The Clare Election in Ireland

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XXXVII

The Clare election is undoubtedly the culminating point in O'Connell's career. Men stood aghast in amazement at the boldness of the man who presumed to make such an attempt. Even his friends could scarcely believe that he was in earnest, or that he was wise. His success was a splendid example of what the energy and determination of one single man could accomplish. Well might the Lord Chancellor declare that "this business must bring the Roman Catholic question to a crisis and a conclusion." The words were prophetic; the prophecy was realized. On the 5th of March, 1829, Mr. Peel moved a committee of the whole House, "to go into the consideration of the civil disabilities of his Majesty's Roman Catholic subjects." The motion was carried by a majority of 188.

On the 15th of May, 1829, O'Connell appeared in the House to take his seat. He was introduced by Lords Ebrington and Dungannon. The House was thronged. The very peeresses came to gaze upon the arch-agitator, expecting to see a demagogue, and to hear an Irish brogue. There were whispers of surprise when they saw a gentleman, and a man who could speak, with the versatility of true talent, to suit his audience. The card containing the oath was handed to O'Connell; he read a portion of it over in an audible voice—the portion which required him to say that "the sacrifice of the Mass, and the invocation of the Blessed Virgin Mary and other saints, as now practised in the Church of Rome, are impious and idolatrous;" and to deny the dispensing power of the Pope, which never existed, except in the imagination of its framers. With a courteous bow he said, in a voice to be heard throughout the House: "I decline, Mr. Clerk, to take this oath: part of it I know to be false; another part I believe not to be true."

Again he sought the votes of the electors of Clare, and again he was returned by them. On the 13th of April, 1829, the royal signature was affixed to the Act of Emancipation, and Irishmen were no longer refused the rights of citizens because they respected the rights of conscience.