Daniel O’Connell: Commentary & Quotations


Famously O’Connell spoke up for the Irish people in calling them “the finest peasantry in Europe” (var. “on earth”). The phrase was facetiously adopted by Thomas Carlyle as a chapter-title in Chartism (1840) - as attached; and subsequently employed by Aubrey de Vere in his chapter “How To Govern Ireland” in English Misrule and Irish Misdeeds (1848) - a text clearly written in the knowledge of Carlyle’s derogation of O’Connell’s claim - as attached.

Douglas Hyde - founder of the Gaelic League - echoed the phrase in turn in 1892, writing: ‘O’Connell used to call us the “finest peasantry in Europe”. Unfortunately, he took little care that we should remain so.’ (The Necessity for De-Anglicising of Ireland, 1892; see copy in RICORSO Library - as attached.) In these ways, the epithet became an axial point for the negotiation of Irish ‘civility’ between the period of Catholic Emancipation and the establishment of the modern separatist movement.

William Carleton
Thomas C. Luby
John Mitchel
D. F. MacCarthy
M. B. Synge
G. M. Trevelyan
Sir Wm. Gregory
W. B. Yeats
Seán O’Faoláin
Desmond Ryan
D. B. W. Lewis
Thomas Flanagan
Seán de Fréine
Daithí Ó hÓgáin
Maurice O’Connell
Chris Morash
Mary Daly
Mary Robinson

James Joyce makes Stephen refer to O’Connell in the “Aeolus” chapter of Ulysses (1922):

Gone with the wind. Hosts at Mullaghmast and Tara of the kings. Miles of ears of porches. The tribune’s words howled and scattered to the four winds. A people [181] sheltered within his voice. Dead noise. Akasic records of all that ever anywhere wherever was. Love and laud him: me no more. (Bodley Head edn. 1960, pp.181-82.)

William Carleton: ‘I admit Mr O’Connell’s vast talents, his superhuman perseverance, and his incredible labours. But he fell a victim to his own power and was gradually corrupted by the slavish credulity of the people, who became blinded to his political errors, and looked upon his changes of principle only as necessary manoeuvres against the enemy. Had that man be the power of any great revolution, become a monarch, he would have become a tyrant. As it was, he could bear no man but a slave about him …’ (Q. source; quoted in Benedict Kiely, Poor Scholar, A Study of William Carleton, 1947; 1972 Edn., p.90).

Thomas Clarke Luby, Life and Times of O’Connell (Glasgow 1872): ‘Through the whole of his long career, Daniel O’Connell kept three grand objects constantly in view: 1st. He desired to emancipate his co-religionists of the Catholic faith and also the dissenting Protestants, from the civil disabilities that oppressed and degraded them; in other words, he sought to win religious liberty for the vast majority of the Irish people and even for the minority of the English and Scotch. / 2nd. He aimed at uniting Irishmen of all races and religions into one strong nation. / But, 3rd. His greatest and noblest ambition was to regain the legislative independence of his country - to make Ireland a free nation once again. / He succeeded in accomplishing the first of these objects ... met with only partial success in his endeavours to unite all the various jarring elements of the Irish nation. But in his efforts to achieve the third and noblest object of his ambition he failed completely. After a vast and imposing display, continuing for months, of multitudinous popular masses and of the marvelous dominion, which his transcendent abilities had given him over the popular mind, the seeming might of the repeal movement gradually dwindled away and at last the whole organisation dissolved into thin air, “like the baseless fabric of a vision” while the aged chieftain, broken alike in health and heart and power, retired to a foreign land to die. / And this failure could not be otherwise, seeing the means adopted by O’Connell to achieve his end. His early triumphs, which were won by agitation, caused him to push his theory of “moral force” (to use his own term) to the utmost pitch of exaggeration. If England conceded emancipation peacefully, it was because it really took no power from her; it simply brought the Catholics within the pale of the Constitution; perhaps, in certain ways, it rather increased England’s power. Besides, a rich and influential portion of the English people participated in the struggle. / In the reform agitation the majority of the people of England, Scotland and Ireland united in demanding a reform bill from the Government. But the case of repeal was altogether different. This was an international question. England was asked to surrender her dominion over Ireland. Power is seldom or never yielded save to force. And what force, adequate to the task of wresting the legislative independence of Ireland from England, could be found in the mere expression of public opinion in trampled Ireland? No portion of the English people would help to strengthen this array of Irish public opinion so as to bring the requisite pressure on the hostile majority in parliament ... Besides, toward the close of the agitation for repeal, O’Connell brought forward an abstract proposition which, acted on in good faith, should necessarily deprive the “agitation” system of the only force it ever had - that of the threat held in reserve. / The proposition was in effect, “that under no circumstances, would an oppressed nation be justified in resorting to arms against the oppressor, unless first attacked”. In short, the Irish people, naturally one of the most martial upon God’s earth, were called upon to swallow the monstrous and even laughable delusion that England could be induced by mere force of reason and persuasion to give up her hold on Ireland. If the Irish people could possibly have come to believe and act on this principle, the British Government need only avoid attacking and they might continue oppressing the Irish to the end of time. / His determination to act on this exaggerated theory of “moral force” blighted the closing scenes of O’Connell’s career and ruined the cause of Ireland for the time - so much so that we must hesitate whether, upon the whole, we should deem the life of this most illustrious of all Irish political leaders a success or a failure. / In truth, in the history of this “moral force” delusion are to be found the saddest, but not the least instructive, lessons of his extraordinary life; the chief moral to be derived from which is, that Ireland, to be happy, must be independent and that to be independent she must place her sole trust in the God of battles and her own manhood marshalled in the field! (Searc’s Web online; accessed 5.10.2009.)

