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Chapter Seven

The Sixth Phase 1823 to 1829 

[The Grail of Catholic EmancipationCopyright © 2002 by Desmond Keenan. Book available from and]

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The Catholic Association

(April 1823 to June 1825) .......................................

Aftermath of the ‘Algerine Act’

(June to December 1825) .......................................

The Campaigns of 1826 and 1827

(January 1826 to March 1827) ...............................

Canning and Goderich

(March to December 1827) ....................................

The Campaign of 1828

(January to December 1828) ..................................

The Passing of the Emancipation Act (1829)

(January to March 1829) .........................................




This phase lasted from the founding of the Catholic Association in March 1823 until the formation of a strong Tory government under the Duke of Wellington in April1829, influential enough to persuade the House of Lords and the reluctant king to pass the Emancipation Act. Unlike the period from 1793 until 1815, external factors had little influence on the campaign. The great disturbing factor, the sudden succession of four prime ministers came in the final two years.

            The famous Catholic Association was short-lived, lasting but two years. Those involved in the agitation kept together and maintained their unity after its suppression. Those who favoured emancipation, seeing that many Catholics strongly objected to a veto suggested that instead the Government should be given two other securities, the payment of the clergy and the raising the qualification for voting in parliamentary elections.

            Agitation continued with ever-greater intensity, and various tactics were invented to circumvent the suppression of the Catholic Association. Agitation against Emancipation also developed strongly.


The Catholic Association (April 1823 to June 1825)


            This association had a comparatively short life, but the spirit that inspired the movement could not be suppressed, and those involved carried on the campaign through various expedients.

            Early in 1823 a meeting was held in Glencullen in Co. Wicklow at the house of a gentleman named O’Mara who was a friend of both O’Connell and Sheil to explore if there were grounds on which they could co-operate. This did not mean that they had to like or trust each other, but to see if there was any formula of words that could bridge the now quite narrow gap between the vetoists and anti-vetoists. However desirable to some of an Emancipation Act entirely without securities, it seemed obvious to most people that a Bill without some nod in the direction of royal control would never be adopted by their parliamentary representatives, and would never pass the Commons, let alone the Lords. On the other hand, O’Connell had come to recognise that the securities were so watered down as to be no more than a recognition of existing practice. It was totally pointless striving for an Act without official securities when the first thing the Pope would do in practice regarding an appointment was to consult the British Government. The main problem for O’Connell was to bring his followers around to this position. The re-establishment of the Catholic Board does not seem to have been an issue. What was necessary was co-operation before and during Aggregate Meetings. But under the restless O’Connell it became more than that.

            [April 1823] According to Purcell O’Gorman the first meeting of the Catholic Association was held on the 24 March 1823 (DEP 28 Feb 1824). This appears to have been a private meeting, for no details were released to the press. O’Gorman may have been referring to the meeting between Shiel and O’Connell. Before it could be properly organised, a leading Whig politician and promoter of Parliamentary Reform, Sir Francis Burdett, decided for his own reasons to bring matters to a head. On the 17 April 1823, when several petitions were being presented Sir Francis rose ‘to express his most unqualified disapproval of the annual farce’. His point seems to have been that the Emancipation Bill could only be passed if the cabinet were united behind it, and if pro-Catholic ministers like Canning all tendered their resignations Lord Liverpool would be forced to resign and it would be possible to construct such a united pro-Catholic cabinet. Canning in reply denied that he had said that the question was hopeless as Burdett had averred. Brougham accused Canning of truckling with the Lord Chancellor, Eldon, to get the whole inheritance. Canning blurted out ‘That is false’ and was forced by the Speaker to withdraw the remark. There is no doubt that Canning’s acceptance of the Foreign Office annoyed the Whigs. Milner wrote to Rome to complain about Plunket’s proposed securities, but Rome refused to get involved. The Opposition proposed that the debate should be adjourned for six months, i.e. until after this session, was defeated, but a motion that House adjourn was passed. Technically it was a victory for Plunket, but the question was not raised for another two years. What seems to have sparked off the row was a simple remark of Canning that it was still not possible to form a ministry other than on the ‘open principle’. But on getting the Foreign Office Canning had less to do with Catholic affairs prompting suspicion that he had done a deal to get office (SNL 21 April 1823, DEP 22 April 1823, Ward III).

            The first real meeting (what the Post called a preliminary meeting) of the Catholic Association took place on 25 April 1823 with Lord Killeen, Fingall’s eldest son in the chair. Fingall retired into private life, and henceforth his son took his place. (There is a deed in the Fingall Papers dated 24 Jan 1822 by which the earl, in return for an annuity, handed over his estate to his son who undertook to pay his father’s debts.) Both sides were represented. It was proposed to hold an Aggregate Meeting, and O’Connell proposed reviving the Catholic Board on the grounds that the Orangemen were organised. (The Orange Order was still in existence, but largely inactive, and those who were loosely called Orangemen in Dublin, despite suspicions, do not seem to have taken any steps to co-ordinate their activities. Joseph Hume, the Whig leader, was particularly suspicious of them and strongly suspected the Orange magistrates of protecting members of the Order.) The date for the Aggregate Meeting was fixed for the 10 May. The gentlemen met again on 30 April under Sir Edward Bellew to prepare the resolutions for the Aggregate Meeting. O’Connell said,

‘He thought it the duty of the Aggregate Meeting to pass, on behalf of Mr Plunket, a resolution declaratory of gratitude and confidence, and couched in as ardent an unqualified terms as the language could afford (loud applause). He looked upon Mr Plunket as a perfect martyr to his public duty. He was now actually standing the brunt of a persecution more audacious, persevering, and malignant than any other being, even in this country of persecution, had ever before to encounter’ (DEP 3 May 1823).

Stripped of its hyperbolic rhetoric, the speech meant that O’Connell was prepared to back Plunket’s Bill with its innocuous securities. Presumably this was the substance of the agreement with Sheil. O’Connell stuck to his bargain. The reference to the persecution of Plunket apparently is to an attempt by the Ascendancy faction to get Plunket dismissed. Resolutions to address the king and to support Plunket were agreed. Not all were anxious to see the Association or Board revived, but O’Connell pressed hard for it.

