seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Death of James Fintan Lalor, Revolutionary & Journalist

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.


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Birth of Thomas Steele, Engineer & Political Activist

Thomas (Tom) Steele, engineer and political activist, is born on November 3, 1788 at Derrymore, County Clare, the son of William Steele, gentleman, and Catherine Steele (née Bridgeman).

In July 1805 Steele enters Trinity College Dublin, graduating BA in the spring of 1810. He then studies at Magdalene College, Cambridge, where he graduates MA in 1820, becoming an associate member of the Institution of Civil Engineers in the same year. In 1821 he inherits Cullane House, near Craggaunowen, County Clare, on the death of his uncle. Of an enthusiastic and adventurous nature, in 1823 he decides to support the cause of the liberals in Spain who had rebelled against the autocratic rule of Ferdinand VII in 1820. Mortgaging the house and lands at Cullane, he purchases a large quantity of arms and ships them to Spain on board the ship Iris. Commissioned in the Legion Estrenjera of the liberal army, he distinguishes himself in the Battle of Trocadero and the defence of Madrid. He later publishes an account of his experiences, Notes on the war in Spain (London, 1824).

Returning from Spain with his fortunes ruined, Steele begins experiments with underwater diving apparatus, patenting “Steele’s improved diving-bell” in 1825. In the same year he becomes a partner in the Vigo Bay Co., which attempts to recover gold and silver bullion from Spanish ships which sank in Vigo Bay in 1702. After extensive diving operations using Steele’s diving-bell, the company is wound up at an acrimonious meeting of shareholders in September 1826. Despite claims by some of the shareholders that bullion had been found, the scheme is a total failure.

Steele is involved in the Catholic Association and, a close friend of Daniel O’Connell, is active in the emancipation campaign although himself a protestant. In 1828 he seconds O’Connell’s nomination for Clare in the general election of that year. Appointed by O’Connell as ‘Head Pacificator,’ he tours the country collecting weapons and discouraging the rural population from engaging in faction fighting. There is a certain irony in this appointment, as Steele’s own volatile temper is well known. A noted duelist, he fights an inconclusive duel in 1829 with William Smith O’Brien, who had opposed O’Connell’s second candidature for County Clare. In 1828 he is a founder of the Limerick Independent Club.

An associate of the diving pioneers John and Charles Deane, Steele dives on the wreck of the Intrinsic, off the Clare coast in January 1836, using their new diving helmet. He then begins developing equipment to provide underwater illumination, and in 1840 dives with the Deane brothers off Plymouth on the wreck of Henry VIII‘s ship, the Mary Rose. Yet he is in serious financial difficulties, which are not helped by some of his more eccentric building projects. It is said of him that “he seemed utterly incapable of rationally estimating the value of money in his own case.” He begins renovating, at great expense, a ruined castle that stands on his land at Cullane. He also later has a large standing stone, known as the ‘Umbilicus Hiberniae’ (‘Navel of Ireland’), removed from Birr, King’s County (now County Offaly), and taken to his house. At Cullane it is set up as an altar and used for mass whenever O’Connell or members of the Catholic Association visit. It is not returned to Birr until 1974.

Known as “Honest Tom Steele,” Steele is deeply devoted to O’Connell, and is one of his key lieutenants during the repeal campaigns of the 1830s and 1840s. He takes his title and responsibilities as O’Connell’s “Head Pacificator” so seriously and generally expresses himself with such long-winded pomposity that he becomes something of a figure of fun for opponents of O’Connell and for many of the younger men in the Repeal Association. Tried on conspiracy charges after the prohibition of the Clontarf monster meeting, he is one of the six “traversers” imprisoned with O’Connell in Richmond jail from May to September 1844. Strongly supporting O’Connell’s repudiation of physical force, he chairs and takes a prominent part in the peace resolution debates of July 1846 in which the Young Ireland group walks out of the Repeal Association.

After the death of O’Connell on May 15, 1847, Steele falls into a deep depression and, financially ruined, jumps from Waterloo Bridge in London on April 19, 1848. Pulled from the river by a Thames boatman, he survives for a number of weeks. Former political opponents, including Lord Brougham, offer financial help but he refuses. He dies on June 15, 1848, and his remains are taken to Dublin, where he is waked at Conciliation Hall, the headquarters of the Repeal Association, on Burgh Quay. He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery, beside O’Connell’s tomb. He appears as one of the figures on the O’Connell memorial in O’Connell Street, Dublin.

Steele never marries, but harbours an unrequited passion for a Miss Eileen Crowe of Ennis, County Clare, and is often to be seen standing on a large rock, which comes to be known as “Steele’s Rock,” on the banks of the River Fergus in Ennis as he tries to catch a glimpse of Miss Crowe, who lives across the river.

