Daniel O’Connell, the Last King of Ireland – Chapter 7, Daniel O’Connell – Emancipation to Doneraile.

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1828 – 1830.

Charles Bianconi’s record continues -

Wellington was now Prime Minister. Daniel was the newly elected Member for Clare, albeit a Member who could not take his seat. And Peel was Home Secretary again. Back in Dublin, Daniel expanded on the theme of his speech in Ennis, this time addressing the politicians rather than the voters:

“I say now, all, all, shall be pardoned, forgiven, forgotten, upon giving us Emancipation, unconditional, unqualified, free, and unshackled. What I now say I wish to reach England, and I ask, What is to be done with Ireland? What is to be done with the Catholics? They must either crush us or conciliate us. There is no going on as we are; there is nothing so dangerous as going on as we are. The time for concession has now passed.”

Spoken like a King? The de facto ruler of Ireland? It may not often be realised that of the 35,000 strong British regular army and police units based in Ireland, perhaps half were Catholic and Irish, including many officers. This fact alone imbued Daniel with an aura of power which he himself did not overtly aspire to. One Irish NCO was heard to say,

“There are two ways of firing, at a man or over a man. And if we were called out against O’Connell and our country, I think we should know the difference.”

But that aside, wherever Daniel went, he was hailed as a hero, a conquering hero, the victor of Clare. Almost a King. Daniel himself was probably the only man in Ireland who doubted for one moment that he could raise the flag of rebellion if he so wished, and Catholic Ireland would follow him to a man. So when Daniel asked the Lord Lieutenant, the 61 year old Henry Paget, Marquess of Anglesey, for an interview, it was granted immediately by that liberal and enlightened gentleman. Anglesey was a popular Lord Lieutenant with the Catholics, sympathetic and simpatico. He favoured  Emancipation forcefully, and had a distinguished military career as a cavalry officer behind him. When one of the last balls of the Battle of Waterloo took off his leg, he remarked to Wellington who was by him, “By God, sir, I’ve lost my leg!” – to which Wellington replied, “By God, sir, so you have!” According to his aide-de-camp, Thomas Wildman, during the amputation Paget smiled and said, “I have had a pretty long run. I have been a beau these 47 years and it would not be fair to cut the young men out any longer.”

That was his other problem so far as Wellington was concerned, for he had first cuckolded Wellington’s youngest brother Henry, and when the affair had resulted in divorces for both Anglesey and Lady Charlotte, he had married her. That had been twenty years ago now, they had six children, and were to live happily together for another twenty four years when they both died within a year of each other.

So when ‘One leg’, as he was known, met the famous Daniel O’Connell, he too had something of a reputation.  Both sides thought that the meeting went very well, and covered a wide range of subjects. There was a Catholic Priest who had been preaching sedition to which Daniel responded that if the facts were established, Anglesey should not hesitate to “prosecute the priest and to punish him with the utmost severity of the law”. There were the ever present dangers of armed rebellion, which Daniel “assured him was not to be apprehended”. Anglesey advised Daniel not to be so harsh on Wellington, as in his view he had decided already to force an Emancipation Bill through Peel, Parliament and King. Afterwards Anglesey wrote of Daniel,

“He is the vainest of men, and easily taken by a good bait …. I told him he would, of course, be in Parliament, but this, he said, he did not wish. I observed that he must, by his talent, command that or anything else he ambitioned … My firm belief is that O’Connell is perfectly sincere. I should be laughed at for my gullibility, but I repeat that I believe him sincere. That he has a good heart and means well and means indeed always what he says, but that he is volatile and unsteady and so vain that he cannot resist momentary applause.”

In London, Wellington had been becoming more and more concerned about the possibility of civil war in Ireland, Daniel’s repeated affirmations that he would never consider force notwithstanding. And now, with Daniel’s election, he was faced with the threat of up to 100 Catholics being elected and not being able to take their seats. As Daniel had said to Mary before the Clare election, that would remove 100 of his current, Irish Protestant, supporters and create an unacceptable vacuum, quite apart from the public relations aspect.

