seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of James Bronterre O’Brien, Chartist Leader, Reformer & Journalist

James Bronterre O’Brien, Irish Chartist leader, reformer and journalist, dies of complications from bronchitis on December 23, 1684.

O’Brien is born near Granard, County Longford, in 1804 or 1805. He goes to a local church school, where one of his teachers recognises his intellectual abilities and arranges for him to be educated at the progressive Lovell Edgeworth School. In 1822 he proceeds to Trinity College, Dublin, where he wins several academic prizes including the Science Gold Medal. After studying law at King’s Inns, he moves to England in 1829 with the intention of becoming a lawyer in London.

In London he joins the Radical Reform Association where he meets Henry Hunt, William Cobbett, Henry Hetherington and other leaders of the struggle for universal suffrage. In 1836 he joins the London Working Men’s Association.

O’Brien begins contributing articles to Henry Hetherington’s Poor Man’s Guardian. He signs these articles with the pseudonym ‘Bronterre’ and he eventually adopts it as his middle name. He works very closely with Hetherington and when he is imprisoned for publishing an unstamped newspaper, O’Brien takes over the editorship of Poor Man’s Guardian. He and Hetherington also collaborate on other unstamped newspapers such as The Destructive and the London Dispatch. In 1837 he begins publishing Bronterre’s National Reformer. In an attempt to avoid paying stamp duty, the journal includes essays rather than ‘news items.’ During this period, he and Hetherington lead the struggle against the stamp duty and are consistent in their arguments that working people need cheap newspapers that contain political information.

O’Brien is influenced by the socialist writer François-Noël Babeuf, who had been executed during the French Revolution. In 1836 he begins publishing translations of Babeuf’s work in the Poor Man’s Guardian. He also includes Filippo Buonarroti‘s account of Babeuf and the Conspiracy of Equals. He becomes fascinated with the history of radicalism and begins work on books on Maximilien Robespierre, the French Revolution and the English Commonwealth. However, the authorities raid his house in 1838 and seize his manuscripts and the projects are never completed.

In 1838 O’Brien adds his support for a more militant approach to winning the vote that is being advocated by Feargus O’Connor and George Julian Harney through the London Democratic Association. However, he, unlike O’Connor, refuses to support the use of violence to achieve universal suffrage. He argues that the Chartists should adopt a policy that is midway between the petitioning supported by William Lovett and the Moral Force Chartists, and the violence being threatened by O’Connor’s Physical Force group.

After Bronterre’s National Reformer ceases publication, O’Brien works for O’Connor’s Northern Star. His articles play an important role in increasing the circulation of what had become the most important of the radical newspapers. As well as writing for the Northern Star, he also finds time to publish his own newspaper, The Operative.

O’Brien continues to be active in the Chartist movement and in 1840 he is arrested and charged with making a seditious speech in Manchester. He is convicted of sedition and sentenced to eighteen months in Lancaster Prison. When he is released from prison he finds it difficult to continue working with Feargus O’Connor. The two men disagree over the issue of physical force. Another source of dispute concerns parliamentary elections. O’Brien favours the idea of putting up Chartist candidates whereas O’Connor prefers the tactic of putting pressure on the Whig government by threatening to vote for Tory candidates. He is involved in standing Chartist candidates against Government Ministers in key seats, particularly in standing against Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston in Tiverton.

O’Brien finally breaks with O’Connor when, along with Henry Vincent and Robert George Gammage, he joins the Complete Suffrage Union. He continues to publish newspapers. He joins with his old friend Henry Hetherington to revive the Poor Man’s Guardian in 1843 and this is followed by the National Reformer in 1844. These newspapers are not a financial success and by May 1847, both papers cease publication.

After the failure of these two newspapers, O’Brien concentrates on writing for other publications such as Reynold’s Weekly Newspaper and the Glasgow Sentinel. He also gives public lectures and in 1851 he opens the Eclectic Institute in Denmark Street, Soho, London, where adult education classes are offered in English, French, science and mathematics.

By the 1850s O’Brien’s poverty begins to damage his health. He suffers from bronchitis and his Chartist friends attempt to raise money in recognition of the great sacrifices that he had made in the struggle to win universal suffrage and the freedom of the press. However, the damage to his health is so bad that he spends his last years bed-ridden. He dies on December 23, 1864, and is buried in Abney Park Cemetery.


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Birth of Theobald Wolfe Tone

theobald-wolfe-toneTheobald Wolfe Tone, posthumously known as Wolfe Tone, a leading Irish revolutionary figure and one of the founding members of the United Irishmen, is born on June 20, 1763, in Dublin. He is regarded as the father of Irish republicanism and leader of the Irish Rebellion of 1798.

The son of a coach maker, Tone studies law and is called to the Irish bar in 1789 but soon gives up his practice. In October 1791 he helps found the Society of United Irishmen, initially a predominantly Protestant organization that works for parliamentary reforms, such as universal suffrage and Roman Catholic emancipation. In Dublin in 1792 he organizes a Roman Catholic convention of elected delegates that force Parliament to pass the Catholic Relief Act of 1793. Tone himself, however, is anticlerical and hopes for a general revolt against religious creeds in Ireland as a sequel to the attainment of Irish political freedom.

By 1794, he and his United Irishmen friends begin to seek armed aid from Revolutionary France to help overthrow English rule. After an initial effort fails, Tone goes to the United States and obtains letters of introduction from the French minister at Philadelphia to the Committee of Public Safety in Paris. In February 1796 Tone arrives in the French capital, presents his plan for a French invasion of Ireland, and is favourably received. The Directory then appoints one of the most brilliant young French generals, Lazare Hoche, to command the expedition and makes Tone an adjutant in the French army.

On December 16, 1796, Tone sails from Brest with 43 ships and nearly 14,000 men. The ships are badly handled and, after reaching the coast of west Cork and Kerry, are dispersed by a storm. Tone again brings an Irish invasion plan to Paris in October 1797, but the principal French military leader, Napoleon Bonaparte, takes little interest. When insurrection breaks out in Ireland in May 1798, Tone can only obtain enough French forces to make small raids on different parts of the Irish coast. In September he enters Lough Swilly, County Donegal, with 3,000 men and is captured there.

At his trial in Dublin on November 10, 1798, he defiantly proclaims his undying hostility to England and his desire “in fair and open war to produce the separation of the two countries.” He is found guilty and is sentenced to be hanged on November 12. Early in the morning of the day he is to be hanged, Tone cuts his throat with a penknife.

Theobald Wolfe Tone dies of his self-inflicted wound on November 19, 1798 at the age of 35 in Provost’s Prison, Dublin, not far from where he was born. He is buried in Bodenstown, County Kildare, near his birthplace at Sallins, and his grave is in the care of the National Graves Association.