O’Connell, Emancipation and Repeal

  • Stuart Andrews


In his first public speech, in January 1800, Daniel O’Connell challenged the claim that Irish Catholics favoured the Union. He urged his audience to oppose it. Ten years later, at a meeting of the freemen, citizens and freeholders of Dublin called by the High Sheriff, O’Connell supported petitioning Parliament for repeal. In an echo of 1791, he called on Protestants, Presbyterians and Catholics to work together for repeal, as no one group could achieve it single-handed. But for almost two decades he would settle for the narrower aim of Catholic Emancipation, focusing his energy and rhetoric through purely Catholic organizations. Initially O’Connell’s preferred vehicle was the re-activated Catholic Committee.1 The constraint was that any attempt to summon a representative Catholic body, to endorse a parliamentary petition, would breach the 1793 Convention Act prohibiting political representative assemblies not constitutionally provided for. Much of 1811 was taken up by the Catholic Committee’s attempts to circumvent the prohibition, culminating in the trial of Dr Sheridan, with O’Connell among the defending counsel. The defence hinged on the phrase in the Act ‘under pretence of petitioning’. The judge instructed the jury that, whatever the form of words, the Catholic Committee in its revived shape was an illegal assembly. The jury acquitted Sheridan nevertheless.2 On 26 December 1811, the Catholic Committee reconstituted itself as the Catholic Board.


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© Stuart Andrews 2006

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  • Stuart Andrews

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