh then broke ranks by joining this ministry, an act for which they were never forgiven in Ireland, where they were remembered with contempt even a century later.[2]

Some but not all Irish Liberal candidates in the 1852 election had pledged themselves to form an independent party in Parliament. This was done in their election address or at two conferences in 1852, one held by the Tenants League and the other about Religious Equality. 48 Irish MPs were elected after making such a pledge. One was unseated after an election petition.

The group began to nominate its own candidates in by-elections between 1852 and 1857 and had some limited success, winning four seats.


In the words of John Henry Whyte, "By the end of May [1851] the Freeman's Journal was describing [ William Keogh ] as 'facile princeps of the opposition',[3] and though the Brigade never formally selected a leader, before the end of the session Keogh had through sheer superiority in talent virtually eliminated all competitors for the place."[4] At page 37 of that book, Whyte describes Keogh as 'the leader of the Brigade'. Keogh and John Sadleir left the party on assuming office in the Aberdeen ministry in December 1852. Whyte also states that 'After the loss of Keogh and Sadleir four men stood out among the party's members in Parliament. Roughly in ascending order of importance they were Duffy, Shee, Moore and Lucas.[5] The party was damaged by weak leaders and by the lack of support its received from the Roman Catholic Church. Frederick Lucas, whom Whye calls 'the ablest man in the party'[6] died in October 1855, Charles Gavan Duffy left in despair and went to Australia in November 1855, Shee had already broken with the party by that time,[7] while George Henry Moore, the party's new leader, having got elected in his Mayo constituency through clerical help, was defeated by clerical opposition at the 1857 general election. Whyte states that 'The outstanding member of the party ... after the unseating of Moore was John Francis Maguire.'[8] The party split over an internal row over its oath, and faded into oblivion. Members of the group participated in the meeting of MPs in 1859, which agreed to support the Second Palmerston Government and which is often regarded as the formal foundation of the Liberal Party.

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