(From: “Steele, Thomas (Tom)” by David Murphy, Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie | Pictured: (L to R) Thomas Steele, Daniel O’Connell and O’Gorman Mahon by Joseph Patrick Haverty)


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Birth of William Smith O’Brien, Young Ireland Leader

William Smith O’Brien, Irish nationalist Member of Parliament (MP) and leader of the Young Ireland movement, is born in Dromoland, Newmarket-on-Fergus, County Clare, on October 17, 1803.

O’Brien is the second son of Sir Edward O’Brien, 4th Baronet, of Dromoland Castle. His mother is Charlotte Smith, whose father owns a property called Cahirmoyle in County Limerick. He takes the additional surname Smith, his mother’s maiden name, upon inheriting the property. He lives at Cahermoyle House, a mile from Ardagh, County Limerick. He is a descendant of the eleventh century Ard Rí (High King of Ireland), Brian Boru. He receives an upper-class English education at Harrow School and Trinity College, Cambridge. Subsequently, he studies law at King’s Inns in Dublin and Lincoln’s Inn in London.

From April 1828 to 1831 O’Brien is Conservative MP for Ennis. He becomes MP for Limerick County in 1835, holding his seat in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom until 1849.

Although a Protestant country-gentleman, O’Brien supports Catholic emancipation while remaining a supporter of British-Irish union. In 1843, in protest against the imprisonment of Daniel O’Connell, he joins O’Connell’s anti-union Repeal Association.

Three years later, O’Brien withdraws the Young Irelanders from the association. In January 1847, with Thomas Francis Meagher, he founds the Irish Confederation, although he continues to preach reconciliation until O’Connell’s death in May 1847. He is active in seeking relief from the hardships of the famine. In March 1848, he speaks out in favour of a National Guard and tries to incite a national rebellion. He is tried for sedition on May 15, 1848 but is not convicted.

On July 29, 1848, O’Brien and other Young Irelanders lead landlords and tenants in a rising in three counties, with an almost bloodless battle against police at Ballingarry, County Tipperary. In O’Brien’s subsequent trial, the jury finds him guilty of high treason. He is sentenced to be hanged, drawn, and quartered. Petitions for clemency are signed by 70,000 people in Ireland and 10,000 people in England. In Dublin on June 5, 1849, the sentences of O’Brien and other members of the Irish Confederation are commuted to transportation for life to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania in present-day Australia).

O’Brien attempts to escape from Maria Island off Tasmania, but is betrayed by the captain of the schooner hired for the escape. He is sent to Port Arthur where he meets up with John Mitchel.

O’Brien is a founding member of the Ossianic Society, which is founded in Dublin on St. Patrick’s Day 1853, whose aim is to further the interests of the Irish language and to publish and translate literature relating to the Fianna. He writes to his son Edward from Van Diemen’s Land, urging him to learn the Irish language. He himself studies the language and uses an Irish-language Bible, and presents to the Royal Irish Academy Irish-language manuscripts he has collected.

In 1854, after five years in Tasmania, O’Brien is released on the condition he never returns to Ireland. He settles in Brussels. In May 1856, he is granted an unconditional pardon and returns to Ireland that July. He contributes to The Nation newspaper, but plays no further part in politics.

In 1864 he visits England and Wales, with the view of rallying his failing health, but no improvement takes place and he dies in Bangor, Gwynedd, Wales on June 18, 1864.

A statue of William Smith O’Brien stands in O’Connell Street, Dublin. Sculpted in Portland limestone, it is designed by Thomas Farrell and erected in D’Olier Street, Dublin, in 1870. It is moved to its present position in 1929.

(Pictured: Portrait of William Smith O’Brien by George Francis Mulvany, National Gallery of Ireland)


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Birth of Charles Patrick Meehan, Priest & Historian

Charles Patrick Meehan, priest and historian, is born on July 12, 1812 at 141 Great Britain Street (now Parnell Street), Dublin.

Meehan’s father, a native of Manorhamilton, County Leitrim, is a prosperous farmer at Ballymahon, County Longford. He receives his early education in a hedge school and from a local curate at Ballymahon. In 1828 he enters the Pontifical Irish College in Rome, where he is a brilliant student, acquiring fluency in several languages. As a child he had loved to listen to stories of the Flight of the Earls and the Flight of the Wild Geese, and during his time in Rome he discovers the neglected graves of Hugh O’Neill and Hugh O’Donnell in the church of San Pietro in Montorio. He begins his lifelong research on the seventeenth century by locating and transcribing hitherto unstudied documents held in Roman repositories. Ordained in 1835, he is appointed curate at Rathdrum, County Wicklow in August and five months later is transferred to the parish of Saints Michael and John, Dublin. He is an excellent preacher and a strong advocate of temperance, and zealously discharges his parish duties.

A supporter of Daniel O’Connell and the repeal movement, Meehan is particularly attracted by the ideals of Young Ireland, and becomes friendly with the principal writers of The Nation, especially Charles Gavan Duffy and James Clarence Mangan. He is Mangan’s confessor, and attends his deathbed in 1849. The Young Irelanders often meet in his presbytery in Lower Exchange Street. From 1842 he contributes occasional verse and translations to The Nation using the pseudonym ‘Clericus’ and the initials ‘C. P. M.’ He defends the Young Irelanders from accusations of irreligion. During the debates on physical force in Conciliation Hall in July 1846 he supports the Young Ireland position and is shouted down by O’Connellites.

