The State of the Irish Nation 2016

STATE OF THE IRISH NATION 2016

1916 Anniversary

When the rebels had been defeated in the GPO on Dublin’s O’Connell Street and the damage to the already shambles of a city was surveyed the soon-to-be martyrs were pilloried as traitors and criminals.

Easter Rising 1916

It was only after the leaders of 1916 were executed that public opinion began to turn against the ruling British regime. As has happened so often in British colonial history a military over-reaction led to a chain of events that ultimately caused that regimes downfall. The Amritsar massacre in India in 1919 turned public opinion against the British on the sub-continent and was one of the pivotal events along the road to Indian independence.

Events played out very similarly in Ireland.

The execution of Pearse and Connolly who were chief among the sixteen of the executed marked the moment when the sleeping Irish populace roused from its slumber.

The Easter Rising led directly to the war of independence championed by Michael Collins while Eamon deValera formed the first Government. A bitter civil war followed before the fledgling Irish State eventually stood on its own two feet. An Irish Republic was formally established in 1948.

What would the consequences have been for Ireland had the sixteen executed been simply imprisoned? Would the Irish have simply rebuilt Dublin and got on with the business of being under British rule? How long would it have taken for a new rebellion to occur? Would the entire island of Ireland still be under British rule today?

Of course it is impossible to know. History is written by the victors and those who even today proclaim the rebellion as an illegal and immoral act of madness are drowned out, their opinions trumped by the eventual results of the Rising.

The sacrifice made by the men and women of 1916 did indeed have profound consequences for every inhabitant of this island, and for every person who claims Irish heritage.

1916 will see a full series of events to commemorate the Rising, with plenty of comparisons between the motivations of those brave leaders and the leaders that we elect today.

The Economy

Perhaps you may have heard already? Ireland is back! Well, sort of.

Numbers rarely lie and there are numbers aplenty to shore up anecdotal evidence of a recovery in the Irish economy.

Unemployment is down from a 2012 peak of over 15% to 8.8%. The OECD has predicted that Irish GDP in 2016 will be over 4.1%, well ahead of the European average. Applications for planning permission for building projects are well up, new car sales are well up, strikes by workers are down and consumer confidence has improved greatly.

Irish GDP 2016

All good news.

Unless you conclude that the main reason the economy is recovering is because of the huge decline in the value of the Euro currency relative to the US dollar (greatly helping exports), and other currencies.

Or perhaps you conclude that the reduction in the cost of Oil (a major US and world economic factor) has helped the currency situation for Ireland.

Or perhaps you conclude that the only reason unemployment has dropped is because so many of the current generation have emigrated to America, Canada, Australia or beyond.

Or perhaps you consider the major threats to the Irish economy. An exit by the UK from the European Union (to be voted on later this year) would have major consequences for Ireland with no consensus on just what the cost might be. Massive immigration by EU nationals and non-EU refugees could cause a hugely expensive welfare system and an already creaking health care system to collapse.

Or perhaps you want to ignore the above and party like it is ‘Celtic Tiger’ Ireland of 1999?

We all know how that turned out.

Politics

Fine Gael enter the 1916 General Election year with the expectation of being returned to power. Rewarded by the Irish electorate for saving the country.

At least that is how Enda Kenny and his colleagues would like to view the situation.

Irish General Election 2016

On the one hand the Fine Gael leadership continue to berate their rivals Fianna Fail for introducing policies that they claim wrecked the economy.

On the other hand these same politicians continue to implement and expand those exact same policies, hoping against hope that the Irish electorate either wont notice or wont care. All that the average punter cares about, they will reason, is money in their back pocket.

They may well be right. If recent history is anything to go by then it is clear that the Irish voter is a lot less complicated than is often assumed.

Or perhaps that philosophy of self-interest will be further demonstrated by Irish voters who could easily cause electoral mayhem by electing a whole new raft of independent ‘local-issue’ T.D.’s (members of the Irish parliament).

Truly the upcoming election is very difficult to predict.

But surely Fine Gael will be leading the next Government. It would be a sensation if they were not.

Fianna Fail hope to recover lost ground but can have no real expectation of actually being in Government after the votes are counted. Although they can hope.

Sinn Fein continue to poll well but are utterly hamstrung by their violent IRA history and connections.

The Socialist left (including the Socialist Party, People Before Profit, and a whole raft of left-wing parties) fully expect to pummel the Labour Party who were supposed to be the guardians against excessive austerity. The Labour Party is facing a severe beating.

