Parnell, Fanny Isabel (1848–1882), nationalist and poet, was born 4 September 1848 at Avondale, Co. Wicklow, the family estate of John Henry Parnell; she was the eighth of eleven children and fourth of six daughters of John Henry Parnell, an Anglo-Irish protestant landowner, and Delia Tudor Stewart Parnell, daughter of an American commodore. She was baptised ‘Fanny’, not Frances. The family left Avondale for Dublin following the death of John Henry in 1859. A maternal great-aunt, who was an executive member of the American Women's Suffrage Association, may have exercised a liberal influence on Delia's attitude towards her daughters, the younger ones of whom enjoyed considerable freedom. Fanny became a reader of the Fenian paper Irish People and supported its militant nationalism. Her first poem ‘Masada’, written under the pseudonym ‘Aleria’, was published in 1864; twelve more followed in the next six months, all fervently patriotic. In 1865 she attended the trial, on charges of treason and felony, of Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa (qv). Soon afterwards she and her mother and three younger siblings moved to the Paris flat of Charles Tudor Stewart, Delia's brother.
Fanny and her mother worked with the American Ambulance in the first months of the Franco-Prussian war, returning to Paris following the collapse of the commune. Her uncle's death in 1874 and a stock market crash left the family in reduced circumstances. A series of satirical articles written for the American Register in 1874, in which Fanny made plain her dislike of the snobbery of the American colony and the materialism of the Parisian marriage market, earned some money, and also indicated her imminent departure from France. Fanny and her mother settled in the Stewart family estate at Bordentown, New Jersey, where she lived until her death.
As the sister closest to Charles Stewart Parnell (qv), she followed his election to Westminster and subsequent political career with devotion, giving full support to the land agitation promoted in Ireland by the Irish National Land League, formed in 1879. When the New York Tribune attacked Parnell she wrote a strongly worded defence. The incident inspired her to write an article on the Irish land situation and a 23-page pamphlet, The hovels of Ireland (1880), both of which sought to explain Irish events to an American audience. Hovels was widely praised, and a reprinting of extracts in different papers ensured a wide circulation. She worked for the Famine Relief Fund, established in New York in response to a fund-raising tour by Parnell and John Dillon (qv), and then returned to Bordentown, where she wrote poetry in support of the Land League. Initially printed in the Boston Pilot, her poems were published in Irish newspapers throughout the world. ‘Coercion: hold the rent’, described by Michael Davitt (qv), secretary of the Land League, as the Marseillaise of the Irish peasantry, was quoted at the abortive trial of the Land League leadership as evidence of conspiracy to violence. However, a full reading of the poem reveals the message to be political resistance rather than physical force. The poems were republished in pamphlet form in 1882 and the proceeds given to the league; no copies are known to survive.
Anxious to ensure that funds continued to be sent to support the Land League, Fanny wrote to the Irish-American paper Irish World appealing to women to form a women's league. The New York branch of the Ladies’ Land League, with Delia as president and Fanny and Ellen Ford, sister of the editor of Irish World, as vice-presidents, was formed on 15 October 1880. Other branches followed. Fanny disliked public speaking, but spoke on the league's behalf in Boston, Montreal, and Quebec. She disagreed with the Irish World's support for the ‘communistic’ goal of land nationalisation and broke with Ellen Ford. Bouts of ill health and fever forced her to give up active involvement in the league, but she continued her work from home. Her death on 20 July 1882, aged thirty-three, probably from rheumatic fever, was unexpected, and led to widespread public mourning throughout the Irish-American community. Her embalmed body was carried to Boston and buried in the family vault of the Tudors of Boston at Mount Auburn cemetery, Cambridge, Massachusetts, her brother Charles Stewart Parnell having refused permission for her remains to be returned to Ireland.
More romantic in her nationalism and less radical in her assessment of the land situation than her sister Anna Parnell (qv), Fanny's later reputation as the poet of the Land League obscured her success in establishing a political role for women in Irish-American circles. Copies of The hovels of Ireland are held in New York Public Library and Boston College. Early photographs are in private hands. A photograph of Fanny posing in modified American Western costume (1878) is in the NLI.