He secedes with the Young Irelanders from the Repeal Association and becomes a member of their Irish Confederation on its foundation in January 1847. Later that year he becomes president of the St. Patrick’s Confederate Club, and delivers lectures to it on Irish history. A strong believer in the importance of history in creating national pride and awareness, he contributes The Confederation of Kilkenny (1846) and a translation of Daniel O’Daly, The Geraldines, their Rise, Increase and Ruin (1847) to The Nation‘s Library of Ireland historical series. He publishes a translation, with a valuable introduction and notes, of John Lynch‘s Latin life of Francis Kirwan, bishop of Killala 1645–61, as Portrait of a Christian Bishop (1848). In 1848 he resigns his presidency of the St. Patrick’s Confederate Club in the hope of becoming librarian or professor of modern languages at Queen’s College Galway, but is unsuccessful.

For the rest of his life Meehan devotes himself to parish work and historical research, occasionally publishing articles and poems in the Hibernian Magazine and Irish Catholic Magazine. He also edits six volumes of the second series of James Duffy‘s Duffy’s Hibernian Magazine (1862–65). Having acquired a vast store of anecdotes and curious information from his researches, he is an interesting companion who loves the company of poets and scholars and forms friendships with many young nationalist writers, including Denis Florence MacCarthy, John Keegan Casey and John Francis O’Donnell.

Most of Meehan’s research is devoted to Irish history, but he occasionally tackles other subjects, such as his translation from the Italian of Vincenzo Marchese’s Lives of the most eminent sculptors and architects of the order of St Dominic (2 vols, 1852). Although his work is marked by a strong sympathy for Catholicism and Irish nationalism, he is among the more scholarly historians associated with the Young Ireland movement. He is elected Member of the Royal Irish Academy (MRIA) in February 1865. Gavan Duffy lauds his efforts and ranks him with the great patriotic clerical scholars of the past who had devoted their lives to the study of Irish history.

Meehan repeatedly takes the opportunity to amend and expand his published works, producing revised editions of The Geraldines (as The Geraldines, their Rise, Increase and Ruin (reprinted 1878)), Confederation of Kilkenny (1882), and Lynch’s Life of Kirwan (1884). His other important publications are The Fate and Fortunes of the Earls of Tyrone (Hugh O’Neill) and Tyrconnel (Rory O’Donel), their flight from Ireland and death in exile (1868), and Rise and Fall of the Irish Franciscan Monasteries and Memoirs of the Irish Hierarchy in the Seventeenth Century (1870). He edits the essays of the Young Irelanders in The Spirit of the Nation (1882) and publishes editions of the poetry of Mangan in The Poets and Poetry of Munster (1883), with an important biographical memoir. His last scholarly work is to re-edit Literary Remains of the United Irishmen (1887) to include material left in manuscript by Richard R. Madden.

A small man, Meehan always wears a monocle attached to a silk ribbon, a tall silk hat, and a stout blackthorn stick. He suffers badly from indigestion for most of his life, and this aggravates a testy personality and a waspish tongue. He regularly falls out with friends, and few parishioners are foolhardy enough to brave his confessional. He retains strong anti-English views all his life. In the 1880s he encounters the young Arthur Griffith pulling down a union flag from a lamppost in Dublin, and astounds the boy by congratulating rather than chastising him. His Young Ireland nationalism and irascible personality ensure that he never progresses beyond the position of curate in his forty-five years at Saints Michael and John. Here, he works alongside Fr. James Healy, a renowned wit, and the two men delight in trading caustic remarks. Healy is present at Meehan’s deathbed and admits to brushing away a tear – the only thing, he remarks, that had been brushed in that room for many years.

Meehan dies on March 14, 1890 at his presbytery in Dublin, and is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery. He is survived by two brothers, one of whom is also a priest. He is commemorated by a mural tablet erected by his parishioners in the church of Saints Michael and John.

(From: “Meehan, Charles Patrick” by James Quinn and Linde Lunney, Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie)


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Death of James Warren Doyle, Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin

James Warren Doyle, Roman Catholic Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, who uses the signature “JKL”, an acronym from “James Kildare and Leighlin,” dies on June 15, 1834. He is active in the Anti-Tithe movement and a campaigner for Catholic emancipation until it is attained in 1829. He is also an educator, church organiser and the builder of the Cathedral of the Assumption in Carlow.

Doyle is born close to New Ross, County Wexford in 1786, the posthumous son of a respectable Catholic farmer. His mother, Anne Warren, of Quaker extraction, is living in poverty at the time of his birth. At the age of eleven he witnesses the horrors of the Battle of New Ross between the United Irishmen and British Crown forces supplemented by the militia and yeomanry.

