The Liberator: Daniel O'Connell, Irish Political Hero of the Early 1800s (2024)

Daniel O'Connell was an Irish patriot who came to exert enormous influence on the relationship between Ireland and its British rulers during the first half of the 19th century. O'Connell, a gifted orator, and charismatic figure rallied the Irish people and helped secure some degree of civil rights for the long-oppressed Catholic population.

Seeking reform and progress through legal means, O'Connell was not really involved in the periodic Irish rebellions of the 19th century. Yet his arguments provided the inspiration for generations of Irish patriots.

O'Connell's signature political achievement was the securing of Catholic Emancipation. His later Repeal Movement, which sought to repeal the Act of Union between Britain and Ireland, was ultimately unsuccessful. But his management of the campaign, which included "Monster Meetings" which drew hundreds of thousands of people, inspired Irish patriots for generations.

It is impossible to overstate the importance of O'Connell to Irish life in the 19th century. After his death, he became a venerated hero both in Ireland and among the Irish who had emigrated to America. In many Irish-American households of the 19th century, a lithograph of Daniel O'Connell would hang in a prominent location.

Childhood in Kerry

O’Connell was born on August 6, 1775, in County Kerry, in the west of Ireland. His family was somewhat unusual in that while Catholic, they were considered members of the gentry, and they owned land. The family practiced an ancient tradition of “fosterage,” in which a child of wealthy parents would be raised in the household of a peasant family. This was said to make the child deal with hardships, and other advantages would be that the child would learn the Irish language as well as local traditions and folklore practices.

In his later youth, an uncle nicknamed “Hunting Cap” O’Connell doted on young Daniel, and often took him hunting in the rough hills of Kerry. The hunters used hounds, but as the landscape was too rough for horses, the men and boys would have to run after the hounds. The sport was rough and could be dangerous, but young O’Connell loved it.

Studies in Ireland and France

Following classes taught by a local priest in Kerry, O’Connell was sent to a Catholic school in the city of Cork for two years. As a Catholic, he couldn’t enter the universities in England or Ireland at the time, so his family sent him and his younger brother Maurice to France for further studies.

While in France, the French Revolution broke out. In 1793 O’Connell and his brother were forced to flee the violence. They made their way to London safely, but with little more than the clothes on their backs.

Read MoreIreland's Repeal Movement: A Historic OverviewBy Robert McNamara

The passing of Catholic Relief Acts in Ireland made it possible for O’Connell to study for the bar, and in the mid-1790s he studied at schools in London and Dublin. In 1798 O’Connell was admitted to the Irish bar.

Radical Attitudes

While a student, O’Connell read widely and absorbed current ideas of the Enlightenment, including such authors as Voltaire, Rousseau, and Thomas Paine. He later became friendly with the English philosopher Jeremy Bentham, an eccentric character known for advocating a philosophy of “utilitarianism.” While O’Connell remained a Catholic for the rest of his life, he also always thought of himself as a radical and a reformer.

Revolution of 1798

A revolutionary fervor was sweeping Ireland in the late 1790s, and Irish intellectuals such as Wolfe Tone were dealing with the French in hopes that French involvement could lead to Ireland’s liberation from England. O’Connell, however, having escaped from France, was not inclined to align himself with groups seeking French aid.

When the Irish countryside erupted in rebellions of the United Irishmen in the spring and summer of 1798, O’Connell was not directly involved. His allegiance was actually to the side of law and order, so in that sense, he sided with British rule. However, he later said that he wasn’t approving of the British rule of Ireland, but he felt that open revolt would be disastrous.

The 1798 uprising was particularly bloody, and the butchery in Ireland hardened his opposition to violent revolution.

Legal Career of Daniel O'Connell

Marrying a distant cousin in July 1802, O’Connell soon had a young family to support. And though his law practice was successful and constantly growing, he was also always in debt. As O’Connell became one of the most successful lawyers in Ireland, he was known for winning cases with his sharp wit and extensive knowledge of the law.

In the 1820s O’Connell was deeply involved with the Catholic Association, which promoted the political interests of the Catholics in Ireland. The organization was funded by very small donations which any poor farmer could afford. Local priests often urged those in the peasant class to contribute and become involved, and the Catholic Association became a widespread political organization.

Daniel O'Connell Runs for Parliament

In 1828, O'Connell ran for a seat in the British Parliament as the member from County Clare, Ireland. This was controversial as he would be barred from taking his seat if he won, as he was Catholic and Members of Parliament were required to take a Protestant oath.

O'Connell, with the support of poor tenant farmers who often walked miles to vote for him, won the election. As a Catholic Emancipation bill had recently passed, due in large measure to agitation from the Catholic Association, O'Connell was eventually able to take his seat.

As might be expected, O'Connell was a reformer in Parliament, and some called him by the nickname, "The Agitator." His great goal was to repeal the Act of Union, the 1801 law which had dissolved the Irish Parliament and united Ireland with Great Britain. Much to his despair, he was never able to see "Repeal" become a reality.

Monster Meetings

In 1843, O'Connell mounted a great campaign for Repeal of the Act of Union and held enormous gatherings, called "Monster Meetings," across Ireland. Some of the rallies drew crowds of up to 100,000. The British authorities, of course, were greatly alarmed.

In October 1843 O'Connell planned a huge meeting in Dublin, which British troops were ordered to suppress. With his aversion to violence, O'Connell canceled the meeting. Not only did he lose prestige with some followers, but the British arrested and jailed him for conspiracy against the government.

