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Daniel O'Connell

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Daniel O'Connell was born at Carhen, near Cahirciveen, Co. Kerry, Ireland, 1775; died at Genoa, 1847. The O'Connells, once great in Kerry, had suffered severely by the penal laws, and the family at Carhen was not rich. An uncle, Maurice O'Connell of Darrynane, resident in France, bore the expense of educating Daniel and his brother Maurice. In 1791 they were sent to the Irish College at Liège, but, Daniel being beyond the prescribed age for admission, they proceeded to St. Omer's in France, and after a year went to Douai. Daniel gave evidence of industry and ability at St. Omer's, but at Douai his stay was short, for, owing to the French Revolution, the two O'Connells returned home (1793). In 1794 Daniel became a law student at Lincoln's Inn and in 1798 was called to the Irish Bar. The era of penal legislation in Ireland had ceased, and already a serious breach had been made in the penal code. By a series of remedial measures, ending with the Catholic Relief Act of 1793, Catholics were placed in many respects on a level with other denominations, but were still excluded from Parliament, from the inner bar, and from the higher civil and military offices; and the recall of Fitzwilliam (1795) and the events following showed that no further concessions would be given. O'Connell could not see why Catholics who paid taxes and were obedient to the law should not have a share in the spending of the taxes and in the making of the laws. He detested violence as a weapon of reform, respected religion and the rights of property, and therefore hated the French Revolution as he did the Rebellion of 1798. The Union he abhorred because it destroyed Ireland's separate nationality; and he has recorded his anger at hearing the ringing of the bells of St. Patrick's cathedral when the Act of Union was passed, and his resolution to do something to undo it. He believed that moderation was the true character of patriotism, and that the rights of Ireland could be won by peaceful agitation, but he had no faith in the efficacy of agitation such as had been carried on by the Catholic body. Leaders like Lords Trimlestown and Fingal attracted no enthusiasm, and the Catholic Committee, controlled by such men and meeting together to present petitions and make periodic professions of loyalty, were simply ploughing the sands. The support of the masses should be enlisted, there should be organization and vigour, and the Catholics should demand concession not as a favour but as a right. O'Connell was the leader for such a movement; a man strong, in body and mind, a great orator, debater, and lawyer, a master of sarcasm and invective; a man who could wring truth from a reluctant witness, or curb the insolence of a partisan judge, or melt a jury by his moving appeal. Addressing an audience of coreligionists he was unequalled. The people felt proud of such a leader, and were ready to follow wherever he led.

O'Connell's first appearance on a public platform was in Dublin (1800), when he denounced the contemplated Union and declared that the Catholics wanted no such Union, and that if a Union were to be the alternative to the re-enactment of the penal laws they would prefer the penal laws. In the subsequent years he regularly attended the meetings of the Catholic Committee and infused more vigour and energy into its proceedings, and by 1810 he had become the most trusted and powerful of the Catholic leaders. In 1810 he sent out a circular from Dublin inviting the people to form local committees in correspondence with the central committee. The Government, afraid of having a national organization to deal with, proclaimed all such local committee meetings, under the Convention Act of 1793; but the magistrates in many cases refused to carry out the proclamations, and when the Dublin committee met, some of the leaders were arrested and prosecuted. But O'Connell successfully defended the first of the accused, Mr. Sheridan.

From 1812 to 1817 the Irish Government was little else than a long-sustained duel between O'Connell and the new chief secretary, Sir Robert Peel. Both were able and determined, and between them began a personal enmity which ended only with their lives. Peel championed privilege and ascendency and attacked the Catholic leaders. O'Connell retorted by calling him "Orange Peel". O'Connell turned the Catholic Committee into the Catholic Board, but Peel proclaimed the Board as he had proclaimed the Committee; and while O'Connell continued to agitate, Peel continued to pass acts and enforce them. Meantime one noted event happened which further endeared O'Connell to the people. The Dublin Corporation had always been reactionary and bigoted, always the champion of Protestant ascendancy. O'Connell in a public speech in 1815 called it a "beggarly corporation ". The aldermen and councillors were enraged and, finding that O'Connell would not apologize, one of their number, D'Esterre, sent him a challenge. D'Esterre was a noted duellist and the hope was that if O'Connell attempted to fight there would be an end to his career. To the surprise of all O'Connell met D'Esterre and shot him dead. He bitterly regretted the deed, and to the end of his days he never missed an opportunity of assisting the D'Esterre family. With all his popularity, the Catholic cause was not advancing. The question of the veto was being agitated, and in consequence there was division and weakness in the Catholic ranks. O'Connell, though a fervent Catholic, opposed the veto, and declared that while willing to have his religion from Rome he must have his politics from home. In 1821 there was a gleam of hope, when the new King George IV visited Ireland. As Prince of Wales he had been the friend of the Liberal leaders. and as such it was expected that he would favour Liberal measures. But he left Ireland without saying a word in favour of Emancipation.

