Daniel O'Connell

O’Connell, Daniel, “The Liberator,” was born 6th August 1775, at Carhen, near Cahersiveen, County of Kerry.

His father was Morgan O’Connell; his mother, Kate O’Mullane, of Whitechurch, near Cork.

They were poor, and he was adopted by his uncle Maurice, from whom he eventually inherited Darrynane [Derrynane—libraryireland.com note.].

Daniel O'Connell

Daniel O’Connell
From the painting by George F. Mulvany, R.H.A., in the National Gallery of Ireland. (Image borrowed from A History of Ireland and Her People by Eleanor Hull.)


At thirteen he was sent, with his brother Maurice, to a Catholic school near Cove (Queenstown), the first seminary kept openly by a Catholic priest in Ireland since the operation of the Penal Laws.

A year later the lads were sent to Liege; but were debarred admission to the Irish College, because Daniel was beyond the prescribed age.

After some delay they were entered at St. Omer’s. There they remained another year (from 1791 to 1792), Daniel rising to the first place in all the classes.

They were then removed to Douay, but before many months the confusion caused by the French Revolution rendered it desirable for them to return home. They left on 21st January 1793.

At Calais they heard of the execution of the King. We are told that when the vessel was outside the harbour the lads tore the tricolor cockades from their hats and threw them into the sea, while two other Irish brothers on board, Henry and John Sheares, gloried in the successes of the Revolution, and boasted of having been present at the King’s execution.

In 1794, O’Connell was entered as a student of Lincoln’s Inn. He writes to a friend at this period:

“Though nature may have given me subordinate talents, I never will be satisfied with a subordinate situation in my profession. No man is able, I am aware, to supply the total deficiency of ability; but everybody is capable of improving and enlarging a stock, however small, and, in its beginning, contemptible. It is this reflection that affords me consolation.”

Early political leanings

We are told that for a time after his return from France he believed himself a Tory; but events soon convinced him that he was at heart a Liberal.

Society of United Irishmen

In after life, when the excesses of the Irish people under misery and famine were spoken of, he often referred to a scene he witnessed in London, in October 1795, when the King narrowly escaped being torn to pieces at the hands of an infuriated mob.

He was a member of the society of United Irishmen, but avoided implication in any of the overt acts of the brotherhood.

He was induced to spend the summer of 1798 (after his call to the Bar on 19th May) at home in Kerry, enjoying his favourite sports of hunting and fishing.

The sportsman

All through life he was a keen sportsman, and often expatiated on the delights of crouching “amid the heather, waiting for day; the larks springing all around, and the eager dogs struggling to get free from the arms that restrained them.”

Early political career

O’Connell’s first public speech was made on 13th January 1800, at a meeting of Catholics held in the Royal Exchange, Dublin, to protest against the Union.

Five strong resolutions were passed against the measure, and O’Connell said:

“Let every man who feels with me proclaim, that if the alternative were offered him of Union, or the re-enactment of the Penal Code in all its pristine horrors, that he would prefer without hesitation the latter, as the lesser and more sufferable evil; that he would rather confide in the justice of his brethren the Protestants of Ireland, who have already liberated him, than lay his country at the feet of foreigners.”

A physical description of Daniel O’Connell

At this period he is thus described by his biographer:

“The bright, kindly blue eyes flashed with intelligence and that dash of humour which seems inherent to the Irish character. His action was gentle, but sufficiently marked. His form was strong and muscular, but devoid of that portliness which gave dignity to his later years. The features were clearly cut and tolerably regular. It was not a handsome face, but it was a kindly one, and scarcely told all the power of mind that lay hidden within.”

Events that influenced O’Connell

The events of 1798, the Union, and the emeute of 1803, left an indelible impression on his mind:

“I saw that fraternities, banded illegally, never could be safe; that invariably some person without principle would be sure to gain admission into such societies; and either for ordinary bribes, or else in times of danger for their own preservation, would betray their associates. Yes; the United Irishmen taught me that all work for Ireland must be done openly and above-board.”


O’Connell married a cousin in the summer of 1802.

It seems to have been a love match.

Late in life he often said that his “Mary gave him thirty-five years of the purest happiness that man ever enjoyed.”

Daniel O’Connell at the Bar

His commanding talents were soon recognized at the Bar, and although a Catholic might not then aspire to a silk gown, he could not complain of want of business.

His fees the first year amounted to £58; the second, £150; the third, £200; the fourth, £300; thenceforward they advanced rapidly, until in some years they amounted to £9,000.

