John Redmond was born in County Wexford in Ireland in 1856. A nationalist by birth, whose father had been a nationalist Irish MP, he was educated by the Jesuits in Clongowes Wood, and in Trinity College, Dublin. He then studied in the King's Inns in Dublin, becoming a barrister. However like his father he soon became involved in politics, being elected as an MP for New Ross the Nationalist Party in 1880 (also known as the Irish Parliamentary Party from 1882). He served as MP for New Ross 1880-1885, North Wexford 1885-1891 and finally for Waterford City, from 1891 until his death in 1918.
A devotee of Parnell, Redmond was passionately opposed to physical force nationalism, campaigning for Home Rule, a limited form of self government for Ireland within the United Kingdom. When the Irish Parliamentary Party split over Parnell's long-term relationship with Katherine O'Shea, the wife of a fellow MP., whom he later married, Redmond sided with his deposed leader. He led the pro-Parnellite rump of the split party from Parnell's death in 1891 until the party itself healed its wounds and merged again in 1900, he being elected as its chairman (leader).
The budget crisis of 1909 led to the curbing of the power of the House of Lords, which had previously blocked the budget of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, David Lloyd George. With the Lords' veto gone under the Parliament Act 1911, Irish home rule (which the Lords had blocked in 1894) again became a possibility, the odds increasing when the Irish Parliamentary Party came to hold the balance of power after the 1910 general election. In 1912, the government of Herbert Asquith introduced the Third Home Rule Bill to allow for Irish national self-government. As expected the Lords blocked the measure. However under the Parliament Act, its veto could if necessary be overridden in two years.
Home rule however, was passionately opposed by many Irish Protestants and Ulster's Orange Order, who feared domination in a overwhelmingly Catholic state. Unionists also feared economic problems, namely that the predominantly agricultural Ireland would impose tariffs on British goods, leading to restrictions on the importation of industrial produce; the main location of Ireland's industrial development was Ulster, the north-east of the island, the only part of Ireland dominated by unionists. Most unionist leaders threatened the use of force to prevent home rule, helped by their supporters in the British Conservative Party. After the Curragh Mutiny, and with the spectre of looming civil war on the part of the Ulster Covenanters, Asquith conceeded to the Lord's demand to have the Home Rule Act 1914 amended to exclude the six counties of Northern Ireland, who for a period would continue to be governed by London, not Dublin. Though strongly opposed to any form of partition, Redmond and his party reluctantly agreed to what they thought would be a temporary exclusion, under Redmond's aspiration that 'Ulster will have to follow' . Using the Parliament Act, the Lords was deemed to have passed the Act; it received the Royal Assent in September 1914. However with the outbreak of World War I in August 1914, the Act was suspended, to come into force after what was expected to be a short war. However Home Rule was not finally implemented until 1921 under the Government of Ireland Act, 1920.
Redmond could have had every expectation of becoming head of a new Irish government, based in the old Parliament House in College Green. However it was not to be. After the onset of the Great War, principally in the belief that the attained measure of self-government would be granted in full after the war as well as being in a stronger position to stave off a final partition of Northern Ireland, he together with the National Volunteers enthusiastically offered support to Britain's war effort and her commitment under the Triple Entente.
He believed that Imperial Germany's military expansion threatened the freedom of peace loving people throughout Europe and that it was Ireland's duty, having been promised home rule, to defend the freedom of 'small nations' to the best of her ability. Redmond requested the War Office to allow the formation of a separate Irish Brigade as had been done for the Ulster Volunteer Force but Britain was suspicious of Redmond's declared intentions of having his National Volunteers armed in this way and having Irishmen leading Irishmen, eventually making the gesture of an Irish Division, commanded unlike the 36th (Ulster) Division, by English officers. His own brother Major Willie Redmond MP., one of four Irish MPs who enlisted in the 16th (Irish) Division, was killed in action in June 1917 in the Messines ridge offensive.
However in Easter 1916, a rebellion of the remaining Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army took place, led by a small number of influential republicans, under Pádraig Pearse. Though a military disaster, the Easter Rising helped fuel republican sentiment, particularly when Britain, in a highly misguided act, firstly executed the leaders of the Rising, treating them as traitors in wartime, and then after the German Spring Offensive of 1918, desperately attempted to introduce conscription in Ireland. Though large numbers of Irish men had willingly joined up, the likelihood of enforced conscription created a backlash, which although the Irish Party walked out of Westminster in protest and returned to Ireland to organise opposition to the proposal to extend conscription to Ireland, it boosted Sinn Féin, the small separatist party that had played no part in the Rising, but which having been wrongly 'blamed' by Britain and the Irish media, was then taken over by surviving Rising leaders, under Eamon de Valera and the IRB.
In December 1918, Sinn Féin subsequently won the vast majority of seats in the general election, 25 unopposed, leaving the Nationalist Party with only six. In a Declaration Sinn Féin proclaimed an Irish Republic, (abolished again in 1921 under the Anglo-Irish Treaty), with a new parliament, called in the Irish language Dáil Éireann, that is the Assembly of Ireland.
Redmond, however luckily did not live to see the destruction of the political party he had given his life to. He died at 61 during what should have been routine surgery in March 1918, less than a year after his younger brother Willie died of injuries sustained in France during World War 1 for which he had volunteered despite being over 50 years old. John Redmond was succeeded in the leadership by John Dillon. His home town of Wexford remained a strongly Redmondite area for decades afterwards. A later Irish Taoiseach (prime minister), John Bruton, hung a painting of Redmond, whom he regarded, because of his commitment to non-violence, as his hero, in his office in Ireland's Leinster House Government Buildings. His successor, Bertie Ahern TD, replaced the painting with one of Padraig Pearse.