O'Connell, Daniel

views updated May 09 2018


Irish statesman; b. Carhen, Cahirciveen, Co. Kerry, Aug. 6, 1775; d. Genoa, Italy, May 15, 1847. O'Connell was the eldest son of Morgan (17391809) and Catherine (O'Mullane) O'Connell. The O'Connells farmed and traded in Kerry, where their ancestors had held military and church offices before the wholesale confiscation of Irish land by Oliver Cromwell. On the advice of an uncle, Count Daniel Charles O'Connell (17451833), a distinguished French general, Daniel was sent for education to the Austrian Netherlandsfirst to the English College at St. Omer (1791) and, the following year, to the Douay English College. Early in 1793, the French overran this area and O'Connell went to London, where he studied law until 1797; he was called to the Irish bar in 1798. In 1802 he married his cousin Mary, daughter of Dr. Thomas O'Connell of Tralee.

Emancipation Advocate. O'Connell had been an able student. His diary reveals that he had grasped quite clearly the idea of the English common law, and particularly the concept of the rights of the subject. He was one of the first Catholic lawyers permitted to practice in Ireland after the first anti-Catholic penal laws were modified. O'Connell, one day to be called "the Liberator," was quickly drawn toward the defense of his coreligionists whose political ambitions were being frustrated by the refusal of emancipation. In 1797 he had been associated with the revolutionary society of United Irishmen and also had joined the volunteer artillery corps of the Dublin lawyers. Yet he took no part in the rebellion of 1798. From 1799 for at least ten years he was a freemasonthe Irish bishops did not implement papal condemnations of freemasonry until much later. O'Connell was instrumental in securing the reelection as grand master of Richard Hely-Hutchinson, Lord Donoughmore (17561825), a man whose services in the cause of Catholic emancipation he greatly admired. O'Connell probably ended his connection with the freemasons before 1824, and apparently on the advice of Abp. John troy (17391823).

A highly successful barrister who was earning nearly £8,000 a year by the late 1820s, he was particularly effective in cross-examination, and in defense. His aggressive technique gave courage to Catholics long exploited legally by the Protestant ascendancy. But his method, as in the John Magee case (1814), while it weakened the reputation of opponents, was not always fully effective; the loss of one of his cases could entail the imposition of heavy punishments on his clients. Magee, for example, was imprisoned and fined for publishing criminal libels against the government.

As early as 1800 O'Connell had spoken at a meeting of Dublin Catholics in opposition to the legislative union with Great Britain; his position was contrary to the views of many of the bishops and upperclass laymen. During his 30-year career as a lawyer he gave much time to the successive Catholic organizations that attempted to secure political and social equality. Until 1812 the most important of these was the Irish Catholic Committee on which O'Connell replaced John Keogh (17401817) in the year (1807) when the policy of petitioning Parliament for the abrogation of the penal laws was again taken up systematically. This committee was suppressed by the government in 1812 and was succeeded by the Irish Catholic Board, of which O'Connell was also made a member. In 1813 English members of Parliament, who were pro-Catholic and who believed emancipation could be secured, introduced relief measures. These empowered the government by arrangement with the Holy See to exercise a veto on nominees to bishoprics in Great Britain and Ireland. The proposal was acceptable to the papal secretary of Propaganda G. B. (later Cardinal) Quarantotti, but the bill was abandoned because of the opposition of Bp. John Milner (17521826) and of O'Connell, whose views were those of the majority of the board. O'Connell's objection was that if the veto power was thus conceded, the clergy would appear to be civil servants, and in that role would forfeit the people's confidence. For this same reason O'Connell later rejected several relief bills introduced by Henry Grattan (17461820). Furthermore, O'Connell had hopes that if Grattan's friends, the Whigs, failed in their purpose, he could secure it through pro-Catholic Tories such as William Conyngham Plunket (17641854). For these reasons, also, he avoided committing himself on the subject of parliamentary reform. This issue had become associated with the Whig opposition to the Tory government of Robert Banks Jenkinson, second Earl of Liverpool (17701828). At this point of history, however, the pro-Catholic Tories were too weak to be truly effective and, accordingly, on April 25, 1823, O'Connell and Richard Lalor Sheil (17911851) started the Catholic Association, which charged membership dues of one shilling a year. Within 12 months O'Connell had gained a nationwide support, which had been effectively organized by the diocesan clergy and by the Catholic professional classes.

