In praise of Daniel O’Connell

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In my day every student of Irish history, at some stage, had to write an essay about Daniel O’Connell (1775 – 1847). He was known as “The Liberator” and his statue stands on Dublin’s premier thoroughfare near the bridge also named after him.

He’s not to be confused with his now much better known near namesake Daniel O’Donnell. (Except for a C in place of a D). As with so much in Irish history your perspective on O’Connell might depend on whether you’re a Protestant or a Catholic and where you stand on the physical force tradition within nationalism. O’Connell was an effective agitator in favour of peaceful, constitutional change but, despite that, in 1815 he was provoked into a duel with the leader of Dublin Corporation, a man called D’Esterre. With his first pistol shot O’Connell killed D’Esterre.

After the 1800 Act of Union abolished the Irish Parliament, O’Connell agitated for its repeal. He didn’t achieve it but in 1829 he did achieve significant Catholic Emancipation. That changed the course of Irish history. Why praise Daniel O’Donnell without also praising that other great Irish man, Daniel O’Connell! He was, at various times, the MP for Clare, Waterford and Kerry. Towards the end of his career, in 1843, O’Connell planned a monster pro-repeal rally at Clontarf. It put ‘the wind up’ the government and was banned. After that The Liberator seemed to lose some of his authority and vigour.