And what of the right-wing parties you might ask?

Well you can ask. But Ireland does not have any. Not really.

Not in the liberal-hating, abortion-denying, homophobic, xenophobic, gun-toting way of being a right-wing Party. And perhaps that is a good thing. Or perhaps not.

Surely every national discourse needs some degree of balance. Some lunatic fringe that exists if only to show how clever we all are to congregate in the middle ground.

And if not a lunatic fringe then at least a well-reasoned opinion that we can either agree or disagree with. The lack of a substantial right-wing party in Ireland that actually endures is one of the mysteries of Irish political history.

So with the 1916 Anniversary events soon to be exploited for political gain by any and all-comers it truly is business as usual in ‘Ireland of the self-interest’.

Social Changes in Ireland

Of course 2015 was the year that Ireland passed the ‘same-sex marriage’ referendum. The vote was carried by 62% in favor to nearly 38% against.
Regardless of your view on this issue it is clear that there have been unintended consequences of the vote and they have nothing to do with gay marriage.

Gay Marriage Referendum 2015

Perhaps the greatest problem with the outcome of the referendum has been the incredibly excessive smugness being demonstrated by certain sections of the Irish media who continue to proclaim the result as a victory for the entire nation. Of course, in their universe the outcome of the referendum is a big victory as they campaigned in collusion with the national print and broadcast media in favor of the vote being carried. But a victory for the entire country?

By the same logic the 1983 Abortion referendum that constitutionally banned abortion in Ireland (62% to 38%) was a victory for the entire country.

By the same logic the 2013 referendum to retain the parasitic and useless Seanad (lower house of parliament) was a victory for the entire country.

By the same logic the 2013 referendum to not lower the minimum age for the Presidency of Ireland from 35 to 21 years was a victory for the entire country.

Clearly many Irish writers and commentators are oblivious to the fact that every third voter who bothered to vote in the Gay marriage referendum was actually opposed to the introduction of the new laws.

Bigots and Homophobes, every last one!

The ease with which the concerns of the near 38% who opposed the referendum have been dismissed as belonging not just to another era of old Ireland but as being out of touch, bigoted, uninformed, unintelligent, backward, (insert demeaning word here), is truly astonishing.

Smugness is never an attractive quality in a person or group of people and yet smugness, condescension and disdain remain the constant theme of the discourse among most commentators since the gay marriage vote was passed.

The result is indeed a great triumph for those who support gay marriage (62%). For the 38% who opposed the measure (what were their reasons again?) the referendum result did not just change the Irish Constitution but also, apparently, has left them voiceless and abandoned by the well-funded and yet conceited, self-satisfied and egotistical liberal commentariat.

Ireland and Europe

The conversation in Europe will always be dominated by the economy but there are two other major issues now exercising European minds.

The massive influx of refugees into Eastern Europe and from there to Germany and Sweden in particular are causes for massive concern.

It is hard to understand just what the German (and the hence the EU) policy on immigration actually is.

By opening the doors to mostly Syrian citizens the Germans are risking more than the European economy. The terrorist attacks in Paris offer right-wing politicians a direct line between immigration and lawlessness. Rightly or wrongly they can point to a liberal immigration regime as one that will facilitate terrorism. On an economic level the policy will cause unemployment, they will argue, and on a social level it will create ghettos.

And that is not to diminish the genuine willingness and desire to help the poorest people from Syria, Africa and beyond who are exploited by soulless gangsters and military dictators.

In Ireland people want to help. They just dont want to be made a fool of. To have their own country subsumed by a culture from beyond their borders and all in the name of political correctness is liberalism gone wild.

Perhaps the feeling is the same in your country?

EU Issues 2016

The other big issue facing Europe this year is ‘the Brexit’. The potential for the UK to leave the European Union is one that could have enormous consequences for Ireland and may even necessitate the reintroduction of the border along the six partitioned Counties in Ulster, according to Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

But as happened when the Scots were offered the chance to leave the UK but refused, it is likely that all manner of concessions will be thrown at the UK public. That carrot will quickly be followed by the stick with fear-mongering about massive financial costs being highlighted by the pro-European machine that is determined to keep the UK within the Union.

Most bookmakers have the odds of a Brexit at about 2 to 1 (or 1 occurrence of a Brexit every 3 opportunities). So they clearly think the referendum will be defeated.

Still though. You never know.