Alarmed at this development, the government introduced an act to suppress all such societies (1825). O'Connell went to London to promote a Catholic petition; he was persuaded by Plunket and Sir Francis Burdett (17701844) to accept a relief bill balanced by provisions for state payment of Catholic clergy and for disfranchisement of 40-shilling freeholders. Despite support by a majority of government ministers in the House of Commons, the proposal was defeated in the House of Lords, a vote largely influenced by a speech of the prime minister Lord Liverpool. In July of the same year, O'Connell organized the New Catholic Association, which in the general election of 1826 achieved spectacular successes and which ended the monopoly of political control of the freeholders in Waterford, Louth, and Monaghan. The government now began to fear that O'Connell would make it impossible for them to win Irish elections.

It was in this atmosphere that Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington (17691852), who succeeded as

prime minister in 1828, now was obliged to give way on the emancipation issue, for O'Connell had himself defeated the government supporter, William Vesey-Fitz Gerald (17831843), at a by-election for Co. Clare. Since Wellington was in power, the Irish Catholic Association had decided to oppose the reelection of any member accepting office from the government. Although Vesey-Fitz Gerald had been favorable to Catholic emancipation, his defeat made it clear that the government risked losing supporters, and that it dare not risk a general election. Such an election in Ireland would almost certainly result in the return of a solid bloc of pro-Catholics hostile to the government's policy.

O'Connell's victory, by a vote of 2057 to 982, was regarded as the death knell of landlord control of freeholders' votes. The clergy had utilized every influence in stimulating their people to believe that the issue was essentially a religious one. Thus, to Wellington, emancipation became a necessary concession in a final effort to ensure "that the Irish nobility and gentry would recover their lost influence, the just influence of property." It was the great merit of O'Connell that his efforts helped to build for the Irish masses the growing power that led to eventual control of their elected representatives. The passage of the act of Catholic emancipation, however, was accompanied by the statutory abolition both of the Catholic Association and of the voting rights of the 40-shilling freeholders (1829). Only those Catholics who would take an oath of allegiance to the British king, and thereby deny the temporal power of the pope in the United Kingdom, might thus secure legal exemption from the penal laws. Future members of religious orders need not expect such protection. Even O'Connell himself, without reelection, could not take his seat in Parliament unless he first subscribed to the anti-Catholic oath and declaration made applicable to all members before the Clare election. That no one dared oppose his reelection was some indication that the center of political gravity in Ireland had changed permanently.

Further Political Struggles. For some years after 1829, O'Connell's connections with Catholic issues were peripheral. His attempt to organize a nondenominational movement to repeal the union of the British and Irish parliaments was unsuccessful. He was feared by the dominant Protestant ascendancy, which in any case was not prepared to share its power. Determined to break that power, O'Connell appealed to the parliamentary reformers and to the democracy. In November 1830, Wellington, convinced that he could no longer prevent reform, retired and was succeeded as prime minister by Charles Grey (Viscount Howick and Earl Grey, 17641845). With O'Connell's support, this Whig leader secured the passage of the great reform act of 1832, which abolished many unrepresentative boroughs and gave to the upper middle class some share in political power. The Irish act (1833), which maintained many of the unrepresentative bulwarks of Protestant ascendancy, was less satisfactory. Further, social equality was still denied to farming Catholics who now began to refuse to pay tithes to Protestant clergy. The result was that a new form of agrarian revolt, partly countenanced by the Catholic clergy, became common. After 1834, under Grey's successor, William Lamb, Viscount Melbourne (17791848), O'Connell made more progress in securing "justice for Ireland" and in particular for the Catholics. A reform administration in Dublin, one particularly influential among the police, abandoned the habit of equating loyalists and Protestants. Catholics were slowly admitted to government offices, but legislative reforms did not go beyond converting tithes into a rent charge upon lands (1838), and abolishing the more indefensible parliamentary boroughs (1840). Meanwhile, since 1830 the existence of a nondenominational system of elementary education was causing increased Catholic and Protestant resentment particularly on the part of Abp. John machale] (17911881) of Tuam; his opposition led him to support O'Connell who had revived the repeal of the union question in the Precursor Society in 1838. O'Connell convinced MacHale that the Repeal Association, established in 1839, would prevent the Tory government of Sir Robert Peel (17881850), Melbourne's successor (1841), from reestablishing Protestant ascendancy, or, at the least, from permanently obstructing further Catholic emancipation. With renewed clerical support in most parts of the country (Abp. Daniel murray of Dublin almost alone held aloof) O'Connell organized an enthusiastic national following. Despite his confident predictions of success for this great moral movement in 1843, Peel secured O'Connell's imprisonment for seditious conspiracy (June 30, 1844). He was released, after a successful appeal, three months later. Catholic Ireland treated this event as an occasion for spiritual rejoicing; even Archbishop Murray took part by sanctioning a Te Deum. Meanwhile, Peel had endeavored to divert Catholics from the Repeal Association by supporting a more moderate policy, which featured the state endowment of nondenominational higher colleges and a substantially increased subsidization of St. Patrick's of Maynooth. Through a bequests act, Peel also offered improved facilities for Catholic charities. A simultaneous approach was made to Rome to discourage Irish ecclesiastical involvement in politics. This attempt boomeranged when MacHale insisted on the danger to Catholicism from the colleges and bequests bills. Unfairly, O'Connell argued that the bequests law would be used to bar charities to religious orders. Rome ultimately condemned the legislation for colleges but not the bequests act. Immediately afterward, O'Connell was able to influence the clergy against that more militant group in the Repeal Association, the Young Irelanders, who were opposed to a renewed Irish alliance with the Whigs who had returned to power under Prime Minister Lord John Russell in June 1846. Rather than deny the right to resort to force in any extremity, the Young Irelanders left the Repeal Association.

