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


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Birth of Arthur O’Connor, United Irishman

Arthur O’Connor, a United Irishman who is active in seeking allies for the Irish cause in England, is born near Bandon, County Cork, on July 4, 1763.

O’Connor is born into a wealthy Irish Protestant family. Through his brother Roger O’Connor, the author of the Chronicles of Eri who shares his politics, he is an uncle to Roderic O’Connor, Francisco Burdett O’Connor, and Feargus O’Connor among others. His other two brothers, Daniel and Robert, are pro-British loyalists.

As a young man, O’Connor embraces the Republican movement early on as he is encouraged by the American Revolution overseas. After his oldest brother Daniel gets into debt, his brother Roger buys out his inheritance. The family’s political and financial conflicts are only deepened when their sister Anne commits suicide, after having been forbidden by the family from marrying a Catholic man she was in love with.

From 1790 to 1795 O’Connor is a Member of Parliament in the Irish House of Commons for Philipstown. The Irish House of Commons is part of the colonial parliament that sits in College Green, Dublin. He is also a member of the Kildare Street Club in Dublin.

In 1796, O’Connor joins the Society of United Irishmen and determines, on its platform, to contest what had been his uncle Lord Longueville’s Irish parliamentary seat in Antrim. In January 1797, to the “free electors” of the county he commends the “entire abolition of religious distinctions” and the “establishment of a National Government,” while protesting the “invasion” of the country by English and Scottish troops and the continuation of the continental war. Arrests, including his own in February for seditious libel, frustrate his attempts to canvass. With Lord Edward FitzGerald and others in the leadership in Dublin his thoughts turn to securing “fraternal” French support for a revolutionary insurrection.

While traveling to France in March 1798, O’Connor is arrested alongside Father James Coigly, a Catholic priest, and two other United Irishmen, Benjamin Binns (also of the London Corresponding Society), and John Allen. Coigly, who is found to be carrying an clear evidence of treason, an address from “The Secret Committee of England” to the French Directory, is hanged. O’Connor, able to call Charles James Fox, Francis Rawdon-Hastings, the Earl of Moria, Richard Brinsley Sheridan and other Whig luminaries to testify to his character, is acquitted but is immediately re-arrested and imprisoned at Fort George in Scotland along with his brother Roger.

O’Connor is released in 1802 under the condition of “banishment,” He travels to Paris, where he is regarded as the accredited representative of the United Irishmen by Napoleon who, in February 1804, appoints him General of Division in the French army. General Louis-Alexandre Berthier, Minister of War, directs that O’Connor is to join the expeditionary army intended for the invasion of Ireland at Brest. When the plan falls through, O’Connor retires from the army.

In 1807, although more than twice her age, O’Connor marries Alexandrine Louise Sophie de Caritat de Condorcet, known as Eliza, the daughter of the scholar the Marquis de Condorcet and Sophie de Condorcet. Following his marriage he borrows money from fellow exile William Putnam McCabe to acquire a country residence. His tardiness in repaying the debt to McCabe, whose own investments into cotton spinning in Rouen had failed, results in a lawsuit. Cathal O’Bryne suggests that the debt is behind O’Connor’s later suggestion to Richard Robert Madden that McCabe had been a double agent, a charge to which, Madden notes, the French government lends no credence.

O’Connor offers his services to Napoleon during the Hundred Days. After Napoleon’s defeat he is allowed to retire, becoming a naturalised French citizen in 1818. He supports the 1830 revolution which creates the July Monarchy, publishing a defence of events in the form of an open letter to General Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette. After the revolution he becomes mayor of Le Bignon-Mirabeau. The rest of his life is spent composing literary works on political and social topics. He and his wife continue the efforts of her mother, who is herself an accomplished translator of Thomas Paine and Adam Smith, to publish her father’s works in twelve volumes between 1847 and 1849.

O’Connor’s wife give birth to five children, three sons and two daughters, almost all of whom predecease him. Only one son, Daniel, marries and has issue. Daniel marries Ernestine Duval du Fraville, a daughter of Laurent-Martin Duval, Baron Duval du Fraville, in 1843. She dies at Cannes in 1877.