Culture

It is easy to look back on the Ireland of 1916 and regard it as the golden age of Irish literature. William Butler Yeats, Oliver St. John Gogarty, James Stephens, James Joyce and John Millington Synge were among the world-famous Irish writers of that era, the early part of the century. A wonderful golden era.

But wait! Ireland of 2016 is experiencing a new writing revolution!

Iris Murdoch, Roddy Doyle, John Banville, Anne Enright have all won the Mann Booker Prize with Seamus Heaney being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. These famous writers are the tip of the iceberg! Irish writing has rarely been more popular than it is today and for good reason with countless wonderful voices not named here producing truly memorable writing.

Saoirse Ronan

In the sporting realm Katie Taylor continues to dominate the Irish landscape while in team sports Irish soccer is on the way back with qualification for the European championships in France secured.

On the big screen Saoirse Ronan is getting rave reviews for her performance in ‘Brooklyn’ while Michael Fassbender, Colm Farrell, Liam Neeson, Gabriel Byrne, Cillian Murphy, Brendan Gleeson and Aidan Gillen are among the fine actors demonstrating that the Irish acting scene is in a very fine place.

Conclusion: The State of the Irish Nation in 2016

A century after the Easter Rising Ireland is still trying to find its true identity. Still searching for it.

The Irish of 2016 are as confusing a mix as any Irish generation that has gone before.

But perhaps just a bit too comfortable at times.

And perhaps just a bit too smug.

But after the humiliation of the last decade those that have written off the Irish had better get ready to start eating their words.

14 Year Old Waterford Boy Was The Youngest Solider Killed In World War 1

Irish in World War One

During the 1970′s and 1980′s in Ireland the annual remembrance of those tens of thousands of Irish who gave their lives in the Great War was met with a kind of muted national indifference.

Certainly there was laying of wreaths and some elderly people would wear a poppy (before the poppy symbolism was hijacked by the British establishment in an effort to promote their own particular brand of nationalism).

But once the brief RTE television news report had been played the Irish people continued on without much acknowledgement of the anniversary, with younger people especially indifferent to what seemed like a quaint pre-independence ritual.

After all, the ‘real’ heroes of the Irish republic were the men of 1916, Pearse and Connolly, the men and women who had fought the War of Independence and the subsequent Civil War, deValera and Collins, plunging Ireland into a scarring divide that would hold the economically bankrupt country back for generations to come.

The Civil War divide still remains in Ireland, but it is very much on its last knees. At last a left-wing Labour movement has emerged (although not necessarily via the Labour Party). Incredibly that may even necessitate a union of the two former political enemies. Even twenty years ago this would have seemed like a fanciful proposition. It was just impossible to conceive that Fianna Fail and Fine Gael would form a coalition together. But now the electoral arithmetic makes that outcome a very real possibility.

What of the 50,000 who perished in the war? What is their legacy following the march of time.

First World War Recruiting Poster from Ireland

Finally it seems that their sacrifice is being realized. It was in 1966 that Sean Lemass, the Irish Taoiseach who is credited with dragging the country into the developed economic world remarked:

‘In later years, it was common – and I also was guilty in this respect – to question the motives of those men who joined the new British armies formed at the outbreak of the war, but it must, in their honour and in fairness to their memory, be said that they were motivated by the highest purpose, and died in their tens of thousands in Flanders believing they were giving their lives in the cause of human liberty everywhere, not excluding Ireland.’

It would be nearly a half century though before an admiration, or at least an acknowledgement, of those Irish troops who joined the British army could co-exist with a similar admiration (even worship in many cases) of those men and women who had fought in the cause of Irish freedom in the ruins of the GPO on Easter Sunday in 1916, or in the fields of Ireland against the Black and Tans in 1921.

Why did they do it? Why did the Irish volunteer for the British Army?

The motivation of soldiers in any age, including today, who are often impervious to any criticism, such is the level of bombast in certain places, is rarely easy to grasp.

Many initially volunteered for the money. This was the Ireland of ‘Strumpet City’ and ‘The Lockout’. Jobs were very hard to find and when found, paid poorly. Poverty, especially in the main Irish cities of Dublin and Cork was extraordinary, even by modern day standards.

Today there are various definitions of poverty, the most often used in Ireland is that anyone with an income of 60% of the average national wage is ‘in poverty’. In the decade leading up to the great war such a definition would have been much more relevant. In modern Ireland the lack of a TV satellite dish is regarded as a symbol of poverty. Everything is relative.