So early as 1811 he appears to have taken the house in Merrion-square, where he resided the rest of his life.

His biographies abound in racy anecdotes of his wonderful readiness and ability at the Bar, and the effects of his brilliant though somewhat coarse rhetoric.

Catholic emancipation

The Whig party attained to power in 1806 under Lord Granville.

They were the supporters of Catholic Emancipation, and the Catholics were elated, but divided as to their proper course of action.

John Keogh, the old and trusted leader of the party, maintained that dignified silence was their true policy, while O’Connell advocated a course of constant agitation, and his opinions were endorsed, by 134 votes to 110, at a conference of the party.

He soon became the undisputed leader of the Irish people.

Repeal of the Union

Whenever professional duties led him through Ireland, he managed to address audiences on the great questions of the day.

A Repeal agitation was inaugurated in 1810 by the Dublin Corporation, then a purely Protestant body, and at a meeting of the freemen and freeholders in the Royal Exchange, O’Connell repeated the sentiments he had enunciated in 1800:

“Were Mr. Percival to-morrow to offer me the repeal of the Union upon the terms of re-enacting the entire Penal Code, I declare it from my heart, and in the presence of my God, that I would most cheerfully embrace his offer.”

Catholic Association

In May of the same year a banquet was given by O’Connell and the leading Catholics to some of their Protestant supporters.

At the same time efforts were made by Government to suppress the Catholic Association, on the ground of its being a seditious body.

From 1813 to 1815, what with efforts to keep the Catholic party together, and his constantly increasing practice, O’Connell was overwhelmed with work.

O’Connell’s defence of Magee

His defence of Magee, a Dublin newspaper proprietor, prosecuted in 1813 for publishing an article reflecting on the Government, has been regarded as one of his master efforts at the Bar.

Duel with D’Esterre

At a meeting held in January 1815, O’Connell spoke of the “beggarly” Corporation of Dublin, and J. N. D’Esterre, one of the guild of merchants, challenged him for the insult.

O’Connell was of all men hated by D’Esterre’s party; the challenge became a matter of public notoriety: and as D’Esterre was a man of determination and courage, it was thought the duel would result in the death of one of them.

They met on the afternoon of the 31st January, in Lord Ponsonby’s demesne, thirteen miles from Dublin, a considerable number of spectators being present.

Both combatants were perfectly cool and determined.

D’Esterre fired first; O’Connell’s shot took effect, and the crowd actually shouted with satisfaction.

Some 700 gentlemen left their cards on him next day.

D’Esterre died three days afterwards, and though no proceedings were taken against O’Connell, the affair left a painful and lasting impression on his mind.

He contributed to the support of D’Esterre’s family, who were but slenderly provided for.

Archbishop Murray’s exclamation on learning the result of the duel—“God be praised; Ireland is safe”—may be taken as an index of the estimation in which O’Connell was held.

Affair of honour with Peel

In August of the same year he was involved in an affair of honour with Robert (later Sir Robert) Peel, who resented imputations cast upon him at a public meeting.

They were about to proceed to the Continent to fight; but O’Connell was arrested in London, and bound over to keep the peace, and the affair terminated.

Veto question

The peace of 1815 laid the hopes of the Irish Catholics prostrate; and to aggravate matters, the divisions on the Veto question continued unabated for several years.

This was a proposal that the grant of Catholic Emancipation should be coupled with a Government power of veto in the appointment of the Catholic Bishops.

Pope Pius VII., in 1815, “felt no hesitation” in conceding it; but the Catholics of Ireland were seriously alarmed for the independence of their church.

Grattan and Sheil advocated the concession, whilst O’Connell vigorously opposed it.

At length O’Connell’s party prevailed: it was agreed that no plan of Catholic Emancipation should be accepted that allowed any governmental interference in the affairs of the Catholic Church in Ireland.

Miserable times for the Catholic party

The state of politics until 1819 might have caused any man less energetic and buoyant than O’Connell to despair.

There was in the Catholic party no spirit, no heart, no united action.

The committee rooms had to be removed to smaller premises in Crow-street, and for some time O’Connell alone paid all the expenses connected with keeping them up.

On one of the few occasions on which he addressed a public audience during these years, he spoke despondently of “the depression of those miserable times.”

In 1819 a meeting of Protestants was held in Dublin to support Catholic Emancipation, and notwithstanding Grattan’s death in 1820—a loss deplored by none more than by O’Connell, who had often been obliged to oppose Grattan’s policy—the cause again commenced to make way.

