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Daniel O'Connell (6 August 1775 – 15 May 1847) ( ), known as The Liberator, or The Emancipator, was an Irishmarker political leader in the first half of the nineteenth century. He campaigned for Catholic Emancipation - the right for Catholics to sit in the Westminster Parliamentmarker, denied for over 100 years — and Repeal of the Union between Ireland and Great Britain.

Early life

O'Connell was born near Caherciveenmarker, County Kerrymarker, to a once-wealthy Roman Catholic family, of the O'Connells of Derrynane, which had been dispossessed of its lands. Among his uncles was Daniel Charles, Count O'Connell, an officer in the Irish Brigades of the French army, and a famous aunt was Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill. Under the patronage of his wealthy bachelor uncle Maurice "Hunting Cap" O'Connell, he studied at Douaimarker in Francemarker, and was admitted to Lincoln's Innmarker in 1794, transferring to Dublinmarker's King's Innsmarker two years later. In his early years, he became acquainted with the pro-democracy radicals of the time, and committed himself to bringing equal rights and religious tolerance to his own country.

O'Connell's Home at Derrynane

While in Dublin studying for the law O'Connell was under his Uncle Maurice's instructions not to become involved in any militia activity. When Wolfe Tone's French invasion fleet entered Bantry Baymarker in December, 1796, O'Connell found himself in a quandary. Politics was the cause of his unsettlement. Dennis Gwynn in his Daniel O’Connell: The Irish Liberator suggests that the unsettlement was because he was enrolled as a volunteer in defence of Government, yet the Government was intensifying its persecution of the Catholic people of which he was one. He desired to enter Parliament, yet every allowance that the Catholics had been led to anticipate, two years previously, was now flatly vetoed.

As a law student, O'Connell was aware of his own talents, but the higher ranks of the Bar were closed to him. Having read the Jockey Club, as a picture of the governing class in England, and was persuaded by it that, “vice reigns triumphant in the English court at this day. The spirit of liberty shrinks to protect property from the attacks of French innovators. The corrupt higher orders tremble for their vicious enjoyments.” Daniel O'Connell's studies at the time had concentrated upon the legal and political history of Ireland, and the debates of the Historical Society concerned the records of governments, and from this he was to conclude, according to one of his biographers, "in Ireland the whole policy of the Government was to repress the people and to maintain the ascendancy of a privileged and corrupt minority."

On 3 January 1797, he wrote to his uncle saying that he was the last of his colleagues to join a volunteer corps and 'being young, active, healthy and single' he could offer no plausible excuse. Later that month, for the sake of expediency, he joined the Lawyer's Artillery Corps.

On 19 May 1798, O'Connell was called to the Irish Barmarker and became a barrister. Four days later the United Irishmen staged their rebellion which was put down by the British with great bloodshed. O'Connell did not support the rebellion; he believed that the Irish would have to assert themselves politically rather than by force. He decided to retire to his Kerry home and took part in neither the rebellion nor its repression . For over a decade he went into a fairly quiet period of private law practice in the south of Ireland. He also condemned Robert Emmet's rebellion of 1803. Of Emmet, a Protestant, he wrote: 'A man who could coolly prepare so much bloodshed, so many murders — and such horrors of every kind has ceased to be an object of compassion.'

Campaigning for Catholic Emancipation

He returned to politics in the 1810s, establishing the Catholic Board in 1811 which campaigned for only Catholic Emancipation, that is, the opportunity for Irish Catholics to become Members of Parliament. O'Connell later in 1823 set up the Catholic Association which embraced other aims to better Irish Catholics, such as: electoral reform, reform of the Church of Ireland, tenants' rights and economic development . The Association was funded by membership dues of one penny per month, a minimal amount designed to attract Catholic peasants. The subscription was highly successful, and the Association raised a large sum of money in its first year. The money was used to campaign for Catholic Emancipation, specifically funding pro-emancipation Members of Parliament (MPs) standing for the British House of Commonsmarker.