Peel’s conclusions on Ireland were the same as Daniel’s. He knew Daniel well, of course, and was certain that he would seize the opportunity to create that dreaded vacuum in Westminster. But Wellington was sure he could do a deal for the support of the Catholic lobby, at least for a time, in exchange for a Catholic Emancipation Act. Support which he needed badly in the often hung Parliament. And Wellington was Prime Minister.

Daniel now trod very warily indeed. To rush off to London and try to take his seat without the oath would be to play right into Peel’s hands, and he never considered it, nor did Peel expect him to. What actually happened, Peel did not expect either. He had been considering one last throw of the dice, one last attempt to legislate the Catholic Association out of existence, so paving the way for a continuation of the status quo on parliamentary seats, when that Association dissolved itself. It passed as a last resolution “as the last act of this body we do declare that we are indebted to Daniel O’Connell, beyond all other men, for its original creation and sustainment; and that he is entitled, for the achievement of its freedom, to the everlasting gratitude of Ireland.” For Peel it was more than politics. It was personal. He never forgot Daniel’s epithet “Orange Peel” when first he went to Ireland years ago. He never forgot the Duel which wasn’t. And to add insult upon insult, when he resigned his seat and stood for re-election, hoping for backing from his constituents at Oxford University, he was defeated, and a seat had to be found for him in the ‘rotten borough’ of Westbury. But Peel would rise again.

Prime Minister the Duke of Wellington had made his mind up months ago. Resignation was not an option, as a new General Election now would inevitably lead to most of those staunch loyal Irish Protestant seats being lost. Emancipation it would have to be. The Catholic Relief Act 1829 was passed by the Parliament of the United Kingdom on 24th. March 1829, and received Royal Assent on 13th. April, an assent which Wellington had to threaten to resign to obtain. The King was reported to have said on signing: “Wellington is King of England, O’Connell is King of Ireland, and I am the Dean of Windsor!”. Daniel wrote to Mary:

“…a great and glorious triumph…Whoever thought we should get such a bill from Peel and Wellington? Catholics can be judges, mayors, sheriffs, aldermen, common counselmen, peers of parliament, members of parliament, everything, in short, everything….. Darling, may I say that I contributed to this?” And later “Thus the ascendancy and proud superiority which your neighbours had over you will be at an end the day you receive this letter. And it was your husband who contributed most to this measure. Was it not, sweetest?”

To his friend and associate Edward Dwyer, who had been the effective Manager of the Catholic Association although nominally its Secretary, he wrote: “It is one of the greatest triumphs recorded in history – a bloodless revolution more extensive in operation than any other political change that could have taken place. I say political to contrast with social changes which might break to pieces the framework of society …. This is a good beginning, and now, if I can get Catholics and Protestants to join, something solid and substantial may be done for all.”

And in the countryside in Ireland, on the night when the news that the bill had become law arrived, there were bonfires which blazed on all the mountains and hills, and I well remember the shouting and rejoicings on the road that passed, with hearty cheers given for us gentry, Protestant and we Catholic alike, and even the Protestant clergy!  I specially recollect one man, a local farmer, generally known as Shamus Oge (Young James), being asked by some one in the crowd what emancipation meant. “It means,” said he, “a shilling a day for every man as long as he lives, whatever he does.” The ordinary wages of the labourers were then half that, sixpence a day. Clearly, expectations had arisen which would not be satisfied.

That apart, there was a major clause in the Bill which was to give Daniel a great deal of heartache and some very practical problems in the future. For in the Act was a clause by which the forty shilling freeholders were disenfranchised by the raising of the property qualification for the vote to £10. He had said repeatedly that he would never agree to the loss of the forty shilling freeholders’ voting rights, but in the end he had no option. It was either that or lose the Catholic Emancipation Bill. And, he must have told himself, £10 was not an unreasonable value to set as a voting qualification, given the fact that the values had originally been set in the fifteenth century. After all forty shillings (£2) in 1450 was in terms of land size about the same as £10 was in 1829.