Plunket’s relief Bills, passed by the Commons, but rejected by the Lords, were from the first repudiated by O’Connell as unsatisfactory.

Visit to Ireland by George IV.

During George IV.’s visit to Ireland in 1821, O’Connell showed him as subservient a deference as the rest of his countrymen.

The Catholics were soothed by soft words and promises.

Lord Eldon afterwards said the King at one time half believed himself to be sincere, and that his departure was thereupon hastened by the Ministry.

Foundation of the Irish Catholic Association

At length Catholic feeling gathered sufficient strength to enable O’Connell to found the Irish Catholic Association.

Care was required in drawing up the rules to avoid infringing the Convention Act and similar laws hampering the free expression of public opinion in Ireland.

The first meeting was held on the 12th May 1823, in a tavern in Sackville-street.

Forty-seven gentlemen put down their names as members, and for a time the Association made steady progress.

O’Connell was the life and soul of the movement.Foundation of the Irish Catholic AssociationHis diatribes were directed not alone against the opponents of Emancipation, but against Catholics themselves, who compromised their cause by carelessness and want of spirit, in not vindicating and exercising such rights as they already possessed.

Catholic ‘rent’

At a meeting on the 4th February 1824—a quorum of ten having been obtained by O’Connell running down into Coyne’s book-shop, over which the Association met, and forcing up stairs two reluctant Catholic priests (ex-officio members of the Association) whom he found there—the motion for establishing the Catholic “rent” was carried.

Although this fund never reached the amount originally expected (£50,000 per annum), it attained a very respectable figure: in 1825, £16,213; 1826, £6,261; 1827, £3,067; 1828, £21,425; three months of 1829, £5,300; in all, £52,266.

It was principally allocated for parliamentary expenses, services of the press, legal defence of Catholics, education, and the cost of meetings.

‘Bolivar’ speech

At a gathering on 17th December 1824, O’Connell declared “he hoped that Ireland would never be driven to the system pursued by the Greeks. He trusted in God they would never be so driven. He hoped Ireland would be restored to her rights; but if that day should arrive—if she were driven mad by persecution, he wished that a new Bolivar might arise—that the spirit of the Greeks and of the South Americans might animate the people of Ireland.”

This, called his “Bolivar” speech, led to a Government prosecution, but the Grand Jury ignored the bills.

Suppression of the Catholic Association

On 10th February 1825, Lord Liverpool introduced a Bill for the suppression of the Association, when he said:

“If Catholic claims were to be granted, they ought to be granted on their own merits, and not to the demand of such associations, acting in such a manner.”

On the other hand, Lord Brougham and many Liberals defended the existence of the Association.

O’Connell spent a considerable time in London endeavouring, and somewhat successfully, to influence public opinion, and striving to obtain a hearing at the bar of the House.

Mr. Peel advocated the abolition of the Association, and a Bill to effect that object, styled by O’Connell the “Algerine Act,” was carried by 253 to 107 votes.

O’Connell received an ovation on his return home; the Association held its last meeting on the 16th March 1825, and he immediately set about the formation of another within the law.

For a time his popularity was impaired in consequence of his approving a relief Bill, with clauses providing for the payment of the clergy, and raising the franchise in counties from £2 to £5 (the “wings” as they were called); and he found that he had been much deceived as to the amount of influential English support their adoption would conciliate.

New Catholic Association

The first meeting of the new Catholic Association was held in the Corn Exchange, Dublin, on 16th July 1825; O’Connell had managed, as many expected, to “drive a coach and six” through the “Algerine Act.”

The Act forbade holding meetings continuously for more than fourteen days.

The Association accordingly arranged annually to hold fourteen days’ continuous meetings, which were most successful.

The principal incident in the movement in 1826 was the defeat of the Beresfords at Waterford (which they had theretofore regarded as a pocket borough), by a vote of 1,172 to 501.

The political campaign of 1828 opened with the usual fourteen days’ meetings; and 2,000 meetings were convened for one day in January, at which almost the whole of Catholic Ireland met to demand Emancipation.

The question came before Parliament in May, and had sufficiently advanced in public estimation to be passed in the Commons by six votes, while it was rejected in the Lords by forty-four—the Duke of Wellington advising the Catholics to desist from agitation, as their only chance of having their claims favourably considered.

The Act that virtually excluded Catholics from sitting in Parliament did not preclude their return as members.

