The Failure of Daniel O'Connell, 1829-1843

From The Historic Case for Irish Independence by Darrell Figgis

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35. O'Connell passed to the Parliament in London, and passed out of the nation's cognisance. The leader, in short, had failed the nation. He there opened a campaign for the Repeal of the Union; but there is no sign that this evoked any national interest. The nation was thinking of other things. By risings through the country the people compelled the Government to disguise the payment of church-tithes by commuting them into a rent-charge; but they took their course as though they had no leader. Therefore, O'Connell returned to undertake a campaign in the country. Again the difference between leader and people was manifest. He desired the revival of Grattan's Parliament; they thought only of National Freedom.

In 1843 he convened vast meetings through the country, to which people came who could not possibly hope to hear the sound of his voice. Men travelled a week to the meetings. Their volume swelled with their progress. The people came, not to hear speeches, but to hear the one word they awaited, and for which they had put aside the war they had opened against their landlords. O'Connell even evoked memories which he did not mean, but which the nation literally interpreted. He convened a great meeting at Tara, the seat of the Nation's Monarchy in its day of Sovereignty. The people sprang to the symbol; the sickle was cast aside; the.people slept hungry on historic ground; and a concourse assembled not a thousandth part of which could hope to hear their leader speak. They came as to an ancient hosting. They meant much more than the words of their leader; but he meant much less than the words he spake. Therefore, when the Government proclaimed his next meeting, at the historic site of the battle of Clontarf, and caused cannon to be trained upon it, he cancelled the meeting, though the people were willing to rally to his word, and had long awaited the day. From that moment his power was broken. He shrank from bloodshed; but there was a horror awaiting the nation that bloodshed at Clontarf could have prevented, and beside which a massacre would have appeared a trivial thing.

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