When it had become obvious how the vote was to go, Daniel was faced with perhaps the biggest problem of his career. He was now at a crossroads in his life, and knew it. He fully expected to be called to the Inner Bar, as a KC the following year. He was 55 now, and beginning to feel his age. But he was financially embarrassed. He had missed a number of briefs during the year, and now he was faced with the prospect of having one more house to keep up, in London, and not one less, as he had hoped for a long time now. He doubted he had the stamina to remain on Circuit much longer, and although as a KC that would no longer be necessary, he was not yet a KC. It was an honour, but by no means automatic, for though he was now eligible, the appointment was in the gift of the Crown, and he had misgivings about the Crown’s attitude on the matter. With reason, as it turned out, for the ailing and aged monarch well into his dotage still retained this power of appointment to the Inner Bar, and had set his face against Daniel’s appointment.

The Association and the rent that had funded him thus far was gone, and despite a handsome income from his practice at the bar, he had lived beyond his means and accumulated huge debts. In short, he could not afford to remain in politics without help, and he was damned if he would take the usual route, that of accepting patronage, which would in any case make a nonsense of his whole raison d’être. But his problem was obvious to his friends, and one of them, Pat Fitzpatrick, had hit upon a plan. Patrick Vincent Fitzpatrick to give him his full name, was a fellow barrister, a fellow Catholic, and fast becoming not only one of Daniel’s strongest allies and supporters, but his closest friend. Thus it was that on March 25th., 1829, a huge meeting was called. Viscount Gormanston, the 34 year old Senior Viscount of Ireland and a leading Roman Catholic peer, chaired it. The meeting passed a motion, that:

“The distinguished and valuable services rendered by Daniel O’Connell, Esq., to the cause of civil and religious freedom, have imposed on every Roman Catholic in particular, and on every friend of civil and religious liberty in general, a deep debt of obligation and gratitude which is incumbent on them to discharge.”

A committee of 270 named individuals was proposed to make arrangements for a collection to discharge that obligation, and seven of them ‘of the very first mercantile rank’ were elected treasurers. The work of collection commenced, and £300 was quickly contributed from Cork. The  National Tribute, as it was named, gathered momentum. By the beginning of May, large sums were acknowledged from Tralee, and in Clonmel and Waterford I led the movement and sent £1,000, £711 of it from Waterford. All this was the brain child of Pat Fitzpatrick. Something in the region of £27,000 was raised, sufficient to take care of his pressing debts, and to allow him to take his seat in Parliament.

So Daniel did go to London, to ‘kiss hands’ as the phrase went; to attend upon the king at a reception known as a ‘levée’ and be formally received by the unwilling Monarch. He had hoped to take his seat in the House of Commons at the same time, but found that the Emancipation Act was not retrospective and that since he had been elected before it was passed, he would now have to be elected again. It was technically possible for the requirement to take the old oath to be waived, but the English, having been forced to give way on Emancipation, dug their heels in and refused, and so made an enemy of Daniel who had been so willing to be a friend. He had to go back, resign his seat in Clare, and be re-elected, this time almost unopposed on July 30th., 1829. Eventually, he took his seat in February the following year, 1830, but for the time being he could relax a little. So it was off to Derrynane.

After dinner on their first night back in Kerry, he and Mary sat back and considered the position.

“Well, we’ve won a great victory, dear, but where do we go from here?”

“You started all this, Dan, to open the doors of position to Catholics. You’ve done that. You will certainly be a KC, so you can ease off on work without easing off on income. So surely that’s what you’ll do?”

“True. Although the King will have to die before I’m a KC, but that must be soon. But what then will happen to Ireland? And what will happen to Repeal? And I’m an MP now, for this session at least. God, they make me sick, those stuck up English over in London with their airs and graces and silk handkerchiefs in their sleeves. They really made me eat umble pie over there, you know that? And how in God’s name can we keep a house in London and a house in Dublin and Derrynane?”

“You sound like young Danny, when we were in Southampton! But seriously, you have to make up your mind whether you want to be King of Ireland or Lord Chancellor. The first will be dangerous, the second will be profitable and will accord you the recognition you deserve. What’s umble pie? Or is it Humble?”

“Umble!” laughed Daniel, “With a “U”. It’s a phrase from way back, when the poor lived on gizzards and intestines and other offal left over from the rich man’s kitchen. They were called umbles. And I don’t want to be King of anywhere. But I’m more than ever determined to work for the Repeal of the Union after those humiliating experiences in London.”