Thereafter O'Connell desired to persuade the state to take measures to counteract the potato blight, which had first appeared in the autumn of the preceding year. The attempt was unsuccessful; the Whig government proved incapable of arresting the catastrophe, now known as the "Great Famine." Within ten years, the resultant fever, starvation, and emigration reduced by 25 percent the population of Ireland, which had once been more than eight million.

After O'Connell's death from a sudden cerebral illness, suffered at Genoa while he was on a pilgrimage to Rome, his son Daniel was received by Pope Pius IX. Under that pope's auspices a two-day funeral oration for O'Connell was delivered by Gioacchino ventura diraulica (17921861). The speech glorified the union of religion and liberty.

O'Connell's religious convictions, apparently weakened in his youth, had been reinforced during his maturity, and were quite strong in his last years. Those years were, however, somewhat darkened by what seems to have been almost an obsession with the possibility of his eternal damnation.

O'Connell's Significance. This Irish statesman was the greatest single influence in the emergence of Irish political nationalism. He linked the constitutional movement of Grattan and of the 18th-century Protestant patriots to the emancipated Catholics. In his appeal to the masses he was closer to Theobald Wolfe Tone (176398) and to the United Irishmen than to Grattan, though in his mature years he opposed both the use of physical force and of revolutionary methods. His substitution of the clergy for the landlords as the local leaders of the people strengthened their mutual ties even after clerical interference at the end of the career of Parnell had weakened the Church's relations with the nationalists. A friend to Catholic liberal Europe and a forceful supporter of the advocates of Negro emancipation in America, O'Connell's influence on Irish nationalism helped to shape the 20th-century Republic of Ireland.

Bibliography: r. d. edwards, "The Contribution of Young Ireland to the Development of the National Idea," in Essays Presented to T. Ua Donnchadha, ed. s. pender (Cork 1947). a. houston, ed., D. O'Connell: His Early Life, and Journal, 1795 to 1802 (London 1906). d. o'connell, A Memoir on Ireland, Native and Saxon (Dublin 1843; 2d ed. 1844). j. o'connell, ed., Life and Speeches of D. O'Connell, 2 v. (Dublin 1846), by his son. w. j. fitzpatrick, ed., Correspondence of D. O'Connell, 2 v. (London 1888). O'Connell MSS in National Library of Ireland, and University College Dublin. j. a. reynolds, The Catholic Emancipation Crisis in Ireland, 18231829 (New Haven 1954). j. f. broderick, The Holy See and the Irish Movement for the Repeal of the Union with England, 18291847 (Rome 1951). c. g. duffy, Young Ireland, 18401849, 2 v. (2d ed. Dublin 188487). g. s. lefevre, Peel and O'Connell, a Review of Irish Policy (London 1887).

