Catholic Emancipation

O’Connell now had complete control of the national mind. And his voice was the voice of Ireland. The unquestioning faith of his multitudinous following put in his hands a power which he unsparingly wielded to work out the peoples emancipation. The Catholic Board, under O’Connells direction of course, passed the celebrated "witchery" resolution, which gave to the scandal-mongering multitude the tid-bit that it was a bigoted anti-Catholic mistress who had compelled the Princes anti-Irish attitude. To cap the absurdity, O’Connell was not more delighted at lavishing servile homage upon his royal master than the royal master himself was childishly delighted to receive it. O’Connell in organising the reception so worked upon his faithful people with his lavish eloquence that, arising out to welcome George with wild delight, they seethed with enthusiasm during every day of his stay. So touched was George with his reception by his "beloved Irish subjects", that he bestowed on Lord Fingall, the ranking Catholic layman, the Order of St Patrick. And immediately after his return to England he sent to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland a message of gratitude, and hope for the bright future of his Irish people - which assured O’Connell and his followers, if assurance were needed, that their fondest hopes for religious freedom would now at length be satisfied. It is true that in ’21 the English House of Commons passed the Catholic Relief Bill which, while proposing to make Catholics eligible for Parliament and for offices under the Crown was again saddled with the impossible veto, and with another equally un-acceptable condition, namely, that the Roman Catholic clergy should take oath to elect only bishops who were loyal to the British Crown. He found it a particularly good time for agitation because it was a particularly bad time for the country. The year ’22 and again ’23 brought with them much want and hardship to the nation. Richard Lalor Shiel, orator and Catholic leader, who had differed with and separated from O’Connell, now consented to join forces with him. So O’Connell founded a new Catholic Association and resolving to bring into politics a new great power that had never before been systematically enlisted, namely, the priests, organised the Association by parishes with the priest in each case as natural leader. The Association, too, was more virile and determined in its demands. So dangerous became the peoples attitude that the English Government was forced to take a decisive step. The Catholic Association was suppressed, and an Emancipation Bill brought in. O’Connell, nothing daunted, started to build anew. Hen the Catholic Association was suppressed, he penned a valedictory, wherein, still strong with irrepressible loyalty he urged upon the people ‘attachment to the British Constitution, and unqualified loyalty to the king’. Though the general election in England went very happily for the n-popery party, the new no-popery Government was frightened to discover that the election in Ireland had gone entirely the other way. The mighty power of combined priest and people was taking form, and the Irish nation now realise the solidity of their power more surely and more boldly than ever before. Lecky says that this election of ’26 won Emancipation. But with far more force, it can be said that Emancipation was won by the epoch making Clare election. That was the first truly golden milestone met by the Irish people upon their weary march from the centurys beginning. The Clare election was to Ireland a joyful surprise and a fearful one to England. County Clare had conquered England. The Emancipation Bill was brought in - and passed - but not without fierce opposition. The Emancipation Bill was passed, the commonest citizen rights from which Irish people had hitherto been debarred, because they were heretics and idolaters, were now permitted by law. And civil offices from which they had been, for their crime, shut out, were supposedly thrown open to them. But practically speaking Irish Catholics continued, for many decades after, to labour under their former disability. And in many parts of Ireland, even down to a short generation ago, they were in practice still shut out from all offices except the most menial.