            [May 1823] The Aggregate Meeting was held on Saturday 10 May 1823 in Townsend Street chapel, with Lord Killeen in the chair. It was resolved to address the king, and motions of confidence in Plunket and Donoughmore were passed. It was proposed by Nicholas Mahon and Sheil to form an Association, and it was agreed at O’Connell’s insistence to meet to form such the following Monday 12 May. Aggregate Meetings still continued as they always had been, public meetings open to all who chose to attend, Catholic or Protestant, whether belonging to the Association or not. From their nature large public meetings are not useful for discussing matters in detail and so were normally called to assent to a resolution or petition already agreed in private. Those proposing the resolution could therefore claim wider public support.

            On the following day, Sunday 11 May 1823, Archbishop Troy died at his home in Rutland Square, Dublin, aged 84. He had been a bishop for 47 years and archbishop for 39 Years. He was born in 1739, and became archbishop of Dublin in 1784 having previously been bishop of Ossory since 1776. His co-adjutor, Archbishop Murray, automatically succeeded as archbishop of Dublin. He had only to apply to Rome for the pallium of an archbishop.

            On Monday 12 May 1823 the gentlemen met in Dempsey’s tavern in Sackville Street with Lord Killeen in the chair. It was agreed that the name should be the Catholic Association, that it should consist of such members who annually subscribe one guinea (about fifty pounds nowadays), and that Nicholas Mahon should act as treasurer. Purcell O’Gorman, already confirmed as Catholic Secretary, acted as secretary to the Association. Forty five gentlemen subscribed before leaving the room (SNL 13 May 1823).Reynolds noted that the original membership consisted of one viscount, the younger son of a baron, two baronets, a knight, a Carmelite friar, nineteen barristers, twelve attorneys, three editors of newspapers, one surgeon, eleven merchants, and ten landed gentlemen. That it was intended that the Association should be an exclusive one of gentlemen is clear from the annual subscription. The Association had the drawback that it was largely a Dublin one, and so could not claim to be a representative one. No doubt many of its members saw this as an advantage, for it was clearly outside the scope of the Convention Act.

            On 13 May a committee consisting of Sir Edward Bellew, O’Connell, Sheil, E. MacDonnell, N. Mahon, H. O’Connor, Ronan, Hayes, Scanlan, Lonergan and Calanan was appointed to draw up rules. Goulburn reported to Peel,

Although Lord Fingall, Sir Edward Bellew and others stated privately their disapprobation of the Association, they did not conceal that they dared not set themselves against it (Reynolds).

Distrust might be a better word than disapprobation. Another reason for objecting to a Catholic Association, shared by the Marquis Wellesley, was that if the Catholics organised themselves into an association the more extreme Protestants would do the same. And so it proved. Wellesley wished to suppress it but Parliament would not vote the necessary powers (Brynn). Whether Emancipation would have come sooner without O’Connell and the Association is a point that will never be settled. No doubt it would have come eventually, and without the divisiveness caused by O’Connell’s Association. During the first year of its existence there was little enthusiasm for it. On more than one occasion it lacked a quorum. On one famous occasion O’Connell persuaded two students from Maynooth who were buying books to stand in for a few moments, as all clergymen were ipso facto members, to get a resolution passed. As the others feared, O’Connell used it as a vehicle to pursue objectives other than petitioning Parliament for Emancipation. One of his first points was to attack the Dublin Grand Jury for appointing a Catholic chaplain to Newgate gaol not approved by the Catholic archbishop. O’Connell itched to attack those he considered ‘Orangemen’ on every possible pretext while the others did not. On this particular occasion he had to be told by Nicholas Mahon that the Catholic Association was not yet in existence (DEP 23 May 1823).

            In May 1823 Lord Nugent with the support of Peel introduced Bills to give to English Catholics the same rights as Irish Catholics. Both passed the Commons but were lost in the Lords. Peel noted that English Catholics could not vote,  could not become magistrates, and were excluded from more offices than Irish Catholics. The reason for this was that the Irish Catholic Relief Act (1793) went further than the earlier English Relief Act. But a Bill was eventually passed to allow anyone to take a post connected with the Revenue with only the obligation to take the oath of allegiance. Another Bill was also passed to allow the Duke of Norfolk, now a Catholic, to exercise his functions as Earl Marshal of England (Ward III). The Unlawful Oaths Act (1823) was passed against secret societies. It had the effect of forcing the Loyal Orange Order to drop their oath. Though this Act was directed against secret oath-bound societies, whether agrarian terrorists or violent trade unions, the effect on the Orange Order was just to place it on the same legal footing as the Catholic Association. The Orange Order met on the 4 August 1823 and dropped all oaths and secrets except the password (SNL 2 Dec 1823). Earlier in the year, in the course of a debate, Peel said he never had any contact with any Orange lodge, not even to receive an address. This did not save him from being called ‘Orange Peel’ by O’Connell.

        [June 1823] The English Catholic Association was now formed on the same principles as the Irish one on 2 June 1823 (Ward III). The English Association made  Catholic priests ipso facto members of the Association, and O’Connell quickly copied this on 14 June. Sheil proposed that they should not have a vote but was over-ruled. Sheil also with some foresight proposed that the Association be called the National Association, implying that Protestants should be admitted equally, and that it was unwise to depict the campaign as one of Catholics against Protestants, but his suggestion was not adopted. An early proposal that Protestant members should not have the vote was not adopted either.  The aim of the English Association was to involve the clergy in any action from the very start, and so to prevent unseemly rows like those between Milner and Butler. Milner failed to get Rome to condemn Butler, so he decided in his own diocese to treat him ‘as a rebel to ecclesiastical authority and a public sinner’ (ibid.). In Ireland the effect was to draw the Catholic clergy into secular politics, and there they remained for the next hundred years. The bulk of the rural clergy came from those groups who backed O’Connell most fervently, and these priests were to become his most devoted and uncritical lieutenants. It was never O’Connell’s intention to exclude Protestants, but he certainly believed in an Ireland with a certain Catholic ‘ascendancy’ with the highest offices in the state going automatically to Catholics. This was a view which most Irish Catholic priests could support. O’Connell emphatically did not believe in a secular state. (Indeed his views of the relationship of the Irish State to the Pope were curiously like those of Henry VIII.)