He had been forced, quite unnecessarily, into the second Clare election, but more important in his mind was the fact that he had been blackballed when seeking to join the Cisalpine Club, the English Catholic Gentlemen’s club in London.

“By the way, I sent back that Doneraile brief”, said Dan changing the subject. “I’m just too tired. I need to sleep for ever, and swim for miles, and chase the hares and get some fat off those hounds. And myself.”

“That’s good” said Mary. “And you do need the rest. You look drawn. But will they manage without you? You were incensed when you first read the brief.”

“I was, too. But when I read through it again I realised that the prosecution would never stand. They just don’t have a case. A Junior will manage fine”.

So next day he slept and slept, and swam in the chill Atlantic water, and sat down to dinner after an afternoon chasing beagle hounds chasing hares.

Scarcely had they finished eating when, as dusk was falling, a messenger was shown in. Daniel didn’t know him, but from the state of his horse which had seen through the dining room windows, he had come a long way. Cork, possibly. His heart sank.

“Come in, come in, sit down, ye look famished. Your name, Sir, and your business?”

“It’s Willie Burke, your honour, and I’m from the court in Cork.”

“Sal, a jar and some food for Mr. Burke, here, he’s quite done up” he called over his shoulder to the maid. And to Burke, “I wonder can I guess what brings you here so hot foot…the Doneraile case?”

“Ye’re in the right of it, your honour, my brother among the accused. We’ve raised a hundred pound which I have here, your honour, and we are hoping ye’ll come back and defend them. They’ll hang, else.”

“Keep your money, man. But tell me about it”.

“Well, now” said Burke between mouthfuls of stew, “You know of the conspiracy. Not remarkable around Doneraile, their having been Whiteboys active there of late. The man who was accused of being the chief organiser of the conspiracy was a wealthy old farmer of seventy, John Daniel Leary. He’s a tenant on the estate belonging to of one of the magistrates, well his father anyhow, whom he was accused of planning to murder.”

“I’d no idea he was so aged” murmured Daniel, who knew most of this anyhow, so was seeking inconsistencies. “Go on”.

“Well, his reputation for honesty and peacefulness stood so high that the magistrate’s father even gave evidence in his defence, stating that he had known him all his life, that his character was unimpeachable and that he was too simple a man to be engaged in any conspiracy. But sure it was a packed jury, your honour, Protestants to a man, ye know the type, they’d swear a snowball was black if they’d been asked to”.

“I do indeed. But even so, I’d thought with the evidence there was in it, they couldn’t convict if they valued their immortal souls.”

“Souls, is it? Sure they haven’t any souls, only deep pockets, that crowd.”

“So they were convicted. The sentence?”

“All four of them are to be hanged within six days. That was the sentence. If you don’t undertake their defence,” pleaded Flanagan, “Doherty will hang every man of them. There’s no time to be lost – the trial comes on tomorrow morning, and unless you are in Cork before the court opens, every man of them will be hanged – though as innocent as the child unborn.”

“Could you make it, do you think?” asked Mary, who had been listening avidly to all this.

“I doubt I’d be in a fit state to walk, never mind talk, after a night in the saddle following a day such as I’ve had today” said Daniel. Burke’s face fell.

“But..” Burke began.

“Calm yourself, man,” said Daniel. I only said I couldn’t ride all the way. I’d chance the schooner, but the wind is foul. We’d never make it in the night. No, I’ll take John and the gig from Kenmare, and maybe catch a wink o’ sleep on the way. I wish we had a road here. Tell me a little more while they saddle my horse.” (Mary went out of the room to attend to that.) “How many defendants are there, and how many before the court tomorrow?”.

“There’s twenty three, your honour, and they’re appearing in batches of four.”

“D’ye know the names of the court officials, and the barristers?” asked Daniel.

“I do, of course. The judge seemed fair enough until he donned his black hat at the end, Pennefather, Baron they called him. And he’s another judge with him, Torrens.”

Mary had come back in now, and asked “Do you know them, Dan?”