Thomas Clarke Luby, Life and Times of O’Connell (Glasgow [1872]): ‘A few works of his derisive drollery often outweighed another less popular advocate’s elaborate speech of an hour. At nisi prius this turn for comical satire aided him immensely. He would often so cover with mockery and ridicule both witnesses and the cause on the behalf of which they were called upon to testify, that real substantial grounds of complaint would be wholly lost sight of or appear simply absurd.’ (p.269; Quoted in Daithí Ó hÓgáin, The Hero in Irish Folk History, Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1985, p.107.)

John Mitchel: ‘Poor old Dan! Wonderful, jovial, mighty, and mean old man, with silver tongue and smile of witchery and heart of melting rush - lying tongue, smile of treachery, heart of unfathomable fraud. What a royal yet vulgar soul, with the keen eye and potent sweep of a generous eagle of Cairn Tual - with the base servility of a hound and the cold cruelty of a spider.’ (19 John Mitchel, Jail Journal: or, Five Years in British Prisons, NY 1854, p.157; quoted in Thomas Flanagan, The Irish Novelists 1800-1850, Columbia UP 1959, p.29.)

John Mitchel: ‘He had used all his art and eloquence to emasculate a bold and chivalrous nation.’ (The Last Conquest of Ireland (Perhaps), 1861; q.p.; quoted in Bridget O’Toole, ‘Famine and Faery’, review of Irish Literature: The Nineteenth Century, Vol. II, ed. Peter van de Kamp & A. Norman Jeffares, in Books Ireland, Feb. 2008, p.14.) [See further remarks under Quotations, infra.]

[ top ]

Denis Florence MacCarthy, “The Dead Tribune

The awful shadow of a great man’s death
Falls on this land, so sad and dark before -
Dark with the famine and the fever breath,
And mad dissensions knawing at its core.
Oh! let us hush foul discord’s maniac roar,
And make a mournful truce, however brief,
Like hostile armies when the day is o’er!
And thus devote the night-time of our grief
To tears and prayers for him, the great departed chief.


The twinkling eye, so full of changeful light,
Is dimmed and darkened in a dread eclipse;
The withering scowl, the smile so sunny bright,
Alike have faded from his voiceless lips.
The words of power, the mirthful, merry quips,
The mighty onslaught, and the quick reply,
The biting taunts that cut like stinging whips,
The homely truth, the lessons grave and high,
All, all are with the past, but cannot, shall not die!

See full text under MacCarthy - as attached.]

[ See also MacCarthy’s “O’Connell (August 6th, 1875)” - available at Gutenberg Project - online. ]

[ top ]

M[argaret] B[ertha] Synge, The Reign of Queen Victoria [Oxford History Readers] (Humphrey Milford / Oxford University Press 1916) [239pp.], Chap. 8 - ‘Ireland and the Famine’ [pp.44-49]: ‘[On] January 1, 1801, the Act came into force. The new Union flag with the harp of Ireland quartered in one corner flew over Dublin Castle, guns fired their [46] salute, bells clanged merrily from church and steeple. But these were outward symbols, and did not represent the real feelings of the Irish people. In the ears of Daniel O’Connell the bells sounded harshly. / He vowed he would never rest till a law was passed allowing Roman Catholics to sit in the British Parliament. Then he might gain a seat and lift up his voice to secure Home Rule for Ireland, or, as it was called in those days, the Repeal of the Union. / The Bill for Catholic Emancipation was not passed till 1829, and the following year found Daniel O’Connell representing Ireland in the Parliament at Westminster. From this time forward he flung aside his profession, and devoted himself to political agitation: “I embraced the cause of my country, and, come weal or woe, I have made a choice which I shall never repent.” / O’Connell was fifty-five when he first entered the House of Commons, which had been the ambition of his life. He had set himself a colossal task at which he worked with colossal zeal. He soon made his power felt as an orator. He was a thorough Celt, passionate and impulsive, with a voice unrivalled for sweetness and strength. / Throughout the early years of Queen Victoria’s reign, he addressed numerous meetings in Ireland. At last he gathered up his huge strength for the final plunge. / “The year 1843 is and shall be the great Repeal year,” he said. “My struggle has begun, and I will end it only in death or repeal.” [47] As the summer wore on, he summoned a monster meeting to the Hill of Tara, the coronation place of the old Irish kings. His call was answered by thousands of devoted Irish, and great was the enthusiasm when, attended by 10,000 horsemen, the hero arrived. At the end of the meeting, O’Connell was crowned king, with the Irish national cap. / It was the last great meeting. An order came over from England forbidding any more such to be held, and O’Connell refused to resort to force, which was the only alternative. Further, he was charged with conspiracy and sentenced to a year’s imprisonment. / When he came out of prison in the following year, Ireland was in deep distress, owing to the failure of the potato crop, on which the people depended for their food. There was no more thought of repealing the Union now. In the heat of political agitation men had overlooked the social evils growing up in their midst. [ill.: Hill of Tara] “Ireland is in your hands,” cried O’Connell to [48] the House of Commons. “If you do not save her, she cannot save herself.” / For himself, he could do nothing; his day was done. He was an old man, and his spirit was broken. The voice that had once thrilled thousands was sunk to a whisper, his head was bowed, his eye was dim. And so he passes from our history to die.’ [See “Baldwin Project”, accessed at Mainless.com online; 8 Nov. 2006.]

