Saturday, April 17, 2010

Daniel O’ Connell, the Champion of Liberty. Lithograph by Hoffy. Philadelphia: W. Cunningham, 1847

Daniel was born in 1775 into a prosperous Catholic family. It was at a time when anti-Papist Penal Laws had stripped the people of their land, their practice of religion, their ability to enter a profession, and their right to vote or to take part in any aspect of public life. The O’Connells were able to retain some of their standing as Gaelic gentry through a combination of factors including: distance from the centers of Protestant power; their “French Connection” which allowed them to supply local, wealthy Protestant landowners with luxurious contraband like silk, lace, tea, and brandy “duty free”; and their natural ability to close a deal with a well-placed wink or nod which stood them in good stead and left no records behind. Additionally, something of the old clan system still survived that enabled them to retain a protective power over their dependents as well as remain helpful to the authorities. A sense of local solidarity that crossed religious and class lines held this environment together.
Daniel was adopted by his wealthy, widowed and childless uncle, Maurice of Derrynane, who sent him to the English-speaking (Catholic) College in Douai France. Here he witnessed the excesses of the French revolution, which gave him a firm belief in the rule of law. On returning to London he studied law at Lincoln’s Inn.


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