[r. d. edwards]

O'Connell, Daniel

views updated May 11 2018


utilitarian principles
the catholic association

O'CONNELL, DANIEL (1775–1847), Irish politician.

Daniel O'Connell was reared in an Irish-speaking environment. He always retained the instinctive feel of a populist politician for what ordinary people thought, and more importantly how they felt—a legacy of his childhood immersion. Never a great writer, his political philosophy was displayed through rhetoric, and he was a master at tailoring his message to suit his audience. His wit, vituperation, good humor, and energy gave him enormous command when speaking, never more so than when the crowd was large: O'Connell fed off his audiences as they fed off him, a protean figure of enormous energy and insatiable combativeness. He also carefully cultivated his self-image. A master of political theater, he blended oratorical flamboyance with meticulous organization, imposing his massive personality on every aspect of a national movement. No one more thoroughly saturated the Irish popular imagination.

utilitarian principles

O'Connell always claimed to act on utilitarian principles—"the greatest good for the greatest number." The two leading influences on him were the English jurist and philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832) and the English philosopher and writer William Godwin (1756–1836). Bentham balanced the English tradition of rational dissent with the Continental Enlightenment, insisting that political

rights rested fundamentally with the individual. Utilitarian politics were accordingly democratic and an instrument for social reform: "everybody to count for one, nobody for more than one." He was also profoundly influenced in his London years, 1794–1796, by William Godwin. Invoking the adage that all government rests on opinion, Godwin believed that as public opinion was progressively Enlightened, government institutions would inevitably lose their spurious authority. He diagnosed the corrupting effects of inherited property and privilege: here can be traced the origins of O'Connell's lifelong pursuit of the destruction of the unearned privilege of the Protestant ascendancy in Ireland.

O'Connell believed that that there was no incompatibility between his religious and his political ideas. He was able to create a novel blend of Catholicism and radicalism, two concepts hitherto considered incompatible. Although O'Connell maintained a strong sense of Catholic identity and acknowledged papal authority in the areas of faith and doctrine, he deplored the temporal power and possessions of the church. Throughout O'Connell's political career, he fought for freedom of religious practice and belief for all, not just Catholics, and the absolute separation of church and state.

O'Connell consistently retained a late Enlightenment belief in the power of the law to effect social and political change. The failure to incorporate Catholics fully into the new United Kingdom in 1801 convinced them that there was a close link between their political impotence and their legal isolation. O'Connell absolutely shared this conviction, informed by his daily experiences in the Irish courts. O'Connell was to be the ultimate beneficiary of this politicization of the law in the eyes of Irish Catholics.

A common thread throughout O'Connell's long career was his consistent opposition to the use of violence. O'Connell used the term bloodless revolution to describe his own achievement of Catholic emancipation. His capacity to harness what he called the "moral force" of mass nonviolent action became his lasting contribution to the emerging Ireland. O'Connell's innovation was to actualize the latent potential of superior Catholic numbers. The first detailed religious census in 1834 turned in Catholics at 81 percent of the total population of Ireland.

the catholic association

The Catholic Association, founded by O'Connell in 1823, flexed this newly conditioned political muscle. The democratic penny-a-month membership, astute cooption of priests, the widespread distribution of the Catholic Register, and the careful cultivation of a coterie of politically astute organizers created an unprecedented mobilization of Irish Catholics. The Catholic Association eventually decided to challenge landlord control of this Catholic vote. The campaign's spearhead would be the structures and personnel of the institutional church—the sole national institution available, sympathetic, and responsive to Irish Catholic needs. The 1826 general election provided an opportunity to bring this newly honed weapon to bear on O'Connell's constant target—the Irish Protestant gentry and their unearned constitutional privileges. O'Connell backed a liberal Protestant standing as a "Catholic" candidate in Waterford. His victory achieved a symbolic victory of stunning proportions for the Catholics. The transition effectively marked the end of the road for the Irish landed gentry as the dominant player in Irish politics. O'Connell conducted a further audacious coup in 1828. He personally won the Clare by-election. These sweeping victories were irresistible demonstrations of political momentum. The Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829 inevitably followed. O'Connell was instantly dubbed "The Liberator" by his grateful Irish supporters.

