Sutton Publishing, £20
Historian Jane Jordan revisits one of the greatest romances ever in her book about Katherine O'Shea, the lover of Irish Parliamentary leader Charles Stewart Parnell.
Katherine first met Parnell in 1880 when she was married to one of his MPs, William O'Shea. Her marriage to O'Shea was effectively over and they were living apart. She was lonely and described her life at this time as: "narrow, narrow, narrow and so deadly dull". Parnell's intense interest brought her alive again, he needed her and she desperately needed him.
Katherine's husband William features largely and it's hard to feel any sympathy for the rather pathetic figure that Jordan uncovers, who clearly knew about his wife's affair a long time before taking action. Jordan shows how he used Parnell to further his political career, and used Katherine to finance him through her wealthy aunt. It was not until 1890, when this aunt died, that he filed suit for divorce, citing Parnell as co-respondent and letting loose a disastrous political scandal.
Parnell was deposed as leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party, with Prime Minister Gladstone claiming that Home Rule for Ireland would be impossible if Parnell remained. In poor health at the time, Parnell fought a bitter campaign for reinstatement, which killed him five months after he and Katherine got married in 1891.
Jordan paints Katherine O'Shea as a charming woman with an enquiring mind. She was an excellent companion for Parnell and she cared for him like a devoted wife. He could also confide in her about his work and Katherine often helped him in his political career. She had six children: three with Parnell (though one died shortly after birth) and three with O'Shea. Jordan shows us a passionate, warm woman, nothing like the callous adulteress nicknamed "Kitty" by Parnell's opponents and the press. She was unlucky that her first marriage failed and, when she did meet her soulmate, the price to be together was tragically high.
'Kitty O'Shea: An Irish Affair' is a book about love, a love story. It answers questions about why Parnell risked not only his own career and, it seemed at the time, the hopes for the restoration of an Irish parliament, and also why Katherine risked her children, her reputation and social standing.
Katherine never fully recovered after Parnell's death, rarely leaving the house or receiving visitors. She lived on aimlessly until 1921, cared for by her daughter Norah. As Jane Jordan puts it - "it was a muted end to a notorious life".
Jordan has done meticulous research and she infuses new life into these two people who were addicted to each other. 'Kitty O'Shea: An Irish Affair' is an engrossing mix of passionate love affair and informative history lesson.