Doyle receives his early education at Clonleigh, at Rathconrogue at the school of a Mr. Grace, and later at the Augustinian College, New Ross under the care of an Augustinian monk, Rev. John Crane.

Doyle joins the Augustinian friars in 1805 at Grantstown, County Wexford, and then studies for his doctorate at Coimbra in Portugal (1806–08). His studies are disturbed by the Peninsular War, during which he serves as a sentry in Coimbra. Later, he accompanies the British Army with Arthur Wellesley‘s forces to Lisbon as an interpreter.

Following Doyle’s return to Ireland, he is ordained to the priesthood on October 1, 1809, at Enniscorthy. He teaches logic at the Augustinian College, New Ross. In 1813, he is appointed to a professorship at St. Patrick’s, Carlow College, holding the Chair of Rhetoric and in 1814, the Professorship of Theology.

Michael Corcoran, Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, dies on February 22, 1819. Doyle is a popular choice of the clergy and bishops of the Archdiocese of Dublin and is chosen by the Holy See as Corcoran’s successor. He is formally named in August 1819 and is duly consecrated in Carlow Parish Church on November 14. During his fifteen-year tenure as Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, he earns respect nationwide for his polemics in furtherance of the Catholic position in both Irish and British society, and in supporting the work of the Catholic Association. His books on pastoral, political, educational and inter-denominational matters provide a rich source of material for social and religious historians. He is a close ally of Daniel O’Connell in the political campaign for Catholic emancipation which is finally passed in 1829 by the Wellington government.

In 1830, the new tithe-proctor of Graigue, a parish of 4,779 Catholics and 63 Protestants, decides to break with the tradition of Doyle’s predecessor and to enforce seizure orders for the collection of arrears of Tithes. Tithes provide financial support of the established Anglican Church of Ireland. Some of the recalcitrant Catholics habitually transfer ownership of their livestock to Doyle in order to avoid seizure at the town fair. The new proctor requests their priest’s cooperation in handing over the assets. Doyle refuses, and the proctor, aided by the Royal Irish Constabulary, seize some of the livestock. A mass riot breaks out at the fair and there are several casualties. A civil disobedience campaign follows, peppered with sporadic violence mostly at country fairs over the seizure of livestock. A period of instability that becomes known as the Tithe War follows.

Doyle is a leader of nonviolent resistance to the Tithe, devoting himself both to strengthening the nonviolent resistance and to discouraging like paramilitary secret societies who have taken to using violence to drive out tithe-collectors and to intimidate collaborators. He says, “I maintain the right which [Irish Catholics] have of withholding, in a manner consistent with the law and their duty as subjects, the payment of tithe in kind or in money until it is extorted from them by the operation of the law.”

Given Doyle’s prior experience in education, his major contribution is arguably in helping the establishment of National Schools across Ireland from 1831, the initiative of Edward Smith-Stanley, Chief Secretary for Ireland, which are initially started with a UK government grant of £30,000. The proposed system is ahead of state provision for education in England or Scotland at that time. This Model School prototype is, in some respects, experimental. His involvement is a sign of his practicality and foresight.

Doyle makes statements on other issues: the theological status of ‘non-Catholic’ Christians, freedom to convert to Protestantism, mixed marriages and, as already mentioned, on the union of Catholics and Anglicans. On this last issue he is asked to resign by Rome and is eventually allowed to continue after agreeing not to speak on the issue again.

The construction of Carlow Cathedral of the Assumption crowns Doyle’s career, being started in 1828 and finished at the end of November 1833. He falls ill for a number of months before dying on June 15, 1834. He is buried in his new cathedral. A sculpture, by John Hogan, in memorial to Doyle is finished in 1839.

Several biographies are written on Doyle before 1900 and his influence on the later Irish Catholic bishops in the period 1834-1900 is considerable. He had proved that negotiations with government could be beneficial to his church, his congregation, and its finances.


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Birth of Count Daniel Charles O’Connell, French General & Uncle of “The Liberator”

Count Daniel Charles O’Connell, French general and count in the French nobility, is born on May 21, 1745 in Derrynane, County Kerry, twenty-first among twenty-two children of Donal Mor O’Connell, a Catholic landowner, and his wife Mary, daughter of Daniel O’Donoghue of Glenflesk, near Killarney.

O’Connell is tutored at home in Latin and Greek, and before he is sixteen he leaves with his cousin, Murty O’Connell, to join the French army. On February 13, 1760 he becomes a cadet in the Régiment de Royal Suédois. He spends almost his entire career in France or serving abroad with French regiments, but remains in close contact with his family, being in constant correspondence with the head of the clan, his brother Maurice O’Connell, who is almost twenty years his senior, and later arranging army appointments for a host of young nephews and cousins.