The Clare election

It had been the opinion of the veteran Catholic leader, Keogh, that some Catholic should be elected, so as to bring the English people face to face with the absurdity of disfranchising a constituency because the man of its choice would not swear that his belief was damnable and idolatrous.

A vacancy occurred for the County of Clare in June, on Vesey FitzGerald’s being made President of the Board of Trade, and O’Connell caught at the suggestion of contesting the seat.

He immediately issued an address, declaring himself in favour of Catholic Emancipation, Repeal, and the reform of the Established Church.

The Catholic Association granted £5,000 towards the expenses, and £9,000 more was raised within a week.

The utmost enthusiasm was aroused in Clare, and throughout Ireland, and on Saturday the 5th July, O’Connell was returned by a vote of 2,057 to FitzGerald’s 982.

Decorum and good order prevailed throughout the election.

The following months were a time of feverish excitement in Ireland.

O’Connell used his “frank” as a member of Parliament, but did not present himself at the House.

It was now perceived that a settlement of the Catholic question could not be much longer delayed.

Emancipation Bill

The Lord-Lieutenant, Lord Anglesea, was recalled for recommending the Catholics to persevere in constitutional agitation, and on his departure received an ovation such as had not been seen since Lord Fitzwilliam’s time.

In the King’s speech of next February (1829) a revision of the Catholic disabilities was advised, “consistently with the full and permanent security of our Establishment in Church and State, with the maintenance of the Reformed religion established by law.”

In the debate on the address, Lord Eldon declared “that if ever a Roman Catholic was permitted to form part of the legislature of this country, from that moment the sun of Great Britain would set;” and the Duke of Cumberland said that if the King gave his assent to a Bill embodying such principles he would leave the kingdom and never return.

Before introducing a Catholic Relief Bill, Peel passed the Act 10 Geo. IV. cap. 1, for the suppression of the Catholic Association, or any similar association in Ireland—in fact, any “association, assembly, or meeting of persons in Ireland, which he or they [the Lord-Lieutenant or Lords-Justices] shall deem to be dangerous to the public peace or safety, or inconsistent with the administration of the law.”

It became law on the 5th March, but the Association had dissolved nearly a month before.

The Emancipation Bill passed the second reading in the Commons by 353 to 173 votes, and the Lords by 213 to 109, and received the royal assent on 13th April. It is known as 10 Geo. IV. cap. 7, consists of forty sections, and occupies eleven pages in the Statutes.

The chief provisions were:

(1) Catholics might sit in the Lords and Commons, upon taking a lengthy prescribed oath not to subvert the sovereign or constitution, the Protestant religion as by law established, or the settlement of property:

(2) Catholics might hold all civil and military offices except those of Regent, Lord-Chancellor, Lord-lieutenant of Ireland, and a few others:

(3) They might become members of corporations, but must not appear at chapels with their insignia of office:

(4) Catholics should not assume the title of Archbishop, Bishop, or Dean within the United Kingdom:

(5) Jesuits and members of religious communities to register their places of abode—it being “expedient to make provision for the gradual suppression and final prohibition of religious orders in the United Kingdom.”

All Jesuits coming into the realm to be banished.

By the deliberate insertion in the second clause of the Act, of the words, “who shall after the commencement of this Act be returned as a member,” O’Connell’s election for Clare was made invalid.

Another Act disfranchised the forty-shilling freeholders, by whom the Clare election had been carried.

In commenting on the passing of the Emancipation Act, Mr. Lecky says:

“It was thus that this great victory was won by the unaided genius of a single man, who had entered on the contest without any advantage of rank, or wealth, or influence, who had maintained it from no prouder eminence than the platform of the demagogue, and who terminated it without the effusion of a single drop of blood. All the eloquence of Grattan and of Plunket, all the influence of Pitt and Canning, had proved ineffectual. … He had gained it at a time when his bitterest enemies held the reins of power, and when they were guided by the greatest statesman who had arisen since Pitt, and by one of the most stubborn wills that ever directed the affairs of the nation.”

Oath of Supremacy

Although his election for Clare was virtually invalidated by the Act, O’Connell, desiring to record a protest, went to the House of Commons on 15th May and claimed his seat.

The Speaker told him he must take the old oaths.

He withdrew.

Brougham then moved that he be heard at the table of the House; and a debate ensued, adjourned to the 18th, which ended in his being heard at the bar.

His speech was a close legal argument, which occupies more than six pages of Hansard’s Debates. Having concluded, he bowed to the House and withdrew, “amidst loud and general cheering.”