“I do, certainly. You know Pennefather, too, the fellow I retained over the d’Esterre affair. He was a KC then, now he’s Baron Pennefather. A fair judge I’d have thought. A good start. And do you know the Barristers’ names, Burke?”

“The prosecutor is Doherty. He has two fellows named Gould and Bennet to help him. And for us there are Fitzgerald, McCarthy and Piggott.”

“Well, Doherty is the Crown Solicitor General, no less. There’s someone with influence behind this prosecution. Lord Doneraile himself, I wouldn’t wonder. Gould and Bennet are just regular circuit prosecutors, and I know them well. And they know me, which is good. They seldom win against me” he smiled. “Come, Burke, it’s time to go.. Can ye ride back d’ye think?”

“I can, your honour, but my horse isn’t able for it”.

“John outside has saddled up one of mine for you. So let’s be off.”

“Take care, darling” sniffed Mary, as she kissed Daniel and watched them go.

Daniel would never forget that trip as long as he lived. The road was a rough, mountainy road for the first few hours, and it was sixty odd miles, the old milk road from Kenmare, but John was a grand whip. Burke went on ahead to say they were coming, so when battered and worn Daniel in his car clattered up to the Court House in Cork soon after nine next morning, there was a crowd waiting there. There was no doubt of their welcome, for a huge roar went up. Daniel had neither wig nor gown as he jumped down from the gig carrying his own brief case with his papers in it, pushed his way through the crowd, and entered the court room. His entry could not have been more effective had it been stage-managed. Doherty, the Solicitor-General, had begun his address to the jury, but had stopped in mid sentence when he heard the crowd outside roaring. All eyes turned to the entrance door as Daniel’s well known, enormous, and less than immaculate unshaven person walked in. He stopped, bowed to the Court and Baron Pennefather, glanced at the Jury who didn’t look as bad as he had feared.

“My Lord,” he boomed, “I apologise for my late arrival and my appearance. I have just this minute arrived from my home which I left after dinner yesterday.”

“From Derrynane?” asked Pennefather, amazed. He knew Daniel well both personally and professionally. “That must be a hundred miles. Irish miles!”

“Nearly, my Lord, ninety in fact, but enough, and I raven.  Would the court indulge me to the extent that I may send for a sandwich and a bowl of milk while we proceed?”

“Of course, of course” replied Pennefather, secretly delighted at Daniel’s arrival. He had the gravest doubts about this case, even though today’s jury was much better than the one on Friday which had been 100% Protestant and, he was sure, 100% bought. This one included Catholics and Protestants, merchants and landowners, people from the towns and from the country. It was well balanced and almost certainly not bought. Not all of it anyhow. It included one Catholic, Edward Morrogh, whose role in it would prove to be crucial. Worse, Doherty was venal and the Defence cowed and inept. Until now.

Daniel’s sandwiches arrived while Doherty was in full spate, presenting the case for the prosecution. He was an ambitious and very political young man. His delivery was pompous and condescending, theatrical and, happily, inaccurate. He was tall, elegant, and had an English accent aping the affectations of the Bond Street swells in London. It seemed calculated to irritate here in County Cork. He had a pleasant enough appearance, deceptively so, thought Daniel. He knew him well as an opponent, and disliked him well.

It’s time to show this charlatan up a bit, he thought. Doherty was declaiming that the law could compel any man, no matter what his rank, under pain of imprisonment, to declare the number of Whiteboys who might have been employed in his barns or stables. He had him: “That’s not law” boomed Daniel through a mouthful of sandwich, and his interruption was upheld by the court. Doherty tried to retrieve his mistake by citing another Act of Parliament.

“That is no longer law,” cried Daniel. He gave an alarming impression of anger mixed with scorn for the professional ignorance of the Solicitor General. “That Act has been repealed.”

A second time, the judges agreed with his contention. Doherty, by now thoroughly rattled, tried to resume. But Daniel had the bit between his teeth. Putting down his bowl of milk, he interrupted again:

“He has no right to make such a statement. The Crown cannot give such matters in evidence. M’learned friend”, emphasising the word learned, “must not go into evidence considered at other trials. They are not relevant to this one, as he must know. I ask, if it please the Court, that he confine his remarks to the case now before the court.”

