Daniel O’Connell was born in 1775, into an affluent Catholic, Gaelic family from County Kerry. He was educated in France and was one of the first Catholics called to the Irish Bar in 1798.
His experiences of revolutionary France and of the United Irishmen rebellions of 1798 and 1802 had left him with a dislike for violence. He was one of the few leading Catholics who did not support the Act of Union between the two Kingdoms in 1802, preferring instead an independent kingdom of Ireland in which all Irishmen could participate rather than just a religious minority as was the case of the Protestant Ascendency dominated kingdom of the 18th century.
Daniel O’Connell The Emancipator
In the early 1820s Daniel O’ Connell turned his attention to the cause of Emancipation. He founded the Catholic Association on the principal of achieving full emancipation by peaceful and legal means. To raise funds for this organisation, he opened membership to all classes and asked for a subscription of a penny per month. This brought in very large amounts of money which funded his campaign.
O’ Connell and the Catholic Association next allied themselves with the Catholic clergy in persuading the 40 shilling freeholders to go against their landlords wishes and vote in MPS who supported emancipation. In 1828 The Duke of Wellington, at the behest of George lV, became Prime Minister, and like his Home Secretary Sir Robert Peel, was opposed to Emancipation. They both watched in alarm as O Connell and his Association organised huge demonstrations. O’ Connell himself sat for and succeeded in winning the seat for Clare. He had taken advantage of the fact whilst a Catholic could not sit as an MP, there was no law forbidding one to stand for election. This forced Peel, a bitter opponent of O’ Connell, to reconsider his stand on the question of Catholic emancipation as he feared the consequences for peace in Ireland, and he was able to persuade Wellington to go along with him.
In 1829 the bill granting full Emancipation for Catholics was passed in parliament. However the level of qualifying as a voter was raised from 40 shillings to £10, thereby disqualifying most of those who had helped O Connell.
- The Green Flag, a History of Irish Nationalism. Robert Kee. Penguin Books. London 2000 edition.
- A History of Ireland. Jonathan Bardon. Gill and Macmillan. Dublin 2009 edition.
- The History of Ireland. F.J.M. Madden. Teach Yourself Books. Hodder Education London. 2007 edition.
This article was first published on 26-05-2011 and last modified on 21-03-2017.