The Great Repeal Fight
In 1840 OConnell founded the National Association of Ireland for
repeal. The name of the Association was in 41, improved into the Loyal National
The Repeal movement was undoubtedly popularised, and materially stimulated by a couple of big happenings in the Dublin Corporation in these years. In 41 was elected, for the first time in history, a Nationalist corporation in Dublin Corporation, citadel of ultra-Orangeism, was wiped out and replaced by one that was five-sixths Nationalist. And to the frenzied delight of Dublin, and all Ireland, Dan OConnell was elected the first Nationalist Lord Mayor. The second stimulus was the great Repeal debate in the Dublin Corporation, where the new Lord Mayor made a Repeal speech, which, to the eager people who in every corner of the land devoured the report of it, was one of the most wonderful of his career. By overwhelmingly majority was carried a resolution to present a Repeal petition to Parliament. Now the Repeal movement was in full swing. And OConnell filled the land with the agitation. In wonderful speech after speech bristling with urge, ringing with hope, and thundering with defiance, he fostered the ferment in which the populace found itself. The climax of the great Repeal fight came in 43. That was the year of the Monster meetings, the year of the sublime hope and the undaunted resolve, of the mighty welding of two million men into one solid bulwark of freedom. And yet, alas, it was the sad year of real defeat ! The fighting spirit which stirred the hearts of the people that year expressed itself at those wonderful gatherings, unique in the cult for Irishmen. A quarter of a million people in attendance came to be considered moderate. But the greatest and most memorable of all the great meetings was that at Tara - when his eye swept over that human sea OConnell himself must have marvelled at the spirit that animated the nation. "What", he said, "could England effect against such a people so thoroughly aroused, if, provoked past endurance, they rose out in rebellion". The government, now aroused to the imminent danger of these meetings, forbade the Clontarf meeting. Five regiments of soldiers, with canon and all the appliances of war, were stationed at vantage points. The gauntlet was thrown down to OConnell. The country stood on tip-toe awaiting "the word" from OConnell - whatever that word might be. And tens of thousands of eager ones prayed that it might be a bold one. But, Peace was the word given by the leader. The people implicitly obeyed. Yet time proved that on the day of Clontarf was dug the grave of OConnells Repeal.
The End of OConnell
But the movement and the man had an Indian summer.
But Clontarf and its sequel, the trial and imprisonment, had marked a great turning point in Dans career. He studiously avoided any statements of future policy. And without giving the country a lead he went home to Derry, nane to rest and recuperate - to forget politics for a period. He was nevermore the old Dan, the bold Dan, whose magnetic power had gifted him to lead a nation. The Nation party, the Young Ireland party were rebelling against him and the Association and seeking an antidote to the Whigs opiate, were preaching revolution to the country. And henceforward to the sincerely grieved Daniel OConnell and his lieutenants in the Association, the Young Ireland party, more than England were Irelands enemy.
Famine now fastened its clutch on the country. The potato crop of 46, which was eagerly expected to cure the acute distress produced by the 45 failure, was blighted. And the harvest of 47 was yet to plunge the people in far deeper distress. The dreadful sufferings of the poor people now helped to complete the Liberators mental breakdown. The heart of him sank down into sadness. In the beginning of 47, though feeling sick and worn both in body and soul, he set out upon the sore weeks journey to London to plead, this time, the material cause of the people. He made his last appearance, and last speech in Parliament, in February of that year. He was ordered by his physicians to go on a pilgrimage to Rome. At Genoa, he could go no further. The great mans end came, calm and painless, on May 15th 1847. Having been accorded the greatest funeral that Dublin had ever witnessed, the remains of Daniel OConnell were laid under the earth in Glasnevin cemetery.
By his intimate and personal friend, ONeill Daunt, it was truly said of OConnell: "Well may his countrymen feel pride in the extraordinary man, who, for a series of years, could assail and defy a hostile and powerful government, who could knit together a prostrate, divided, and dispirited nation into a resolute and invincible confederacy; who could lead his followers in safety through the traps and pitfalls that beset their path to freedom; who could baffle all the artifices of sectarian bigotry; and finally overthrow the last strongholds of anti-Catholic tyranny by the simple might of public opinion".
The Great Famine
The Great Famine, usually known as the famine of 47, really began
in 45, with the blighting and failure of the potato crop, the peoples chief means of
sustenance. It is calculated that about a million people died - either of direct
starvation, or of the diseases introduced by the famines, and about another fled to
foreign lands between 46 and 50. To relieve the acute situation, their first
step was to send over a shipload of scientists to study the cause of the potato failure.
Their second step was to bring in a new Coercion Bill for Ireland. The third step was -
after they had voted two hundred thousand pounds to beautify Londons Battersea Park - to
vote one hundred thousand pounds for the relief of the two million Irish people who were
suffering keen distress. The simple reader, who knows not the way of Britain with Ireland,
would here naturally come to the conclusion that the tenderhearted gentlewoman, full of
sympathy for the thousands who were dying of starvation was directing her Parliament to
try to save a multitude of lives. But this would be a mistaken conclusion. She was here
referring to the handful of Anglo-Irish landlords and agents, whose lives must be
solicitously protected whilst in trying times, they were endeavouring to hack and hew
their usual pound of flesh from the walking skeletons in the bogs and mountains of
Ireland. Public committees had been formed in various countries and hundreds of thousands
of pounds were collected for the relief of Irish distress. With the money thus collected,
shiploads of Indian corn were imported to Ireland from America. As there were in the
country hundreds of thousands of people in want of food, who yet would not accept it in
charity, it was proposed that imported corn should be sold to these people at reduced
price - but the paternal Government forbade the irregular procedure. At length when
conditions reached their most fearful stage, in 47, and that the uncoffined dead
were being buried in trenches, and the world was expressing itself as appalled at the
conditions, the Government advance a loan of ten million pounds, on half to be spent on
public works, the other half for outdoor relief. And this carried with it the helpful
proviso that no destitute farmer could benefit from that windfall unless he had first
given up to the landlord all his farm except a quarter of an acre. As the famine
sufferings increased, the Government met the more acute situation by proposing a renewal
of the Disarming Act, increase of police and several other British remedies. True, the
Government now shipped in Indian corn. But there was more corn went out of the country in
one month than the Government sent in, in a year. In those terrible years the people began
flocking from the stricken land in tens and hundreds of thousands - to America, and to the