Most however, joined to represent their country and to fight for freedom. When the all but forgotten Irish nationalist John Redmond encouraged and even demanded that his Irish followers enlist in the British army to fight the German menace he did so in the hope that the service of the Irish would be remembered and rewarded. It is easy to look back now and lament at how naive he must have been.

Francis Ledwidge was an Irish volunteer who was to die in preparation of the Third battle of Ypres in 1917:

‘I joined the British Army because she stood between Ireland and an enemy of civilisation and I would not have her say that she defended us while we did nothing but pass resolutions.’

John Condon - the Boy Soldier

The stage was set in Ireland for another dramatic failure, as that what the Easter Rising was from a military standing. But the British over-reacted, executed the Irish rebel leaders. Their martyrdom ensured that the die was cast and the Irish journey to independence was unstoppable.

What might those Irish trapped in the blood-filled trenches of Belgium and France have thought now?

Francis Ledwidge again:

‘If someone were to tell me now that the Germans were coming in over our back wall, I wouldn’t lift a finger to stop them. They could come!’

Poelcapelle Cemetery in Flanders is the final resting place of Private John Condon who hailed from Waterford and was known as the ‘Boy Soldier’. He had worked as a bottler in Sullivan’s Bottling Stores in Waterford before, aged 13 years, he lied his way into the British army. He is recorded as the youngest military casualty of the first World War.

He died at the second battle of Ypres in May 1915, killed in action at Bellevarde Ridge on a day when ‘a strange greenish mist crept across from the enemy position, to attack the eyes and throat and burn out the lungs.’

So many Irish soldiers returned to their country with damage to their lungs from the poison they had breathed, many to suffer for decades with their injuries.

As many as 206,000 Irish soldiers served in the British army during the first world war.

Over 50,000 perished.

On this Remembrance Day nearly a century later should we not ask: Is Private John Condon any less of a martyr in the cause of Irish freedom than Pearse or Connolly?

by Michael Green
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Looted Irish Treasure Recovered in Britain

A hoard of treasure including medieval silver coins, some military items and a Bronze-Age axe and spear-head that were looted from Ireland have been recovered and returned to the National Museum of Ireland.



The use of metal detectors in Ireland requires a licence. It is suspected that several people searched for and found the historical treasures between 2009 and 2012 and removed them illegally. Some 899 items were removed from the County Tipperary area, a location that was already in the news this year for the discovery of a 17th Century Pot of Gold Found in the Foundations of an Irish Pub. Some of the newly recovered coins date to the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The bronze spear-head dates to between the years 1400 and 900 B.C. – some three millenia ago!

Doctor Kelly is the keeper of antiquities at the National Museum of Ireland:
The most striking part is probably the coin hoard. It includes 28 medieval coins that were all found together as well as 30 silver coins that are also medieval. There are coins dating from the reign of King John to Elizabeth I and from Georgian and Victorian times all of which suggests a range of finds were made.

The British Museum are believed to have reported internet messages about the illegal theft of the items to their Irish counterparts. With the assistance of the Norfolk Constabulary in the UK parts of the vast hoard were recovered and returned to Ireland.

Seamus Lynam is the Acting Director of the National Museum:
The recovery underlines the continuing threat posed to the portable archaeological heritage of Ireland by metal detectorists. Many items similar to those recovered have been offered for sale in recent times over the internet and are the subject of on-going investigations. The recovery shows the determination of the National Museum, the Gardaí and other State bodies to protect the nation’s heritage and demonstrates the ability to recover important heritage objects even when they have been illegally removed from the jurisdiction.

This episode highlights the difficulties faced by not just Irish but all National Museums in preserving their nations heritage. Without the assistance of the British Museum it is unlikely that the 899 items would ever have been returned to Ireland, where they can be studied and viewed by tens of thousands of people.

by Michael Green
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Saint Patrick’s Day Traditions

The Wearing of the Green

The tradition of wearing Shamrock to celebrate Saint Patrick seems to date from the seventeenth or eighteenth century. This was a very turbulent time in Irish history. The suppression of the Gaelic way of life by the ruling British invaders resulted in many aspects of the Catholic religion in Ireland being forced underground. Strict laws were enforced which prevented the Catholic population from attending schools so ‘hedge-schools’ were operated in secret.

Shamrocks - one of the symbols of Ireland

These were schools run outdoors in secluded places (sometimes literally ‘under a hedge!). The teaching of religion was also forbidden so it is only to be expected that teachers would use naturally available resources to inform their pupils. Thus the Shamrock plant was used to illustrate the message of the Christian Holy Trinity.

