Daniel O’Connell

Associated Locations:

  • Cahersiveen, Ireland

Associated Dates:

  • August 6, 1775 – Born

Daniel O’Connell is one of the eminent spirits who appeared to President Wilford Woodruff in the St. George Temple on August 21, 1877. This interesting story is detailed in the Eminent Spirits Appear to Wilford Woodruff wiki.

Ireland had been ruled and oppressed by England for seven hundred years before Daniel O’Connell was born. Daniel O’Connell, the Irish “liberator,” did for the Irish people what no other leader had been able to do for hundreds of years.

O’Connell devoted a life time of service to his country. He also linked the constitutional movement of Henry Grattan and Protestant patriots to the emancipated Catholics. In a few short years his dream of an independent Ireland would come true. Daniel O’Connell was a liberator, and emancipator, who “found the Irish peasants slaves and left them men.”

“My political creed is short and simple.
It consists in believing that all men are entitled to civil and religious liberty.”

– Daniel O’Connell

Life Sketch from The Other Eminent Men of Wilford Woodruff

Irish Statesman 1775-1847

Copyright © Taken from the book: The Other Eminent Men of Wilford Woodruff. Special thanks to Vicki Jo Anderson. Please do not copy.

Much of the oppression centered in religious intolerance and persecution. A large portion of the population were denied the rights of citizenship because they belonged to the Roman Catholic Church. The Catholics were hated because the Irish Catholics had defended the Catholic were hated because the Irish Catholics had defended the Catholic King James II of England, who, in 1690, fled to Ireland to take his last great stand against William of Orange (III) in the Battle of Boyne. The Irish Catholics and James were soundly defeated, and the Protestant Irish Parliament passed the penal laws, penalizing Catholics for their support of James.

Henry Grattan

The penal laws prohibited Catholics from being legal guardians to their own children. They could not attend school, nor could the clergy hold school. A catholic could not buy property and could hold only a thirty-two year lease. No Catholic could own a horse worth more than five pounds. If he owned a better horse, a Protestant could pay him five pounds. If he owned a better horse, a Protestant could pay him five pounds and take it. When a father died, the property had to be divided equally among his sons, usually making it useless to anyone. Priests were required to register with the law, and friars were banned from the country. The ultimate insult was that the Catholics had to pay a tithe to the Church of England. The law was carefully designed to eventually cause the ruin of the Catholic church in Ireland.

But the Catholic Church did no die out, in part, because some “honest” Irish Protestants, as O’Connell called them, ignored the law. Daniel O’Connell’s own uncle, nicknamed “Hunting Cap,: was able to obtain much property and many leases by using his Protestant cousin’s name to make the purchases. He also operated a large smuggling trade, a trade that was allowed to flourish because the country officials wanted the smuggled products as badly as anyone else. They, along with all Irelanders, were deeply affected by the trade restrictions England applied in order to protect its maritime trade. Ireland was treated in much the same manner as the American Colonies were, but the results were worse in Ireland because of her limited resources. To some, Ireland was one cast slave plantation.

The people as a whole had become apathetic as nothing they did seemed to make a difference. Even the great efforts of John Curran and the fight for Catholic Emancipation by the Protestant, Henry Grattan, failed to arouse the people. The people felt their only recourse was to fight, and fight they did, staging small rebellions that were always followed by swift and terrible reprisals.

Tens of thousands of the more educated people fled Ireland. Many of those who left Ireland had great influence on the world. England reaped the contributions of Oliver Goldsmith and Edmund Burke. In America four signers of the Declaration of Independence were born in Ireland and four others were descendants of Irish parentage. Ireland, however, was left bereft of educated leaders.

In spite of Ireland’s gloomy situation, God does not forsake a country in search of liberty; often he sends choice people to further the cause of liberty. Daniel O’Connell was one of those men. He was born in 1775, one year before America declared her independence and the same years that the great Irish statesman, Henry Grattan, became leader of the Patriots Party. Henry Grattan campaigned continually on two issues—independence for Ireland from England as commonwealth state and the emancipation of Catholics. He was tireless in pursuit of religious freedom. Because of Henry Grattan’s efforts, by the time O’Connell reached the age at which he should attend regular school, he was able to attend the first legal school operated by Catholics.