George M. Trevelyan, History of England (1st edn. 1926; Illustrated edn., 1956), on the aftermath of the Act of Union: ‘So the Catholic Celts were again thrust down, this time with the whole weight of England on top of them, and with their fellow-Irish of the North waxing in Orange enthusiasm. The two Irelands were once more face to face, fighting the Boyne battle again daily with their mouths. Moreover, the land question was beginning to take a foremost place in politics in that over-populated, potato-fed island of oppressed tenant-farmers. In these circumstances, a new and formidable amalgam of clericalism, nationalism and uneducated democracy began to be organised by the popular oratory of the Catholic lawyer, Daniel O’Connell.’ (p.591) Ftn. remarks that Britain held only about twice as many inhabitants at the corresponding dates.

Sir William Gregory, ‘I always felt he had led his countrymen out of the house of bondage and made them free men; and if his language was at time violent, God knows he was only giving back what he got.’ (Frank Tuohy, Yeats, 1976, q.p.).

[ top ]

W. B. Yeats: Yeats refers to O’Connell as ‘the Great Comedian’ [O’Connell] in the opening line of “Parnell’s Funeral”. Note also his remarks in the Senate [Séanad]: ‘We never had any trouble about O’Connell. it was said about O’Connell, in his own day, that you could not throw a stick over the workhouse wall without hitting one of his children, but he believed in the indissolubility of marriage, and when he died his heart was very properly preserved in Rome, I am not quite sure whether it was in a bronze or marble urn, but it is there, and I have no doubt the art of that urn was as bad as the other art of the period.’; also ‘the too compromised and compromising Daniel O’Connell’, and ‘the bragging rhetoric and gregarious humour of O’Connell’s generation and school’ (Senate Speeches, pp.97-98; Autobiographies, p.353, & 195; all cited in Jeffares, New Commentary, 1984, p.339.)

Sean O’Faoláin, King of the Beggars (1938): ‘To them [the Young Irelanders], in their own high idealism, his [O’Connell’s] appeals on the score of Ireland’s material poverty were almost base; they thought of glory, not of finance, and they ransacked the past that O’Connell had kicked aside. They tried to learn from little books the language O’Connell spoke as a child, and thereafter only when addressing the peasants of the western seaboards. They would meet on the roads old men who were to O’Connell so many votes and little else, and because of the memories these old men preserved they saw, behind the apparent illiteracy, the superficial roughness or even boorishness, something like the last rays of their sun-god. How angry they would have been to hear O’Connell called King of the Beggars - not because they could deny his kingship but because they felt themselves as the descendants of kings. These - Mangan, Davis, Gavan Duffy, Meagher, Mitchel, Doheny, and others - created in verse and prose, for they were all able men of letters, image after image of the legendary greatness of their people, and they appealed to the country in the name of its former glory.’ (Quoted in O’Faolain, The Irish, 1947, p.131). [See further remarks under Sean O’Faolain, Quotations, infra.]

Note that Terence Brown (Social History & Cultural of Ireland, 1987) quotes see O’Faoláin’s estimate of O’Connell, viz., a ‘far more appropriate model for twentieth century Ireland, than any figure drawn from the sagas or the mists of Celtic antiquity’. Elsewhere O’Faoláin wrote that O’Connell spoke to his fellow countrymen with ‘the secret language of fellowship in helotry.’ (quoted in Frank Tuohy, Yeats, 1976, q.p.).

Desmond Ryan, The Sword of Light (1939): ‘The Liberator … Daniel O’Connell, who roared these serfs into religious freedom and gave them a written liberty, in a sad moment of pardonable blindness struck from their hands the weapon that was to free their descendants, the Sword of Light.’ (p.83.)

[ top ]

D. B. Wyndham Lewis: ‘In 1827 the giant figure of Daniel O’Connell was dominating the Irish scene, and striving with magnificent oratory to dispel rankling Irish memoiries of the recent blood-bath of 1798 and to wean his desperate fellow-Catholics from the planning of more risings to political action. Like Yeats three years before [61] the Easter Rebellion of 1916, O’Connell might well have cried to the Irish: “Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone / It’s with O’Leary in the grave.” And, like Yeats, he would have been wrong. / There is no need to recount the long tale of slavery or to review that “barbarous debilitating policy” which aroused the indignation of Dr. Johnson. By Melbourne’s time the Penal Laws were in many ways relaxed, though even yet no Catholic could sit in Parliament or fill any public post, and the mass of the Irish remained in subjection and misery. Melborune, like most of the advanced of his time, was strong for the emancipation of what, in England and least, was a small, obscure, harmless, and obviously dying body of eccentrics. His stay in Dublin Castle, that fortress-nest of Government jobberies, taught him a great deal about the Irish question. He would have learned more had not Canning died within six months and the dithering Goderich taken his place as Premier, to be swiftly succeeded by the aged Iron Duke, Catholic Emancipation’s most dogged opponent […].’ (Four Favourites, London: Evan Bros. Ltd. 1948, pp.62-63.)

Thomas Flanagan, The Irish Novelists 1800-1850 (Columbia UP 1959), quotes John Mitchel on O’Connell [as supra], and O’Connell on the Young Irelanders with the remark: ‘Mitchel understood O’Connell’s Ireland as little as did Thomas Davis or the other members of Young Ireland [...] There stand a stain upon O’Connell’s memory the words with which the old man turned loose his pack on Davis: “There is no such party as that styled ‘Young Ireland.’ There may be a few individuals who take that denomination on themselves. I am for Old Ireland. ’Tis time that this delusion should as put an end to. Young Ireland may play what pranks it pleases. I do not envy them the name they rejoice in, I shall stand by Old Ireland. And I have some slight idea that Old Ireland will stand by me.” (Quoted in Charles Gavan Duffy, Young Ireland: A Fragment of Irish History, 1845-1850, NY 1881, p.705.) It was O’Connell at his most brutal, for he knew where he was cutting, and to what instincts he was appealing. The incident occurred during the “Godless colleges” controversy, and O’Connell was rousing up the Catholics who formed his great majority against the Protestant, Davis, who was quite blameless of sectarian animus. For this reason his appeal has been much reprehended, and rightly. Yet O’Connell himself was no bigot [...]’ (Flanagan, op. cit., p.29; see further in RICORSO Library, ’Critical Classics’, via index, or direct.)