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At last O'Connell determined to rouse the masses in earnest and, in conjunction with a young lawyer, Mr. Sheil , he founded, in 1823, the Catholic Association. The declared object was to win Emancipation "by legal and constitutional means", and in order to evade the Convention Act the Association assumed no delegated or representative character. It was a club, its members meeting weekly and paying an annual subscription. O'Connell worked unceasingly to spread the organization, and though progress was slow success came at last; and by 1825 a vast organization had spread over the land, exercising all the powers of government. In each district, usually under the presidency of the clergy, there was a branch of the Catholic Association, where local grievances were ventilated, and subscriptions received and sent to Dublin to the central association, whence came advice in difficulties and speakers for Local meetings. In 1825 the Government, alarmed at the power of an organization which was a serious rival to the executive, passed a bill suppressing it. But O'Connell, experienced in defeating Acts of Parliament, changed the name to the New Catholic Association, and the work of agitation went on. As much as five hundred pounds a week was subscribed, and in 1826 the Association felt strong enough to put up a candidate for Waterford, who succeeded against all the territorial influence of the Beresfords; similar victories were won in Monaghan, Weatmeath, and Louth. In 1828 came the Clare election when O'Connell himself was nominated. It was known that he could not as a Catholic take the Parliamentary oath ; but if he, the representative of 6,000,000, were driven from the doors of Parliament solely because of his creed, the effect on public opinion would be great. O'Connell was elected, and when he presented himself in Parliament he refused to take the oath offered him. The crisis had come. The Catholic millions, organized and defiant, would have Emancipation; the Orangemen would have no concession; and Ireland, in the end of 1828, was on the brink of civil war. To avoid this calamity Peel and Wellington struck their colours, and in 1829 the Catholic Relief Act was passed.

Henceforth O'Connell was the Uncrowned King of Ireland. To recompense him for his services and to secure these services for the future in Parliament he was induced to abandon the practice of his profession and to accept instead the O'Connell Tribute, which from the voluntary subscriptions of the people brought him an income of £1600 a year. His first care was for Repeal, but his appeals for Protestant co-operation were not responded to, and the associations he formed to agitate the question were all proclaimed. In this respect the Whigs, whom he supported in 1832, were no better than the Tories. He denounced them as "base, brutal and bloody"; yet in 1835 he entered into an alliance with them by accepting the Lichfield House Compact, and he kept them in office till 1841. During these years Drummond effected reforms in the Irish executive, and measures affecting tithes, poor law, and municipal reform were passed. But Repeal was left in abeyance till Peel returned to power, and then O'Connell established the Repeal Association. Its progress was slow until in 1842 it got the support of the Nation newspaper. In one year it advanced with giant strides, and in 1843 O'Connell held a series of meetings, some of them attended by hundreds of thousands.

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The last of these meetings was to be held at Clontarf in October. Peel proclaimed the meeting and prosecuted O'Connell, and in 1844 he was convicted and imprisoned. On appeal to the House of Lords the judgment of the Irish court was reversed and O'Connell was set free. His health had suffered, and henceforth there was a lack of energy and vigour in his movements, a shifting from Repeal to Federalism and back again to Repeal. He also quarrelled with the Young Irelanders. Then came the awful calamity of the famine. O'Connell's last appearance in Parliament was in 1847 when he pathetically asked that his people be saved from perishing. He was then seriously ill. The doctors ordered him to a warmer climate. He felt that he was dying and wished to die at Rome, but got no further than Genoa. In accordance with his wish his heart was brought to Rome and his body to Ireland. His funeral was of enormous dimensions, and since his death a splendid statue has been erected to his memory in Dublin and a round tower placed over his remains in Glasnevin.

O'Connell was married to his cousin Mary O'Connell and had three daughters and four sons, all the latter being at one time or other in Parliament.

JOHN O'CONNELL, third son of the above; born at Dublin, 24 December, 1810; died at Kingstown, Co. Dublin, 24 May, 1858. He was returned M.P. for Youghal (1832), Athlone (1837), and Kilkenny (1841-47). As a politician he was not tactful, and, came in conflict with the Young Ireland party. As a writer his "Repeal Dictionary" (1845) showed much literary and polemical power. In 1846 he published a selection of his father's speeches, prefaced by a memoir. His "Recollections and Experiences during a Parliamentary Career from 1833 to 1848" was issued in two volumes (1849). As a Whig, and also a captain in the militia, he fell into disfavour with his Limerick constituents. He retired from politics 1857, and accepted a lucrative Government appointment.

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