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Daniel O'Connell

O'Connell, Daniel, 1775–1847, Irish political leader. He is known as the Liberator. Admitted to the Irish bar in 1798, O'Connell built up a lucrative law practice. Gradually he became involved in the Irish fight for Catholic Emancipation; his abilities as a speaker, organizer, and leader soon advanced him to the uncontested command of the movement. In 1823 he founded the Catholic Association, a formidable and powerful agitation society, which despite English restrictive measures became a great national force. The pressure on Parliament was brought to a head by O'Connell's election in 1828 to a seat in the House of Commons (permitted by the repeal of the Test Act), despite his inability as a Catholic to take the oaths required to sit in Parliament. Alarmed, the government was obliged to pass (1829) the Catholic Emancipation Act. In Parliament, O'Connell supported the Whigs and the reform cause. He supported repeal of the parliamentary union of Great Britain and Ireland, forming a new agitation society to replace each one suppressed by the government. O'Connell worked indefatigably for the reform of the existing government of Ireland and for the abolition of compulsory support of the Church of Ireland. In 1841, O'Connell became the first Catholic lord mayor of Dublin since the time of James II. In 1843 he was indicted for creating disaffection; he was declared guilty and imprisoned, but the sentence was overturned (1844) by the House of Lords. Favoring constitutional methods, O'Connell lost support in the 1840s to nationalists who preferred revolutionary means to end the union and to solve the Irish Land Question. He also lost followers who resented his Catholic sectarianism. The secession of the Young Ireland group from his Repeal Association signified his declining authority. Ordered to seek a change for his health, he set out for Italy, where he died. O'Connell's eminence as a leader and creator of national feeling and unity greatly affected the history of Ireland.

See M. R. O'Connell, ed., Correspondence of Daniel O'Connell (1973); R. Dunlop, Daniel O'Connell and the Revival of National Life in Ireland (1900); A. D. Macintyre, The Liberator (1965); R. Moley, Daniel O'Connell (1974); biographies by S. O'Faolain (1938) and D. Gwynn (1947).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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