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O'Brien, William Smith

William Smith O'Brien, 1803–64, Irish revolutionary. He entered Parliament from Ireland in 1828 and worked for Catholic Emancipation, Irish poor relief, and state support of the Irish Catholic clergy. O'Brien's political opinions moved steadily to the left. At first he opposed the agitation of Daniel O'Connell to repeal the parliamentary union of Great Britain and Ireland, believing that the British Parliament would grant some relief to Ireland, but in 1843 he joined the Repeal Association and rapidly became O'Connell's second in the Irish nationalist struggle. O'Brien's group, called Young Ireland, became convinced that only direct action would free Ireland, and in 1846, with John Mitchel, Thomas Francis Meagher, and Charles Gavan Duffy, O'Brien seceded from O'Connell's association to form the Irish Confederation. The aggravation of the famine and Mitchel's arrest and conviction in 1848 determined them to rise against the government. The revolt was abortive, and the only engagement was an attempt to attack a police detachment in Co. Tipperary. O'Brien was arrested and sentenced to death for treason, but the sentence was commuted to transportation to Tasmania. He received a full pardon in 1856. Afterward he returned to Ireland and traveled on the Continent and in America, but he was no longer politically active.

See D. Gwynn, Young Ireland and 1848 (1949); biography by B. Touhill (1981).

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O'Brien, William Smith

O'Brien, William Smith (1803–64). Smith O'Brien was an unlikely, unwilling, and unsuccessful Irish rebel. The younger son of a protestant baronet from Co. Clare, with family links to the earls of Thomond, he was educated at Harrow and Trinity College, Cambridge. He served in Parliament 1828–31 and from 1835 when he was returned for Co. Limerick. He moved steadily into a nationalist stance, much influenced by Young Ireland, and in 1843 declared for repeal of the Union. He also moved from advocating peaceful agitation to toying with armed protest. In May 1848 he was prosecuted in Dublin for an inflammatory speech but no verdict was returned. A rising planned for August dwindled into a farcical riot at Ballingarry, Co. Tipperary, where O'Brien explained that he had no food to give his followers and did not intend any violence to property. An attack upon 46 policemen, holed up in Widow McCormack's cottage, was unsuccessful. O'Brien was sentenced to death, but pardoned against his will and transported. After six years in Tasmania he was released but took no further part in politics. He himself described the rising of 1848 as an ‘escapade’.

J. A. Cannon

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OBrien, William Smith

O'Brien, William Smith (1803–64) Irish nationalist leader. He entered Parliament as an Irish member in 1828, and supported Roman Catholic emancipation. In 1843, he joined Daniel O'Connell's Repeal Association against the Act of Union (1800), but left in 1846 to set up the more militant Repeal League. Arrested after leading an ineffective insurrection in 1848, O'Brien was sentenced to death, later commuted to transportation.

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