After a long discussion, it was decided, by 190 to 116, that he should take the old oaths; and upon his attendance at the bar on 19th May, the Speaker proffered them to him.

“Allow me to look at the oath of supremacy,” said O’Connell. It was handed to him; he regarded it in silence for a few seconds, and then, raising his head, said:

“In this oath I see one assertion as to a matter of fact, which I know to be untrue. I see a second assertion as to a matter of opinion, which I believe to be untrue. I therefore refuse to take this oath.”

He then retired. A new writ was ordered for Clare, and he was triumphantly returned on 30th July.

O’Connell held a seat in Parliament the rest of his life—being elected successively for Clare, 1829; Waterford, 1830; Kerry, 1831; Dublin, 1832; Kilkenny, 1836; Dublin, 1837; Cork, 1841.

It soon became evident that the party in power was determined, as far as possible, to render the Emancipation Act nugatory.

In a distribution of silk gowns O’Connell was studiously passed over, and for many years no Catholic judge or stipendiary magistrate was appointed.

During the great Reform agitation he brought in a Bill for universal suffrage, triennial Parliaments, and the ballot.

Repeal agitation

An association formed by O’Connell for the repeal of the Act of Union was put down by Government on the 18th October 1830.

In 1831 Ireland was astir with the Anti-Tithe and Repeal agitation.

In 1832 came a general election, and about forty members were returned on Repeal pledges.

The condition of the country was deplorable; agrarian outrages were of frequent occurrence, and secret societies were organized and ramified over the land.

Suspensions of Habeas Corpus, and coercion Bills were enacted, and exceptional legislation of every description was directed alike against criminal and constitutional agitation.

Riots, and loss of life often resulted from efforts to collect the tithes.

At length Parliament swept away a number of bishoprics; and a land-tax in the form of a tithe rent-charge was substituted for the tithe system.

The Doneraile trials, in the year 1829, were among the most exciting in which O’Connell was ever employed, and his advocacy saved the lives of several persons in the County of Cork, who were accused, it is believed wrongfully, of a general conspiracy to murder their landlords.

Holding a foremost place in British politics, it would be impossible to specify the part he took in the important measures brought before the public—Church Reform—Corporation Reform—Anti-Corn Laws—Poor Laws.

Under few names in the Index to Hansard’s Debates are there more references.

He opposed the abolition of the Corn Laws as likely to injure Irish interests; he also opposed the introduction of the Poor Laws; on this, as on many other questions, differing from his friend, Bishop Doyle.

At the opening of Parliament in 1834, he introduced the Repeal question in an amendment to the address.Repeal agitationA long debate ensued, brought to a conclusion on the 29th April by a division, in which he was defeated by 523 to 38 votes.

Thereupon a joint address of the Lords and Commons was presented to the King, recording their “fixed determination to maintain, unimpaired and undisturbed, the legislative union between Great Britain and Ireland.”

This was the only occasion upon which O’Connell challenged a decision of the House on the subject, though it was often afterwards brought forward on side issues.

Repeal Association

Minor associations, under different names, were the precursors of the Loyal National Repeal Association, founded at a meeting held in the Corn Exchange, Dublin, 15th April 1840.

The Association consisted of three classes—members who subscribed 20s.; volunteers who subscribed or collected 10s.; and associates who subscribed 1s. The “rent,” as it was called, was collected by Repeal “wardens,” under the supervision of the Catholic clergy.

The Association had its badges, caps, and buttons.

A permanent place of meeting, Conciliation Hall, was built in Dublin.

There were Repeal libraries and reading rooms scattered over the country: a political party could not be more completely organized.

On the 4th of May O’Connell issued an elaborated detail of his Repeal scheme, giving an alphabetically-arranged schedule of the counties, cities, and towns that should return members to the restored Irish Parliament, providing for 173 members for the counties, and 127 for boroughs.

He was thus minute, that his scheme might be thoroughly understood by the public.

O’Connell was elected Lord-Mayor of Dublin in 1841.

Monster meetings

All previous efforts in favour of Repeal were thrown into the shade in 1843, when O’Connell abstained from attending Parliament, and devoted himself to promoting a series of monster gatherings in different parts of the country.

From the Tuam meeting in March, to that at Tara in August, thirty large assemblies were held. The sum of £48,421 was subscribed during this year, and O’Connell expressed himself certain of gaining Repeal within a short time.