In 1815 a serious event in his life occurred. The Dublin Corporation had always been reactionary and bigoted against Catholics, and served the established Protestant Ascendancy. O'Connell in an 1815 speech referred to "The Corpo", as it was commonly referred to, as a "beggarly corporation". Its members and leaders were outraged and because O'Connell would not apologize, one of their number, the noted duellist John D'Esterre, challenged him. The duel had filled Dublin Castle (from where the British Government administered Ireland) with tense excitement at the prospect that O’Connell would be killed. They regarded O’Connell as “worse than a public nuisance,” and would have welcomed any prospect of seeing him removed at this time. O'Connell met D'Esterre and mortally wounded him (he was shot in the hip, the bullet then lodging in his stomach), in a duel at Oughterard, County Kildare. His conscience was bitterly sore by the fact that, not only had he killed a man, but he had left his family almost destitute. O’Connell offered to “share his income” with D’Esterre’s widow, but she declined; however, she consented to accept an allowance for her daughter, which he regularly paid for more than thirty years until his death. The memory of the duel haunted him for the remainder of his life.

As part of his campaign for Catholic Emancipation, O'Connell stood in a by-election to the British House of Commons in 1828 for County Clare for a seat vacated by William Vesey Fitzgerald, another supporter of the Catholic Association. After O'Connell won the seat, he was unable to take it because Catholics were not allowed to sit in the British Parliament at this time. It was only through a legal loop hole that he was allowed to stand in the first place. It is incorrectly assumed that he didn't take his seat because of his refusal to take an oath to the King as head of the Church of England. The Prime Minister, the Duke of Wellington, and the Home Secretary, Sir Robert Peel, even though they opposed Catholic participation in Parliament, saw that denying O'Connell his seat would cause outrage and could lead to another rebellion or uprising in Ireland which was about 85% Catholic.Peel and Wellington managed to convince George IV that Catholic emancipation and the right of Catholics and Presbyterians and members of all Christian faiths other than the established Church of Ireland to sit in Parliament needed to be passed; and with the help of the Whigs, it became law in 1829. However, this destroyed the trust other Tory MPs had in Peel and Wellington. (Jews and other non-Christians got the right to sit in Parliament in 1858.)

Ironically, considering O'Connell's dedication to peaceful methods of political agitation, his greatest political achievement ushered in a period of violence in Ireland. There was an obligation for those working the land to support the established Church (i.e., the Church of Ireland) by payments known as Tithes. The fact that the vast majority of those working the land were Catholic tenant farmers, supporting a minority religion, had been causing tension for some time. An initially peaceful campaign of non-payment turned violent in 1831 when the newly founded Irish Constabulary were used to seize property in lieu of payment resulting in the Tithe War of 1831-36. Although opposed to the use of force, O'Connell successfully defended participants in the battle of Carrickshock and all the defendants were successfully acquitted. Nonetheless O'Connell rejected Sharman Crawford's call for the complete abolition of tithes in 1838, as he felt he could not embarrass the Whigs (the Lichfield house compact secured an alliance between Whigs, radicals and Irish MPs in 1835).

In 1841, Daniel O'Connell became the first Roman Catholic Lord Mayor of Dublin since the reign of King James II of England and Ireland and VII of Scotland, who was the last Roman Catholic monarch in the British Isles.

Campaign for "Repeal of the Union"

O'Connell Monument in Dublin
Once Catholic Emancipation was achieved, O'Connell campaigned for Repeal of the Act of Union, which in 1801 had merged the Parliaments of the Kingdom of Great Britainmarker and the Kingdom of Ireland to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Irelandmarker. In order to campaign for Repeal, O'Connell set up the Repeal Association. He argued for the re-creation of an independent Kingdom of Ireland to govern itself, with Queen Victoria as the Queen of Ireland.

To push for this, he held a series of Monster Meetings throughout much of Ireland outside the Protestant and Unionist-dominated province of Ulster. They were so called because each was attended by around 100,000 people. These rallies concerned the British Government and then-Prime Minister, Sir Robert Peel, banned one such proposed monster meeting at Clontarfmarker, County Dublinmarker, just outside Dublin City. This move was made after the biggest monster meeting was held at Taramarker.