Saint Patrick was credited with using the Shamrock in such a manner so the wearing of the Shamrock by the oppressed Catholic population became a means of demonstrating their defiance to the ruling British class. It also imbued a sense of kinship among the native Gaelic people, differentiating them from their oppressors.

Wearing a clump of Shamrock is now a firmly established tradition throughout the world to celebrate not just Saint Patrick but Ireland itself. The Shamrock symbol is widely used by businesses seeking to associate with Ireland and, along with the Harp, is perhaps the single most recognisable symbol of Ireland. It is a shame though that the Shamrock is not a blue plant as the color originally associated with Saint Patrick was blue!

Saint Patricks’s Day Parade

Saint Patrick’s Day is unique in that it is celebrated worldwide. It is most unusual that a country has such an international celebration and is really evidence of the generational effects of emigration that has afflicted Ireland for centuries. After the 1845 to 1849 Irish Famine emigration soared with as many as a million native Irish leaving their homes in the decades after the famine to settle in places like Boston, New York, Newfoundland, Perth, Sydney and beyond. The US Census Bureau now reports that 34 Million US Citizens claim Irish descent. Most emigrants like to commemorate their heritage and thus the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade came into being.

Saint Patrick's Day Parade, New York, 1909

The earliest record of a Saint Patrick’s Day Parade was in the year 1762 when Irish soldiers serving in the British Army held a Parade in New York City. Earlier records suggest that the day was celebrated by the Irish in Ireland as early as the ninth and tenth centuries.

Again, this was a very difficult time in Irish history with Viking raiders terrorizing the native Gaelic population. It is thus no surprise then that in times of strife the local population would turn to religion and to a commemoration of their own heritage and individuality – a practice that has been repeated by populations of troubled places since the dawn of time. The New York Parade is now the longest running civilian Parade in the world with as many as three Million spectators watching the Parade of over 150,000 participants.

Saint Patrick's Day Parade, Dublin

The first official Parade in Ireland was in 1931. The 1901 law that copper-fastened March 17th as an Irish national holiday was later amended to insist that public houses close down on the day. This restriction was later lifted in the 1970′s. In the mid 1990′s the Irish Government really started to promote the event when it changed from a single day’s Parade into a 5-day festival attracting as many as a million visitors into the country. Parades are now held in just about every major city in the world with the biggest in several US cities reaching epic proportions.

Chicago River on Saint Patrick's Day

Greening of Rivers and Buildings

The use of the color green reached new heights (or plunged new depths!) when in 1962 the city of Chicago decided to dye part of the Chicago River green. Since then the campaign to have just about every possible landmark turned green for the day has taken off in earnest and in recent years has included the Irish Parliament building, the Sydney Opera House, the Empire State Building, Niagara Falls and even the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt!

A Pint of Plain

The Irish association with drinking is well known and not always positive. Fortunately there are plenty of examples of the appropriate use of alcohol and Saint Patrick’s Day is one of them. It is a widely held tradition in Ireland that beer or whiskey can be taken on Saint Patrick’s Day although native Irish pub-goers can only look on aghast as visitors top the heads of their creamy pint of Guinness with a green Shamrock. Sacrilege! It is estimated that as many as 13 Million pints of Guinness are consumed on Saint Patrick’s Day, up from the usual 5.5 Million per day!

Saint Patrick's Day Girl

Dressing Up

The tradition of dressing up in Irish outfits is not just confined to participants in Parades. Jovial creatures of Irish origin the world over use the opportunity of Saint Patrick’s Day to dress up as Leprechaun or even as Saint Patrick himself. Kids love to wear the big green, white and orange hats and receive sweets thrown to them by similarly clad operators of the various Parade floats.

The Saint Patrick’s Day Dinner

Corned beef and cabbage is as traditional and Irish meal as you will ever find and it is often hauled out for Saint Patrick’s Day. Traditional Irish music in the background and a family gathering are other Irish Saint Patrick’s Day traditions that have been going on for centuries.

by Michael Green
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Ned Kelly, Irish-Australian Outlaw Finally Laid to Rest

The infamous Irish bushranger Ned Kelly has been buried in an unmarked Australian grave some 132 years after his death. Despite being hanged in 1880 it was not until 2011 when DNA evidence from one of his living relatives was matched against bones and remains found in a derelict Melbourne Jail that any funeral could take place.