Mr. Lecky, in his Leaders of Public Opinion in Ireland, writes:

“Whoever turns over the magazines or newspapers of the period will easily perceive how grandly his figure dominated in politics, how completely he had dispelled the indifference that had so long prevailed on Irish questions, how clearly his agitation stands forth as the great fact of the time. It would be difficult, indeed, to conceive a more imposing demonstration of public opinion than was furnished by those vast assemblies which were held in every Catholic county, and attended by almost every adult male. They usually took place upon Sunday morning, in the open air, upon some hillside. At daybreak the mighty throng might be seen, broken into detached groups and kneeling on the green sward around their priests, while the incense rose from a hundred rude altars, and the solemn music of the Mass floated upon the gale, and seemed to impart a consecration to the cause. O’Connell stood upon a platform, surrounded by the ecclesiastical dignitaries and by the more distinguished of his followers. Before him that immense assembly was ranged without disorder, or tumult, or difficulty; organized with the most perfect skill, and inspired with the most unanimous enthusiasm. There is, perhaps, no more impressive spectacle than such an assembly, pervaded by such a spirit, and moving under the control of a single mind. The silence that prevailed through its whole extent during some portions of his address; the concordant cheer bursting from tens of thousands of voices; the rapid transitions of feeling as the great magician struck alternately each chord of passion, and as the power of sympathy, acting and reacting by the well-known law, intensified the prevailing feeling, were sufficient to carry away the most callous, and to influence the most prejudiced; the critic, in the contagious enthusiasm, almost forgot his art, and men of very calm and disciplined intellects experienced emotions the most stately eloquence of the senate had failed to produce. The greatest of all these meetings—perhaps the grandest display of the kind that has ever taken place—was held around the Hill of Tara. According to very moderate computations, about a quarter of a million were assembled there to attest their sympathy with the movement. … O’Connell, standing by the stone where the Kings of Ireland were once crowned, sketched the coming glories of his country. Beneath him, like a mighty sea, extended the throng of listeners. They were so numerous that thousands were unable to catch the faintest echo of the voice they loved so well; yet all remained passive, tranquil, and decorous. In no instance did these meetings degenerate into mobs. They were assembled, and they were dispersed, without disorder or tumult; they were disgraced by no drunkenness, by no crime, by no excess. When the Government, in the state trials, applied the most searching scrutiny, they could discover nothing worse than that on one occasion the retiring crowd trampled down the stall of an old woman who sold gingerbread.”

The following is Bulwer’s description of the scene, as quoted by Mr. Lecky:

“Once to my sight the giant thus was given,

Walled by wide air and roofed by boundless heaven:

Beneath his feet the human ocean lay,

And wave on wave flowed into space away.

Methought no clarion could have sent its sound

E’en to the centre of the hosts around;

And, as I thought, rose the sonorous swell,

As from some church-tower swings the silvery bell;

Aloft and clear from airy tide to tide,

It glided easy, as a bird may glide.

To the last verge of that vast audience sent,

It played with each wild passion as it went:

Now stirred the uproar-now the murmurs stilled,

And sobs or laughter answered as it willed.

Then did I know what spells of infinite choice

To rouse or lull has the sweet human voice.

Then did I learn to seize the sudden clue

To the grand troublous life antique—to view,

Under the rock-stand of Demosthenes,

Unstable Athens heave her noisy seas.”

The Clontarf meeting

On Sunday, the 8th of October, this series of meetings was to have been crowned by one at Clontarf; which, owing to the proximity of Dublin, was expected to surpass all the others in magnitude and importance; but on the evening of the 7th a Government proclamation was issued forbidding the gathering.

O’Connell, by his promptness in despatching messengers in all directions, prevented the possibility of any disturbance.

“It has always been believed by many that the delay in issuing the proclamation was intended to provoke a collision, in order that the blood thus shed might give a crushing effect to the prosecution that was meditated, and thus disorganize the people and annihilate the movement.”

Trial and imprisonment of O’Connell

On 14th of October warrants were issued for the arrest of Daniel O’Connell, John O’Connell, Richard Barrett, Charles Gavan Duffy, John Gray, Thomas Matthew Ray, Thomas Steele, Rev. Thomas Tierney, and Rev. Peter James Tyrrell, on a charge of “unlawfully, maliciously, and seditiously contriving, intending, and devising to raise and create discontent and disaffection amongst the liege subjects of our said lady the Queen, and to excite the said liege subjects to hatred and contempt of the government and constitution of this realm.”

Bail was accepted.

Condolences and indignant protests against the action of Government came in from all quarters—from Joseph Sturge, the Quaker philanthropist, and from Archdeacon Bathurst, son of the Bishop of Norwich.

