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DANIEL O'CONNELL (1775-1847)
THE FIRST ORATOR OF EUROPE
It was as
T is to John Randolph that O'Connell owes the title of “The
“ The Liberator” that he was known at home, as a tribute to his strenuous efforts to free Ireland from the supremacy of English rule. The history of the great agitator we must deal with very briefly. A native of County Kerry, he studied law and was called to the Irish bar in 1798, and for twenty-two years enjoyed an enormous practice in the Munster circuit. During this time he was a vehement advocate of the rights of the Catholics. Catholic emancipation came in 1828, and he entered Parliament in 1830, where he agitated for the repeal of the Union of Ireland with Great Britain, and for ten years and more stirred up the members by his wit, irony, vehemence and invective. Yet he kept the Irish from violent outbreaks until 1843, when the Young Ireland party threatened to break loose from his dictation. He now traversed Ireland in an agitation for repeal, monster meetings being held—that on the Hill of Tara, on August 15th, numbering three-quarters of a million. As a result he was arrested on a charge of conspiracy to raise sedition, and sentenced to fine and imprisonment-lying three months in prison before his release by the House of Lords. With this began the breakdown of his health and great strength, he dying in 1847 while on his way to Rome.
As an orator O'Connell was gifted with remarkable natural powers. Disraeli, one of his active opponents, says that “his voice was the finest ever heard in Parliament, distinct, deep, sonorous, and flexible." While often slovenly in style, his powers of moving an audience--an Irish audience in particular--was irresistible. In the great
struggle of his life, that for the rights of Ireland, he was one of the most effective popular leaders of modern times. As examples of his bitterness in epithet may be given his comparison of the smile of Sir Robert Peel to the shine of a silver plate on a coffin, and his designation of Disraeli as “heir-at-law of the blasphemous thief who died upon the cross."
THE CHARMS OF KILDARE [The following extract is from a speech of O'Connell at Mullaghmast, County Kildare, in September, 1843, during the campaign of agitation for Repeal of the Union.]
I wish to live long enough to have perfect justice administered to Ireland and liberty proclaimed throughout the land. It will take me some time to prepare my plan for the formation of the new Irish House of Commons; that plan which we will yet submit to her Majesty for her approval, when she gets rid of her present paltry Administration and has one which I can support . .. . You may be sure of this,-and I say it in the presence of Him who will judge me,—that I never will willfully deceive you.
I have but one wish under heaven, and that is for the liberty and prosperity of Ireland. I am for leaving England to the English, Scotland to the Scotch, but we must have Ireland for the Irish. I will not be content until I see not a single man in any office, from the lowest constable to the lord chancellor, but Irishmen. This is our land, and we must have it. We will be obedient to the Queen, joined to England by the golden link of the crown, but we must have our own parliament, our own bench, our own magistrates, and we will give some of the shoneens who now occupy the bench leave to retire, such as those lately appointed by Sugden. He is a pretty boy, sent here from England; but I ask, did you ever hear such a name as he has got? I remember, in Wexford, a man told me he had a pig at home which he was so fond of that he would call it Sugden.
No; we will get judicial independence for Ireland. It is for this purpose we are assembled here to-day, as every countenance I see around me testifies. If there is any one here who is not for the Union let him say so. Is there anybody here for the repeal ? [Cries of “All, all !”]
Yes, my friends, the Union was begot in iniquity, it was perpetuated in fraud and cruelty. It was no compact, no bargain, but it was an act of the most decided tyranny and corruption that was ever yet perpetrated. Trial by jury was suspended ; the right of personal protection was at an end; courts-martial sat throughout the land, and the county of Kildare, among others, flowed with blood. Oh, my friends, listen now to the man of peace, who will never expose you to the power of your enemies. In
1798 there were some brave men, some valiant men, at head of the people at large; but there were many traitors, who left the people in the power of their enemies. The Curragh of Kildare afforded an instance of the fate which Irishmen were to expect, who confided in their Saxon enemies. Oh, it was an ill-organized, a premature, a foolish, and an absurd insurrection; but you have a leader now who never will allow you to commit any act so foolish or so destructive.