For a time there was a legal wrangle over the ownership of the remains but in the end his descendants won the right to give him the Catholic burial he is said to have wanted. A crowd of over 500 people turned up to witness the final journey for the Australian legend, despite pleas for privacy from the Kelly family.

Opinion on the legacy of Ned Kelly has always been divided. His crimes in the 1800′s include various armed robberies and murders. He was eventually hanged after his gang was convicted of killing three police officers who were pursuing the renegades. While police authorities have always maintained that Ned Kelly was merely a criminal it is without question that he was also a symbol of rebellion by the poorer particularly Irish immigrants against the Anglo-Australian authorities who ruled in nineteenth century Australia.

The final showdown took place at Glenrowan on 28th June 1880. Kelly wore his home-made metal armour (an image that has become synonymous with him) but was captured and put on trial. He had earlier written an 8000 word letter explaining how circumstances had forced him into a life of crime by situations over which he had no control. The letter was later used against him in court. Ned Kelly was hanged in November 1880. His last words were ‘Such is life’.

Edited by Michael Green
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Origin of the ‘Black Irish’

There are a number of theories about the origin of the term ‘Black Irish’. Almost all were intended as a form of insult or as a means of differentiating one particular group from another.

The theories regarding the origin of the phrase ‘Black Irish’ include:

1. Descendants of Viking and Norman invaders who eventually settled in Ireland may have been referred to as ‘Black Irish’. This is more likely because of the dark intentions of the invaders rather than their physical appearance.

2. One of the consequences of the disastrous ‘Spanish Armada’ in the year 1588 was that groups of Spanish sailors were literally washed up onto the western shores of Ireland. In cases where these darker-skinned foreigners integrated into Irish society it is possible that their offspring were referred to as ‘Black Irish’.

3. Over a million of the poorest Irish people emigrated in the 1840′s and 1850′s in the wake of the great famine in Ireland. The height of the famine was the year 1847 – known as ‘Black 47′. The potato blight that savaged the countryside turned the potatoes black. It is possible that the arrival of the thousands of desperate emigrants into America, Canada Australia and beyond resulted in their being labelled as ‘Black Irish’, trying as they did to escape the black death they left behind.



4. Irish Emigrants to the West Indies and their families have often been referred to as ‘Black Irish’.

5. Catholics in Ulster referred to the immigrant Protestants as ‘Black Irish’.

A further examination of this history of the Black Irish can be found at:
http://www.ireland-information.com/articles/blackirish.htm

Edited by Michael Green
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Daniel O’Connell – The Life and Times of The Liberator 1775 – 1847

By Anthony Lynott

Daniel O’Connell, affectionately known as The Liberator or The Emancipator was an Irish political activist. His activism and many accomplishments spanned a period of almost 50 years beginning in the latter part of the 18th century. He would be mostly known for his campaign for, and achievement of, Catholic Emancipation, followed by his unsuccessful campaign for the repeal of the Act of Union that formed the Union of Great Britain and Ireland.

O’Connell was born August 6, 1775 at Carhen near Cahirciveen, County Kerry to Morgan and Catherine O’Connell of Derrynane. At one time a wealthy landed family, the O’Connell’s could trace their chieftain roots back to the 14th century. Named after his Uncle Daniel he came into the world of the Protestant Ascendancy where the political, economic, and social domination of Ireland was held by a minority of large landowners, Protestant clergy and professionals that were mostly members of the State Churches of Ireland and England. Growing up, O’Connell as a Catholic would not enjoy the political and social privileges of the Ascendancy, which excluded Roman Catholics as well as other non-conforming religions. Instead he was raised amongst the Irish peasantry, learning the Irish language and seeing first-hand the hardships under which most of the peasantry laboured. His ability to speak Irish, along with his interest in the traditional Kerry culture of Irish song and story, as well as his understanding of how the rural mind worked would shape his personality and core beliefs going forward.

At the time of Daniel’s birth his Uncle Maurice, thirteen years older than his brother Morgan, had authority over his siblings as was custom at the time. This was to have a significant impact on the development of young Daniel, starting off with Maurice’s position, along with Morgan’s, that Daniel should be fostered out in accordance with Gaelic tradition. The notion of fosterage was to ensure that Daniel would gain a solid understanding of the peasantry, both with their language and their way of life. So, young Daniel was fostered out in infancy to the Cahill family, the family of Morgan’s head Cowman, returning to his birth parents and his four siblings (eventually growing to nine) at the age of five. The Cahill’s lived only five miles from the O’Connell’s, and during this period Daniel spoke only Irish and, by all accounts, formed a strong bond with his foster parents while retaining a strong attachment to his birth parents.