Early Life

Soon after his birth, O’Connel was “put out to nurse” with a peasant family by the name of Moran. Some historians believe this practice was designed to “toughen up the sons of gentry. Families of France did the same thing, sending babies by the thousands to the the countryside to wet-nurse as it was not stylish to keep and nurse one’s child, who was usually returned at about four years of age.

The Moaran family was both poor and good. Rocked and cradled in the arms of his foster mother, O’Connel learned the songs and stories of Ireland in Gaelic. Playing on the dung-smeared floor with his foster brothers, he came to have an intimate feeling of their hopes and fears and loves and hatreds. He did not know he was of different class and though he was one of them.

When he returned to his family at the age of four, he wore as all peasant small boys in Kerry did, a ‘’caulac’’ or girl’s dress. (This was because the peasants thought that fairies were jealous of small boys and sometimes stole them away. O’Connell’s father was appalled to see his son in a dress and promptly replaced it with a suit. A short time later, O’Connell had disappeared. He was found tramping through the rugged terrain back to his foster home, wearing his ‘’caulac’’. Years later he often spoke of his foster parents with fondness and referred to them as parents. He cared for them in their old age.

Shortly after his return to his family, O’Connell was adopted by his rich widower uncle, “Hunting Cap,” Maruice O’Connell of Derrynane, who sent him to the new Catholic school at Queenstown. He often played along and was unflinching in the face of danger. One day O’Connel was attacked by a savage bull. Instead of running away, O’Connel stood his ground and threw a stone in at the bull[‘s face. This gave him time to climb over a ditch to safety.

Darrynane Abbey

Beagling, or hunting rabbit, became his favorite sport. In Kerry the sport was done on foot because of the rugged terrain and steep mountainside. “It was an incredibly tough sport requiring tremendous strength of wind and limb to follow hounds uphill, and reckless courage in bounding down after them in great leaps, like a boulder falling down the mountain, trusting to luck that one would land on sound ground and not on a stone or in a hold with a broken ankle.”

Another one of O’Connell’s uncles was a colonel in the French army and persuaded “Hunting Cap” to send O’Connell and his brother Maruice to France to further their education. Because it was illegal for Catholic children to go abroad for schooling, O’Connell and his brother had to be smuggled aboard ship. Just one year later the Catholic Relief Bill of 1792 was passed, permitted Catholics some privileges, including the right to travel abroad.

The boys were enrolled in Saint-Omer, a Jesuit school. After some time “Hunting Cap” became concerned about whether he was getting his money’s worth from the school. He wrote to the president, Dr. Stapleton, asking how the boys were doing. O’Connell’s brother Maruice was commended with some qualifications, but of Daniel he wrote: “With respect to the elder, Daniel, I have but one sentence to write about him and that is, that I never was so much mistaken in my life as I shall be, unless he is destined to make a remarkable figure in society.”

Even though the boys were very happy at St. Omer’s the colonel insisted that the boys be transferred to Douay, another Jesuit school. However, the boys’ stay at Douay was cut short by the rapid developments of the French Revolution. The boys received notice to return home and after some difficult delays and threats, they left on the same day that King Louis XVI was beheaded. They proceeded on their way with great difficulty. The mob rule of the French Revolution left a deep impression on O’Connell. The terror of mobocracy and the tyranny of rebellion and reprisals that he saw in his own land led him to be an advocate of change by peaceful means. The revolutions he led would not be accomplished with blood, but with the “moral force of public opinion.”

Daniel O’Connell

Entering Law School

Returning to Ireland, O’Connell was able to take advantage of another reform. For the first time Catholics were permitted to study to become lawyers. O’Connell entered law school, An incident taht occurrred while he was a student is indicative of his sense of helping others, although in this particular instance his help was less than helpful. One night O’Connell had an extra amount of Claret, a cheap Irish drink. He returned home late and saw a fire. The workmen were trying to get the water pipe opened. O’Connell, wanting to help, took up a pick and broke open the valve.