How delighted do I feel with the thorough conviction which has .come over the minds of the people, that they could not gratify your enemies more than by committing a crime. No; our ancestors suffered for confiding in the English, but we never will confide in them. They suffered for being divided among themselves. There is no division among us. They suffered for their own dissensions—for not standing man to man by each other's side. We shall stand peaceably side by side in the face of every enemy. Oh, how delighted was I in the scenes which I witnessed as I came along here to-day! How my heart throbbed, how my spirit was elevated, how my bosom swelled with delight at the multitude which I beheld, and which I shall behold, of the stalwart and strong men of Kildare! I was delighted at the activity and force that I saw around me; and my old heart grew warm again in admiring the beauty of the dark-eyed maids and matrons of Kildare. Oh, there is a starlight sparkling from the eye of a Kildare beauty, that is scarcely equaled, and could not be excelled, all over the world. And remember that you are the sons, the fathers, the brothers, and the husbands of such women, and a traitor or a coward could never be connected with any of them.
Yes, I am in a county remarkable in the history of Ireland for its bravery and its misfortune, for its credulity in the faith of others, for its people judged of the Saxon by the honesty and honor of its own natures. I am in a country celebrated for the sacredness of its shrines and fanes. I am in a country where the lamp of Kildare's holy shrine burned with its sacred fire, through ages of darkness and storm ; that fire which for six centuries burned before the high altar without being extinguished, being fed continuously, without the slightest interruption ; and it seemed to me to have been not an inapt representation of the continuous fidelity and religious love of country of the men of Kildare. Yes, you have those high qualities—religious fidelity, continuous love of country. Even your enemies admit that the world has never produced any people that exceeded the Irish in activity and strength. The Scottish philosopher has declared, and the French philosopher has confirmed it, that number one in the human race is, blessed be Heaven ! the Irishman. In moral virtue, in religion, in perseverance, and in glorious temperance, you excel.
I any teetotalers here? Yes, it is teetotalism that is repealing the Union. I could not afford to bring you together, I would not dare to bring you together, but that I had the teetotalers for my police.
Yes, among the nations of the earth, Ireland stands number one in the physical strength of her sons and in the beauty and purity of her daughters. Ireland, land of my forefathers, how my mind expands, and my spirit walks abroad in something of majesty, when I contemplate the high qualities, inestimable virtues, and true purity and piety and religious fidelity of the inhabitants of our green fields and productive mountains. Oh, what a scene surrounds us ! It is not only the countless thousands of brave and active and peaceable and religious men that are here assembled, but Nature herself has written her character with the finest beauty in the verdant plains that surround us. Let any man run round the hori. zon with his eye, and tell me if created Nature ever produced anything so green and so lovely, so undulating, so teeming with production. The richest harvests that any land can produce are those reaped in Ireland ; and then here are the sweetest meadows, the greenest fields, the loftiest mountains, the purest streams, the noblest rivers, the most capacious harbors, and her water-power is equal to turn the machinery of the whole world.
Oh, my friends, it is a country worth fighting for ; it is a country worth dying for; but above all, it is a country worth being tranquil, determined, submissive, and docile for; disciplined as you are in obedience to those who are breaking the way, and trampling down the barriers between you and your constitutional liberty, I will see every man of you having a vote, and every man protected by the ballot from the agent or landlord. I will see labor protected, and every title to possession recog. nized, when you are industrious and honest. I will see prosperity again throughout your land ; the busy hum of the shuttle and the tinkling of the smithy shall be heard again. We shall see the nailer employed even until the middle of the night, and the carpenter covering himself with his chips. I will see prosperity in all its gradations spreading through a happy, contented religious land. I will hear the hymn of a happy people go forth at sunrise to God in praise of His mercies, and I will see the evening sun set amongst the uplifted hands of a religious and free population. Every blessing that man can bestow and religion can confer upon the faithful heart shall spread throughout the land. Stand by mejoin with me, I will say be obedient to me, and Ireland shall be free.