O’Connor dies on April 25, 1852. His widow dies in 1859.

O’Connor’s descendants continue to serve as officers in the French army and still reside at Château Dubignon. Through his only surviving son, Daniel, he is a grandfather of two boys, Arthur O’Connor (1844–1909), who serves in the French army, and Fernand O’Connor (1847–1905), a Brigade General who serves in Africa and is made a Knight of the Legion of Honour. His grandson, Arthur, marries Marguerite de Ganay (1859–1940), a daughter of Emily and Etienne, Marquis de Ganay, in 1878. They have two daughters, Elisabeth O’Connor, the wife of Alexandre de La Taulotte, and Brigitte Emilie Fernande O’Connor (1880–1948), who in 1904 marries the Comte François de La Tour du Pin (1878–1914), who is killed ten years later at the First Battle of the Marne.


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Birth of Thomas Russell, Founding Member of the Society of United Irishmen

Thomas Paliser Russell, founding member and leading organiser of the Society of United Irishmen, is born in Dromahane, County Cork, on November 21, 1767.

Born into an Anglican family with a military tradition. Russell is intended for an ecclesiastical career in the Church of Ireland, but in 1783 sails with his brother’s regiment to India and fights at the battle of Cannanore. He is, however, disgusted by what he regards as “the unjust and rapacious conduct pursued by the authorities in the case of two native women,” and returns disaffected to Ireland in 1786. After briefly studying for the church ministry, he spends the next four years as a half-pay officer in Dublin pursuing studies of science, philosophy and politics.

In 1790, Russell meets Theobald Wolfe Tone in the visitors’ gallery of the Irish House of Commons and a lifelong friendship begins. At the end of the year, he is commissioned to Belfast as an ensign in the 64th infantry regiment of foot. Being convivial, good looking, charismatic and charming, he fits quickly into Belfast society. He is deeply religious and holds strong millennialist beliefs. On the other hand, he is also of a restless nature, drinks heavily, and is highly promiscuous.

Russell becomes a founder member of the first Society of United Irishmen in Belfast in 1791, writes for the Northern Star, and acts as secretary for the Dublin United Irishmen. He is the most socially radical of all United Irish leaders, an outspoken opponent of slavery and industrial exploitation.

Russell posts bail for a friend in order to secure his release from a debtor’s prison. When the friend defaults, Russell has to sell his ensigncy in July 1791. After several months, and to avoid further debt, he accepts the offer of Thomas Knox, 1st Viscount Northland, the father of an old army friend, to become seneschal (a kind of stipendiary magistrate) to the Northlands’ manor court at Dungannon. However, he resigns within a year, apparently disgusted by the sectarian animosities there. His financial situation worsens until he becomes librarian at the Belfast Society for Promoting Knowledge (the later Linen Hall Library) in 1794.

Russell is arrested on September 16, 1796, is charged with treason, and detained without trial in Newgate Prison, Dublin, until March 1799. He is then sent to Fort George in the north of Scotland. The longest serving United Irish prisoner, he is released in June 1802 on condition of exile to Hamburg. However, he soon makes his way to Paris where he meets Robert Emmet who, with William Putnam McCabe are advancing the plans for insurrection pending the French renewal of the war against England. Having little confidence in the French, however, he returns to Ireland in March 1803 to organise the North in conjunction with the veteran of the Battle of Antrim, James Hope. However he meets with little success as much of the North is subdued following the suppression of the Irish Rebellion of 1798.

In 1803 Russell joins a general insurrection that is to take place throughout Ireland with blows being struck simultaneously at Dublin, Belfast, and Downpatrick. Unknown to him, Robert Emmet is unable to secure help and promised firearms. In Dublin after a brief street battle on the evening of July 23, 1803, Emmett calls off the rising.

Russell manages to hide for a number of weeks in Dublin but is caught in the authorities’ dragnet on September 9. He is sent under heavy escort to Downpatrick Gaol. There, convicted of high treason, he is hung and beheaded on October 12, 1803. His remains are buried in the graveyard of the parish church, Down Cathedral, in a grave paid for by his friend Mary Ann McCracken.