O'Connell insisted on the necessity for Catholics to be fully incorporated on equal terms within the public sphere of postemancipation Ireland. One of the most galling aspects of the Penal Laws was that they had consigned Catholics—the majority of the population—to a permanent status as noncitizens. After Catholic Emancipation, O'Connell led Catholics in a determined campaign to reclaim that public space; hence it was hugely important for O'Connell to make the Catholic presence felt. His "Monster Meetings," rallies, parades, and processions around the Dublin streets all staked out the public space as open to Catholics, unhindered by the previous collusion between the state and the gentry to keep them invisible and marginalized.

Just as they reclaimed public space, Catholics also sought unfettered access to the public sphere—the domain of civil society, a virtual public sphere, mediated by print culture. O'Connell's ability to orchestrate a national campaign depended on the second print revolution that gathered momentum in the 1820s. O'Connell was quick to realize the potential of the new print media to foster national opinion and hence mobilize political campaigns.


O'Connell's achievement was the democratization of Irish politics, an achievement that soon would generate spillover effects in Britain. In this sense, the long eighteenth century lasted from 1690 to 1829 in Irish politics, and it was O'Connell who terminated it. His victory in forcing the Irish state to shed its sectarian character was followed by the great reform act of 1832, which performed a similar function for the British state, marking the transition from an ancien régime to a modern parliamentary democracy.

O'Connell's long dominance of nationalist politics was finally challenged in the 1840s through the growing disenchantment of the group coalescing around the Nation newspaper (established 1842), which was eventually to be called Young Ireland. They formed part of a common European trend: other young movements occurred across Europe, notably in Italy, Switzerland, Austria, Greece, and Bohemia. The philosophical underpinnings of Irish nationalism shifted dramatically in the second half of the nineteenth century. O'Connell's political philosophy—essentially late Enlightenment liberalism—was eclipsed by the spread of Romanticism. This philosophical difference was the intellectual basis of O'Connell's split with Young Ireland in the 1840s. Within Irish nationalism, the emphasis on cultural nationality found little to admire in the O'Connellite approach.

O'Connell's significance should always be understood within the larger European context. He offered a role model for other European Catholic activists, because he invented an authentic relationship between tradition and modernity, and between Catholicism and democracy, salvaging positive aspects of the Enlightenment without succumbing to its irreligion. This is why O'Connell proved so inspiring to the European Catholic liberals, who sought to advance Catholicism beyond an automatic association with social conservatism, the monarchy, and a return to the ancien régime. O'Connell suggested that it was possible to reconcile the hierarchical world of Catholic obedience with secular democratic values of individual autonomy and equality. Other Catholic nationalist movements emerged across Europe in the first half of the nineteenth century. Poland and Belgium, closely observing the Irish example, developed a similar blend of persecuted national traditions and Catholicism, which jettisoned Enlightenment irreligion and anticlericalism while retaining its democratic principles. While he is conventionally seen as a commanding figure in Irish politics, O'Connell was arguably the most influential Catholic activist in nineteenth-century European politics. He fused Catholicism with Enlightened thinking in a potent combination that fascinated Continental Catholics. The French writer and politician Alexis de Tocqueville visited Ireland in 1835 to explore at first hand the O'Connell phenomenon of a mass-based Catholic democratic movement. In that sense, O'Connell can legitimately be claimed as an early progenitor of the European Christian democratic tradition.

See alsoCatholicism; Chartism; Great Britain; Ireland; Liberalism; Nationalism.


Primary Sources

O'Connell, Maurice R., ed. The Correspondence of Daniel O'Connell. 8 vols. Dublin, 1972–1980.

Secondary Sources

Grogan, Geraldine. The Noblest Agitator: Daniel O'Connell and the German Catholic Movement, 1830–1850. Dublin, 1991.

Larkin, Emmet, ed. and trans. Alexis de Tocqueville's Journey in Ireland, July–August 1835. Washington, D.C., 1990.

MacDonagh, Oliver. O'Connell: The Life of Daniel O'Connell, 1775–1847. London, 1991.

Macintyre, Angus. The Liberator: Daniel O'Connell and the Irish Party, 1830–1847. London, 1965.

O'Faoláin, Sean. King of the Beggars: A Life of Daniel O'Connell. London and New York, 1938.

