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Daniel O'Connell

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Daniel O'Connell
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Daniel O'Connell

Daniel O'Connell (August 6, 1776May 15, 1847), known as The Liberator or The Emancipator, was Ireland's predominant politician in the first half of the nineteenth century. A critic of violent insurrection in Ireland, he once said that the freedom of Ireland was not worth the spilling of one drop of blood. Instead he focused entirely on parliamentary and populist methods to force change. He often warned the British Establishment that if they did not reform the governance of Ireland, Irishmen would start to listen to the "counsels of violent men." Successive British governments continued to ignore this advice, long after his death.

Born to a wealthy Catholic family in County Kerry, O'Connell studied at Catholic schools in France and was admitted to Lincoln's Inn in 1794, transferring to Dublin's King's Inn two years later. In his early years, he became acquainted with the pro-democracy radicals of the time, and committed himself to bringing equal rights and religious tolerance to his own country.

In 1798, O'Connell became a barrister. That was the same year in which the United Irishmen staged their famous rebellion, which was put down by the British at the battle of Vinegar Hill. O'Connell did not support the rebellion: he believed that the Irish would have to assert themselves politically, rather than by force. So, for the next decade, he went into a fairly quiet period of private law practice in the south of Ireland.

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Statue of Daniel O'Connell outside St Patrick's Cathedral, Melbourne

He returned to politics in the 1810s, campaigning for Catholic Emancipation, that is, the repeal of all anti-Catholic legislation enforced in Ireland. As part of his campaign, he sought and won election to the House of Commons in 1828, even though as a Catholic, he was ineligible for membership because of his inability to take an oath to the Queen as head of the Church of England. His election and subsequent re-election in 1829, forced the government of the Duke of Wellington in 1829 to repeal the prohibitions and grant emancipation, which also liberated not just Catholics but Presbyterians and all faiths other than the established Church of Ireland.

In 1841 O'Connell became the first Catholic Mayor of Dublin. While Mayor he called out the British army against striking workers in the capital.

O'Connell also campaigned for Repeal, that is, repeal of the Act of Union that in 1801 merged the Kingdom of Great Britain and the Kingdom of Ireland to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. He argued for the re-creation of an independent Kingdom of Ireland to govern itself, with Queen Victoria as Queen of Ireland. To push this, he held a series of Monster Meetings (mass rallies) throughout Ireland. These frightened the British government and the Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel banned a proposed monster meeting at Clontarf, just outside Dublin. Despite appeals from his supporters, O'Connell refused to defy the authorities and called off the meeting. This did not prevent him being jailed for sedition, although he was quickly released. Having deprived himself of his most potent weapon, the monster meeting, O'Connell failed to make any more progress in the campaign for Repeal. Though Charles Stewart Parnell (who dominated Irish politics in the last quarter of the nineteenth century) is more usually associated with the title, O'Connell was popularly described as the Uncrowned King of Ireland.

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O'Connell Monument in Dublin

He died in Genoa in 1847, while travelling to Rome. He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin, beneath a huge tower which can be seen for miles around. His sons all served in Parliament, and are buried in his crypt.

O'Connell admired Latin American liberator Simon Bolivar, and one of his sons, Morgan O'Connell was a volunteer officer in Bolivar's army.

The principal street in the centre of Dublin, previously called Sackville Street, was renamed O'Connell Street in his honour in the early twentieth century. His statue (made by the sculptor John Henry Foley, who also designed the sculptures of the Albert Memorial in London) stands at one end of the street, with a statue of Parnell at the other.

There is a museum commemorating him in Derrynane House, once owned by his family.de:Daniel O'Connell es:Daniel O'Connell

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