James Fintan Lalor, Irish revolutionary, journalist, and one of the most powerful writers of his day, dies at the age of 43 on December 27, 1849. A leading member of the Irish Confederation (Young Ireland), he plays an active part in both the Rebellion in July 1848 and the attempted Rising in September of that same year. His writings exert a seminal influence on later Irish leaders such as Michael Davitt, James Connolly, Pádraig Pearse, and Arthur Griffith.
Lalor is born on March 10, 1807, in Tinnakill House, Raheen, County Laois, the first son of twelve children of Patrick “Patt” Lalor and Anne Dillon, the daughter of Patrick Dillon of Sheane near Maryborough. His father is an extensive farmer and is the first Catholic MP for Laois (1832–1835). The household is a very political one where active discussion on national issues is encouraged.
Because of an accident when he is young, Lalor is semi-crippled all his life. He is not a very healthy young man and consequently is educated at home. In February 1825 he goes to St. Patrick’s, Carlow College. He studies chemistry under a Mr. Holt and the classics under Father Andrew Fitzgerald. While in college he becomes a member of the Apollo Society, where literature and music are studied, his favourite author at the time being Lord Bolingbroke. He suffers greatly through ill health during his time in college, and in February 1826, being ill and very weak he has to return home.
Lalor’s father is passionately opposed to the payment of tithes and urges Catholics not to pay. He supports this stand, but it is the land question and the power of the landlords to evict tenants that exercises him in particular. His father is also a great supporter of Daniel O’Connell and the Repeal movement. However, Lalor does not support the Repeal movement as he considers it to be flawed. As a result, a rift occurs between him and his father on this question. Such is the rift that he leaves home and spends time in Belfast and Dublin. He finally returns home due to ill health and heals his differences with his father.
It is while writing from home that Lalor achieves national prominence. He contributes articles to The Nation and The Felon. He advocates rent strikes and active resistance to any wrongdoings. His central theme is the rights of the tenant farmer to his own land. In his opinion, land reform is the biggest issue of the time. He writes articles such as “What must be done,” “The Faith of a felon,” “Resistance,” and “Clearing Decks.” It is he who says it is time for revolution and active resistance. This is especially evident during the famine years when tenants are being evicted for nonpayment of rent. As a result, he is arrested and imprisoned. Upon his release he continues to write. He is now a nationally acclaimed writer, revolutionary, and reformer.
Ill health once again curtails his efforts. An attack of bronchitis eventually brings about his early death on December 27, 1849, at his lodgings in Great Britain Street (now Parnell Street) at the age of 43. He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.
The James Fintan Lawlor Commemorative Committee, chaired by David Lawlor is formed in August 2005 to erect a memorial to mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of James Fintan Lalor. Laois County Council provides the site; Irish Life and Permanent sponsors the project; the Department of the Environment provides half the cost. The bronze statue of Lalor holding a pamphlet aloft is sculpted by Mayo-based artist Rory Breslin. The inscription on the limestone plinth reads: “Ireland her own, and all therein, from the sod to the sky. The soil of Ireland for the people of Ireland.”
Michael Davitt considered Lalor “the only real Irish revolutionary mind in the ’48 period.” His ideas were the ideological underpinning of the Irish National League during the Land War.