O’Connell serves with the Royal Suédois in the last two campaigns of the Seven Years’ War and is made assistant adjutant (sous-aide-major) of the regiment. At the close of the war, he is recommended for the military academy of Strasbourg (1765–66). He has a talent for self-advancement and is well regarded by his seniors, being tall, strong, handsome, disciplined, industrious, and sober. He has an almost morbid horror of drink, and his great boast is that he has never wasted a moment of his time or a farthing of his money.

Appointed to Col. Meade’s regiment of Lord Clare’s Irish Brigade with the rank of captain in October 1769, he sets sail immediately for Mauritius. Two years later he is allowed a visit home to Kerry for the first time in eleven years. In 1775 the death of Lord Clare’s son and the extinction of the title results in the reduction of the Irish Brigade, and destroys O’Connell’s chance of promotion. He devotes himself to the study of chemistry, literature, and the military. A published study, Discipline of the army, comes under the notice of the military authorities, who obtain for him a Cross of Saint Louis, a pension of 2,000 livres a year, and the rank of lieutenant-colonel with which he is posted to his old regiment, the Royal Suédois, in 1778. With them he serves at the taking of Menorca in 1781 and is severely wounded at the Great Siege of Gibraltar in 1782 but manages to save the life of Charles Philippe, Count of Artois, the future Charles X. For these services he is made a count, one of only twenty-two people outside the royal family to receive this honour, and is made colonel of the German regiment of Salm-Salm in French pay, which at a grand review of 30,000 French troops in Alsace in 1785 is pronounced the best regiment. He begins to move in court circles and in 1788 kisses the hand of Marie Antoinette and rides in the king’s coach.

In 1788 O’Connell recommends to his brother Maurice the college of Saint-Omer as a suitable school for his nephews, Maurice and Daniel O’Connell, but taking belated notice of the gathering revolutionary storm, tries unsuccessfully to dissuade them. During the French Revolution of 1789 he allegedly announces his readiness to move his regiment into the capital to disperse revolutionary mobs, but is not able to obtain the king’s permission. In 1790 his men mutiny, leaving him in the anomalous position of a colonel without a regiment. A protégé of the Ancien Régime, he nevertheless remains in Paris in 1790–91, serving the nouveau régime as a member of a commission engaged in revising army regulations.

In 1792 O’Connell joins Charles William Ferdinand, Duke of Brunswick‘s émigré army at Koblenz and takes part in the disastrous Battle of Valmy in Berchini’s regiment. Ever cautious, he serves as a private, refusing any command so that his name would not be mentioned in France. In November 1792 he is in London, almost penniless and bent on concealing that he had served against the republic. An alibi is procured and attested at Tralee to the effect that O’Connell had been in Ireland all the time, and was forwarded to Paris to prevent the confiscation of property.

In London O’Connell petitions William Pitt the Younger to reconstruct the Irish Brigade in the service of George III. Six regiments are raised, with O’Connell appointed colonel of the 4th, but the scheme is only partially realised as three of the regiments are sent to the West Indies and Nova Scotia, where they succumb to pestilence. By 1798 the brigade has entirely ceased to exist, though he retains his full pay as a British colonel, which he draws to the end of his life. At this period his name is mooted by Gen. Henry Clarke and Theobald Wolfe Tone as a possible commander of their troops. Clarke gives his opinion that O’Connell is a good parade officer but has no genius in command, to which Wolfe Tone replies that he “was in favour of his being employed for I know he hates England.”

In 1796, O’Connell marries Martha, comtesse de Bellevue (née Drouillard de Lamarre; d. 1807), a young widow with three children, at the French chapel in Covent Garden. In 1802 he takes advantage of the peace of Amiens to return to France. On the renewal of war the couple is detained by Napoleon as British subjects, and remain virtual prisoners in France until the restoration of the Bourbons in 1814. Back in favour, O’Connell receives the rank of lieutenant-general in the French army and commander of the Order of Saint Louis. His fortunes revive, he advances a large sum to his nephew Daniel to save him from bankruptcy in 1815 and comes to his rescue again in 1818, though by this date he has already settled the bulk of his fortune on his great-nephews. He follows his namesake’s career with keen interest, but his advice is invariably cautious and is not much heeded. After the French Revolution of 1830 he refuses to take the oath of allegiance to Louis Philippe I and is struck off the military list, though he becomes a naturalised French citizen in 1831.

O’Connell dies on July 9, 1833 at the Château de Bellevue at Meudon, near Blois, and is buried at the cemetery at Coudé. He has no children and his title, though not his fortune, descends to his godson, the Baron d’Eschegoyen’s second son, who takes the name O’Connell. A portrait by Paul Guérin hangs in Derrynane House.

(From: “O’Connell, Count Daniel Charles” by Bridget Hourican, Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie)


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Birth of John Toler, 1st Earl of Norbury

John Toler, 1st Earl of Norbury PC, KC, Irish lawyer, politician and judge known as The Lord Norbury between 1800 and 1827, is born at Beechwood, Nenagh, County Tipperary, on December 3, 1745. A greatly controversial figure in his time, he is nicknamed the “Hanging Judge” and is considered to be one of the most corrupt legal figures in Irish history. He is Chief Justice of the Common Pleas for Ireland between 1800 and 1827.

