Daniel O’Connell, Irish political leader often referred to as The Liberator or The Emancipator, is born on August 6, 1775, at Carhan near Cahersiveen, County Kerry, to the O’Connells of Derrynane, a once-wealthy Roman Catholic family, that has been dispossessed of its lands.
Raised by his uncle, Daniel learns the Irish language and Irish lore in Kerry. O’Connell does part of his schooling in France during the revolution. On May 19, 1798, O’Connell is called to the Irish Bar and becomes a barrister. Four days later, the United Irishmen stage their rebellion which is put down by the British with great bloodshed. O’Connell does not support the rebellion. He believes that the Irish need to assert themselves politically rather than by force. The violent excesses he witnesses in France, the slaughter of the 1798 Rising, and finally his own killing of a man in a duel in 1815 leads him to renounce violence forever.
Moving into politics, O’Connell founds the Catholic Association in 1823, creating one of the first massive political movements in Europe or the Americas. The Catholic Association embraces other aims to better Irish Catholics, such as electoral reform, reform of the Church of Ireland, tenants’ rights, and economic development.
When he is elected to Parliament in 1828, he is unable to take his seat as members of parliament have to take the Oath of Supremacy, which is incompatible with Catholicism. Fear of the reaction of his millions of followers leads to the passage of the Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829. O’Connell works for Home Rule for Ireland for the rest of his days but never achieves it. The British ban his mass Repeal of the Union rallies in 1843 and jail him for a time. The movement loses momentum at that point and the long years of hard work wear “The Liberator” down.
O’Connell dies at the age of 71 of cerebral softening on May15, 1847, in Genoa, Italy, while on a pilgrimage to Rome. His time in prison seriously weakens him and the appallingly cold weather he has to endure on his journey is likely the final blow. According to his dying wish, his heart is buried in Rome at Sant’Agata dei Goti, then the chapel of the Irish College, and the remainder of his body in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin, beneath a round tower.