Daniel O'Connell

Daniel O'Connell

Daniel O'Connell

Daniel O'Connell

Excerpt

A hundred years have barely passed since Daniel O'Connell,
with no other resources than his prestige as the greatest
advocate of his time at the Irish Bar, and the extraordinary
popular agitation which he had created, succeeded in smashing
down the determined opposition of the Duke of Wellington and
Robert Peel, and forced them to carry through a hostile Parliament
the Catholic Emancipation Bill which they were pledged to resist.
Even George IV was sternly compelled to scrawl his signature
hysterically across the Emancipation Act, after he had resisted with
tearful obstinacy to the bitter end. The fame of this astonishing
lawyer-demagogue spread through every part of Europe at the time;
but even at the climax of his triumph the process of disparagement
which has since obliterated his memory had already begun.

No man ever indulged more lavishly in abuse of his enemies, or derived more enjoyment from being abused himself. But the whispering disparagements of some of those whom he had emancipated wounded him deeply. And in all the closing years of his life he was embittered by that growing tendency to minimise the greatness of his achievement, in creating a national agitation by his unaided personal efforts. He had overcome obstacles that seemed utterly insuperable, in spite of constant discouragement by those who might have shared the burden with him. But a generation grew up who knew nothing of the opposition that he had swept aside, and who watched with increasing disillusionment his efforts to repeat the victory of Catholic Emancipation by employing the same methods to carry the Repeal of the Union. When the revived agitation collapsed at its height in 1843, at the mere threat of military repression, his failure left him discredited. Within a few years he had died, a broken-hearted, lonely old man, when the Great Famine which was to scourge Ireland for three years was still gripping the country in its relentless grasp.

Yet Gladstone was to describe this defeated agitator, who had died from exhaustion on his forlorn pious journey to Rome, as the " greatest popular leader the world has ever seen." Balzac linked his name with that of Napoleon, as one of the three greatest men of . . .

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