seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of Arthur French, Member of Parliament

Arthur French, Irish Whig politician, patriot, orator, opportunist and hunter, dies on November 24, 1820.

French belongs to the long-established French family of Frenchpark, County Roscommon, who are substantial landowners who also make money in the wine trade. He is the eldest son of Arthur French MP and Alicia Magenis, daughter of Richard Magenis of Dublin and sister of Richard Magenis. He marries Margaret Costello, daughter of Edmond Costello of Edmondstown, County Mayo, and has nine children, including Arthur French, 1st Baron de Freyne, John, 2nd Baron and Charles, 3rd Baron.

In 1783, French is elected a Member of Parliament (MP) for Roscommon County in the Irish House of Commons. After the Act of Union 1800 he represents Roscommon in the Parliament of the United Kingdom. He is alleged to have been offered an Earldom if he would support the union of Ireland with Great Britain but refuses the honour. Later he also refuses a Barony with no strings attached, although in time three of his sons would hold the title Baron de Freyne. The Crown is frequently irritated by his demands for offices and favours for his brothers and sons, although such behaviour is entirely typical of an Irish politician at the time.

A critic of the policy of collective fines as a deterrent to the illicit distillation of poteen, French incurs the wrath of Chief Secretary for Ireland Robert Peel who calls him “an Abominable fellow,” but his enormous popularity in Roscommon means that he cannot be ignored. He also criticizes the continuation of martial law in Ireland.

By 1817 French is complaining of ill-health. He dies on November 24, 1820. One report at the time states that he had died “from excessive fox hunting.”


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Birth of Charles Owen O’Conor, Irish Politician

Charles Owen O’Conor, Irish politician, is born on May 7, 1838 in Dublin.

O’Conor is eldest son in the Roman Catholic family of Denis O’Conor of Bellanagare and Clonallis, County Roscommon, and Mary, daughter of Major Blake of Towerhill, County Mayo. A younger brother, Denis Maurice O’Conor (1840-1883), is a Liberal Party MP in the Home Rule interest for Sligo County (1868-83).

After his education at Downside School in England, O’Conor enters London University in 1855, but does not graduate. He enters public life at an early age, being elected MP for Roscommon as a Liberal Party candidate at a by-election in 1860. In 1874 he is returned as a home ruler but, refusing to take the party pledge exacted by Charles Stewart Parnell, is ousted by Irish nationalist journalist James O’Kelly in 1880. In 1883, he is defeated by William Redmond in a contest for MP representing Wexford Borough.

An active member of parliament, O’Conor is an effective though not an eloquent speaker and a leading exponent of Roman Catholic opinion. He frequently speaks on Irish education and land tenure. He criticises unfavourably the Queen’s Colleges established in 1845 and the model schools, and advocates separate education for Roman Catholics. In 1867 he introduces a measure to extend the Industrial Schools Act to Ireland, which becomes law the following year.

O’Conor opposes William Ewart Gladstone‘s Irish University Bill of 1873, and in May 1879 brings forward a measure, which has the support of almost every section of Irish political opinion, for the creation of a new examining university, St. Patrick’s, with power to make grants based on the results of examination to students of denominational colleges affiliated to it. This is withdrawn on July 23 on the announcement of the University Education (Ireland) Act 1879 creating the Royal University of Ireland.

O’Conor steadily lurges a reform of the Irish land laws. On social and industrial questions he also speaks with authority. From 1872 onwards he professes his adherence to home rule and supports Isaac Butt in his motion for inquiry into the parliamentary relations of Great Britain and Ireland in 1874. He also acts with the Irish leader in his endeavours to mitigate the severity of coercive legislation, though declaring himself not in all circumstances opposed to exceptional laws.

Following his parliamentary career in 1880, O’Conor is a member of the Registration of Deeds Commission of 1880, and takes an active part in the Bessborough land commission of the same year. He is a member of both the parliamentary committee of 1885 and the royal commission of 1894 on the financial relations between Great Britain and Ireland, and becomes chairman of the commission on the death of Hugh Culling Eardley Childers in 1896. He is also active in local government, presiding over parliamentary committees on Irish grand jury laws and land valuation in 1868 and 1869, and being elected to the first county council of Roscommon in 1898. He is Lord-Lieutenant of the county from 1888 until his death.

O’Conor is much interested in antiquarian studies. He serves for many years as president of the Antiquarian Society of Ireland, as well as of the Royal Irish Academy. He is president of the Irish Language Society, and procures the insertion of Irish language into the curriculum of the intermediate education board.

O’Conor dies at Clonalis House, Castlerea, County Roscommon, on June 30, 1906, and is buried in the new cemetery, Castlerea.