Morgan O’Connell, soldier, politician and son of the Irish Nationalist leader Daniel O’Connell, the Liberator of Ireland, is born in Dublin on October 31, 1804. He serves in the Irish South American legion and the Imperial Austrian Army. He is MP for Meath from 1832 until 1840 and afterwards assistant-registrar of deeds for Ireland from 1840 until 1868.
In 1819, self-styled General John Devereux comes to Dublin to enlist military aid for Simón Bolívar‘s army to liberate Venezuela from Spanish rule. He succeeds in forming an Irish Legion, to be part of Bolivar’s British Legions. O’Connell, encouraged by his father, is one of the officers who purchases a commission in it even though he is only 15 years old. The enterprise is mismanaged; there is no commissariat organisation on board the ships, and a part of the force die on the voyage. The remainder are disembarked on the Spanish Main at Margarita Island, where many deaths take place from starvation eight days after the Irish mutineers leave for Jamaica.
Bolivar, who had noted his pleasure at the departure of “these vile mercenaries,” is too astute a diplomat to offend the son of his Irish counterpart. O’Connell is accorded the appropriate privileges of his rank, and toasts are drunk to the health of his father, the “most enlightened man in all Europe.” A portion of the expedition, under Francis O’ Connor, effects an alliance with Bolivar, and to the energy of these allies the republican successes are chiefly due.
Bolivar makes sure that the untrained Irish lad stays out of danger. “I have numberless hardships to go through,” said Bolivar, “which I would not bring him into, for the character of his father is well known to me.” But ceremonial duties soon bore the restless young Irishman. After a year at Bolivar’s headquarters Morgan leaves for Ireland.
If South America did not satisfy O’Connell’s taste for adventure, he has more than his fill on the return journey. He survives a bout of tropical fever and is shipwrecked twice in succession, ending up stranded in Cuba. A schooner captain, who turns out to be a long-lost Irish cousin, rescues him. After the captain is killed in a fight with his boatswain, he hitches a ride to Jamaica on a Danish ship commanded by a skipper from Cork. From Jamaica, another Irish officer offers Morgan passage home.
Arriving in January 1822, O’Connell is greeted by his proud father as a prodigal son returned. His South American adventure, declares Daniel O’Connell, has made a man of Morgan. Otherwise, said O’Connell, “it would have been difficult to tame him down to the sobriety of business.” After his return to Ireland, he again seeks foreign service in the Austrian army.
On December 19, 1832 O’Connell enters parliament in the Liberal interest, as one of the members for Meath, and continues to represent that constituency until January 1840, when he is appointed first assistant-registrar of deeds for Ireland, at a salary of £1,200 a year, a position he holds until 1868. In politics he is never in perfect accord with his father, and his retirement from parliament is probably caused by his inability to accept the Repeal movement.
During his parliamentary career O’Connell fights a duel with Lord William Arden, 2nd Baron Alvanley, a captain in the British Army, at Chalk Farm, on May 4, 1835. A challenge had been sent by Alvanley to O’Connell’s father, who, in accordance with a vow he had made after shooting John D’Esterre, declines the meeting. The younger O’Connell thereupon takes up the challenge on his father’s account. Two shots each are exchanged, but no one is hurt. Afterwards, in December 1835, he receives a challenge from Benjamin Disraeli, in consequence of an attack made on Disraeli by O’Connell’s father. He declines to meet Disraeli.
On July 23, 1840, O’Connell marries Kate Mary, youngest daughter of Michael Balfe of South Park, County Roscommon.
Morgan O’Connell dies at 12 St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin, on January 20, 1885. He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin on January 23.
(Pictured: Morgan O’Connell, oil on canvas, artist unknown, c. 1819/20)