herald

Sunday 21 September 2014

O'connell's legacy of peace should dominate our politics

On a day in the 18th century we are told that 112 men sat down at midday to their Christmas dinner in a big house in Kerry. Where were the women? They were of course serving at table and got their repast later in the day. Some of the men were tenants, others were workers. They all belonged to the O'Connell estate. This indicates how strong Daniel O'Connell's family were at that time.

The British turned a blind eye and the O'Connells could import wine and spirits without much bother: this enabled them to be rich as well as powerful. On such a background the young Daniel O'Connell grew up. He was a bright lad and was sent to Paris to further his education. He was there in the bloodiest years of the Revolution and he conceived a hatred of violence.

When he came home he decided to stand for Parliament. He chose Clare as his constituency, possibly because of his landlord background he wasn't too popular in Kerry. He got elected.

O'Connell quickly made his mark at Westminster: he achieved Catholic Emancipation in 1829. This was more or less a symbolic victory because most of the penal laws had fallen into disuse.

His next most famous achievement in law was in the case of The Tolpuddle Martyrs. This was a case about a small number of workers in Devon who had agreed to a covenant. For their temerity they were brought to court and sentenced to transportation for life. Their womenfolk appealed to O'Connell and by perseverance and legal brilliance he got them repatriated.

A more dramatic victory was in the case of the Doneraile Conspiracy. A number of farmers were alleged to have been heard in a tent at Doneraile Fair conspiring to kill a local landlord. They were brought on trial to Cork and with perjured evidence their case seemed hopeless. The court was to finish sitting on a Monday. The families and friends of the accused men sent for O'Connell. He was away in Derrynane. He set out for Cork on a Sunday morning on a coach with two horses. And by three changes of horses he arrived in Cork just as the court was resuming.



demolish

He had a breakfast of bread and ham and milk in the courtroom and then went on to demolish the State's case. The men walked free.

His big ambition now was to repeal the Act of Union. It had been used to abolish Henry Grattan's parliament by treachery and fraud. Had O'Connell succeeded in this, the history of the island would surely have been happier but premature death ended all hope. He was the last great Irish politician before Charles Stewart Parnell.

O'Connell's constitutional approach was carried on by Thomas Davis and by Charles Stewart Parnell. This line was broken by the Rising in 1916. It brought back the violence that O'Connell abhorred and it is still with us: we should look to O'Connell as a role model. He demonstrated what could be achieved by peaceful methods.

Fogra: We wish the Irish Runner Magazine well on its new and exciting voyage in conjunction with the Irish Independent. Fogra a do: I appreciate the letter from Caomhin Mc Eochaidh, Dublin. He knows much more about the Irish prisoners in Germany in 1916 than I do. On Casement's orders only he and Monteith and Bailey came to Ireland. Fogra eile: Many people are following Rory McIlroy -- it reminds us of the days when Harry Bradshaw and Christy O'Connor won the World Cup and when Padraig Harrington was winning two British Opens and when Graeme McDowell won the US Open.

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