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


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Death of Frank Hugh O’Donnell, Writer, Journalist & Politician

Frank Hugh O’Donnell, Irish writer, journalist and nationalist politician, dies in London on November 2, 1916.

O’Donnell is born in an army barracks in Devon, England, where his father, Sergeant Bernard MacDonald, is stationed. His mother, Mary Kain, is a native of Ballybane, close to Galway city. He is educated at the Erasmus Smith School in Galway, Coláiste Iognáid (the “Jes”), and later enrolls in Queen’s College Galway, where he studies English literature, history and political economy. While a student at the college, he acquires a considerable reputation as an orator, and is a frequent contributor to meetings of the college’s Literary and Debating Society, of which he becomes vice-auditor for the 1864–65 session.

Even in his student days, O’Donnell seems to be quick to voice his opinions, and revells in controversy. In November 1866, addressing the Literary and Debating Society on the question “Was the character of Warren Hastings as Governor-General of India praiseworthy?,” he causes uproar by denouncing “the principle and the system which have lain at the root of the international and intercolonial policy of England, from the days when Elizabeth, the Infamous, chartered for profit two of the first ships which opened the African slave trade.” His remarks cause the chairman of the meeting, Professor Thomas Moffett, to prevent him from continuing his speech, stating that “such an epithet ought not to be applied to any predecessor of our present gracious Queen.” O’Donnell regards such action as an unwarranted restriction on his freedom of speech, and in a letter published in the local press gives an early example of his high-flown literary style:

“I hold that Debating Societies are the nurseries of independent thought, and the training schools of sober criticism. I believe in the power and impartiality of an enlightened studenthood … I have followed the mind of Austin. I have sat at the feet of Cairnes. I have drunk of the philosophy of Mill. I claim for Judicial Science, for Economic Science, for the Philosophy of History, a place in the discussions of our society, I pity and I scorn the formidable confederacy of fools who dare not call a spade a spade.”

This incident, combined with the reluctance of the society to prevent O’Donnell from addressing its meetings, eventually leads to the suspension of the society from the Queen’s College and its temporary migration to rooms in the city of Galway.

O’Donnell graduates from the Queen’s College with an M.A. degree in 1868, winning several gold medals for his academic performance. By this stage, he has begun to style himself ‘Frank Hugh O’Donnell,’ believing himself to be a descendant of Hugh O’Donnell, 2nd Earl of Tyrconnell.

Leaving Galway, O’Donnell moves to London, where he embarks on a career in journalism, following his college contemporary T. P. O’Connor. O’Connor’s knowledge of modern European languages has helped him to establish himself as a correspondent on European affairs, and he assists O’Donnell in developing a similar reputation. He spends a brief period on the staff of The Morning Post.

In the 1874 United Kingdom general election, O’Donnell is elected Member of Parliament (MP) for Galway Borough, but is unseated by the courts in what appears to be a politically inspired judgment which uses certain unsavoury campaigning tactics in which O’Donnell had indulged as its basis. He is succeeded in the seat by his election agent, Dr. Michael Francis Ward, who is himself succeeded in 1880 by T. P. O’Connor in an unusual succession, all three having been either auditor or vice-auditor of the Queen’s College Literary and Debating Society in the same era.

In 1875, O’Donnell is a founding member of the Constitutional Society of India, a group promoting political autonomy for India. In 1877, he secures a more permanent election to the House of Commons of the United Kingdom as MP for Dungarvan. He holds the seat until 1885, when the constituency is abolished. He strikes a colourful and controversial figure in parliament and becomes renowned for his declamatory speech-making. He is a prominent obstructionist and claims credit for inventing the tactic of obstructionism which is to yield such results for the Home Rule League under Charles Stewart Parnell. Indeed, he sees himself as a natural leader and becomes disillusioned when Parnell is selected in May 1880 to succeed William Shaw as leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party. He calls the British ‘Imperial pirates’ and inaugurates the Constitutional Society of India. Its aim is Home Rule for India, “Mr. O’Donnell’s grand passion in politics was a confederation of all the discontented races of the Empire under the lead of the Irish party. He once brought down some scores of dusky students of all the races and creeds of Hindustan to the House of Commons.”

Parnell refuses to let O’Donnell be nominated in 1885. He leaves the Irish Parliamentary Party and conventional politics, but not its general aims of promoting home rule and tenant farmers’ rights. His last and perhaps most important contribution to the fortunes of the party is the libel case he launches against The Times in 1888 over the series “Parnellism and Crime.” Though the case is lost, it results in the establishment of the Parnell Commission which exonerates Parnell from condoning the Phoenix Park Murders, and exposes the Pigott Forgeries.