Return to Parliament

O'Connell returned to his seat in Parliament just as the Great Famine ravaged Ireland. He gave a speech in the House of Commons urging aid for Ireland and was mocked by the British.

In poor health, O'Connell traveled to Europe in hopes of recuperating, and while en route to Rome he died in Genoa, Italy on May 15, 1847.

He remained a great hero to the Irish people. A grand statue of O'Connell was placed on the main street of Dublin, which was later renamed O'Connell Street in his honor.

The Liberator: Daniel O'Connell, Irish Political Hero of the Early 1800s (2024)


Why was Daniel O Connell known as the Liberator? ›

The British Government feared another rebellion and so in the following year, 1829, Catholic Emancipation was granted. This meant that Catholic people could now sit in parliament and after this, Daniel became known as The Liberator because he had 'liberated' the Catholic people from the Penal Laws.

Who was Daniel O Connell in the 1800s? ›

O'Connell was elected to the Westminster Parliament as MP for Clare, and began to seek an alliance with the Whigs by which he could influence British government policy on Ireland. Daniel O'Connell (1775-1847), n.d. O'Connell organized a political movement for emancipation and formed the Catholic Association.

How did Daniel O Connell impact Ireland? ›

O'Connell became actively involved in opposition to the union and repeatedly defended Catholics prosecuted in the courts for their opposition to the government. Frustrated by the unfairness of religious discrimination, in 1811 O'Connell set up the Catholic Board to campaign for Catholic emancipation.

Was Daniel O Connell against slavery? ›

At Westminster O'Connell played a major part in the passage of the Reform Act of 1832 and in the abolition of Slavery (1833) (an international cause in which he continued to campaign). He welcomed the revolutions of 1830 in Belgium and France, and advocated "a complete severance of the Church from the State".

Who created The Liberator and what was its purpose? ›

It was published and edited in Boston by William Lloyd Garrison, a leading white abolitionist and founder of the influential American Anti-Slavery Society. Over the three decades of its publication, The Liberator denounced all people and acts that would prolong slavery including the United States Constitution.

What was Daniel O'Connell's famous quote? ›

Daniel O'Connell's quote, "The true measure of greatness is not wealth or power, but the impact one has on the lives of others," encapsulates the essence of a truly influential individual.

What is a fun fact about Daniel O Connell? ›

Daniel was a good student and achieved impressive grades throughout his schooling. Daniel O'Connell was once in a pistol duel with John Norcott D'Esterre, who took issue with O'Connell's description of the Dublin Corporation as 'beggarly'. O'Connell won the duel, killing his opponent.

How did O'Connell respond to the banning of the Clontarf meeting? ›

The meetings held by O'Connell were known as 'monster meetings' because of the huge numbers that attended them. One such meeting was supposed to take place in Clontarf in October of 1843, but it was banned by the British Prime Minister. Although O'Connell called off the meeting, he was jailed for three months.

What is the history of Connell? ›

Connell was first settled in the mid-1800s by pioneer families who farmed the soil, raised sheep, cattle, and horses, and went on to build a community. By 1901, the Northern Pacific Railroad had firmly established Connell as a town—named for one of its trainmen—and was incorporated in 1910.

What is O'Connell in Irish? ›

O'Connell is a noble surname of Irish origin. It is an anglicisation of the Irish Ó Conaill (meaning "descendant of Conall"). The personal name Conall is composed of the elements con (from cú meaning "hound") and gal (meaning "valour"). The O'Connell family were a noted clan of Derrynane, Munster.

How did the Irish transform politics in American cities? ›

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Irish Americans became a powerful political force in U.S. cities. Building on principles of loyalty to the individual and the organization, they helped build political machines capable of getting the vote.

Who is the leader of Irish movement? ›

Under the leadership of Charles Stewart Parnell, the movement came close to success when the Liberal government of William Ewart Gladstone introduced the First Home Rule Bill in 1886, but the bill was defeated in the House of Commons after a split in the Liberal Party.

What political party was Daniel O Connell? ›

Who was the main person who stopped slavery? ›

Thomas Clarkson, William Wilberforce, and the end of the slave trade in Britain. Clarkson and Wilberforce were two of the most prominent abolitionists, playing a vital role in the ultimate success of the campaign. Clarkson was a tireless campaigner and lobbyist.

Who was the first person to try and stop slavery? ›

First general abolition of slavery (1794)

The convention, the first elected Assembly of the First Republic (1792–1804), on 4 February 1794, under the leadership of Maximilien Robespierre, abolished slavery in law in France and its colonies.

Who is referred to as The Liberator? ›

Simón Bolívar first liberated Venezuela in 1813. Upon entering the capital city of Venezuela on August 6, 1813, Bolívar was given the nickname “El Libertador” (“The Liberator”). Venezuelan independence didn't last long (Bolívar was ousted in 1814), but Bolívar's nickname did.

What was the O'Connell tribute? ›

In February 1830, O'Connell became the first Catholic in modern history to sit in the House of Commons. For the rest of his life, he was supported by “The O'Connell Tribute”, a public collection out of which O'Connell paid all his expenses.

Why did O'Connell set up the Catholic Association? ›

Daniel O'Connell's Catholic Association, founded in Ireland in 1823, was one of the most successful pressure groups of the 19th cent. Its object was to persuade or force the British government to grant catholic emancipation, allowing catholics to sit in Parliament.


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