Again the judges supported him.

Daniel had always been masterly in cross-examination. A reporter named Thomas Sheehan, in his account of the trial, wrote: “I never beheld him greater. His tactics were to confound the prosecution, and to show that they had no case. The Crown had tried to show that Sheehan and Nowlan had repented of their former misdeeds. O’Connell showed off the ‘repentant sinners’ as he called them. John Doherty had discounted the notion of concert among the witnesses, but O’Connell found out that Sheehan and Daly had been repeatedly together in Dublin before the trial. Under cross-examination Patrick Daly exclaimed “it’s little I thought, Mr. O’Connell, I’d be facing you today”.

There were three key witnesses who were, Daniel felt sure, paid informers who tended to be niggardly with the truth. Daniel bullied these three mercilessly, and by the end of the afternoon he had extracted confessions from all three which contradicted their main evidence upon which the first batch of prisoners had been convicted. Their credit as witnesses was completely shattered, and even a carefully prepared jury could not persist in a verdict of guilty. Daniel was furious that such men could have been used to convict innocents on a capital charge, and thundered that he would report Doherty to the House of Commons for his conduct of the prosecution – a threat, as Doherty was uncomfortably aware, that he was now in a position to carry out personally. Doherty’s genteel accent contrasting with Daniel’s homely tones, made him a target which Daniel lampooned mercilessly, often bringing the house down.

By the end of the day he knew he had won, at least to the extent that he had saved the necks of the defendants, if not their liberty. One juryman, the Catholic Edward Morrogh, was heard to declare that he would not convict any man on the evidence of such disreputable informers. He proposed that all four prisoners be acquitted, but the majority were convinced that one of the four was guilty. He stuck to his guns, and it took three more days and a new jury to reach a conclusion, but at the end, on exactly the same evidence as that on which the previous trial had sentenced four men to death, Daniel won a Not Guilty verdict for these four. The case for the Crown had been completely undermined, so that even the result of the previous trial had to be reversed, and the death sentences were commuted. It was the most sensational achievement Daniel had ever won in court, and he returned to Derrynane a hero once again.

But, as Daniel pointed out to Mary, “one can’t eat popularity without you turn it into cash”. He had even rejected Burke’s £100. A permanent solution was needed. Then, on June 26th. that year, 1830, the King died, which meant a General Election, and that meant serious expenditure, so the matter was now urgent.

Pat Fitzpatrick again proposed a plan, this time to turn the tribute into an annual event. A ‘Collection Sunday’ would be identified and the tribute would be taken throughout the country on that day. Daniel liked the plan, but thought it premature in view of the terrible harvest and the current state of near starvation in much of the country.

“Your plan of a ‘Collection Sunday’ I highly approve of, but it cannot be realised in the present state of starvation. We must prepare our grounds in August for an arrangement in September rather late in that month, too, for organising the O’Connell ‘Tribute.’ I will communicate with you again upon this invaluable suggestion.

There is nothing new. The Ministry, tottering, despised and despicable. The King lingering beyond expectation, to die just when one is used to his continuing alive!

Believe me, most gratefully yours,


On 31st August 1830 Daniel wrote again to Fitzpatrick,

“The elections are over − I say triumphantly over. The harvest is getting in. The periodical distress is for the present over. This is the time to do something for the Fund…..This, of course, is confidential; that is, it must not be known to come from me…. There should be a communication with each bishop, and first with the most friendly. I think in Waterford it should, if possible, commence. You should therefore feel your way there. Let us commence in action at all events. Cork diocese is favourable. The Bishop would give his aid, and has indeed already recommended it to his friends. I think it would be well to put forward the idea that one shilling each from one seventh of the Irish Catholics would be one million of shillings or £50,000; more, in fact, than could be necessary.”

And it worked. Over the years that followed Fitzpatrick devoted himself to managing ‘The Fund’, of which he retained a percentage. And that first, vital, year, by February 1831, they had collected  £24,524 16s. 9d.

It was about this time that Daniel came to be known as the Liberator. It was far more than a nick-name, as when people call me Governor. Liberator was almost a title, certainly an honorific, and even his best friends, myself included, started to use it instead of his name.

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