Daniel O’Connell (1775-1847) was an Irish Catholic lawyer who was deeply involved in the struggle for peaceful Irish independence. Often nicknamed “The Liberator”, he distinguished himself many times in the nationalist struggle, and tried to end social and religious divisions by repealing the anti-Catholic laws of the time. His action was such that the main avenue in Dublin today bears his name: “O’Connell Street”.
Daniel O’Connell was born on August 6, 1775 to a wealthy family. Under the tutelage of his uncle, Maurice O’Connell, Daniel O’Connell completed brilliant studies and decided to go into law. At a very young age, he became interested in politics and the discrimination suffered by the Irish Catholic class.
In 1798, O’Connell officially became a barrister. In those troubled times, Daniel O’Connell was convinced that there was a non-violent way to achieve Irish independence and the emancipation of Catholics.
He then wants to enter the Irish political arena, in order to act through the British criminal justice system to win his case. And this without having to resort to violence.
In 1810, he created the Catholic Association, an organization designed to raise public awareness of the Catholic cause. In order to function, Daniel O’Connell only asked his members for a monthly fee of 1 penny, which attracted countless members and made the association a success. With the funds collected, the association worked to promote emancipation and helped the poorest people.
From that time on, Daniel O’Connell was an influential politician, with great popularity in the Catholic community. Wishing not to stop there, he ran for the House of Commons, the seat of the County of Clare. He won the vote hands down, but faced a major challenge. To enter the House of Commons, he had to swear an oath of allegiance to George IV, King of England and Supreme Head of the Anglican Church. Faced with such a request, Daniel O’Connell categorically refused to take the oath, and therefore did not enter the House of Commons.
It was then that the Duke of Wellington (Prime Minister) and Robert Peel (Home Secretary), asked the King of England to make an exception, and to accept O’Connell, in order not to aggravate the delicate situation in Ireland, and to encourage a new rebellion. In fact, George IV agreed to admit to the House any member of the Catholic Christian denomination, atheist or otherwise. The Emancipation Act was passed in 1829, and was widely criticized by its critics. O’Connell, on the other hand, was praised and greeted by the entire Catholic community.
In 1841, O’Connell was elected Dublin’s first Catholic mayor. A first that is not to everyone’s taste. He tried to abolish the tithe, a kind of tax paid by the workers, which was then given to the church. He is successful in doing so.
He then attacked the Act of Union, a text dating from 1800 which set out the various modalities linking Ireland to Great Britain. He then created the Repeal Association, which called for the independence of Ireland and the conversion of Queen Victoria as Queen of Ireland. In order to defend this idea, he went on a political tour throughout Ireland in 1844 to raise awareness of his cause. Nevertheless, O’Connell’s rallies were of a rare magnitude, and greatly disturbed the British government, which decided to prohibit such gatherings. Still convinced that the pacifist way is the best option, O’Connell decides to cancel the last meetings, but is imprisoned anyway.
Following his imprisonment, his association gradually disintegrated, and the Irish no longer followed him. Many of them decide to fight in a violent way.
When Daniel O’Connell is released from prison, he is found very tired and thinner. He died a few months later, in 1847, at the age of 71, of a cardiovascular disease. He was then in Italy on a religious pilgrimage. His head was buried in Rome, while the rest of his body was buried in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin. In homage, the main avenue in Dublin was renamed “O’Connell Street” in the 20th century. There is a statue of him there, as well as that of Charles Stewart Parnell, another politician who served the same interests as Daniel O’Connell.