The earliest meetings of the Catholic Association were devoted to combating the Orangemen. There can be little doubt that this was what O’Connell had in mind when he so enthusiastically promoted the New Association. Mr O’Connor of Mountjoy Square said the chief problem was not with Peel, who was straightforward in his opposition, nor with the judges, but with the Grand Juries (DEP 13 May 1823). At one meeting Sheil proposed to return to an old medieval custom in Ireland where juries were selected de medietate linguae, six Irish-speakers and six English-speakers, but now with six Catholics and six Protestants on each jury. Purcell O’Gorman said that every Catholic gentleman entitled to bear arms should get a sword and defend himself, another inappropriate piece of medievalism. In explanation he said that every Catholic gentleman had a right to defend  his family if attacked by Orangemen. But the fat was in the fire. Goulburn was suspicious of the Association from the start, but now Plunket the attorney general would have to take notice. The fatal shadow of Wolfe Tone still lay over the Catholics regardless of the fact that he was a Protestant.

Only Eneas MacDonnell maintained that the main issue was being lost sight of, the need to petition Parliament for Emancipation, and he objected to petitions against Orangemen. Sir John Burke said he favoured continuing to petition, but admitted that O’Connell was against him. He added that he was glad O’Connell was not present for he feared the lash of that gentleman’s superior talent (DEP 12 June 1823). Burdett’s intervention seems to have revived O’Connell’s desire not to seek Emancipation from an unreformed Parliament. Purcell O’Gorman, the following February, reported that the Association in its first eleven months had held 34 regular weekly meetings, and 10 meetings of committees. In view of the number of times it was inquorate, we can suppose that few members attended regularly.

In June 1823 the Association drew up a petition to be presented by Henry Brougham protesting against the evils of the ‘Orange’ administration. This, whether or not it was intended, included Wellesley and Plunket. In the ensuing debate the Whigs, faced by Peel who had an encyclopaedic knowledge of Ireland, found themselves long on grievance and rhetoric but short of actual facts. They requested that in future they should be supplied with the facts. The Association undertook to find the facts, at least such facts as favoured their cause. The grievances were still the same as in 1794, that Catholics were excluded from trade guilds and corporations of towns, from Grand Juries, and the magistracy to which they were legally entitled to belong. Yet the Catholics themselves from 1805 onwards had made admission to Parliament their principal object. O’Connell was preparing petitions on twelve different subjects when Parliament rose on 22 July 1823.

[September 1823] Pius VII died after being Pope for 24 years. There were only two Popes since Pius VII became Pope in 1775, and there were only two Popes between 1831 and 1878. But there were two short-lived Popes between 1823 and 1831 Leo XII 1823 to 1829 and Pius VIII 1829-30.Consalvi ceased to be Secretary of State, being replaced by Cardinal Somaglia. Consalvi was made Prefect of Propaganda but died a few weeks later. Consalvi’s aim in life was to adapt the Church to the modern political scene. Cardinal Somaglia was expected to be elected, but the obscure and reactionary Cardinal della Genga was elected. The British Government was glad that none of the cardinals being promoted by the various Catholic powers was elected (SNL 11 Nov 1823). The new Pope was elected to reverse such advances towards liberalism as his predecessor had allowed. But papal policy regarding Ireland remained unchanged. Also, as no matter was referred to Rome by any party during these brief pontificates, there were no repercussions in Ireland A funeral service for the late Pope was held in the Catholic chapel of Moorfields just outside the old walls of London. There was a large crowd of foreign ambassadors, eminent Catholic clergy, and Catholic and Protestant gentlemen. No Catholic church had survived in the traditional square mile of the city of London, but a chapel had been built in the ‘fields’ just outside the walls in 1710. The northern fields were called the ‘moor fields’. The chapel in Lincoln Inn’s Field was built in 1687. That in Warwick Street in Soho, the ‘Bavarian chapel’ attached to the Bavarian embassy dated from 1730. Mass was always said in the chapels attached to the Spanish, Portuguese, and French embassies.

In Dublin, Archbishop Magee was again at the centre of a row, when the sexton on his orders forbade a Catholic priest, the redoubtable Dr Michael Blake, to say prayers at a Catholic funeral in a Protestant cemetery. The Catholic Association involved itself in this affair also.  The row proved to have been based on a misunderstanding. The archbishop, correctly in canon law, had stated that no clergyman was to conduct any rite in any Church property, unless that rite and that clergyman was approved by the bishop. This was just part of the general tightening up of discipline in the Church of Ireland. A local vicar would no longer be able to invite a passing clergyman of note to preach. The Catholic priest in question was aware of this and was merely leading the mourners in private prayer, which was not forbidden. A law was then passed allowing Catholics to establish their own cemeteries, but many of them for nearly a hundred years more insisted on using the family plot in the traditional cemetery.

 The Catholic Association continued to meet but was often inquorate.


[January 1824] Lord Lansdowne became leader of the Whig Party. This party which had drifted in a rather rudderless fashion under ineffective leaders for twenty years after the death of Fox began to pull itself together. The effect was to be seen some years later when Lord Liverpool died and Lansdowne found it possible to bring his group of supporters to back Canning. Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice, Lord Lansdowne, was Irish by parentage and title but lived in England for his entire life.

As the Catholic Association appeared to be dying O’Connell proposed the collection of a ‘Catholic Rent’ from every parish in Ireland to generate adequate funds, and also to give every parish in Ireland a direct interest in the struggle. A committee was formed to see if this plan could be put into execution. O’Connell busied himself with drawing up petitions with regard to various topics like tithes and vestry cesses.