Toler is the youngest son of Daniel Toler, MP, and Letitia, daughter of Thomas Otway (1665–1724), of Lissenhall, Nenagh, County Tipperary. His elder brother Daniel Toler is also a politician, serving as High Sheriff for Tipperary and also as MP for Tipperary. The Toler family is originally from Norfolk, East Anglia, England, but settles in County Tipperary in the 17th century. He is educated at Kilkenny College and at Trinity College, Dublin.

After graduating from university Toler enters the legal profession and is called to the Irish Bar in 1770. In 1781 he is appointed a King’s Counsel. He is returned to the Parliament of Ireland for Tralee in 1773, a seat he holds until 1780, and later represents Philipstown between 1783 and 1790 and Gorey from 1790 until the Acts of Union 1800. In 1789 he is appointed Solicitor-General for Ireland, which he remains until 1798 when he is promoted to Attorney-General for Ireland and sworn of the Privy Council of Ireland. In his role as Attorney-General he is responsible for the prosecution of those involved in the Irish Rebellion of 1798. According to the Dictionary of National Biography “his indifference to human suffering … disgusted even those who thought the occasion called for firmness on the part of government.” In 1799, he brings forward a law which gives the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland power to suspend the Habeas Corpus Act and to impose martial law.

In 1800 Toler is appointed Chief Justice of the Common Pleas for Ireland and raised to the Peerage of Ireland as Baron Norbury, of Ballycrenode in the County of Tipperary. His appointment to the bench is controversial and John FitzGibbon, 1st Earl of Clare, the Lord Chancellor of Ireland, is said to have quipped, “Make him a bishop, or even an archbishop, but not a chief justice.” His tenure as Chief Justice lasts for 27 years, despite the fact that, the Dictionary of National Biography opines, “his scanty knowledge of the law, his gross partiality, his callousness, and his buffoonery, completely disqualified him for the position. His court was in constant uproar owing to his noisy merriment. He joked even when the life of a human being was hanging in the balance.” This earns him the nickname the “Hanging Judge.” His most famous trial is that of Irish nationalist leader Robert Emmet. He interrupts and abuses Emmet throughout the trial before sentencing him to death. In spite of this, with his strong belief in the Protestant Ascendancy, he is considered to have had great influence over the government in Ireland in the early part of the nineteenth century.

However, Toler’s position eventually becomes untenable even to his strongest supporters, especially with the British government‘s aim of establishing a better relationship with the Catholic majority. His reputation is tainted in 1822, when a letter written to him by William Saurin, the Attorney-General for Ireland, is discovered, in which Saurin urges him to use his influence with the Irish Protestant gentry which makes up local juries against the Catholics. Saurin is dismissed soon afterwards. He finds his greatest adversary in Daniel O’Connell, to whom Toler is “an especial object of abhorrence.” At O’Connell’s instigation the case of Saurin’s letter is brought before the House of Commons of the United Kingdom by Henry Brougham. Toler survives this as well as an 1825 petition drawn up by O’Connell, which calls for his removal on the grounds of him falling asleep during a murder trial and later being unable to present any account of the evidence given. However, it is not until George Canning becomes Prime Minister in 1827 that Toler, then 82, is finally induced to resign. His resignation is sweetened by him being created Viscount Glandine and Earl of Norbury, of Glandine in King’s County, in the Peerage of Ireland. Unlike the barony of Norbury these titles are created with remainder to his second son Hector John. His eldest son Daniel is then considered mentally unsound.

Toler marries Grace, daughter of Hector Graham, in 1778. They have two sons and two daughters. In 1797 Grace is raised to the Peerage of Ireland as Baroness Norwood, of Knockalton in the County of Tipperary, in honour of her husband. She dies in 1822 and is succeeded in the barony by her eldest son, Daniel. Toler survives her by nine years and dies at the age of 85 at his Dublin home at 3 Great Denmark Street on July 27, 1831. He is succeeded in the barony of Norbury by his eldest son Daniel and in the viscountcy and earldom according to the special remainder by his second son, Hector. In 1832 the latter also succeeds his elder brother in the baronies of Norwood and Norbury. He is considered to be the father of the astronomer John Brinkley.

(Pictured: John Toler, 1st Earl of Norbury, coloured etching by unknown artist, early 19th century, National Portrait Gallery, NPG D9303)


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Death of John Blake Dillon, Founding Member of Young Ireland

John Blake Dillon, Irish writer and politician who is one of the founding members of the Young Ireland movement, dies in Killiney, County Dublin on September 15, 1866.

Dillon is born on May 5, 1814 in the town of Ballaghaderreen, on the border of counties Mayo and Roscommon. He is a son of Anne Blake and her husband Luke Dillon (d. 1826), who had been a land agent for his cousin Patrick Dillon, 11th Earl of Roscommon. His niece is Anne Deane, who helps to raise his family after his death.