From the first, the prospect of the prosecution appears to have dispirited and depressed O’Connell.

True bills were found by the Grand Jury on 8th November; and after various delays the traversers (with the exception of Rev. P. J. Tyrrell, who had died in the interval) were put upon their trial at the Queen’s Bench, Dublin, on 16th January 1844.

There were eleven counts in the long indictment.

The charges varied against each traverser.

Utterances at public meetings formed the principal evidence upon which the Government relied.

There was not a single Catholic on the jury.

O’Connell was escorted to the court by large crowds and almost in regal state, accompanied by the Lord Mayor and the Catholic aldermen in their robes.

On the 12th February, the jury, after six hours’ deliberation, returned a verdict of guilty.

A writ of error was argued, and the verdict was upheld by the judges.

Meanwhile O’Connell visited London, addressed large meetings, and was respectfully received in the House of Commons.

On 30th May the court gave judgment, and O’Connell was sentenced to be imprisoned for twelve months, to pay a fine of £2,000, and to give bonds to keep the peace for seven years—himself in £5,000, and two sureties in £2,500 each.

The other traversers, except the Rev. T. Tierney, against whom the Attorney-General did not pray judgment, were condemned to be imprisoned for nine months, to pay fines of £50 each, and to find securities to keep the peace.

The judge was much affected in announcing the sentence.

The prisoners were allowed to choose their own prison, and were conveyed to Richmond Bridewell at four o’clock the same afternoon, by mounted police, followed by immense crowds.

O’Connell addressed the people of Ireland in a short, earnest letter, adjuring them to keep firm and quiet; and the Repeal rent, which had amounted to £6,679 the fourteen weeks before the trial, mounted to £25,712 the fourteen weeks succeeding it.

In Richmond Bridewell they were treated with every consideration, and were freely allowed to receive visitors.

The writ of error was on 4th July brought before the House of Lords. Lengthened arguments ensued, and the opinion of the English judges was sought.

On 4th September the question was brought forward for decision. The counts held good by the four Irish judges were held bad by nine English judges, unanimously, by the Lord Chancellor, and Lords Denham, Cottenham, and Campbell.

On the appeal of Lords Wharncliffe, Brougham, and Campbell, all except the law Lords withdrew, thereby establishing a precedent never since violated.

The judgment of the court below was reversed.

In discussing the matter next day in the House of Commons, Lord John Russell declared:

“I must, I say, reassert my own opinion, more than once expressed in this House, that the trial of Mr. O’Connell and the other traversers in Ireland was not such a trial as could give an impression of the fairness and justice of the Government. … The trial was not a trial by a fair jury, but one elaborately put together for the purpose of conviction, and charged by a judge who did not allow any evidence or consideration in favour of the traversers to come fairly before his mind. … I trust the effect of these proceedings will be, that no example of such a trial will again occur.”

The news of the decision was swiftly flashed over Ireland by signal fires, and was received with enthusiasm.

The prisoners were released, and on the 7th September were formally accompanied to their homes by a monster procession—O’Connell upon a triumphal chariot, with an Irish harper playing before him.

Although the incarceration had been short, O’Connell never recovered his buoyancy; hope and spirit appeared gone, and the illness of which he ultimately died was beginning to creep over him.

The progress of the Repeal movement gradually slackened.

A rescript from Rome, though it did not actually forbid the clergy joining in the agitation, obliged them to refrain, to a certain degree, from public expressions of opinion.

Young Ireland and the Famine

It has been asserted that about this time the Whig party debated the propriety of arranging a federal parliament for Ireland; but the advent of the famine rendered unnecessary any idea of concession. The winter of 1845–’6 broke O’Connell’s heart.

Not alone were the people he most dearly loved decimated by starvation and pestilence, and obliged to fly from the country in multitudes, but the ranks of the Repeal Association were split up into Old and Young Irelanders—the former holding to O’Connell’s moral force programme, and the latter, comprising the youth, talent, and energy of the party, sick of delay, gradually drifting into a policy of revolution, with a view to separation from Great Britain.

Under these influences O’Connell’s health rapidly declined, and he left Ireland for the last time in January 1847.

Decline and death of Daniel O’Connell

On the 8th February he made his last speech in Parliament—a short appeal, uttered with evident difficulty, on the condition of Ireland—concluding with the words:

“She is in your hands—in your power. If you do not save her, she cannot save herself. I solemnly call on you to recollect that I predict, with the sincerest conviction, that one-fourth of her population will perish unless you come to her relief.”