Taramarker held a lot of significance to the Irish population as it was the old inauguration site of the High Kings of Ireland. Clontarf was symbolic because of its association with the Battle of Clontarf in 1014, when the Irish King Brian Boru broke Viking power in Ireland. Despite appeals from his supporters, O'Connell refused to defy the authorities and he called off the meeting.This did not prevent him being jailed for sedition, although he was released after 3 months by the British House of Lordsmarker. Having deprived himself of his most potent weapon, the monster meeting, O'Connell failed to make any more progress in the campaign for Repeal.

Death and legacy

O'Connell died of softening of the brain (cerebral softening) in 1847 in Genoamarker, Italymarker while on a pilgrimage to Romemarker at the age of 71, his term in prison having seriously weakened him. According to his dying wish, his heart was buried in Rome and the remainder of his body in Glasnevin Cemeterymarker in Dublinmarker, beneath a round tower. His sons are buried in his crypt.

O’Connell’s philosophy and career have inspired leaders all over the world, including Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) and Martin Luther King (1929-1968). He was told by William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-1863) “you have done more for your nation than any man since Washington ever did.” William Gladstone (1809-1898) described him as “the greatest popular leader the world has ever seen.” Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850) wrote that “Napoleon and O’Connell were the only great men the 19th century had ever seen. “Jean-Henri Merle D’Aubigne (1794-1872) wrote that “the only man like Luther, in the power he wielded was O’Connell.” William Grenville (1759-1834) wrote that “history will speak of him as one of the most remarkable men that ever lived.”

O'Connell is known in Ireland as "The Liberator" or "The Great Emancipator" for his success in achieving Catholic Emancipation. O'Connell admired Latin American liberator Simón Bolívar, and one of his sons, Morgan O'Connell, was a volunteer officer in Bolívar's army in 1820, aged 15.

The principal street in the centre of Dublin, previously called Sackville Street, was renamed O'Connell Streetmarker in his honour in the early twentieth century after the Irish Free State came into being. His statue (made by the sculptor John Henry Foley, who also designed the sculptures of the Albert Memorialmarker in London) stands at one end of the street, with a statue of Charles Stewart Parnell at the other end.

The main streetmarker of Limerickmarker is also named after O'Connell, also with a statue at the end (in the centre of The Crescent). O'Connell Streets also exist in Ennismarker, Sligomarker, Kilkeemarker, Clonmelmarker, Waterfordmarker, Melbournemarker, Sydneymarker and North Adelaidemarker.

There is a statue honouring O'Connell outside St Patrick's Cathedralmarker in Melbourne, Australiamarker, as until the 1950s, the Archdiocese of Melbourne was almost entirely made up of Irish immigrants or Australians of Irish descent.

There is a museum commemorating him in Derrynane House, near the village of Derrynanemarker, County Kerry, which was once owned by his family.He was a member of the Literary Association of the Friends of Poland as well.


In 1802 O'Connell married his third cousin Mary O'Connell. They had four daughters (three surviving), Ellen (1805), Catherine (1808), Elizabeth (1810), and Rickard (1815) and four sons. The sons — Maurice (1803), Timothy James OConnell (1804), John O'Connell (1810), and Daniel (1816) — all sat in Parliamentmarker. Daughter Ellen had left Ireland to live in the United States, who later Had William O'connell Matthews.

