Henry Grattan, Irish politician and member of the Irish House of Commons, who campaigns for legislative freedom for the Irish Parliament in the late 18th century, is born at Fishamble Street in Dublin on July 3, 1746.
Grattan is baptised at the church of St. John the Evangelist in Dublin. He attends Drogheda Grammar School and then goes on to become a distinguished student at Trinity College, Dublin, where he begins a lifelong study of classical literature, and is especially interested in the great orators of antiquity.
After studying at the King’s Inns, Dublin, and being called to the Irish bar in 1772, he never seriously practises law but is drawn to politics, influenced by his friend Henry Flood. He enters the Irish Parliament for Charlemont in 1775, sponsored by Lord Charlemont, just as Flood has damaged his credibility by accepting office. Grattan quickly supersedes Flood in the leadership of the national party, not least because his oratorical powers are unsurpassed among his contemporaries.
Grattan’s movement gains momentum as more and more Irish people come to sympathize with the North American colonists in their war for independence from Great Britain. By 1779, he is powerful enough to persuade the British government to remove most of its restraints on Irish trade, and in April 1780 he formally demands the repeal of Poynings’ Law, which has made all legislation passed by the Irish Parliament subject to approval by the British Parliament. Two years later the British relinquish their right to legislate for Ireland and frees the Irish Parliament from subservience to the English Privy Council. Despite these successes, Grattan soon faces rivalry from Flood, who bitterly criticizes Grattan for failing to demand that the British Parliament completely renounce all claims to control of Irish legislation. Flood succeeds in undermining Grattan’s popularity, but by 1784 Flood himself has lost much of his following.
From 1782 to 1797 Grattan makes limited progress in his struggle to reform the composition of the Irish Parliament and to win voting rights for Ireland’s Roman Catholics. The outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789 bolsters his cause by infusing democratic ideas into Ireland, but the subsequent growth of a radical Irish movement for Catholic emancipation provokes repressive measures by the British. Grattan is caught between the two sides. Ill and discouraged, he retires from Parliament in May 1797 and is in England when the Irish radicals stage an unsuccessful rebellion in 1798.
Grattan returns to Parliament for five months in 1800 and wages a vigorous but fruitless campaign against Prime Minister William Pitt’s plans for the legislative union of the Irish and British parliaments. In 1805, Grattan is elected to the British House of Commons, where for the last 15 years of his life he fights for Catholic emancipation.
In 1920, after crossing from Ireland to London while in poor health to bring forward the Irish question once more, he becomes seriously ill. On his death-bed he speaks generously of Castlereagh, and with warm eulogy of his former rival, Flood. Henry Grattan dies on June 6, 1820, and is buried in Westminster Abbey. His statue is in the Outer Lobby of the Palace of Westminster.
The building housing the faculty of Law and Government at Dublin City University has been named in his honour. Grattan Bridge crossing the River Liffey between Parliament Street on the south side of Dublin and Capel Street on the north side is also named in his honour.