O'Ferrall, Fergus. Catholic Emancipation: Daniel O'Connell and the Birth of Irish Democracy, 1820–30. Dublin, 1985.

Reynolds, James A. The Catholic Emancipation Crisis in Ireland, 1823–1829. New Haven, Conn., 1954.

Uí ógáin, Ríonach. Immortal Dan: Daniel O'Connell, in Irish Folk Tradition. Dublin, 1995.

Kevin Whelan

Daniel O'Connell

views updated May 29 2018

Daniel O'Connell

The Irish statesman Daniel O'Connell (1775-1847) created modern Irish nationalism and served as the most successful champion of democracy in the Europe of his day.

Daniel O'Connell was born on Aug. 6, 1775, at Cahirciveen, County Kerry, a member of the Munster Catholic aristocracy. Following the Celtic traditions of their class, his parents had him brought up as a foster child in a peasant cottage. There he learned the language, values, fears, and frustrations of the Catholic masses. Adopted by his childless uncle, Maurice, head of the clan, O'Connell was sent to the Continent for secondary schooling, attending Saint-Omer and then Douai. In 1793 the spread of the French Revolution forced him to transfer to a London school. The next year, after deciding on a legal career, he enrolled at Lincoln's Inn, moving in 1796 to the King's Inn, Dublin. In 1798 O'Connell was admitted to the Irish bar.

Student reading converted O'Connell to the liberal views of the Enlightenment, including religious skepticism. He admired the ideas of William Godwin, Thomas Paine, and Adam Smith. Later he became a fervent disciple and friend of Jeremy Bentham. O'Connell eventually returned to Catholicism but never ceased to consider himself a radical. In 1798 he was a fringe member of the United Irishmen. At the same time he joined a lawyers' yeoman corps organized to discourage revolution. When revolution came in 1798, O'Connell condemned physical force. He argued that violence would inflame the passions of illiterate peasants, causing them to damage life and property, and lead to their slaughter by trained soldiers. When it was all over, Ireland and Irishmen would be less free than before. O'Connell remained a permanent foe of revolution for Ireland.

In 1800 O'Connell opposed the union with Britain but at the time concentrated his energies on building a successful law practice rather than patriotic causes. In 1802, against the wishes of his uncle, he married a distant cousin, Mary O'Connell, and began to raise a large family. Three years later O'Connell joined the Catholic Committee, quickly becoming its dominant personality. British politicians in 1815 offered Catholic emancipation in exchange for the right of the government to veto papal appointments to the Catholic hierarchy in the United Kingdom. O'Connell opposed the veto, splitting Catholic forces and delaying emancipation but preserving the Church as a vehicle for Irish nationalism.

Catholic Association

In 1823 O'Connell, Richard Lalor Sheil, and Sir Thomas Wyse organized the Catholic Association. Two years later O'Connell initiated the strategy that made it the most powerful political force in the United Kingdom. Catholic peasants accepted O'Connell's invitation to join the civil-rights movement as associate members paying a shilling a year. Catholic priests, acting as recruiting agents, urged them on. With Catholic Ireland united behind him, O'Connell promised that organized and disciplined public opinion would free the Irish people. Democracy was the wave of the future. After he won an 1828 Clare by-election, Sir Robert Peel and the Duke of Wellington were forced to concede emancipation as a better alternative than possible revolution.

Irish Nationalism

During the early 1830s O'Connell led an Irish nationalist party in the House of Commons. He also spoke for United Kingdom Benthamism. His efforts made possible the 1832 Reform Bill. In 1835 O'Connell entered the Lichfield House Compact with the Whigs: he agreed to stop agitating for repeal of the union in exchange for a promise of significant reform in the administration of Irish affairs. By the end of the decade the Irish leader was disappointed with the meager reform fruits of the Whig alliance. When his old enemy Sir Robert Peel became Tory prime minister in 1841, O'Connell organized the Loyal National Repeal Association. But he took a virtual sabbatical from agitation to concentrate on his duties as first Catholic lord mayor of Dublin.

In 1843 O'Connell exploited the mistakes of British politicians, Irish grievances (mainly the poor law and the existence of a large and well-organized temperance movement initiated by Father Mathew), and the journalistic talent of Young Ireland and its paper, the Nation, to build an agitation equal to the Catholic movement of the 1820s. Again the priests rallied the people, and shillings flowed to Dublin. In a series of monster meetings O'Connell promised freedom before the year was out.