Connection with the licensed trade

O'Connell assisted his younger son, Daniel junior, to acquire the Phoenix brewery in James's Street, Dublin in 1831. The brewery produced a brand known as O'Connell's Ale and enjoyed some popularity. By 1832, O'Connell was forced to state that he would not be a political patron of the brewing trade or his son's company, until he was no longer a Member of Parliament, particularly because O'Connell and Arthur Guinness were political enemies. Guinness was the "moderate" liberal candidate, O'Connell was the "radical" liberal candidate. The rivalry caused dozens of Irish firms to boycott Guinness during the 1841 Repeal election. It was at this time that Guinness was accused of supporting the "Orange system", and its beer was known as "Protestant porter". When the O'Connell family left brewing, the rights to "O'Connell Dublin Ale" was sold to John D'Arcy. The brewing business proved to be unsuccessful though, and after a few years was taken over by the manager, John Brennan, while Daniel junior embraced a political career. Brennan changed the name back to the Phoenix Brewery but continued to brew and sell O'Connell's Ale. When the Phoenix Brewery was effectively closed after being absorbed into the Guinness complex in 1909, the brewing of O'Connell's Ale was carried out by John D'Arcy and Son Ltd at the Anchor Brewery in Usher Street. In 1926, D'Arcy's ceased trading and the firm of Watkins Jameson and Pim carried on the brewing until they too succumbed to the pressures of trying to compete with Guinness.

Daniel junior was the committee chairman of the licensed trade association of the period and gave considerable and valuable support to Daniel O'Connell in his public life. Some time later a quarrel arose and O'Connell turned his back on the association and became a strong advocate of temperance. During the period of Fr. Matthew's total abstinence crusades many temperance rallies were held, the most notable being a huge rally held on St. Patrick's Day in 1841. Daniel O'Connell was a guest of honour at another such rally held at the Rotunda hospital.

Comments on Emancipation

Michael Doheny, in his The Felon’s Track, says that the very character of Emancipation has assumed an “exaggerated and false guise” and that it is an error to call it emancipation. He went on, that it was neither the first nor the last nor even the most important in the concessions, which are entitled to the name of emancipation, and that no one remembered the men whose exertions “wrung from the reluctant spirit of a far darker time the right of living, of worship, of enjoying property, and exercising the franchise.” Doheny's opinion was, that the penalties of the “penal laws” had been long abolished, and that barbarous code had been compressed into cold and stolid exclusiveness and yet Mr. O’Connell monopolised its entire renown. The view put forward by John Mitchel, also one of the leading members of the Young Ireland movement, in his “Jail Journal” was that there were two distinct movements in Ireland during this period, which were rousing the people, one was the Catholic Relief Agitation (led by O'Connell), which was both open and legal, the other was the secret societies known as the Ribbon and White-boy movements. The first proposed the admission of professional and genteel Catholics to Parliament and to the honours of the professions, all under British law — the other, originating in an utter horror and defiance of British law, contemplated nothing less than a social, and ultimately, a political revolution. According to Mitchel, for fear of the latter, Great Britain with a “very ill grace yielded to the first”. Mitchel agrees that Sir Robert Peel and the Duke of Wellington said they brought in this measure, to avert civil war; but says that “no British statesman ever officially tells the truth, or assigns to any act its real motive.” Their real motive was, according to Mitchel, to buy into the British interests, the landed and educated Catholics, these “Respectable Catholics” would then be contented, and "become West Britons" from that day.

Political beliefs and programme

"Daniel O'Connell: The Champion of Liberty" poster published in Pennsylvania, 1847.
A critic of violent insurrection in Ireland, O'Connell once said that "the altar of liberty totters when it is cemented only with blood," and yet as late as 1841, O’Connell had “whipped his MPs into line to keep the “Opium War” going in China. The Tories at this time, had proposed a motion of censure over the War, and O’Connell had to call upon his MPs to support the Whig Government, as a result of this intervention, the Government was saved.

Politically, he focused on parliamentary and populist methods to force change and made regular declarations of his loyalty to the British Crown. He often warned the British Establishment that if they did not reform the governance of Ireland, Irishmen would start to listen to the "counsels of violent men". Successive British governments continued to ignore this advice, long after his death, although he succeeded in extracting by the sheer force of will and the power of the Catholic peasants and clergy much of what he wanted, i.e. eliminating disabilities on Roman Catholics; ensuring that lawfully elected Roman Catholics could serve their constituencies in the British Parliament (until the Irish Parliament was restored); and amending the Oath of Allegiance so as to remove clauses offensive to Roman Catholics who could then take the Oath in good conscience.