[February 1824] It seems to have been at a mid-week meeting of the Association in mid-February when the Association was meeting in a room over Coyne’s bookshop that O’Connell made up the quorum by persuading two students looking at books in the bookshop to make it up. His scheme for the Rent was now complete. If one million Catholics paid a farthing a week or a penny a month or a shilling a year, the annual sum raised would be £50,000. (Four farthings equal one penny; twelve pennies equal one shilling. The farthing was the smallest coin, but by adopting it even sums could be paid for the month and the year.) This calculation was to mesmerise the Catholic Ultras for many years, and O’Connell maintained the collection of the Rent until the day he died. In practice the problem was how to sustain public interest. In times of great excitement the Rent soared, but then fell rapidly away. To arouse public interest O’Connell set out the following objectives to be achieved by means of the Rent. Petitions could be presented from every parish on all sorts of subjects. A London agent could be maintained to transact their business with Parliament. The liberal press could be supported by buying advertising space in liberal papers in Dublin and London. Money could be set aside to pay the fees for Catholics being tried by Orange magistrates. Then £5,000 could be set aside  for Catholic education, £5,000 to educate priests to go to America, and £5,000 for building schools and chapels. (To get the modern equivalent multiply the sums by about forty.) He said if the nabob of Arcot could maintain members in Parliament so too could the Catholics. He was not saying that seats could be bought, but if they had money they could be represented (SNL 5 Feb 1824).(O’Connell was the first president of a Catholic Orphan Society formed by Dr Michael Blake which was supported largely by penny-a-week subscriptions, Ronan)

Organisationally, by basing the collection on the Catholic parishes it would be comparatively easy to get from the various bishops the names of the parish priests in their respective dioceses, and the post towns from which they collected their mail (SNL 10 May 1824). At this period everyone collected and paid for their letters in the post offices in the post towns. The Catholic priests would also recommend honest and trustworthy men to act as local collectors in their parishes.

Parliament opened on 3 February 1824. On 18 February, at a meeting of the Catholic Association, Mr Frederick Conway was asked to take the chair. The level of attendance had not improved, but there was much activity among those who did attend. O’Connell defended the use of abusive language like ‘haughty and erratic neighbours’ when referring to the English.

‘Was it not notorious that the Catholic cause never presented so dreary and unpromising an aspect – an appearance so destitute of hope? This should be met by some corresponding, some powerful excitement; something which would show that every vein through which circulates the lifeblood of Irishmen throbs with anxiety for the removal of Catholic disabilities (hear, hear) and the attainment of Emancipation’ (SNL 19 Feb 1824).

 An Aggregate Meeting was held in Townsend Street chapel on 27 February 1824 with Sir Thomas Esmonde in the chair. In a speech, one of those present, Stephen Coppinger referred to Napoleon ‘that bravest and greatest of the sons of men’. ‘Loud and deafening shouts of applause which lasted a considerable time followed the mention of this name’. As members of the police as well as reporters from the press attended these meetings this outburst would have been speedily reported to the Government. This was apparently before O’Connell and Sheil arrived. O’Connell, in his speech referred pointedly to the part his family played in the struggle against Napoleon, and how his relative and friend of his youth was killed at the siege of San Sebastien fighting under Wellington. Sixteen resolutions were proposed and adopted (SNL 28 Feb, 2 Mar, DEP 28 Feb 1824).

[March 1824] Various county meetings were held in different parts of the country as the barristers from Dublin attended the assizes. Plunket as a Member of Parliament refused to recognise the Association and communicated with O’Connell as with a single gentleman. Only corporations with charters could petition as bodies (SNL 21 February 1825). It was claimed that the first petition from any body which was distinct from a group of parliamentary electors came from the Dublin Trades Union in the time of Earl Grey’s ministry 1830-32 (Speech of Marcus Costello, SNL 17 February 1832). Donoughmore had no objection to receiving petitions from the Catholic Association. However the words ‘Catholic Association’ were not mentioned in the petition. Grey and Brougham advised the Catholics to omit from their petition any reference to the Established Church, or the need to exclude Orangemen from the magistracy or from juries, for such references would only injure their cause. Herein lay the difficulty of trying to get seats in Parliament, and to remedy lesser abuses at the same time. To get biased Orangemen removed from the bench or from juries, or to attack the iniquity of tithes and church cesses, one had to be specific in one’s charge as the Whigs had pointed out. But pointing them out risked alienating those Protestants whose support in Parliament was essential. There was the other problem with O’Connell’s approach and that was that if he and others were to rouse the masses to enthusiasm in support of the cause it was necessary to use high-flown and abusive rhetoric. Sir Thomas Wyse later commented that it became necessary to hold separate meetings of Catholics and Protestants (Wyse). Later still, the nationalists of Young Ireland deplored the division of Ireland into Catholic and Protestant. But that was the way O’Connell was. Conway noted that the Orangemen had never been so numerous or so well organised. Whatever O’Connell did the Orangemen always strove to surpass him. As the Protestants in most parts of Ireland were a richer and more cohesive group feeling themselves under attack they always succeeded in rivalling and surpassing O’Connell’s activities. But all his life O’Connell preferred rabble-rousing and Orange-bashing to working with the moderate Protestants. His language had been noticed by the king also, who in November wrote to Peel saying he was considering acting like his father and not  allowing the ‘open principle’ in the cabinet. In other words, as under Spencer Perceval, only those who opposed Emancipation would be allowed into the cabinet (Ward III). According to Luby, after Emancipation was finally gained, Stephen Coppinger told O’Connell, half in jest and half in earnest, that notwithstanding O’Connell’s efforts to the contrary, they had finally got Emancipation.

The Irish Catholic bishops were at this time petitioning for a better way of educating Irish children other than by giving money to a Protestant Society, which many Catholics feared was of a proselytising character. Hence the bait in the scheme for the Catholic Rent to allocate some of it to Catholic schools. Much activity of the Association at this time was taken up with refuting a remark of an MP named North that the Catholic clergy neglected education, and that the education of Catholic schoolchildren was largely left to hedgeschools where the Life of Feeney the Robber and Moll Flanders were used as textbooks. The charge was not without substance, as the Catholic bishops were aware, but they also knew that without Government help they could not maintain any schools, let alone Catholic schools in rural areas (Keenan II). Much effort too was strangely put into opposing Plunket’s Bill for cemeteries not under the control of the clergy of any Church. Apparently the point was that if a Catholic parish provided itself with a new cemetery a Dissenting clergyman could claim the right to officiate in it. But the Government did not want to have a multitude of cemeteries in each parish, one for every denomination.

[May 1824] Frederick Conway acted as secretary to various Catholic meetings in the absence of O’Gorman.