In his later years O’Donnell begins investigating misconduct by both the British Civil Service and the Roman Catholic church in Ireland. His Paraguay on Shannon (1908) is an amusing but serious critique of unethical practices by the Catholic clergy in local politics, education, and their involvement in the Congested Districts Board for Ireland that is financed by Parliament in order to improve the depressed economy of western Ireland. Parliament believes that by improving the living standards of the Irish peasant class, they can “kill Home Rule with kindness.”

After careful investigation, O’Donnell accuses members of the Catholic clergy of illegally diverting Government money earmarked for economic development into new Cathedrals, parish churches, and other ecclesiastical building projects. He argues that the British Government needs to provide better oversight of how the Congested Districts Board’s funds are being used. He believes that “in Ireland material ruin has accompanied clerical despotism.” His hostility to the Church draws the ire of Catholic historians who systematically undermine his credibility.

Ernest Belfort Bax writes that O’Donnell’s “matter is better than his manner.”

O’Donnell dies a bachelor in London on November 2, 1916 and is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.


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Birth of Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington

Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, Anglo-Irish soldier and statesman and one of the leading military and political figures of the 19th century, is born at 6 Merrion Street, Dublin, on May 1, 1769.

Wellesley is born to Garret Wesley, 1st Earl of Mornington and Anne Wellesley, Countess of Mornington. Fatherless at an early age and neglected by his mother, he is a reserved, withdrawn child. He fails to shine at Eton College and instead attends private classes in Brussels, followed by a military school in Angers, France. Ironically, he has no desire for a military career. Instead he wishes to pursue his love of music. Following his mother’s wishes, however, he joins a Highland regiment.

Wellesley fights at Flanders in Belgium in 1794, and directs the campaign in India in 1796, where his elder brother Richard is Governor-General. Knighted for his efforts, he returns to England in 1805.

In 1806 Wellesley is elected Member of Parliament for Rye, East Sussex, and within a year he is appointed Chief Secretary of Ireland under Charles Lennox, 4th Duke of Richmond. He continues with his military career despite his parliamentary duties, fighting campaigns in Portugal and France, and being made commander of the British Army in the Peninsular War. He is given the title Duke of Wellington in 1814, and goes on to command his most celebrated campaigns in the Napoleonic Wars, with final victory at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. When he returns to Britain he is treated as a hero, formally honoured, and presented with both an estate in Hampshire and a fortune of £400,000.

After the Battle of Waterloo, Wellesley becomes Commander in Chief of the army in occupied France until November 1818. He then returns to England and Parliament, and joins Robert Jenkinson, 2nd Earl of Liverpool’s government in 1819 as Master-General of the Ordnance. He undertakes a number of diplomatic visits overseas, including a trip to Russia.

In 1828, after twice being overlooked in favour of George Canning and F. J. Robinson, 1st Viscount Goderich, Wellesley is finally invited by King George IV to form his own government and set about forming his Cabinet. As Prime Minister, he is very conservative; known for his measures to repress reform, his popularity sinks a little during his time in office. Yet one of his first achievements is overseeing Catholic emancipation in 1829, the granting of almost full civil rights to Catholics in the United Kingdom. Feelings run very high on the issue. George Finch-Hatton, 10th Earl of Winchilsea, an opponent of the bill, claims that by granting freedoms to Catholics Wellesley “treacherously plotted the destruction of the Protestant constitution.”

Wellesley has a much less enlightened position on parliamentary reform. He defends rule by the elite and refuses to expand the political franchise. His fear of mob rule is enhanced by the riots and sabotage that follow rising rural unemployment. His opposition to reform causes his popularity to plummet to such an extent that crowds gathered to throw missiles at his London home.

The government is defeated in the House of Commons and Wellesley resigns on November 16, 1830, to be replaced by Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey. Wellesley, however, continues to fight reform in opposition, though he finally consents to the Great Reform Act in 1832.

Two years later Wellesley refuses a second invitation to form a government because he believes membership in the House of Commons has become essential. The king reluctantly approves Robert Peel, who is in Italy at the time. Hence, Wellesley acts as interim leader for three weeks in November and December 1834, taking the responsibilities of Prime Minister and most of the other ministries. In Peel’s first cabinet (1834–1835), he becomes Foreign Secretary, while in the second (1841–1846) he is a Minister without portfolio and Leader of the House of Lords. Upon Peel’s resignation in 1846, he retires from politics.

In 1848 Wellesley organises a military force to protect London against possible Chartist violence at the large meeting at Kennington Common.

Arthur Wellesley dies at Walmer Castle, Kent, England on September 14, 1852 after a series of seizures. After lying in state in London, he is buried in St. Paul’s Cathedral. The Wellington Arch in London’s Hyde Park is named in his honor.

(From: “Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington,” GOV.UK (wwww.gov.uk) | Pictured: “Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington (1769-1852)” by Thomas Lawrence, oil on canvas)