Fired by honest zeal, he kept working away … until he had dug up half the street. A militia patrol arrived, but was unable to persuade him to desist from his excavations. ‘I was rather an unruly customer,’ he admitted, ‘and one of the soldiers ran a bayonet at me which was intercepted by the cover of my hunting watch. If I had not had the watch it would have been the end of the great Irish “Liberator.”


In O’Connell’s day it was a strict tradition that marriages be arranged, usually to a material advantage. Uncle “Hunting Cap,” at the close of O’Connell law school began to actively make a match for his nephew. But O’Connell had other ideas. when his good friend introduced him to his sister-in-law, Mary O’Connell. Daniel’s own distant cousin, he fell in love at first sight. Almost forty years later O’Connell described their engagement as follows:

I said to her, “Are you engaged, Miss O’Connell?” She answered, “I am not.” ‘Then,’ said I, “Will you engage yourself to me?” “I will,” was her reply. And I said I would devote my life to make her happy. She deserved that I should, she gave me thirty-four years of the purest happiness that man ever enjoyed.

The marriage took place quietly for fear Uncle “Hunting Cap” would find out. But the marriage could not be hidden for long. Soon Mary became pregnant and “Hunting Cap” disinherited O’Connell on the spot. But as O’Connell’s fame grew, “Hunting Cap” softened and eventually restored O’Connell’s inheritance. The marriage of Daniel and Mary was a good one, and she became a great source of his strength. Mary brought O’Connell to a spiritual depth that he had been lacking. Had it not been for his marriage to Mary he could never have been the great liberator of Ireland.

Mary bore O’Connell ten children, seven of whom lived. O’Connell was a good husband and a kind father. Mary encourage him in his work. When O’Connell was in the English Parliament, his opponents attempted to “bribe” him to leave Parliament, promising him knighthood and peerage. But he refused. Mary wrote in response to his decision: “Thank God you have acted like yourself, and your wife and children have more reason to be proud of you now than they ever were…. You now stand firmly on the affections and on the love of your countrymen.”

Entering Politics

Daniel O’Connell in an Anti-Slave Meeting

With O’Connell’s spiritual awakening came a deep desire to liberate his people particularly from their own apathy. He was determined to take action against tyranny by staying within the law and using peaceful means. He knew the masses could have great power if they arose in unison to demand change. He appealed to the structure of the church to make contact with the people. The church responded by creating an association to work together for a common cause. Because it was unlawful for Catholics to gather in large meetings, O’Connell brought them together for suppers as it was not illegal to get together to eat. At these suppers, O’Connell rallied the people, and they began to speak with one voice.

O’Connell ran for Parliament and won, the first Catholic to sit in Parliament. The “Association” behind O’Connell had grown to nearly a million Irishmen, and as they pressed for demands, O’Connell won support in Parliament for many changes. Parliament passed O’Connell’s reform bill, making life more tolerable in Ireland and also leaving the English in O’Connell’s debt.

O’Connell pushed for Irish independence, creating an Irish Parliament that was loyal to the King. In one of his speeches he said: “I demand, I respectfully insist on equal justice for Ireland, on the same principle by which it has been administered to Scotland and England. I will not take less. Refuse me that if you can.” He held rallies called “monster meetings” so large were the crowds. He traveled to every corner of Ireland, arousing the people by his impassioned oratory. His voice was so powerful that one could hear him a mile off, and it flowed as if it were coming through honey. It could be heard even by the vast multitude (said to number three quarters of a million people) gathered at the ancient site of the Hill of Tara on 15 August 1843. These gatherings remained peaceful, through the sheer strength of O’Connell’s personality, which restrained them from bursting forth in revolution.

The government officials understood O’Connell’s position and eventually outlawed monster meetings and arrested and imprisoned sought and granted after three months. This incident endeared the people even more to O’Connell. In his later years O’Connell planned for a very large meeting, and the law declared it illegal. O’Connell, abiding by his own rules, obeyed the order, an incident which increased O’Connell’s popularity as a leader.

Copyright © Taken from the book: The Other Eminent Men of Wilford Woodruff. Special thanks to Vicki Jo Anderson. Please do not copy.1

  1. Anderson, Vicki Jo. (1994). The Other Eminent Men of Wilford Woodruff. Cottonwood, AZ: Zichron Historical Research Institute.
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