Although a native speaker of the Irish language, O'Connell encouraged Irish people to learn English in order to better themselves.

And although he is best known for the campaign for Catholic Emancipation; he also supported similar efforts for Irish Jews. At his insistence, in 1846, the British law "De Judaismo", which prescribed a special dress for Jews, was repealed. O’Connell said: "Ireland has claims on your ancient race, it is the only country that I know of unsullied by any one act of persecution of the Jews".

O'Connell quotes

O'Connnell's Last Wish

  • ‘The altar of liberty totters when it is cemented only with blood’ [Written in his Journal, Dec 1796, and one of O'Connell's most well-known quotes. Quoted by O'Ferrall, F., Daniel O'Connell, Dublin, 1981, p. 12]

  • "Gentlemen, you may soon have the alternative to live as slaves or die as free men" (speaking in Mallow, County Corkmarker)

  • ‘Good God, what a brute man becomes when ignorant and oppressed. Oh Liberty! What horrors are committed in thy name! May every virtuous revolutionist remember the horrors of Wexford’! [Written in his Journal, 2nd Jan 1799, referring to the recent 1798 Rebellion. Quoted from Vol I, p.205, of O'Neill Daunt, W. J., Personal Recollections of the Late Daniel O'Connell, M.P., 2 Vols, London, 1848.]

  • ‘My days – the blossom of my youth and the flower of my manhood – have been darkened by the dreariness of servitude. In this my native land – in the land of my sires – I am degraded without fault as an alien and an outcast.’ [July 1812, aged 37, reflecting on the failure to secure equal rights or Catholic Emancipation for Catholics in Ireland. Quoted from Vol I, p.185, of O'Connell, J. (ed.) The Life and Speeches of Daniel O'Connell, 2 Vols, Dublin, 1846)]

  • ‘How cruel the Penal Laws are which exclude me from a fair trial with men whom I look upon as so much my inferiors..’. [O’Connell’s Correspondence, Letter No 700, Vol II]

  • ‘...I want to make all Europe and America know it – I want to make England feel her weakness if she refuses to give the justice we [the Irish] require – the restoration of our domestic parliament...’. [Speech given at a ‘monster’ meeting held at Droghedamarker, June, 1843]

  • ‘There is an utter ignorance of, and indifference to, our sufferings and privations....What care they for us, provided we be submissive, pay the taxes, furnish recruits for the Army and Navy and bless the masters who either despise or oppress or combine both? The apathy that exists respecting Ireland is worse than the national antipathy they bear us’. [Letter to T.M. Ray, 1839, on English attitudes to Ireland (O’Connell Correspondence, Vol VI, Letter No. 2588)]

  • ‘No person knows better than you do that the domination of England is the sole and blighting curse of this country. It is the incubus that sits on our energies, stops the pulsation of the nation’s heart and leaves to Ireland not gay vitality but horrid the convulsions of a troubled dream’. [Letter to Bishop Doyle, 1831 (O’Connell Correspondence, Vol IV, Letter No. 1860)]

  • ‘The principle of my political life .... is, that all ameliorations and improvements in political institutions can be obtained by persevering in a perfectly peaceable and legal course, and cannot be obtained by forcible means, or if they could be got by forcible means, such means create more evils than they cure, and leave the country worse than they found it.’ [Writing in The Nation newspaper, 18 November, 1843]

  • “No man was ever a good soldier but the man who goes into the battle determined to conquer, or not to come back from the battle field (cheers). No other principle makes a good soldier.”O’Connell recalling the spirited conduct of the Irish soldiers in Wellington’s army, at the Monster meeting held at Mullaghmast.