Dillon is educated at St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth, leaving after only two years there, having decided that he is not meant for the priesthood. He later studies law at Trinity College, Dublin, and in London, before being called to the Irish Bar. It is during his time at Trinity College that he first meets and befriends Thomas Davis.

While working for The Morning Register newspaper Dillon meets Charles Gavan Duffy, with whom he and Davis found The Nation in 1842, which is dedicated to promoting Irish nationalism and all three men become important members of Daniel O’Connell‘s Repeal Association, which advocates the repeal of the Act of Union 1800 between Great Britain and Ireland.

The young wing of the party, of which they are key members with William Smith O’Brien and Thomas Francis Meagher, come to be known as Young Ireland and advocate the threat of force to achieve repeal of the Act of Union. This is in contrast to the committed pacifism of O’Connell’s “Old Ireland” wing. This posturing eventually leads to the Young Ireland rebellion of 1848 where a countryside devastated by the Great Famine fails to rise up and support the rebels.

According to fellow Irish nationalist, Justin McCarthy, “…it has been said of him that while he strongly discouraged the idea of armed rebellion, and had no faith in the possibility of Ireland’s succeeding by any movement of insurrection, yet when Smith O’Brien risked Ireland’s chances in the open field, he cast his lot with his leader and stood by his side in Tipperary.”

After the failure of Young Ireland’s uprising, Dillon flees Ireland, escaping first to France and, eventually, to the United States, where he serves the New York Bar.

Dillon returns to Ireland on amnesty in 1855 and in 1865 is elected as a Member of Parliament for Tipperary. By now he advocates a Federal union of Britain and Ireland and denounces the violent methods advocated by the Irish Republican Brotherhood or Fenian movement.

Dillon dies of cholera on September 15, 1866 in Killiney, County Dublin, at the age of 52, and is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.

Dillon is the father of John Dillon and grandfather of James Dillon.


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Birth of Richard Lalor Shiel, Politician, Writer & Orator

Richard Lalor Sheil, Irish politician, writer and orator, is born at Drumdowney, Slieverue, County Kilkenny on August 17, 1791. The family is temporarily domiciled at Drumdowney while their new mansion at Bellevue, near Waterford, is under construction.

Shiel’s father is Edward Sheil, who acquires considerable wealth in Cadiz in southern Spain and owns an estate in County Tipperary. His mother is Catherine McCarthy of Springhouse, near Bansha, County Tipperary, a member of the old aristocratic family of Mac Cárthaigh Riabhach of Springhouse, who in their time were Princes of Carbery and Counts of Toulouse in France. He is taught French and Latin by the Abbé de Grimeau, a French refugee. He is then sent to a Catholic school in Kensington, London, presided over by a French nobleman, M. de Broglie. For a time he attends the lay college in St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth. In October 1804, he is removed to Stonyhurst College, Lancashire, and in November 1807 enters Trinity College, Dublin, where he specially distinguishes himself in the debates of the Historical Society.

After taking his degree in 1811 Sheil is admitted a student of Lincoln’s Inn, and is called to the Irish bar in 1814. He is one of the founders of the Catholic Association in 1823 and draws up the petition for inquiry into the mode of administering the laws in Ireland, which is presented in that year to both Houses of Parliament.

In 1825, Sheil accompanies Daniel O’Connell to London to protest against the suppression of the Catholic Association. The protest is unsuccessful, but, although nominally dissolved, the association continues its propaganda after the defeat of the Catholic Relief Bill in 1825. He is one of O’Connell’s leading supporters in the agitation persistently carried on until Catholic emancipation was granted in 1829.

In the same year Shiel is returned to Parliament for Milborne Port, and in 1831 for County Louth, holding that seat until 1832. He takes a prominent part in all the debates relating to Ireland, and although he is greater as a platform orator than as a debater, he gradually wins the somewhat reluctant admiration of the House. In August 1839, he becomes Vice-President of the Board of Trade in Lord Melbourne‘s ministry.

After the accession of Lord John Russell to power in 1846, Shiel is appointed Master of the Mint, and in 1850 he is appointed minister at the court of Tuscany. He dies in Florence on May 23, 1851. His remains are conveyed back to Ireland by a British ship-of-war, and interred at Long Orchard, near Templetuohy, County Tipperary.

George W. E. Russell says of Shiel, “Sheil was very small, and of mean presence; with a singularly fidgety manner, a shrill voice, and a delivery unintelligibly rapid. But in sheer beauty of elaborated diction not O’Connell nor any one else could surpass him.”

Shiel’s play, Adelaide, or the Emigrants, is performed at the Crow Street Theatre in Dublin, on February 19, 1814, with success, and, on May 23, 1816, it is performed at Covent Garden in London. The Apostate, produced at the latter theatre on May 3, 1817, establishes his reputation as a dramatist. His other principal plays are Bellamira (written in 1818), Evadne (1819), Huguenot (produced in 1822) and Montini (1820).