While still in his childhood Daniel was adopted, along with his brother, by his childless uncle Maurice, who lived at Derrynane House in nearby Caherdaniel, County Kerry. This arrangement would bode well for Daniel given Maurice’s established wealth that would provide Daniel with considerable opportunities that otherwise would not be available. He would spend much of his early life with Maurice, starting on the road of matriculation at a small boarding school near Cork. He would later attend Saint-Omer (1791–1792) and Douai (1792–1793), reportedly two of the best Catholic schools in France. During this period O’Connell was exposed to the French Revolution and its violent radical social and political upheaval, which left him with a revulsion of violence for political pursuits. In 1794 O’Connell enrolled in Lincoln’s Inn, London to study law (Irishmen who wished to practice as barristers were required to attend the Inns of Court in London).

Initially, his studies were concentrated on the legal and political history of Ireland, expanding to the philosophers of Voltaire and Rousseau, and the works of Godwin, Smith, and Bentham; he became painfully aware of the prevailing repression of the populace by the government and its goal to maintain the Ascendancy of a privileged and, oftentimes, corrupt minority, all shaping O’Connell’s own radical (for the times) philosophy as a Nationalist. Continuing his studies two years later, he transferred to the King’s Inns, Dublin, the institution which controls the entry of barristers-at-law into the justice system of Ireland; he was subsequently called to the bar in 1798.

O’Connell accomplished much in his relatively short lifetime. However, the first ten years or so of his career were fairly uneventful where he focused on his private law practice; it was also during this period that he secretly married his cousin Mary, by all accounts a good marriage that produced twelve children. His career started to expand into politics with his public opposition to the Act of Union in 1800. Nevertheless, his primary activities were focused on Catholic Emancipation, advancing the movement to repeal the legislation disenfranchising most Catholics. He would regularly attend the meetings of the Catholic Board that he established, applying and infusing his famous energy into its proceedings, and by 1810 he would become the most trusted and powerful of the Catholic leaders. And it was during his time on the Board that one noted event happened that endeared him further with the people of Ireland: The Dublin Corporation (city council), supporter of the Protestant ascendancy, was memorably described by O’Connell in a public speech in 1815 as a “beggarly corporation”. The aldermen and councillors were enraged and, finding that O’Connell would not apologize, a member of the Corporation, John D’Esterre, challenged O’Connell to a duel. D’Esterre was an accomplished duellist, and the hope was that if O’Connell attempted to fight there would be an end to his career. To the surprise of all O’Connell won the duel, but to his final days he never missed an opportunity of assisting the D’Esterre family.

Dublin Castle, the seat of British power in Ireland, afraid of the growing profile of the Catholic Board, and under the auspices of the Convention act of 1793, arrested and brought to trial some of the Catholic Board’s leaders. O’Connell successfully defended the accused and obtained an acquittal. In time the Board was dissolved, replaced by the Catholic Association co-founded by O’Connell in 1823. The mission of the Association was to achieve Catholic Emancipation, and by 1825 it had organized itself throughout most of the island as a formidable political movement. In most districts there was a branch of the Catholic Association, where local grievances were addressed, and subscriptions (aka rents) collected and sent to the Dublin headquarters. The subscriptions facilitated the growth of a significant treasury that would finance the Association’s many activities. Growing alarmed at the increasing power of the Association, in 1825 the Government passed a bill suppressing it. But O’Connell simply reconstituted the Association and the work continued. In 1826 the Association successfully fielded a Westminster candidate (a Protestant Emancipationist) for Waterford who defeated a powerful member of the Ascendancy (a significant electoral test). The Association would go on to achieve similar victories in Counties Monaghan, Westmeath, Cavan and Louth.

Similarly, in 1828 a by-election was called in Co. Clare…….O’Connell contested the seat himself (the first Catholic to seek office in Westminster) and achieved a decisive victory for the Catholic cause. However, going on to Westminster to take his seat, and obliged as a Catholic to refuse to take the required Oath of Supremacy, he was refused entry. Fearing a serious backlash though, the British Government passed the Roman Catholic Relief Act (1829) which granted Catholic Emancipation. Catholics were now to be admitted to parliament and to public offices, but the Ascendancy still controlled Dublin castle, and Catholics were still kept out of most public positions. The Act, in fact, meant very little to the ordinary peasantry but it was still a major step forward in Irish history as Catholic candidates could be elected to represent their own constituents. This enabled O’Connell to take his seat as representative for Kerry in 1830.