O’Connell’s Power and Popularity

Though it was in his character as political leader that he was greatest to his people, it was undeniably in his capacity as lawyer that Daniel O’Connell - "Dan" as they affectionately called him - got nearest to their hearts. They who had always been condemned before they were heard, were accorded human rights in the courts of law after O’Connell had successfully stormed those citadels of injustice. To the regular Crown prosecutors he made his name a name of fear. And indeed it was not much less a terror to those irregular Crown prosecutors who, on the Bench, masqueraded as judges. He was one of the most powerful pleaders that the Bar ever knew. His enemy, Peel, once said that if he wanted an efficient and eloquent advocate, he would readily barter all the best of the English Bar for the Irish O’Connell. In conducting an important case he called into play all of his wonderful faculties. He went from grave to gay, from the sublime to the ludicrous. He played with ease upon every human feeling. He carried away the judge, the jury, the witness that he was handling, and the very prisoner himself in the dock. He could in a few minutes cross-examination tear the ablest witness to shreds, and show the pitying court the paltry stuff he was made of. He might at first play his man, go with him, blarney him, flatter him, convince him that Dan O’Connell had become his most enthusiastic admirer and dearest friend. And when he had thus taken him off his guard, led him by hand into a trap, the Counsellor would come down upon his man with a crash that stunned and shattered him and left him a piteous victim at the great cross-examiners feet. And to judge and jury and the whole court it was now the witness, not the prisoner in the dock who was on trial for his life.
In the years when he was in his climax his word was to the Irish people electric, and his power was invincible. With joyous thrill these long-suffering ones felt that when Dan spoke there was fearful trembling in the seats of the mighty. In him the nation that was dumb had found a voice. The despised had found a champion and the cruelly wronged an avenger. He was to them in the ranks of the gods. After Emancipation was won O’Connell abandoned his law practice to devote himself entirely to the peoples cause.

Through the ‘Thirties

When Emancipation was won, Repeal of the false and corruptly purchase "Union" of Ireland with England was the great issue that the Leader started. In 1810, the grand jurors of Dublin, all of them of course Tories and British-Irish, tried to start the Repeal movement. Now that Dan was free to throw himself into the repeal movement, and the Catholics almost to a man were behind him, no support could be got from their Protestant fellow-countrymen. There were two reasons for this - the fierceness of the fight for Emancipation had embittered the Protestants against their Catholic fellows; and besides all the offices and patronage of the country which had been securely theirs in pre-Emancipation days were getting shaky in their grasp now that Catholic disabilities were by law removed, Repeal of the Union would finally break their monopoly; so the overwhelmingly body of the Protestant population was henceforth as bitterly anti-Repeal as they had formerly been anti-Union - and more bitterly than they had been anti-Emancipation. To help the English Whigs in their great fight for Parliamentary Reform, O’Connell much against the wish of many wise ones, slackened the Repeal fight, while he let the popular fight against tithes forge to the front. And he cast all his weight to the English Whigs in their Reform struggle.
The established Protestant Church was supported in Ireland by the farmers of all religions paying to it tithes, a tenth of their products. The tithe war spread like wildfire. The people refused to pay the iniquitous imposition. Thousands of troops were poured into the country to protect the tithe proctors and process-servers. The Protestant clergy, unable to collect the tithes, were now in such real distress that the Government had to provide a Relief Fund for them. O’Connell wanted the tithe reduced two-fifths. The tithe-war dragged on, in varying intensity, till in ’38 was passed the Act which reduced the tithe by a fourth, and shifted it to the landlord. In his desire to help the English Whigs in their Reform struggle, O’Connell had put Parliamentary Reform temporarily before Repeal, worked for it with might and main, and with his Irish following finally gave the Whigs the margin of majority that carried the Reform Bill. When in ’31 he had been warned against abandoning Irish Repeal for British Parliamentary Reform, he said to the people: ‘Let no one deceive you and say that I have abandoned anti-Unionism. It is false. But I am decidedly of opinion that it is only in a reformed Parliament that the question can properly, truly, and dispassionately, be discussed’. Throughout the ‘Thirties O’Connell seemed to work in complete forgetfulness of the one big fact which the agitation of the ‘Twenties should have stamped indelibly on his mind, namely, that an Ireland lulled by the opiate of English friendship always proved to be an Ireland fooled; while an Ireland rebellious was an Ireland successful. It was little wonder that in the late ‘Thirties the Whig-befooled Dan found his popularity waning, got down-hearted, depressed, discouraged and in ’39 made retreat in Mt Melleray to regain his calm.
He came out of his Mount Melleray retreat - with a mind much calmed - able collectedly to review his position and make his plans. But only a miracle could rehabilitate him.

  Irish History