O’CONNELL, DANIEL, ‘The Liberator’ (1775-1847)
Plaque erected in 2014 by English Heritage at 14 Albemarle Street, Mayfair, London, W1S 4HL, City of Westminster
Politics and Administration
DANIEL O'CONNELL ‘The Liberator’ 1775-1847 Irish leader and champion of civil rights lived here in 1833
The Irish nationalist leader Daniel O’Connell successfully campaigned for civil rights – including the right of Catholics to sit in the British Parliament, achieved in 1829, and the abolition of slavery, achieved within British jurisdictions in 1833. London not only shaped O’Connell’s political outlook in his early years, but also provided the backdrop for his later career as a Member of Parliament.
O’CONNELL IN LONDON
Educated in Cork and then at Catholic colleges in Flanders, O’Connell fled revolutionary France for London in 1793, settling in a Thames-side boarding house at Chiswick. Having arrived ‘half a Tory’ and with a French accent, his political outlook was influenced by attending the trials of the London radicals Thomas Hardy and John Horne Tooke. He studied at both Lincoln’s Inn and Gray’s Inn before being called to the Irish Bar in 1798. Once he took his parliamentary seat in 1830 as the first popularly elected Catholic MP since the Reformation, he sat in the Commons for the rest of his life, becoming a major player in Westminster.
O’Connell lived at numerous London addresses throughout his life – most of which have now gone – but it was at 14 Albermarle Street in Mayfair that he saw the Abolition of Slavery Act passed in August 1833, an Act for which he was a crucial campaigner. The size and fashionable location of the house reflected O’Connell’s political prominence, and the parliamentary party that he led – often referred to as the ‘O’Connellites’ – would have met there.
For his successes in the campaign for Catholic emancipation, his admirers called O’Connell ‘The Liberator’. His popularity was not universal, however. O’Connell was a combative and impressive orator, and the targets of his ire sometimes took offence. One such was John D’Esterre of the Dublin Corporation, who died of his wounds in 1815 after challenging O’Connell to a duel. O’Connell was also the object of fear and loathing from much of the political elite: ‘Scum condensed of Irish bog/Ruffian, coward, demagogue’, ran a verse published in The Times.
His contemporary William Gladstone, however, called him ‘the greatest popular leader whom the world has ever seen’, while Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland, has compared him to Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King.
By 1847 O’Connell was in very poor health, but in February he still managed to give a speech on the Irish famine. He died in Genoa while on a pilgrimage to Rome in May 1847.