Sir Alexander MacDonnell

From A Compendium of Irish Biography, 1878

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MacDonnell, Sir Alexander, Bart., was born in Belfast in 1794, being the seventh in descent from the preceding. He was educated at Westminster and Oxford, where he displayed the most brilliant abilities (gaining four prizes but once before carried off by one and the same person), and was called to the English Bar at the age of thirty. Of an exceedingly sensitive temperament, he broke down in pleading a case before a committee of the House of Lords, and, mortified beyond expression, renounced the Bar, returned to Ireland, and accepted the position of Chief Clerk in the Chief Secretary's office, under Mr. Drummond. In 1839 he was appointed Resident Commissioner of the Board of Education, of which he became the presiding and animating genius.

A zealous Protestant, he uniformly sustained the principle that the faith of the children of his poorer fellow-countrymen should be protected in the spirit as well as in the letter. He was made a Privy-Councillor in 1846. He resigned the commissionership in 1871, at the age of 77, and was created a baronet early the following year. The Spectator thus speaks of him: "On attaining his leisure he turned anew with the avidity of one-and-twenty to history and the classics... Those who have enjoyed his conversation must despair of expressing its charm. Frank, enthusiastic with the enthusiasm of a boy, full of recollections of the men he had known, and of the statesmanship of fifty years, yet happiest and most winning in the region of pure literature, and above all. of poetry. He loved Ireland dearly, but all his hopes for her had as their rooted basis the desire to see her won over to England by persistent fairness of treatment... Individually, he was characterized by a noble diffidence of nature and an utter superiority to the vulgar passions. Thus he had the happiness during his long life of eluding notoriety... He was in his daily life and amongst his friends an example of how high a creature the Celt may become under the fairest influences of culture. For he was a Celt of the Celts, if an ancestry of a thousand years could make him so." He died 21st January 1875, aged 80, and was interred at Kilsharvan, near Drogheda. Arrangements are being made by his numerous friends and admirers to erect a statue to his memory in Dublin.

Sources

54. Burke, Sir Bernard: Peerage and Baronetage.

233. Manuscript and Special Information, and Current Periodicals.

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