Thomas Flanagan, The Irish Novelists 1800-1850 (Columbia UP 1959): ‘O’Connell, in a remark which the Gaelic League would later make notorious, said that “although the Irish language is connected with many recollections that twine round the hearts of Irishmen, yet the superior utility of the English tongue,as the medium of all modern communication, is so great that I can witness without a sigh the gradual disuse of Irish.” (W. J. O’Neill Daunt, Personal Recollections of Daniel O'Connell, 1848, Vol. I, p.15; ) We, may agree with the judgment and yet wonder if he realized how final a sentence he was passing on much that he cherished.’ (p.45.) Note that O’Connell’s remark on the Irish language are also quoted by Patrick Rafroidi, as infra.

Thomas Flanagan, The Irish Novelists 1800-1850 (Columbia UP 1959) - see also Flanagan’s remarks on the O’Connells of Derrynane: ‘For half a century they nursed a Jacobitism which became increasingly sentimental. After 1750 even this vanished, though it burned strongly among the hedge poets and the peasantry. Charles Edward Stuart was wasting out his days in Rome, abandoned by Louis. And France, while it provided a most hospitable place to live, had no intention [13] of righting Irish grievances. Their apparent hopelessness and the conspiratorial life they had to lead bred in them a timorousness which was to become notorious. “If you mention me or mine,” old Maurice O’Connell cautioned Smith, the Kerry historian, “these seaside solitudes will no longer yield us an asylum. The Sassanagh will scale the mountains of Darrynane and we too shall be driven out upon the world without a home.” Not until the generation which produced Maurice’s grandson would Irish Catholicism bring leaders forward.”’ (Charles Smith, Antient and Modern State of the County of Kerry, Dublin 1753, p.120; here pp.13-14.)

[ top ]

Seán de Fréine, The Great Silence: the study of a relationship between language and nationality (Cork: Mercier 1978), ‘Daniel O’Connell and the class to which he belonged could not foresee the long-term consequences of their action in abandoning Irish in order to cope as best they knew how with a temporary predicament. O’Connell himself was a man of actin, but not a thinker. of his nationalism, Dr. McDowell says, ‘it was so instinctive and rooted in his being that he never bothers to analyse and expound it systematically.’ [Public Opinion and Govt. Policy in Ireland, 1952) But precisely because he was not a thinker, his actions are of particular importance in assessing the value of tradition and institutions in influencing a man such as he. O’Connell had been suckled in the language, traditions and culture of his fathers, he possessed naturally the sense of belonging to his people, he had a vehement affection for them, and he acted accordingly. Not for him the need to expound and analyse his patriotism. But had he been born a generation later, and been deprived of that tradition, Ireland would hardly have had the benefit of his great talents. Possibly he, and not Lord Russell of Killowen, would have been the first Catholic Irishman to become Lord Chief Justice of England.’ (p.84.) Note also F. S. L. Lyons’ remarks on O’Connell’s willingness to ‘change the language of the folk-museum for that of the market-place’ (Culture and Anarchy in Ireland 1890-1939, OUP 1982, p.8.)

Daithí Ó hÓgáin, The Hero in Irish Folk History (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1985): ‘O’Connell O’Connell’ [sect.], in ‘The Social Leader as Hero’ [chap.], ibid., pp.99-119: ‘O’Connell was the outstanding personality of nineteenth-century Ireland, and [... b]ecause of this, and because he is a comparatively recent historical figure, a great wealth [100] of tradition attaches to him in folklore. Old people from several different parts of the country had many of the same legends concerning him at the beginning of the century, so it is apparent that much of the lore was already in circulation during his lifetime. [...] The folk tradition assigns epical proportions to its portrayal of Daniel’s birth [...]’. (pp.99-100.)

Daithí Ó hÓgáin (The Hero in Irish Folk History, 1985), Conclusion: ‘[...] One does well to view history in its cultural atmosphere as well as in its known physical dimensions. This is especially important in the case of Ireland, where the great continuity in tradition tends to present events of far-away times with striking immediacy. One reason for this is the cyclical nature of Irish history itself. The uniformity of the conflicting forces, of oppression and resistance in Ireland for hundreds of years is startling, even so far as the vocabulary used as terms of reference. There is no doubt but that the folk memory, witlh, its highly developed narrative art, bore much of the burden, for the native culture, deprived as the latter was of any public institutions of its own. This may also help to explain the unusual resilience of Irish revolutionary politics. Although Daniel O’Connell embraced reformism, it is clear from several of his public speeches that he appreciated the more dramatic meanings which his audience saw in events. And this accords well with the general aesthetic sense of folk narrative, which emphasises the contrast between contending forces and everywhere tends to take the side of the underdog. It follows that, when intellectual and political nationalists put their philosophy before the people, popular culture saw no reason to reject the validity of what was being said. For the same old conflict was being redefined, and “the bright quick appeal” of victory over oppression was being restated.’ (p.308.) Further: Canon Sheehan in Glenanaar describes how Daniel O’Connell made a heroic defence of the men charged with the Doneraile Conspiracy, giving good insights into popular psychology in the process.’ (p.315.)