In 1822, Sheil begins, with William Henry Curran, to contribute to The New Monthly Magazine a series of papers entitled “Sketches of the Irish Bar.” Curran, in fact, does most of the writing. These pieces are edited by Marmion Wilme Savage in 1855 in two volumes, under the title of Sketches Legal and Political. Sheil’s Speeches are edited in 1845 by Thomas MacNevin.

In 1816, Shiel marries a Miss O’Halloran, niece of Sir William MacMahon, Master of the Rolls in Ireland. They have one son, who predeceases Sheil. His wife dies in January 1822. In July 1830, he marries Anastasia Lalor Power, a widow. He then adds the middle name Lalor.


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Birth of James Patrick Mahon, Journalist, Barrister & Parliamentarian

Charles James Patrick Mahon, Irish nationalist journalist, barrister, parliamentarian and international mercenary, is born into a prominent Roman Catholic family in Ennis, County Clare, on March 17, 1800.

Mahon, the eldest of four children, is the son of Patrick Mahon of New Park, who took part in the Irish Rebellion of 1798, and Barbara, a considerable heiress and the only daughter of James O’Gorman of Ennis. He studies at Clongowes Wood College, where he is one of the earliest pupils, and at Trinity College Dublin, where he takes his BA in 1822 and his MA in law in 1832. Following his father’s death in 1821, he inherits half the family property and becomes a magistrate for Clare.

In 1830, Mahon marries Christina, the daughter of John O’Brien of Dublin. She is an heiress and has property valued at £60,000 in her own right, which gives him the resources to seek election to parliament. The couple spends little time together, and she dies apart from him in Paris in 1877. They have one son who dies in 1883.

In 1826, Mahon joins the newly formed Catholic Association. He encourages fellow member Daniel O’Connell to stand for election at the 1828 Clare by-election. O’Connell’s election, in which Mahon plays a large role, persuades the British Government to pass the Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829, which finalises the process of Catholic Emancipation and permitted Roman Catholics to sit in the British Parliament.

As a result, when Mahon is elected for Clare at the 1830 United Kingdom general election, he is entitled to take his seat. However, during the election campaign he quarrels with O’Connell, and after his election he is unseated for bribery. He is subsequently acquitted, and stands again at the 1831 United Kingdom general election, but is defeated by two O’Connell-backed candidates, one of whom is his old schoolfriend Maurice O’Connell, Daniel O’Connell’s son. He gives up on politics, becomes deputy lieutenant of Clare, and captain of the local militia.

Mahon becomes a barrister in 1834, but the following year, he leaves for Paris. There he associates with Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, becoming a favourite at Louis Philippe‘s court and working as a journalist. He travels the world, spending time in both Africa, where he befriends Ferdinand de Lesseps, engineer of the Suez Canal, and South America, before returning to Ireland in 1846.

At the 1847 United Kingdom general election, Mahon is elected for Ennis, and declares himself a Whig in favour of Irish Repeal. However, he opposes the Young Irelanders, and narrowly loses his seat at the 1852 United Kingdom general election.

Following his defeat in the 1852 election, Mahon returns to Paris, then travels on to Saint Petersburg, where he serves in the Imperial Bodyguard. During this period, he journeys through lands from Finland to Siberia. He then travels across China, India and Arabia. His finances largely exhausted, he serves as a mercenary in the Ottoman and Austrian armies before returning to England in 1858. Late that year, he leaves for South America, where he attempts to finance the construction of a canal through Central America.

After exploits abroad Mahon returns to Ireland in 1871 and is a founding member of the Home Rule League. Nearly ruined by his ventures, he even ends up at the Old Bailey as a consequence of his dealings, but is acquitted. He is defeated in Ennis at the 1874 United Kingdom general election, and also at the 1877 Clare by-election. Finally, he wins the 1879 Clare by-election and holds the seat at the 1880 United Kingdom general election.

Mahon is a close associate of Charles Stewart Parnell, who he successfully nominates for the leadership of the League in 1880, but is dropped in 1885 as a party candidate because of his age and his tendency to vote with the Liberal Party in Parliament. He is also embroiled in a court case disputing the will of his son.

Parnell personally ensures Mahon is a candidate at the 1887 County Carlow by-election, which he wins at the age of 87 as a Liberal. By this point, he is the oldest MP in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom. He dies at his home in South Kensington, London on June 15, 1891 while still in office.

Mahon had served alongside William O’Shea as an MP, and the two were close friends. He introduced him and Katharine O’Shea, his wife, to Parnell. After Parnell is named in the O’Sheas’ divorce case in 1890, Mahon splits with Parnell, siding with the Irish National Federation. However, Parnell attends Mahon’s funeral in Glasnevin Cemetery a few months later.

(Pictured: Caricature of James Patrick Mahon by Sir Leslie Matthew Ward under the pseudonym “Spy” published in Vanity Fair in 1885)