[June 1824]  O’Connell refused to abate the language of the Address, so Grey, when presenting it said there was much in it he did not agree with. Plunket too, in presenting the petition in the Commons expressed reservation (SNL 3 June 1824). It had been decided in Parliament not to move on the petition that year, and as Grey pointed out, the Catholics would have plenty of time to remove the more objectionable phrases. Parliament rose early that year on 25 June.

        About this time, O’Connell proposed in the Accounts Committee of the Catholic Association that an ‘efficient secretary’ should be appointed and paid £160 a year to relieve Purcell O’Gorman of routine business. One member called Kirwin asked at a meeting of the Association why an efficient secretary was required at £160 a year when a suitable clerk could be found for half that money. He referred to the old debts and moved that they be paid, including the considerable sum due to Edward Hay. His motion was not seconded. Dwyer was however elected by the Association. The fact was that O’Connell wanted to employ Dwyer a friend of his whom had to be persuaded to return from Liverpool in England. O’Connell said that the debts arose under the Catholic Board, so money from the Catholic Association could not be used to pay them off. To which Kirwin replied that they were behaving like litigants, not honourable men (DEP 22, 29 June 1824). Conway in the Post considered that the old debts should be paid, and shortly afterwards resigned from the office of pro-secretary, but declined to give reasons.

        [July 1824] The Association, having met regularly for 10 months adjourned until October. The Rent was beginning to come in, and it was no longer a sickly child. Several of the aristocratic party had written to Dr Curtis warning him not to get too involved with O’Connell as anything he did would be viewed with suspicion by the Government. He supported O’Connell in this matter but wished to preserve peace with the aristocratic faction (Curtis to Dr. Plunket 21 May 1824, Cogan). Later in the year, with regard to a proposed mission of O’Connell, Sheil, and Woulfe to London, Curtis wrote to Poynter saying that O’Connell was the only one of the three he was acquainted with and he had no hesitation in pronouncing him one of the most sincere and most practical Catholics I ever knew (Ward III). The Finance Committee of the Catholic Association, often with Frederick Conway in the chair, continued to meet weekly.

        [October 1824] Dr Plunkett of Meath, one of the bishops involved in the veto controversy in 1799 recommended to his clergy to collect the Rent. The Dublin Evening Post noted that the Association now had about 1,000 members and an income of about £1,000 a month. Dr Curtis and Dr Doyle expressed their approbation. Archbishop Murray and Dr MacMahon the co-adjutor of Killaloe joined. Lord Gormanston, Lord Netterville, and the Earl of Kenmare and his brothers either joined or expressed support. The third series of full meetings of the Catholic Association commenced on 16 October after the summer break, and meetings were by now quite crowded. It was proposed to have a new petition ready for the first day of the Parliamentary session.

        The Association moved its regular place of meeting to rooms in the Corn Exchange which were larger. They leased the upper floor of the Exchange from the Corn Exchange Committee. (The Corn Exchange was built to allow corn merchants to buy and sell corn for export on the basis of samples. This avoided the need to pay the toll to bring the goods into Dublin and to bring them out again.) Here it was protected from attacks by students from Trinity College, for there were many Catholic coal porters nearby on the quays, who could be summoned if any attack were made. The Association had first met in rooms in Capel Street, and then moved to Home’s Hotel where students from Trinity College were liable to interrupt. On 27 October 1824 the students tried to raid the new premises but were driven off by the coal porters. (Some Protestants considered these porters excessively officious and inclined to get rough with any strangers who approached O’Connell.)

        [November 1824] The first meeting in the Corn Exchange was held on 15 November 1824. On 3 November 1824 Wellington wrote to Peel to say that if they could not get rid of the Catholic Association civil war in Ireland was inevitable (Ward III).

        [December 1824] A Parliamentary Agent living in London was appointed. The person chosen was Eneas MacDonnell, whose chief interest now was in opposing proselytisers. Luby states that he was appointed because he was not on friendly terms with O’Connell. The great series of theological debates between the Catholics and the so-called ‘biblicals’, those who belonged to Protestant Bible Societies spread over Ireland and proved very popular. The bishops at first gave their consent, but finding that they were generating more heat than light tried to stop them. This proved easier said than done for the sport was very popular. Some Catholics then took to attending Protestant religious meetings and reading out speeches of Sheil and other Catholics. 

        An Aggregate Meeting was held in Clarendon Street chapel on 2 December 1824 with Sir Thomas Esmonde in the chair. O’Gorman reported that the membership was now 3,000. It was resolved to petition Parliament. It was also decided to send a mission consisting of O’Connell, Sheil, and Woulfe to England, with Mr Bric as secretary. In the event they did not go. It was decided to entrust their petition to Sir Francis Burdett. The attorney general, Plunket, endeavoured to get O’Connell tried for seditious speech but the Grand Jury did not find a true bill. His own rhetoric carried O’Connell away when speaking of his own hero Bolivar. He never in his life advocated the use of arms, but had he ever done so an armed mob would have instantly rushed to his side. Later his own supporters in Young Ireland would deplore the way he spoke as if he intended leading an army but always backed down.

        [February 1825] Though the Catholic Association was flourishing, the Government was considering how to suppress both it, the Orange Order and the Ribbon Societies. Some of the supporters of the Catholics in Parliament considered that their Bill would have a better chance of success if the Catholic Association were dissolved. Parliament opened on 3 February 1825 and in the King’s Speech, reference was made to dangerous associations in Ireland and left it Parliament to devise ways of dealing with them. The associations were those ‘which have adopted proceedings irreconcilable with the spirit of the Constitution, and calculated, by exciting alarm, and by exasperating animosities to endanger the peace of society’ (DEP 8 Feb 1825). (These were certainly things O’Connell excelled at, and are the reason why most of the associations he founded were suppressed.) The cabinet had of course already decided what it was going to do, and Goulburn gave notice of a Suppression Bill. Wellesley sent to the cabinet proposals for a Catholic Relief Bill to accompany the suppression of the Association but this was rejected by the Cabinet (SNL 2 March 1829). Plunket also envisioned the Suppression Bill as an adjunct to the Relief Bill, and in this spirit he supported Goulburn’s Suppression Bill.