His physicians ordered him to the Continent, and his desires led him towards Rome; but his strength failed him at Genoa, where he died, 15th May 1847, aged 71.

O’Connell bequeathed his heart to Rome. It rests in the church of St. Agatha.

His body was not removed to Ireland until August, and was buried at Glasnevin, after lying in state in the Catholic Cathedral, Dublin.

O’Connell’s presence

O’Connell’s presence was commanding. His shoulders were broad, his face massive, his features, naturally plain, were lit up by the light of genius; his eyes were piercing. His voice was musical, great in power and compass, rich in tone, ever fresh in the variety of its cadences. His accent was unmistakably Irish. His style was forcible—when addressing popular audiences often coarse, and perhaps too rhetorical.

Daniel O’Connell’s career

His career has never been more ably sketched than by Mr. Lecky:

“The truth is, that the position of O’Connell, so far from being a common one, is absolutely unique in history. There have been many greater men, but there is no one with whom he compares disadvantageously, for he stands alone in his sphere. We may search in vain through the records of the past for any man who, without the effusion of a drop of blood, or the advantages of office or rank, succeeded in governing a people so absolutely and so long, and in creating so entirely the elements of his power. A king without rebellion, with his tribute, his government, and his deputies, he at once evaded the meshes of the law and restrained the passions of the people. He possessed to the highest degree the eloquence and adroitness of a demagogue, but he possessed also all the sagacity of a statesman and not a little of the independence of a patriot. He yielded frequently to the wishes of the people and to the passions around him, but on points which he deemed important he was quite capable of resisting them. … It was said that he exhibited a systematic disregard for truth. It is extremely difficult to form any adequate judgment on such a question in the case of a man so long and fiercely assailed as O’Connell; but we are inclined to think that the truth was simply that he had a natural propensity to exaggeration, and, like all popular orators, a great passion for producing those effects which the statement of a startling fact in an unqualified form so often causes. His conversation was full of witty anecdotes, which it is impossible to read without feeling that they are too pointed to be quite true—that some qualification must have been withheld, or some imaginary circumstance artistically inserted to give them such epigrammatic brilliancy. … We have dwelt long upon the intellectual and moral calibre of O’Connell, for there is, we think, scarcely anyone who is more underrated in England, and there is scarcely anyone concerning whom English and Continental writers more widely differ. It is impossible for those who do not realize the position which he occupied with reference to the progressive party in his Church, to understand the full grandeur of his position.”

Daniel O’Connell on slavery

O’Connell showed great clearness of moral vision and unflinching consistency in his opposition to American slavery.

He attended the Anti-slavery Convention held in London in 1840, and afterwards sent back money forwarded to him by slaveholders for the furtherance of Repeal.

In a speech delivered in Conciliation Hall, Dublin, about 1845, he said:

“I hold in my hand the Boston Quarterly Review, in which this American scribbler charges me with being an enemy to America—to her ‘peculiar institution’ as it is called. I am not an enemy to America; but I am a friend to civil and religious liberty all over the world. My sympathies are not confined to my own green island, but my spirit walks abroad upon the clement waters, and wherever there is tyranny I hate the tyrant—wherever there is oppression, I hate the oppressor. I will continue to hurl my taunts against American slavery; my voice shall make its way against the western breezes; shall cross the Atlantic; it shall ascend the Mississippi; it shall descend the Monongahela, and be heard along the banks of the Ohio in denunciation of American slavery; until the black man becomes too big for his chains, and shall arise a regenerated and enfranchised American citizen.”

Estimation and family

Few British politicians stood higher in the estimation of foreign nations, or have been regarded with more aversion by political opponents, than O’Connell.

The only book written by him appears to have been one volume of A Memoir on Ireland, Native and Saxon, 1172–1660 (Dublin, 1843), never completed.

In 1811 he published anonymously in London, a pamphlet: An Historical Account of the Laws against the Roman Catholics of England.

He left four sons (now deceased)—Maurice, Morgan, John, and Daniel—all of whom occupied seats in Parliament; and three daughters—Ellen, Catherine, and Elizabeth. Ellen (Mrs. Fitzsimon) published a volume of poetry, which has been much admired.

The centenary of O’Connell’s birth was celebrated with great enthusiasm in many parts of Ireland in 1875.

For notes on his English ancestry, see Notes and Queries, 4th Series.[For his Irish ancestry see O’Connell family genealogy as traced by John O’Hart—libraryireland.com note]


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