The situation was unlike that in 1828: Peel now had a Parliament united against repeal. He refused to budge, and O'Connell, opposed to violence, had to retreat. In early October 1843 the government banned a monster meeting scheduled for Clontarf. O'Connell obeyed the proclamation. A week later the government arrested him and some of his lieutenants. They were convicted of sedition, fined £2,000, and sentenced to a year in prison. Early in 1844 the Law Lords reversed the verdict of the packed Dublin jury. O'Connell was free, celebrated as a hero and martyr, but he lacked the energy and will to exploit his victory by resuming agitation.

Later Years

The last years of the "Liberator" were a contradiction to former glories. O'Connell's inclination to resume contact with the Whigs, jealousies, bad advice (mainly from his son, John), and a liberal patriot distrust of the narrowness of cultural nationalism led to conflict with Young Ireland and, finally, a split in the repeal movement. O'Connell's health deteriorated, but he lived to witness the onslaught of famine and the refusal of the British Parliament to respond to his final plea for mercy and justice to starving Ireland. He died at Genoa on May 15, 1847, on his way to Rome.

Many 20th-century nationalists condemn O'Connell for his opposition to revolutionary tactics and for his compromise style of politics. But he made possible the final victory of Irish nationalism. He lifted the Irish masses from their knees and began to remove the mental blocks of serfdom. He gave the Irish people dignity, pride, hope, and discipline. O'Connell's tactic of using the pressure of public opinion, backed by the implied threat of reform or revolution, was used by subsequent Irish nationalists and British Radicals in marches toward freedom, social reform, and democracy.

Further Reading

Sean O'Faolain, King of the Beggars: A Life of Daniel O'Connell, the Irish Liberator (1938), and William Edward Hartpole Lecky, "Daniel O'Connell," in The Leaders of Public Opinion in Ireland (1912), are the two best studies of O'Connell's total career. James A. Reynolds, The Catholic Emancipation Crisis in Ireland, 1823-1829 (1954), is a valuable investigation of O'Connell's Catholic emancipation victory. Angus Maclntyre, The Liberator: Daniel O'Connell and the Party, 1830-1847 (1965), discusses O'Connell's important role as parliamentary politician. Keven B. Nowlan, The Politics of Repeal: A Study in the Relations between Great Britain andIreland, 1841-50 (1965), and Lawrence J. McCaffrey, Daniel O'Connell and the Repeal Year (1966), are concerned with the repeal agitation of the 1840s and the contests between O'Connell and Young Ireland and O'Connell and Peel.

Additional Sources

Chenevix Trench, Charles, The Great Dan: a biography of Daniel O'Connell, London: J. Cape, 1984.

Daniel O'Connell, portrait of a radical, Belfast: Appletree Press, 1984.

Edwards, R. Dudley (Robert Dudley), Daniel O'Connell and his world, London: Thames and Hudson, 1975.

MacDonagh, Oliver, The emancipist: Daniel O'Connell, 1830-47, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1989.

MacDonagh, Oliver, The hereditary bondsman: Daniel O'Connell, 1775-1829, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1988, 1987.

O'Connell, Maurice R., Daniel O'Connell: the man and his politics, Blackrock, Co. Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 1990.

King of the beggars: a life of Daniel O'Connell, the Irish liberator, in a study of the rise of the modern Irish democracy (1775-1847), Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1975, 1938.

O'Ferrall, Fergus, Daniel O'Connell, Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1981. □

O'Connell, Daniel

views updated May 17 2018

O'Connell, Daniel

A lawyer and politician who earned the moniker "the Great Liberator" for his efforts to secure full civil rights for Catholics, Daniel O'Connell (1775–1847) was born near Cahirciveen, Co. Kerry, on 6 August 1775. O'Connell belonged to a locally prominent Catholic landowning family and was adopted as heir by his wealthy uncle at an early age. Called to the Irish bar in 1798, he quickly established a very successful legal practice.

O'Connell became a national figure well before he founded the Catholic Association in 1823. Ably organized at the grassroots level by clergymen and others and led at the national level by the charismatic O'Connell, the Association is often regarded as the first European populist political movement. Assembling his supporters at huge meetings, O'Connell deployed thunderous oratory and militaristic language to intimidate the British government into granting Catholic Emancipation. After O'Connell was handily elected as MP for County Clare in June 1828, the government relented and the Emancipation Act was signed in April 1829.