        The members of the Catholic Association were well aware of their danger, and Lord Killeen took the chair on the 9 February before the greatest gathering yet of the Association. The next meeting took place on 10 February, with Lord Gormanston in chair. It was resolved to send a large deputation to London. It was decided to call an Aggregate Meeting and it met on 15 February 1825 in Townsend Street chapel with Lord Killeen in the chair. Killeen advised caution but Jack Lawless, standing on the altar called on the meeting to return blow for blow. Living as he did in Belfast Lawless prided himself on knowing the mind of ordinary Protestants, but as later events were to show he had no more idea of the mentality of most Ulster Protestants than O’Connell himself who never went to the North. On the same day O’Connell, Sheil, Lord Killeen, the Hon. Mr Preston (of the Gormanston family) and other Catholic gentlemen sailed for England.

        The problem facing the Government was how to frame a law which respected freedom of speech and freedom of the press, freedom of association, freedom to criticise the Government  which was the pride of the British Constitution, without allowing Ireland to degenerate into two armed hostile camps. Robust criticism of the crown and the Government was permitted and widespread, and mobs could express their opinions by breaking the windows of unpopular politicians. Wellington was to have his windows broken over Emancipation. But there was no danger in England that two sides would arm themselves to fight a civil war. (Whether orators could rouse up the people of Ireland to take up arms to a sufficient extent to cause a civil war was never put to the test.)

        Goulburn introduced the Unlawful Societies (Irish) Suppression Act (1825) in the Commons on 10 February which was intended to, among other things, emend the Convention Act (1793). He claimed that the Catholic Association was virtually a representative body, and shielded from the law only by the ingenuity of its promoters. It could not be denied that O’Connell was seeking to represent every Catholic parish in Ireland, and to collect a ‘voluntary’ tax from them, which could be used to attempt the redress of grievances, and he did not confine his activities to petitioning Parliament for redress (SNL 14 February 1825). Plunket supported the Bill, saying it was not aimed solely at the Catholic Association, and the cause of Catholic Emancipation would not be harmed by its suppression. He felt that the system of collecting the rent, though not illegal, was unconstitutional.

        In the Lords on the same day, Lord Liverpool moved for the setting up of a select committee to enquire into the state of Ireland. A similar committee was set up in the Commons. Primate Curtis, Archbishop Murray, Dr Doyle, Lord Killeen, O’Connell, Sheil, and Anthony Blake were among those called to give evidence on the state of Ireland before each of the Houses. The English Catholic Association and the leading Whigs made the Irish delegates welcome. Poynter organised a welcome for the Irish Catholic ecclesiastics summoned to London for the Enquiry Committees.

        [March 1825] On 1 March 1825, Burdett moved for a committee of the whole House to examine the Catholic claims. He was supported by Canning, Plunket and Brougham amongst others. The motion was passed by a majority of thirteen. A committee of Parliament was appointed to draw up the Bill and included those just mentioned. O’Connell wrote (7 March) that he was permitted to draw up the rough draft of the Bill, which would contain no securities. The Government would pay the clergy, and the threshold for the franchise would be raised from forty shillings to ten pounds. These additions came to be known as the ‘wings’ for they would help the Bill to fly. O’Connell made no objection. In fact O’Connell believed that the Ten Pound freeholders were likely to be more independent of their landlords and less likely to vote as directed by them than the Forty Shilling freeholders. Not everyone shared O’Connell’s belief, and considered that the proportion  of Protestants with the franchise would rise with respect to the number of Catholics. Conway of the Post agreed with raising the franchise but considered £5 sufficient.

        The Unlawful Societies (Irish) Suppression Act (1825) always referred to as the ‘Algerine Act’ received the royal assent on 9 March 1825 to come into force on Saturday 20 March. On the nickname see Keenan III.) It was to last two years, and then until the end of the next session of Parliament (SNL 12 July 1827).

        O’Connell’s letter was read out at the next meeting of the Catholic Association on 9 March, though it surprised many, produced no particular reaction. At a meeting on Wednesday 16 March with Major George Bryan of Jenkinstown in the chair, Sheil who had returned from London, gave an account of events there. They first went to Burdett who warmly welcomed them, and he recommended Plunket as the proper sponsor of the Bill. The delegates said they had no discretion in this matter but allowed Burdett to use his own. They then went to the House of Common where the question was heard whether counsel should be heard at the bar of the House with regard to the Suppression Bill. Sheil praised Plunket for his advocacy on this point. Next they went to meet the Duke of Norfolk and were warmly welcomed, and any former suspicions they had of the English Catholics evaporated. Next they had a meeting with their parliamentary representatives on the best manner to proceed. These latter wished to defer the Relief Bill until after Easter so that it should not seem to be connected  with the Government’s Suppression Bill, but O’Connell was for immediate action. Regarding the ‘wings’ Sheil was of the opinion that if they are absolutely necessary they should be conceded, especially as the other side had given up the veto. With regard to payment of the clergy, he had told Peel at the Select Committee, that Emancipation should precede State Provision, that the Government should have no part in the appointment of the clergy, and that the money should be paid out of taxes, not as a Government grant. (The point seems to have been that it would be an ordinary law of the land, not a special Government favour.) He and others said it was better to leave matters until the last meeting of the Association that would be on Friday 18 March.

        At this point Jack Lawless entered the fray, claiming, despite what O’Connell claimed, the Bill differed little from Plunket’s previous Bill. There was still to be a commission to exclude foreigners and to examine the credentials of those elected bishops. But what really annoyed him was the sacrifice of the Forty Shilling freeholders. Here Lawless, the democrat, differed sharply from O’Connell. O’Connell considered them unreliable because they were often in debt or in arrears with the rent, they could not afford to register themselves, and were registered by their landlords if and when needed, and most landlords expected that those to whom they gave tenancies would vote as directed by them. Lawless on the other hand valued what was at the time a quite wide franchise. In theory, a tenant with a lease of four acres for three lives who could swear that he could sublet an acre at two pounds (forty shillings) an acre and could swear he was a Forty Shilling freeholder. He did not actually have to sub-let the land or receive any rent, or get an independent valuation, but only to swear when registering his vote that he was in a position to do so. In his evidence to the House of Lords O’Connell considered that by raising the threshold to £10 much perjury would be avoided. Later, Dr Doyle had to issue stern warnings against perjury directed at those who wished to register as freeholders. (The respective theories of Lawless and O’Connell were never tested, for in the 1828 election, it was only at the end of the first day of voting when O’Connell was ahead did a landslide in his favour occur. Had he been behind at the end of the first day a landslide for his opponent was highly likely.)

