Daniel O'Connell (1803-1822)

Patrick Weston Joyce

932. After the Union there was no appearance of the promised bill for Emancipation. The old Catholic Committee still survived, held its meetings in Dublin, and kept the claims of the Catholics before parliament and the public; but there appeared very little hope, for king George III. continued as obstinate as ever. In 1805 Grattan became a member of the United Parliament, and devoted himself almost exclusively to the cause of Irish Catholic emancipation. In 1807 the duke of Richmond came over as lord lieutenant, with Sir Arthur Wellesley—afterwards the duke of Wellington—as chief secretary.

933. Some time before this, a few of the bishops, as an inducement for the government to grant emancipation, agreed that the crown should have a veto in the appointment of Irish Catholic bishops: that is to say, when the man had been selected by the Irish ecclesiastical authorities, his name should be submitted to the king: if the king objected another was to be chosen. But the general body of Catholics, clergy and people, knew nothing of this.

934. In 1808 a petition for Catholic relief was brought to London by the Catholic lord Fingall and Dr. Milner. It was presented to Parliament by Grattan and some others, who, on the authority of lord Fingall and Dr. Milner, offered the veto. This made the matter of the veto public; the clergy and people generally repudiated it: the bishops formally condemned it at one of their meetings; and in addition to all this the government, even with the offer before them, refused to entertain the petition.

This veto question continued to be discussed for some years, and caused considerable dissension among the Catholics. The Irish aristocracy were generally in favour of it. Those who opposed it, led by O'Connell, ultimately prevailed.

935. About this time Daniel O'Connell, afterwards familiarly known as the "Liberator," began to come prominently into notice. He was the chief figure in Irish political history for half a century, and was one of the greatest popular leaders the world ever saw.

He was born, 6th of August 1775, at Carhen near Cahersiveen county Kerry—the son of Morgan O'Connell—and was adopted by his uncle Maurice O'Connell, who afterwards left him his residence, Darrynane Abbey near Gahersiveen. He was sent at thirteen to a school near Queenstown—the very first school opened in Ireland after the relaxation of the penal laws (869). While still a boy he spent some time at St. Omer's and at Douay in France, where he studied with distinction. Returning, he was called to the bar in 1798, and at once came to the front as a most successful advocate. His first public speech against the Union was made to a body of freeholders in 1800 in the Royal Exchange, Dublin, which was the beginning of an agitation carried on during the rest of his life.

936. It may be said that O'Connell founded the system of peaceful, persevering, popular agitation against political grievances—keeping strictly within the law. During the whole agitation, more especially for emancipation, he was ably seconded by Richard Lalor Sheil, whose oratorical powers were little inferior to his own.

937. In 1809, a new "Catholic Committee," to advance the Catholic claims, was formed in Dublin, consisting of the Catholic peers and of delegates from various parts of the country. But the government brought the Convention act (871) to bear on it, and arrested and brought to trial some of the leaders. O'Connell was their counsel, and argued so ingeniously that he got them acquitted. The Committee was then dissolved and re-constructed, but it gradually died out.

938. In 1812 Robert Peel became chief secretary. For several years at this period the country was in a most deplorable state. The conclusion of the continental wars was followed by stagnation in trade and great distress. The people lost all hope of relief: there were secret societies: and outrages were frequent.

939. The public mind became gradually impressed with the justice and expediency of emancipation: partly by the gigantic labours of O'Connell, and to some extent by the writings of Thomas Moore (65).

In 1811 the prince of Wales became regent: and succeeded as George IV. on the 29th of January 1820, when his father, George III. died, blind and insane.

940. In 1820, Grattan, then residing at Tinnehinch (830), sinking under disease and feeling he had not long to live, was seized with an anxious desire to attend the parliament in London, and, as he said, "to die at his post." Having made all arrangements about his funeral, he travelled by easy stages, intending to make one more appeal for his Catholic fellow-countrymen. But he did not live to do so. With a paper in his hand on which he had written his last political pronouncement, he said to his son a very short time before his death:—"I die with a love of liberty in my heart, and this declaration in favour of my country in my hand." He died in London on the 4th of June 1820, aged seventy-three, and was buried in Westminster Abbey. After his death, his friend William Plunket, member for Dublin, subsequently lord chancellor of Ireland, greatly distinguished himself as the advocate of the Catholic claims.

941. In 1821 George IV. visited Ireland, and was received with great enthusiasm. His visit was regarded as a sure harbinger of relief by the overjoyed Catholics. He spent a month in Ireland and went away expressing his gratification at his reception. But nothing ever came of it: still no indication of an emancipation bill; the country continued disturbed, and in 1822 the Insurrection act (893) was renewed.

In 1822, Peel, by an act of parliament, constituted the Irish constabulary force.