[ top ]

Maurice R O’Connell, ed., Daniel O’Connell, Political Pioneer (Dublin: IPA 1991), 147pp., index. [Contributors & pagination: J. J. Lee, pp.1-6; Tom Garvin, pp.7-12; Brian Girvin, pp.13-34; Fergus O’Ferrall, pp.35-56; James N. McCord, pp.57-71; Diarmaid Ó Muirithe, pp.72-85; Paddy Bushe, pp.86-97; Pierre Joannon, pp.86-109; Peter Alt, pp.110-118; Geraldine Grogan, pp.119ff.]. Notes: According to Macaulay, everywhere the Englishman goes on the Continent he was asked, ‘what is to be done with O’Connell?’, while Balzac declared that the only men of the century he wished to meet were Napoleon, Cuvier, and O’Connell. [4] O’Connell as feminist, ‘Mind has no sex’, he liked to say. [5] [For comments of Richard Lalor Sheil on founding of Catholic Association, see Sheil, RX, infra.] In his speech of 1800 opposing the act of Union, O’Connell struck the Repeal note, ‘.. if the alternative were offered him of union, or the re-enactment of the penal code in all its pristine horrors, he would prefer without hestitation the latter, as the lesser and more sufferable evil; that he would rather confine in the justice of his brethern the Protestants of Ireland, who have already liberated him, than lay his country at the fee to of foreigners.’ (quoted in John O’Connell, ed., The Life and Speeches of Daniel O’Connell MP, Dublin 1846, I, pp.22-23; cited in Oliver MacDonagh, Hereditary Bondsman, 1988, p.94.) [15] Brian Girvin argues here that not only the establishment but the very idea of Britishness is rejected.

Maurice R O’Connell (Daniel O’Connell, Political Pioneer, 1991) - cont.: ‘The Protestant alone could not expect to liberate his country - the Roman Catholic alone could not do it - neither could the Presbyterian - but amalgamate the three in the Irishman, and the Union is repealed.’ (Life and Speeches, 1, p.34-35.) [17] O’Connell’s religious development, a Deist when young and a Freemason for much longer, he became increasingly pious and strict in the observance of his [Catholic] religious duties. [29] ~The practical dimension of the Repeal Association shows in the mass meetings where numbers of the order of a putative 10,000 voted in favour of a vote of thanks for anti-Vetoists such as Bishop Milner, editor Magee, and Daniel O’Connell - in Cork 30 Aug. 1813. This event led the seceding Catholic gentry to assert that, adopting ‘the wise principle of the constitution, by which property is made the standard of opinion, we found it impossible, at the late aggregate meeting, amidst the tumult of the lowest populace - ignorant of necessity, and misled by design - to ascertain the sense of the Catholics of this city and country.’ (John O’Connell, ed., op. cit., II, 7-27; O’Keefe, op. cit., I, pp.272-73.).

Maurice R O’Connell (Daniel O’Connell, Political Pioneer, 1991) - cont.: In the Drumgoole case [when A proposal to rescind the condemnation of Drumgoole was proposed by Aeneas McDonnell, ed. of Cork Mercantile Chronicle, and supported by Denis Scully who compared the attack on Drumgoole to the persecution of Titus Oates] O’Connell now supported these two, publicly regretting his share in the vote of censure and the ‘slavish feeling’ of the Board who had ‘raised their hands to break with their chains the heads of their fellow slaves’ (for these speeches, O’Keefe, I, 49-63). [31] Further, O’Connell’s letters to Bishop Doyle, include the following, ‘the combination of national action - all Catholic Ireland acting as one man - must necessarily have a powerful effect on the minds of the ministry and of the entire British nation.’ Corres. III, pp.372-73. Letters to Paul Cullen, at the end of his life, appear in Corres., VII (pp.155-60). Quotes O’Connell’s credo, ‘My political creed is short and simple. It consists in believing that all men are entitled as of right and justice to civil and political liberty.’ (O’Connell in Tralee, quoted in MR O’Connell, Daniel O’Connell, The Man and His Politics, Dublin 1990, p.34) [[43] ‘To my mind it is an eternal and universal truth that we are responsible to God alone for our religious belief and that human laws are impious when they attempt to control the exercise of those acts of individual or general devotion which such belief requires. I think not lightly of the awful responsibility of rejecting true belief but that responsibility is entirely between man and his creator, and any fellow who usurps dominion over belief is to my mind a blasphemer against the deity as he certainly is a tyrant over his fellow creatures.’ (O’Connell to Goldsmid, 11 Sept. 1829; Correspondence, ed. MR O’Connell, vol. IV, Letter 1604.) [44] O’Connell regarded the marriage of Church and State as an ‘unholy’ and ‘an adulterous connection’, in 1831, and 1837, regarding the Papal States and the Spanish war against Don Carlos. [44]

Maurice R O’Connell (Daniel O’Connell, Political Pioneer, 1991) - cont.: - quotes: ‘I want no American aid if it comes across the Atlantic stained with Negro blood’, he declared to the Repeal Association in 1845. Also, his denunciation of racism ideals of the Cincinnati Repeal Association … one of the great documents of the Irish liberal tradition [45]. Antoine Raftery wrote a poem entitled “Bua Uí Chonaill” [‘O’Connell’s Victory’] arising from the Clare election which contains the belligerent lines, ‘m’Impí ar Iosa, Dia hAoine a céasadh / Nár thEigh mé in éag go dtige an t-am / A mbeidh gachcuid acu ag planncadh a chéile / Agus go bhfághmaoid pléisiúr ar ‘“Orangemen”’. [‘I implore Jesus who was crucified on Friday not to let me die until the time comes for the lot of them to be beating one another and until we take revenge on Orangemen’]. There is another, more touching, poem by Séamus Mac Cuirtín, a Clareman, ‘O Conaill cáidh an flaith gan bheim / Ad starthe fíor do fuair árd réim / Fíraon Fodhla bhuaigh gach clú / Gan chréacht gan chosgar, gan fuiliú’ [‘The gentle O’Connell, the peerless leader, who achieved the highest renown, a good man of Ireland who won every honour without wound, without destruction, without spilling blood.’] [85].