        The person behind the attack on O’Connell was William Cobbett, a strongly self-opinionated journalist, whose writings were widely read and admired at the time despite the fact that he was usually out of touch with economic reality. Cobbett claimed that O’Connell had been tricked by the Government, and had sold out the Catholics to get advancement in his profession. According to Cobbett, O’Connell had arrived in England on 18 February, and saw Cobbett on 20th, who then warned him that the Government would try to trick him. (Cobbett refused to recognise that Lord Liverpool, the Lord Chancellor, and the Home Secretary were opposed to the Bill, which was a private measure). On 27 February O’Connell had dined at Mr Brougham’s with the Duke of Leinster on one side of him, and the king’s brother the Duke of Sussex on the other. On 2 March O’Connell saw Mr Plunket, and on the following day, visited him again along with Lord Killeen. Following the first visit O’Connell had visited Cobbett and spoke highly of Plunket. Cobbett said that this alarmed him  for he felt that the blandishments were having their effect. On 5 March Lawless, who had added himself to the delegation, complained to Cobbett about the ‘wings’. Cobbett supported Lawless. Further proof of the alleged sell out could be seen in the fact that Sheil was questioned by one of the Select Committees regarding a patent of precedence in the courts to be given to O’Connell (Letter of Cobbett to the People of Ireland 19 July 1825 in SNL 27 July 1825). (Plunket later explained that the proposed patent of precedence would merely allow precedence in the courts over barristers junior to him who had been promoted because they were Protestants. It was in recognition of his outstanding legal talents not his political opinions. When cases were called in the courts, those involving king’s counsel were called first.) A letter from Lawless on the alleged sell out was printed in Saunders Newsletter on 18 March 1825.

         O’Connell was caught in the same trap he had set for others. In the eyes of Cobbett and Lawless the evidence was damning. He had sold out to a minister for personal gain. But O’Connell claimed that State Provision would have brought annually £600.000 into Ireland and the Government would have gained nothing from their expenditure. Also that the Forty Shilling franchise in actual fact was worthless. Those in the delegation were split on the matter. There was a question of taking away a valued right of the poorer classes (i.e. the status it conferred) for the benefit of a few rich Catholics. Lord Killeen disliked the wings but probably would not have opposed them.

        Burdett’s Bill did in fact provide for a veto and exequatur, but the commissioners were to be Irish Catholic bishops. Milner opposed this, but all the others regarded the provisions as harmless (Ward III).

        The Catholic Association met for the last time on Friday 18 Mar 1825 with Col. Butler in the chair and Frederick Conway acting as Secretary. A letter from O’Connell, unaware of his danger, dated 16 March was read out. He said Lawless was not a delegate and that the delegates had made no contracts with anyone. He regarded State Provision as a natural consequence of Emancipation. There was no intention to alter the franchise where it was held, as in England, in fee simple, a lease forever with no rent. (The was the original meaning freeholders, but in Ireland over the centuries, it had been watered down to mean a tenant subject to rent for an indefinite period like three lives, i.e. until the death of one of three persons named in the lease, regarded as equivalent to a lease of 31 years. A lease of 31 years, being a definite period of time, could not confer the ‘freehold’.) It was not retrospective, so existing freeholders could continue to exercise their vote, and thirdly, the value would not exceed £10. (In line with what was said above, this would include all those who could swear that they had an extra five acres they could let at £2 per acre. This would have included most tenants with above eight or ten acres.) The way of computing the forty shilling surplus after all charges on the land was not clarified at the time. Some farmers considered that if, through their own labour, the land produced two pounds a year, it counted (DEP 30 April 1825). O’Connell later made plain that his own preference was for universal suffrage, but this was not on offer. The draft of the Freeholder Bill made it clear, that  the Irish freehold must consist of ‘lives renewable forever’ (SNL 27 April 1825)

        Some of those present wished to discuss the questions raised by Lawless, but a majority preferred not to mar their last meeting with rows. An Address to the People of Ireland prepared by Conway was adopted and ordered to be printed. Conway said it was left to him to propose the last Resolution. He had been an active member of the Association since the beginning. He proposed that the Association should adjourn sine die, and this was adopted. The funds of the Association were to be placed in the hands of Lord Killeen who would ensure all its debts were paid. In practice, the banker Nicholas Mahon continued with the administration of the money. A vote of confidence in O’Connell was passed. Thanks were voted all round. The Association then dispersed. The Orange Order followed suit.

        O’Connell was still in London, being examined by the select committees. He was examined at length, and his sober and informed replies on all aspects of Irish society gave great satisfaction to all. He was on his best behaviour, and careful not to give offence. Many of the leading Whigs were anxious to meet him, and he was anxious to dispel any fears that he was a wild or erratic person. With regard to State Provision he said he had consulted certain bishops and priests on the matter and they were satisfied. The person who was examined a greatest length by the parliamentary committees regarding the teaching and practice of the Catholic Church in Ireland was Dr. Doyle. Doyle’s replies are to this day an excellent source of information on the contemporary practice of the Irish Church, and by extension of the American Catholic Church where Irish-born and educated priests were becoming increasingly influential. Burdett’s Bill on Emancipation was given its first reading on 23 March 1825. There were to be two other bills, one on the Forty Shilling freeholders and another on State Provision for the clergy, which were to be introduced separately.

        [April 1825] Before the Second Reading was introduced, an Aggregate Meeting of the Catholics was called, and met on 14 April 1825 in Clarendon Street chapel, with Viscount Gormanston in the chair. Mr Conway read the requisition for the meeting that was called to address the king, and asked all speakers  to keep strictly to the purpose of the meeting. O’Connell attended the meeting but did not speak until called for by the crowd. A resolution to address the king was taken and a delegation was chosen.