O’Connell quickly established himself as Ireland’s unequalled political leader in the House of Commons, becoming leader of the Irish Members of Parliament. Noting that historian Roy Foster has termed his energy as protean, O’Connell pursued his goals with a ferocious tenacity. He was active in the campaigns for parliamentary, legal, and prison reform, electoral reform and the secret ballot, free trade, the abolition of slavery and Jewish emancipation. But his prime objective was now the Repeal of the Act of Union. This was to be facilitated through The National Association of Ireland, known as the Repeal Association. The Association included many Young Irelanders, a parallel political movement who, unlike O’Connell, believed that independence could be won only by use of force. O’Connell now began to organise “monster meetings” throughout the country. The first was at Trim, Co. Meath which attracted a crowd of over 100,000, later increasing to crowds of more than 750,000 when people gathered on the hill of Tara to hear his eloquent oratory. The government became alarmed at the strength of the Repeal Movement and a monster meeting which O’Connell had planned for 8 October 1843 in Clontarf, Dublin was banned. Huge crowds were already on their way when O’Connell called off the meeting to avoid the risk of violence and bloodshed. Nevertheless, he was charged with conspiracy, arrested and sentenced to a year in jail and a fine of £2,000.

O’Connell was released after serving three months in prison, much weakened physically by his ordeal. While he continued with his campaign for repeal it was clear that the tactics that had won emancipation had failed with his Repeal movement. O’Connell, now seventy and in ill health, no longer had a viable plan for future action. Moreover, morale was waning in the Repeal Association and the Young Irelanders withdrew. Concluding that he had failed with his goal, O’Connell gave up his fight for repeal. In 1847 he made his last speech in Parliament, pleading in his most passionate manner for aid so that his people would not perish from the great famine that was now in its second year. i

It is the case that O’Connell established the template of agitation and the pursuit of political goals through constitutional means as opposed to violent means, keeping strictly within the law. This is an accomplishment in itself given his singular ability to mobilize monster meetings of huge crowds that would undoubtedly have followed O’Connell on a violent path if asked to do so. Future major world political leaders would follow his example.

Still in his seventieth year O’Connell was advised to move to a warmer climate to repair his ailing health. Planning on a pilgrimage to Rome he stopped off in Paris where he was greeted by a large crowd of radicals who regarded him as the “most successful champion of liberty and democracy in Europe”. He did not complete his journey to Rome though; he died in Genoa on 15 May 1847. As he had requested, O’Connell’s heart was buried in the Irish College in Rome and his body was interred in Glasnevin cemetery in Dublin on 5 August 1847.

MAJOR LIFE EVENTS:
6 August 1775: Born in Cahirciveen, County Kerry
19 May 1798: Called to the Irish Bar
13 January 1800: Speech delivered opposing Act of Union
1811: Catholic Board established
1814: Catholic Board dissolved
1 February 1815: Duel with D’Esterre
1821: Makes emancipation presentation to George IV
13 May 1823: Establishes the Catholic Association
February 1823: Inherits Derrynane House
5 July 1828: Wins Clare seat for MP
13 April 1829: Catholic Emancipation Act passes
1 November 1841: Becomes first Catholic Lord Mayor of Dublin
15 August 1843: Tara ‘Monster’ meeting
7 October 1843: Clontarf ‘Monster’ meeting banned
30 May 1844: Imprisoned
5 September 1844: Released from prison
8 February 1847: Last speech in the House of Commons
15 May 1847: Dies in Genoa, Italy

Bibliography
Christine Kineady. UCC: Multitext Project in Irish History / Emancipation, Famine & Religion: Ireland under the Union
Clare County Library. ‘Clare People: Daniel O’Connell (1775- 1847).’ Clare County Library (n.d.): 1 – 3.
Foster, R. F. Modern Ireland 1600 – 1972. London: Penguin, 1988.
Jackson, Alvin. Ireland 1798 – 1998. West Sussex – UK: John Wiley & Sons Ltd., 1999.
Robert Dunlap, M.A. Daniel O’Connell. New York: Fred DeFau & Company, 1899. Electronic Book.
The Warrington Project / The Institute of Irish Studies, The University of Liverpool. ‘Catholic Emancipation & the role of Daniel O’Connell.’ Understanding Anglo-Irish relations (n.d.): 18.