Bibliography: Johann Georg Kohl, visiting Ireland, wrote of the emergence of O’Connell as a folk-hero in Reisen in Irland ([Dresden & Leipzig] 1943). Influence of O’Connell on French Catholic liberal tradition focused on Count Charles de Montalembert [Pierre Joannon, op. cit. supra]; and on German Catholic Liberal tradition [Peter Alt]. Note, Herder’s Encyclopaedia (Conversations-Lexikon) records, ‘O. [O’Connell] was the noblest and greatest of all agitators, as the English themselves recognised; he led his oppressed people in a movement to achieve their rights and never once stepped outside the law; he forbade any act of violence or bloodshed and in so doing awake and nurtured the noble principles of the people. In this way he forced an embittered and powerful enemy to show respect and justice.’ [Geraldine Grogan.]

[ top ]

Christopher Morash, The Hungry Voice (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1989), lists Ellen Fitzsimon, eldest dg. of Daniel O’Connell, 1805-1883; b. Westland Row; d. London, wrote for The nation as ‘L.M.F.’; her ‘Sonnet’ is from Derrynane in Eighteen Hundred and Thirty-Two and Other Poems (Dublin: WB Kelly 1863), p.99. A poem on the Famine, it includes the line, ‘High is the comfort of the text divine: /Whom the Lord loveth, them He chasteneth!’ (Morash, p.98). NOTE ALSO circumstances of the writing of John Banim’s ‘Chaunt of the Cholera’, formerly Songs for Irish Catholics, conceived when listening to O’Connell speaking in Clare [RX].

Cecil Woodham-Smith, The Great Hunger: Ireland 1845-1849 (1962): despite his “lawyer’s respect for the law” and “horror of armed rebellion,” Daniel O’Connell “gave up a brilliant career at the bar to devote his life to Ireland. Adopted by a Catholic uncle [....] a fluent speaker of the Irish language, with a magnificent voice and presence, a quick wit, a superb gift of invective, and a flamboyance his enemies called vulgarity, he was nicknamed ‘Swaggering Dan’. Self-government, not separation from England, was O’Connell’s aim; and he cherished a romantic admiration for Queen Victoria, ‘the darling little queen’” (Woodham-Smith, The Great Hunger: Ireland 1845-1849. [1962] London: Penguin Books, 1991 edn., p.16; quoted in Bonnie Roos, ‘The Joyce of Eating: Feast, Famine and the Humble Potato in Ulysses’, in George Cusack & Sarah Goss, eds., Hungry words: Images of Famine in the Irish Canon, Dublin: IAP 2006, pp.159-96; p.31.)

Mary Robinson, ‘Daniel O’Connell: A Tribute’, address to the Reform Club, London, 15 May 1997; printed in History Ireland (Winter 1997), pp.26-31; notes his character as native Irish Catholic gentry who yet opposed the identification of state and church favoured by the Vatican; ‘… the precarious legal, social, economic and constitutional position of the O’Connells, even in the Liberator’s own lifetime and experience, would have been more intelligible to a Nelson Mandela or a Martin Luther King than to Jane Austen’ Mr Bennett, let alone Mr. Darcy’; ‘such an out and out utilitarian that Jeremy Bentham was happy to describe him as his favourite disciple’; ‘established effective model of non-violent agitation and political action which was to transform the histories of some of the greatest countries in the English-speaking world’; ‘We remember him as a great constitutional and legal reformer, basing his case on fundamental principle and the theory of the rights of man’; of his family, ‘they existed under a system of penal and disabling laws where were designed explicitly either to deny their existence or, if that fiction of non-existence could not be sustained, to punish them for existing and to disable them from citizenship’; cites the case of the assault of Mr Butler, JP, by the O’Connells’ peasantry, and the dangerous charges brought against the O’Connells when Daniel was eight; comments on his extended sympathies for slaves in America, citizens in Spain and Italian and Indian peasants; remarks on effects of system of fosterage on his powers of communication and his sympathies; his response to the call by Isaac Lyon Goldsmid [Bart., 1778-1859]: ‘I entirely agree with you on the principle of freedom of conscience, and no man can admit that sacred principle without extending it equally to the Jew as to the Christian.’ Quotes his remarks on church-state separation at Polish independence banquet.

Mary Robinson, ‘Daniel O’Connell: A Tribute’, address to the Reform Club, London, 15 May 1997; printed in History Ireland (Winter 1997), pp.26-31: Quotes Robert Peel to Walter Scott on the Clare election, which he described as ‘the movements of tens of thousands of disciplined fanatics, abstaining from every excess and every indulgence, and concentrating their passion and feeling on one single object’; cites George J. Shaw-Lefevre (Peel and O’Connell, 1887), on the hatred of the English governing classes for O’Connell, and his remark that the same class later used his methods of political agitation themselves to effect the repeal of the Corn Laws, though without forgiving his Catholic agitation; quotes Charles Greville: ‘History will speak of him as one of the most remarkable men who ever existed … who without altering his social position in the slightest degree … raised himself to a height of political power which gave him an enormous capacity for good and evil, and made him the most important and most conspicuous man of his time and country’; cites de Valera at the reopening of Derrynane Abbey, Aug. 1967: ‘Daniel O’Connell had to take people who were degraded and give them confidence in themselves. He had to let these people know that those who pretended they were superior were not superior in any way except that they had superior forces.’ Robinson remarks in conclusion: ‘He seized upon the theory of something fundamental to the British way of life and historical tradition, the specifically English concept of the citizen and his rights, and, turning it against the Establishment of his day for a special “local” purpose, assisted in enriching and enhancing it. He then returned it, refreshed and reinvigorated, to the stream from whence it came. […]’

