Thomas Steele, Repealer

From A Compendium of Irish Biography, 1878

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Steele, Thomas, M.A., a prominent Repealer, was born 3rd November 1788, at Derrymore, County of Clare. He was educated at Cambridge, where he took the degree of M.A. in 1820. He soon afterwards became a member of the Institute of Civil Engineers. An uncle's death placed him in possession of the family property in Clare. Of an enthusiastic and adventurous temperament, he entered the Spanish service at 1823, and distinguished himself at the defence of Cadiz, and in other warlike operations. On his return to Ireland he became one of O'Connell's most strenuous supporters, and earned the title of "Head Pacificator," from his efforts in putting down the faction fights and local differences throughout Ireland which so materially weakened the popular cause. He seconded O'Connell's nomination for Clare. Sir Bernard Burke says that Steele used to prefer the old ruin of Craggan Tower, upon his property, to his comfortable house, and meditated its restoration; but his extravagance and utter recklessness regarding money matters prevented the carrying out of this and other fancies. Sir Bernard Burke continues: "He seemed utterly incapable of rationally estimating the value of money in his own case.

Finance was with him a consideration wholly subordinate to the accomplishment of any project that seized on his fancy. In his mind there was no due proportion. He was as enthusiastic about the most trivial as the most important affairs. But he was intensely true and staunch to the political cause he espoused, and this quality of earnest sincerity, united with his unquestionable readiness to hazard his life at any moment in defence of his principles, or of his mighty leader, justly earned for him the name "by which friends and foes alike agreed to designate him — 'Honest Tom Steele.' In his private circle he was very popular; his eccentricities furnished matter of amusement, and his sterling worth was appreciated." It may be added that he was as careless of other people's money as of his own. His speeches were rhapsodical and romantic. Mr. Daunt thus describes his latter days: "When O'Connell died, life lost all its savour for Tom Steele. His heart and soul had been wrapped up in the movement of which his departed chief was the leader. To him there seemed nothing now worth living for. The hideous visitation of famine laid waste the land he loved so well. His private means had been long since exhausted; and it is painful to record that he tried to put an end to the existence which had now become a burden, by leaping into the Thames from one of the bridges of London. He was taken up alive, but greatly injured by his rash attempt.

A benevolent Englishman, the proprietor of Peele's Coffee House in Fleet-street, received the ill-fated agitator into his house, where he ministered with the utmost generosity and delicacy to the wants of poor Steele during the short remainder of his life." Lord Brougham and many political opponents generously came forward with offers of aid, which the dying man declined. He breathed his last on the 15th June 1848, aged 59. His remains were brought to Ireland, waked in Conciliation Hall, Dublin, and buried in Glasnevin. The Standard concluded its notice of his death with the words: "Fare thee well, noble, honest Tom Steele! A braver spirit, in a gentler heart, never left earth — let us humbly hope for that home where the weary find rest." In person Steele was tall and well-proportioned, and had a somewhat martial appearance, to which his military cap and frock-coat not a little contributed. His bronzed countenance wore an expression of resolute determination.

Sources

7. Annual Register. London, 1756-1877.

55. Burke, Sir Bernard: Rise of Great Families. London, 1872.

58. Burke, Sir Bernard: Visitation of Seats and Arms. 2 vols. London, 1855.

177. Ireland and her Agitators: W.J. O'Neill Daunt. Dublin, 1867.

233. Manuscript and Special Information, and Current Periodicals.

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