Foley's O'Connell Monument in Dublin. [Click on thumbnail for larger image.]Daniel O'Connell, known as "the Liberator," was born on 6 August 1775 near Cahirciveen in County Kerry and was educated in France because as a Roman Catholic he was unable to go to University in Britain. He returned to Ireland, studied law, and was admitted to the bar in Dublin in 1798. He built up a highly successful practise as a lawyer and dealt with many cases of Irish tenants against English landlords.
During the next two decades he was active in the movement to repeal British laws that penalized Roman Catholics because of their religion. Catholics were barred from Parliament but O'Connell became the leader of the battle to win political rights for Irish Roman Catholics. In 1823 he organised the Catholic Association, which played an important role in the passage of the Catholic Emancipation Act in 1829. O'Connell was elected to the House of Commons for County Clare in 1829 in what Peel called "an avalanche" but — although he was by law allowed to stand as a candidate — he was prevented from taking his seat because of the anti-Catholic legislation which was in force. He stood successfully for re-election in 1830 and remained an MP for various constituencies until his death.
In the 1832 General Election O'Connell became MP for Dublin and also nominated about half of the candidates who were returned, including three of his sons and two of his sons-in-law. Of the 105 Irish MPs, some forty-five were declared Repealers: that is, they were committed to the repeal of the Act of Union. O'Connell fought fiercely against Grey's Coercion Act of 1833.
O'Connell often allied himself with the Whigs in Parliament and was party to the Lichfield House Compact in 1834-35 along with Lord John Russell in a successful effort to cause the fall of Peel's first ministry. He became lord mayor of Dublin in 1841.
As head of the Catholic Association he received a large annual income from voluntary contributions by the Irish people (the Catholic Rent of 1d a month) who supported him in a series of demonstrations in favour of Irish Home Rule. He was forced by Feargus O'Connor and other extremist Irish MPs to introduce the idea of Home Rule into parliament prematurely. In 1840 O'Connell founded the Repeal Association which was not nearly so successful as the Catholic Association until "Young Ireland" began to publish The Nation. After the demonstration at Clontarf in 1843 O'Connell was arrested and early in 1844 was convicted of seditious conspiracy. The conviction was subsequently reversed by the House of Lords on 4 September 1844 and O'Connell resumed his career. Among other things, he opposed Peel's establishment of the "godless colleges" in Belfast, Dublin, and Cork
In 1845 the famine struck Ireland and the "Young Ireland" members of O'Connell's party began to advocate revolutionary doctrines that he had always opposed. Their arguments in favour of violent opposition to British rule led to an open split in Irish ranks in 1846. O'Connell was distressed by this disaffection among the Irish. Although suffering from ill health, he set off for Rome in January 1847 but died in Genoa on 15 May 1847.
Content last modified April 1997; links last added 20 February 2000