[ top ]

Mary Daly, reviewing Maurice O’Connell, ed., Daniel O’Connell, Political Pioneer [1991], in Fortnight (July-Aug. 1992), O’Connell dominates 1800-70 vol. of The New History of Ireland; sympathetic and scholarly 2 Vol. biography by Oliver MacDonagh; biography by Charles de Gaulle’s mother; called ‘a proponent of enterprise culture … by the standards of his time’ [JL Lee]; see also Fergus O’Ferrall’s essay, ‘Liberty and Catholic Power 1790-1990’ (prev. published by Freehold Press, Belfast) primarily focused on his liberalism; other contributors incl. Diarmaid M Muirithe’s discussion of O’Connell in folk tradition; Tom Garvin on his legacy in the form of a strong understanding of legislative democracy.

[ top ]


Over the broad Atlantic I pour forth my voice, saying, Come out of such a land, you Irishmen: or, if you remain, and dare countenance the system of slavery that is supported there, we will recognise you as Irishmen no longer.’ (9 May, 1943; quoted in Michael A. Cowan, ‘Black as They’re Painted’, In Dublin, 26 March 2003.)

Sundry remarks

O’Connell’s “defiance”
Young Ireland
Selling the vote
Ireland’s loss
Irish language
Catholic Church

The Colleen Bawn
Queen Victoria
Agin’ the Union
Physical force
Catholics of Ireland
smiling coffin plates

A Memoir on Ireland Native and Saxon (1844), ‘There is no person who will read this work, but must exclaim with me, that no people on the face of the earth were ever treated with such cruelty as the Irish.’ and that the pamphlet quoted last contains, in fact, ‘a short development of the spirit which animated the conduct of the English government towards the people of Ireland.’ [END Vol. I; p.347] Further, Chap. VI [ending: ‘Illustrious Lady - the Rebellion of 1798 itself was, avowedly, and beyond a doubt provably, fomented to enable the British Government to extinguish the Irish legislative independence and to bring about the Union. - But the instrument was nearly too powerful for the unskilled hands that used it, and if the Catholic wealth, education, and intelligence, had joined the rebellion, it would probably have been successful. / One word upon the legislative independence of Ireland - that which is now called Repeal of the Union. It is said to be a severance of the empire - a separation of the two countries. Illustrious Lady, these statements are made by men who know them to be unfounded. An Irish legislative independence would, on the contrary, be the strongest and most durable connection between your Majesty’s Irish and your British dominions. It would, by conciliating your Irish subjects and attending to their wants and wishes, render the separation of Ireland from the lawful dominion of your crown, utterly impossible. / No country ever rose so rapidly in trace, manufactures, commerce, agricultural wealth, and general prosperity, as Ireland did from the year 1782 until the year 1798, when the ‘fomented Rebellion’ broke out, and for a space, a passing and transitory space, marred the fair prospects of Ireland.’ (O’Connell, op. cit., Vol. 1, 22-23). [The Memoir is available at Internet Archive - online.]

[ top ]

O’Connell’s defiance’ at Mallow (11 June, 1843), as reported in The Nation, 17 June: ‘Are we to be called slaves? have we not the ordinary courage of Englishmen? Are we to be trampled on? … It will be my dead body they will trample on, not the living man.’ (Quoted in Oliver MacDonagh, States of Mind, 1983, p.78.)

O’Connell as quoted in John Mitchel’s The Last Conquest of Ireland (Perhaps) (1878) -

‘But take heed not to misconceive me. Is it by force or violence, bloodshed, or turbulence that I shall achieve this victory, dear above all earthly considerations to my heart? No! perish the thought for ever. I will do it by legal, peaceable, and constitutional means alone,—by the electricity of public opinion, by the moral combination of good [11] men, and by the enrolment of four millions of Repealers. I am a disciple of that sect of politicians who believe that the greatest of all sublunary blessings is too dearly purchased at the expense of a single drop of human blood.’

Mitchel remarks: ‘Many persons did not understand this sort of language; and, what is worse, did not believe him sincere in using it. The prevailing impression was that while the Repeal Association was a peaceful body, contemplating only “constitutional agitation,” yet the parade of such immense masses of physical force had an ulterior meaning, and indicated that if the British Parliament remained absolutely insensible to the reasonable demands of the people, the Association must be dissolved; and the next question would be how best and soonest to exterminate the British forces. I say of my own knowledge that many who were close to O’Connell expected all along that the English Parliament and government never would yield; and these would have taken small interest in the movement if it was never to go beyond speeches and cheers.’ (p.11-12.)

—See full text at LibraryIreland website online [accessed 19.10.2010]

Young Ireland: ‘Young Ireland may play what pranks they please. I do not envy them the name they rejoice in. I shall stand by Old Ireland. And I have some slight notion that Old Ireland will stand by me’ (cited in Frank Tuohy, Yeats, 1976, p.14.)

Selling the vote: ‘[I]f a man took a stick and marked a line in the gutter before the door of the pitiful Catholic retailer who would sell his vote against his country and his God to uphold tithes, that line would be found as impassable as a wall of brass.’ (O’Connell, speaking in Tralee, 1835; quoted in Tony Hepburn, ‘A Short History of Boycotts’, in Fortnight Review (Oct. 1996, p.25)

Ireland’s loss: ‘I was travelling through the mountain district from Killarney to Kildare. My heart was heavy at the loss Ireland had sustained, and the day was wild and gloomy […]. My soul felt dreary, and I had many wild and Ossianic inspirations as I traversed the bleak solitudes. It was the Union that first stirred me up to come forward in politics.’ (Quoted in P. S. O’Hegarty, Ireland Under the Union, 1952; cited in D. George Boyce, Nationalism in Ireland, London: Routledge 1982; 1991 Edn., p.133.)