Once in Parliament, O'Connell supported a number of radical causes, such as the secret ballot and separation of church and state. He also worked toward his second great political goal: repeal of the Act of Union of 1800. Finding Parliament firmly opposed to repeal, O'Connell pursued lesser concessions through an informal political alliance with the Whig party between 1835 and 1841. The fruits of this alliance included an overhaul of local government machinery in Ireland, which provided a large number of administrative and political posts for Catholics. Some of O'Connell's followers benefited greatly from this alliance, but others remained deeply dissatisfied. After the Conservative Party under Robert Peel regained control of Parliament in 1841, O'Connell decided to renew his campaign for repeal. Once again O'Connell combined a widespread popular organization, the Repeal Association, with numerous large public meetings at which he used fiery language and thinly veiled threats to pressure the government. This time the government was not willing to yield for fear that repeal of the union would lead to the dissolution of the British empire. In October 1843 Peel called O'Connell's bluff by prohibiting a meeting announced for Clontarf outside Dublin. O'Connell backed down and cancelled the meeting rather than risk bloodshed, signaling the end of repeal as a credible political movement.

Heartbroken by his inability to secure more aid for famine-struck Ireland and in rapidly failing health, O'Connell set out several years later on a pilgrimage to Rome but died on the way at Genoa on 15 May 1847. Despite his failure to repeal the union, the Liberator is generally regarded as one of the most influential and certainly the most popular politician in modern Irish history.

SEE ALSO Catholic Emancipation Campaign; Davis, Thomas; Mitchel, John; Newspapers; Repeal Movement; Veto Controversy; Young Ireland and the Irish Confederation; Primary Documents: Origin of the "Catholic Rent" (18 February 1824); The Catholic Relief Act (1829); On Repeal of the Act of Union at the "Monster Meeting" at Mullingar (14 May 1843)


MacDonagh, Oliver. The Hereditary Bondsman: Daniel O'Connell, 1775–1829. 1988.

MacDonagh, Oliver. The Emancipist: Daniel O'Connell, 1830–47. 1989.

Nowlan, Kevin. B. The Politics of Repeal: A Study in the Relations between Great Britain and Ireland, 1841–50. 1965.

O'Connell, Maurice. Daniel O'Connell: The Man and His Politics. 1990.

Michael W. de Nie

O'Connell, Daniel

views updated Jun 11 2018

O'Connell, Daniel (1775–1847). Irish catholic politician. Born into the catholic aristocracy and called to the Irish bar in 1798, he built up a successful practice as a barrister and by 1815 was the recognized leader of the movement for catholic emancipation. In 1823 he started the Catholic Association to mobilize catholic peasant opinion for emancipation, repeal of the Union, land reform, an end to tithes, and a democratic suffrage. In 1828 he stood successfully for Co. Clare in a parliamentary by-election, although as a catholic he was disqualified. Faced with civil war, Wellington's government conceded emancipation in 1829. O'Connell's campaign became a model for mass pressure-group politics and influenced both the Birmingham Political Union, formed later in 1829, and the chartist movement whose charter he endorsed in 1838. Though a democrat, his acceptance of the 1834 poor law, opposition to trade unions, and support of the Whig government (1835–41) meant he was mistrusted by many British radicals, but he continued to hold the loyalty of most Irishmen through his National Repeal Association (founded 1841) until Young Ireland, with its more revolutionary version of Irish nationalism, broke away in 1846. His hopes shattered by the famine, he died on pilgrimage to Rome the following year.

Edward Royle

OConnell, Daniel

views updated Jun 27 2018

O'Connell, Daniel (1775–1847) Irish nationalist leader, known as ‘the Liberator’. In 1823, he formed the Catholic Association. His election (1828) to Westminster as member for County Cork forced the Duke of Wellington's government to pass the Act of Catholic Emancipation (1829). In 1840, O'Connell founded the Repeal Association to overturn the Act of Union (1800). In 1844, he was arrested and briefly imprisoned for sedition. O'Connell's failure to deliver significant reforms and the potato famine led to the formation of the more radical Young Ireland.

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