Additional Reading

  • John Mitchel, A Cause Too Many, Aidan Hegarty, Camlane Press.
  • Thomas Davis, The Thinker and Teacher, Arthur Griffith, M.H. Gill & Son, 1922.
  • Daniel O'Connell: The Irish Liberator, Dennis Gwynn, Hutchinson & Co, Ltd.
  • O'Connell, Davis and the Collages Bill, Dennis Gwynn, Cork University Press 1948.
  • Labour in Ireland, James Connolly, Fleet Street 1910.
  • The Re-Conquest of Ireland, James Connolly, Fleet Street 1915.
  • John Mitchel: Noted Irish Lives, Louis J. Walsh, The Talbot Press Ltd., 1934.
  • Life of John Martin, P. A. Sillard, James Duffy & Co., Ltd 1901.
  • Ireland Her Own, T. A. Jackson, Lawrence & Wishart Ltd 1976.
  • Life and Times of Daniel O'Connell, T. C. Luby, Cameron & Ferguson.
  • Paddy's Lament: Ireland 1846-1847, Prelude to Hatred, Thomas Gallagher, Poolbeg 1994.
  • The Great Shame, Thomas Keneally, Anchor Books 1999.
  • Envoi, Taking Leave of Roy Foster, by Brendan Clifford and Julianne Herlihy, Aubane Historical Society, Cork.
  • In Search of Ireland's Heroes, Carmel McCaffrey. Ivan R Dee Publisher


  1. [1] O' Connell at Irish-Society.
  2. A Short History of Ireland
  3. Dennis Gywnn, Daniel O’Connell The Irish Liberator, Hutchinson & Co. Ltd pg 71
  4. O'Connell Correspondence, Vol I, Letter No. 24a
  5. O'Ferrall, F., Daniel O'Connell, Dublin, 1981, p. 12
  6. O'Connell Correspondence, Vol I, Letter No. 97
  7. Great Britain and the Irish Question 1798-1922, Paul Adelmann and Robert Pearce, Hodder Murray, London, ISBN 0 340 88901 33
  8. Dennis Gywnn, Daniel O’Connell The Irish Liberator, Hutchinson & Co. Ltd pg 71 Pg 138-145
  9. Irish Whiskey — a 1000 year tradition, Malachy Magee, O'Brien Press, Dublin, ISBN 0 86278 2287. pg 68 to 74
  10. Michael Doheny’s The Felon’s Track, M. H. Gill & Son, Ltd., 1951, pp 2-4
  11. John Mitchel’s Jail Journal which was first serialised in his first New York City newspaper, The Citizen, from 14 January 1854 to 19 August 1854. The book referenced is an exact reproduction of the Jail Journal, as it first appeared.
  12. John Mitchel, Jail Journal, or five years in British Prisons, M. H. Gill & Son, Ltd., 1914, pp. xxxiv-xxxvi
  13. Charles Gavan Duffy: Conversations With Carlyle (1892), with Introduction, Stray Thoughts On Young Ireland, Brendan Clifford, Athol Books, Belfast, ISBN 0 85034 17 &21
  14. Envoi, Taking Leave of Roy Foster, by Brendan Clifford and Julianne Herlihy, Aubane Historical Society, 16


  • Fergus O'Ferrall, Daniel O'Connell (Gill's Irish Lives Series), Gill & MacMillan, Dublin, 1981.
  • Seán Ó Faoláin, King of the Beggars: A Life of Daniel O'Connell, 1938.
  • Maurice R. O'Connell, The Correspondence of Daniel O'Connell (8 Vols), Dublin, 1972-1980.
  • Oliver MacDonagh, O'Connell: The Life of Daniel O'Connell 1775-1847 1991.
  • J. O'Connell, ed., The Life and Speeches of Daniel O'Connell (2 Vols), Dublin, 1846.
  • Sister Mary Francis Cusask, Life of Daniel O'Connell, the Liberator : His Times - Political, Social, and Religious. New York: D. & J. Sadlier & Co. 1872.

See also

External links

  • [25363] Daniel O'Connell and Newfoundland
  • [25364] Catholic Encyclopedia Article
  • [25365] O'Connell's 1836 'Equal Justice for Ireland' speech in the House of Commons
  • [25366] Article in 1911 Online Encyclopedia
  • [25367] Cork Multitext Project article on O'Connell with extensive image gallery

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