Irish language: ‘I am sufficiently utilitarian not to regret its [the Irish language’s] abandonment. A diversity of tongues is not [of] benefit; it was imposed on mankind as a curse at the building of Babel. It would be of vast advantage to mankind if all the inhabitants of the earth spoke the same language. Therefore, though the Irish language is connected with many recollections that twine around the hearts of Irishmen, yet the superior utility of the English tongue as the medium of all modern communication, is so great that I can witness without a sigh the gradual disuse of Irish.’ (Quoted in Patrick Rafroidi, Irish Literature in English, The Romantic Period, Gerrards Cross 1980, Vol. 2, p.xxi, citing Houston, ed., Daniel O’Connell, His Early Life and Journal [n.d.], p.11 orig. in W. J. O’Neill Daunt, Personal Recollections of the late Daniel O’Connell, 1848, pp.14-15; also in Oliver MacDonagh, Daniel O’Connell, 1775-1847,London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson 1991, p.11.)

[ top ]

Catholic Church: ‘[E]ven amid the crimes of that unfortunate family .. the Irish remained faithful [to the Catholic Church]; and, in the season of their distress, when the Stuarts deprived themselves of all other friends, the Irish Catholics served them with a zeal and a bravery proportioned only to the wants of their former oppressors. Allegiance then, perhaps, ceased to be a duty, and was certainly impurdent; but the Irish heart was not cold or calculating, and it cheerfully spilled its dearest blood in the protection of those very princes, who, in the hour of their prosperity, had insulted and plundered them. Carried too far, it was a mistaken and an absurd principle of actin; but the sping had not lost all its elasticity, and what our fathers had been, the Catholics of the present day were inclined to be.’ (Select Speeches, Dublin 1865, vol. I, p.181; cited in Boyce, 1982, pp.137-38.)

The Colleen Bawn: On the trial of John Scanlan - Hardress Cregan in The Collegians of Gerald Griffin): ‘This is a good assizes. You will, however, be surprised to hear that I had a client convicted yesterday for a murder for whom I fought a hard battle and yet I do not feel any the most slight regret at his conviction. It is very unusual with me to be so satisfied, but he is a horrid villain. In the first place he got a creature, a lovely creature of fifteen, to elope with him from her uncle who brought her up an orphan and to rob him of his all, 100 guineas, and in three weeks after he contrived to get her into a boat on the Shannon with his servant, said when he returned to Glin that he left her at Kilrush, then reported she had gone off with a sea captain, and she was not heard of afterwards for near two months when a mutilated carcase floated on shore, or rather was thrown, which was identified to be hers from some extremely remarkable teeth. He will be hanged tomorrow unless being a gentleman prevents him.’ (Quoted in John Cronin, The Anglo-Irish Novel, Vol. 1: ‘The Nineteenth Century’, Belfast: Appletree Press 1979, p.65.)

Victoria Regina: when Victoria was proclaimed Queen of Great Britain and Ireland, O’Connell declared: ‘We have on the throne a monarch educated to cherish the rights and liberties of all the people, free from preoccupations and prejudice, and ready to do justice to all.’ (Quoted in John Kirkaldy, review of James Loughlan, The British Monarchy and Ireland: 1800 to the Present, Cambridge UP, in Books Ireland, Dec. 2008, pp.295-96.)

Agin’ the Union: ‘In the name of my country and in the name of my God, against the unfounded and unjust union. My proposition to Ireland is that the Union is not binding on her people. It is void in conscience and in principle, and as a matter of constitutional law I attest these facts … there is no real union between the two countries, and my proposition is that there was no authority given to anyone to pass the Act of Union.’ (Speech at Tara Hill, 1843; cited in D. George Boyce, Nationalism in Ireland, London: Routledge 1982, p.134.)

Physical force: ‘The advocacy of physical force doctrine renders it imossible for those who stand upon the constitution of the Association itself to co-operate with those who will not adhere to the Constitution. This is a subject that does not admit of any species of compromise.’ [Q. source.]

Catholics of Ireland: ‘We, the Catholics of Ireland, will not trust the faith of our people to the guardianship of the Crown. You admit here is a danger; you admit that we should be protected, and you, a secular Government, you a Protestant Government, ask us to constitute you the protectors of our people’s faith. That we will not do.’ (O’Connell before the House of Commons; quoted in ‘Evidence of the Most Rev. Dr. E. T. O’Dwyer, Bishop of Limerick, to the Robertson Commission 1901-03; quoted in Susan Parkes, ‘University Education’, in Irish Education Documents [Vol. 1]: A Selection of Extracts from Documents Relating to the History of Irish Education from the Earliest Times to 1922, ed. Áine Hyland and Kenneth Milne (Dublin: Church of Ireland College of Education 1987, p.349.)

The coffin plate: O’Connell reputedly compared Sir Robert Peel’s to the reflection of a sunbeam on a coffin plate [var. silver plate on a coffin] - a comparison which has often been extended to Eamon de Valera and which Brian Inglis attaches inferentially to Sean MacBride in quoting Noel Browne’s account of his ‘gaunt, cadaverous appearance’ and his ‘rare smile’: ‘a momentary muscular response, as used by a well-mannered diplomat; it did not infuse a sense of warmth, nor was it ever completely reassuring.’ (See Brian Inglis, Downstart, London: Chatto & Windus 1990, p.165.)

[ top ]