        [May 1825] On 21 April 1825 the Bill passed its Second Reading as expected by 268 votes to 241, and was carried on to the Committee Stage on 6 May. It passed the Third Reading on 10 May and was carried to the Lords. The other two Bills successfully passed the initial stages. There was great indignation when the  king’s brother, the heir presumptive to the throne, Frederick Augustus, Duke of York and Albany, spoke out strongly against the Catholics. George III had  fifteen children, but very few legitimate grandchildren. His eldest son had only one child, who died before him. The succession to the throne then passed in succession to his next brothers who had no legitimate issue between them. The next son, the Duke of Kent was hastily told to marry, and produced the Princess Victoria who became third in succession after the death of her father. The prospect of the Duke of York becoming king was far from pleasing. Predictably the Bill was rejected in the Lords at the Second Reading. It would have been impolite to the Commons to reject it at its First Reading. The other two Bills were not proceeded with. Sir John Coxe Hippisley died on 3 May 1825.

        [June 1825] Another Aggregate Meeting was held in Anne Street chapel  on 8 June when the delegates had returned from London. Lord Gormanston took the chair. It was estimated that several thousand people packed into the chapel and Gormanston, Sir Edward Bellew, and O'Connell had the greatest difficulty in getting in. It was resolved to petition again for Emancipation. Lawless was hissed until O’Connell asked that he be allowed to speak. But his efforts to get amendments to the Freeholders and State Provision Bills got no support. Sir Edward Bellew proposed the establishment of a new Association. Nothing can be read into this as the Resolutions and proposers were agreed in advance. After the meeting, the crowd drew O’Connell’s carriage to his home in Merrion Square. [Top]


Aftermath of the ‘Algerine Act’ (June  to December 1825)


            Counsellor Bellew gave it as his opinion that no new association could be formed for the following reasons. No meeting could assemble for longer than fourteen days, no delegation could be given even for the purposes of petitioning Parliament, and no money could be collected except to cover the costs of petitioning (DEP 28 June 1825). If O’Connell had no reason to found a new association before this he now  had one - to prove Bellew wrong. The reason which he had used two years earlier to prove the necessity of a Catholic Association, namely that the Protestants had an Orange Association, was no longer valid, for it too had been suppressed. The Orangemen, in fact, being the better organised, and more woven into the fabric of society, had lost more than he had. All that was required now was to follow the lead of Lord Fingall’s party, hold Aggregate Meetings to petition. If necessary these could assemble for up to fourteen days to arrange resolutions and petitions and collect money to pay costs. To try to start a new association would stimulate the Orange faction to organise a better and more effective one. In the event both Catholics and Protestants started ostensibly charitable associations neither of which generated much enthusiasm. In both cases they were probably a waste of time and money. But we suspect the aim for O’Connell was primarily to prove Bellew, and later Plunket, wrong.

            As usual with O’Connell his motives are rarely clear. In the present instance, merely to accept the ‘Algerine Act’ and work within its restrictions would have played into the hands of Lord Fingall’s faction. There is no indication at this time that he wished to seize social and political leadership from the aristocracy, or that he wished to embrace a new career as a parliamentarian rather than as a judge. But he seems to have been fascinated with the Rent, and with all he personally expected to be able to accomplish with it.

            A private meeting was held on Friday 10 June 1825, following a resolution at the Aggregate Meeting to decide how an association could be set up which would not fall under the Act. The new Association met in the Corn Exchange on Wednesday 22 June 1825 and a ballot was held for a committee of 21. Five lists were circulated and balloting  continued from 12 o’clock to 4 p.m. Purcell O’Gorman, the Secretary said that 321 had balloted and asked for an adjournment until the morrow to allow him to make the calculation. Mr Sheil secured most votes namely 317, closely followed by Lord Killeen and Sir John Burke with 313, Captain Bryan and Nicholas Mahon with 312, Daniel O’Connell with 311 and Sir Thomas Esmonde  with 309. In the list of 21 the success of the aristocratic party was noticeable, but then they were always stronger in Dublin. That O’Connell’s popularity was slightly damaged by the ‘wings’ controversy is shown by the fact that one of his strongest critics Nicholas Mahon was preferred to him. Neither Lawless nor Sir Edward Bellew were elected. O’Connell announced that the new Association would be started after the end of the parliamentary session and not before, for two reasons. The first was in case the two Associations would be confused. The other was in case the Government would rush through new legislation to suppress the new one.

            The general legal idea behind the new association was that there were all kinds of associations in existence for legal purposes. In these gentlemen could combine to attain an end, raise funds, have regular meetings, and correspond with similar societies, and even form a national alliance of associations for a similar purpose. These were associations for the promotion of education, agriculture, science, art, recreation, and so on. The exceptions were associations for illegal purposes, or for political purposes. The aim of the latter was to prevent attempts to emulate the Volunteers National Convention of 1782 or the French National Convention of 1792.

            [July 1825] Parliament was prorogued on 6 July 1825. On 12 July 1825 a Catholic meeting was held in the rooms in the Corn Exchange the 21 members presented their Report, but there was a difficulty because O'Connell had taken home the draft copy to have a fair copy made out. The committee of 21, having completed its task dissolved and a committee of 31 was chosen to prepare an Aggregate Meeting.

This was held in Clarendon Street chapel on 13 July with Lord Gormanston in the chair and Purcell O’Gorman as secretary. The proposals for the new association were set out. It must be open to everybody; there must be no oath; it would have no power of instituting prosecutions in the courts; it would have no secretary or delegate, or correspond with any other society, or in any way contravene 6 George IV (‘Algerine Act'); nor would it petition Parliament to remedy any grievances. It could promote peace and concord among His Majesty’s subjects; encourage education; ascertain the population of Ireland and the respective numbers of Catholics and Protestants; help to construct Catholic churches; establish Catholic burial grounds; promote manufactures, agriculture, and commerce; encourage a liberal press; and rebut charges made against Catholics. Every person paying one pound could become a member. Petitions to Parliament would be adopted at one-day Aggregate Meetings that could adjourn daily  for up to fourteen days, and would have no connection with the New Catholic Association. The collection of the Rent would continue, but not by the new Association. O’Connell personally, as a sole person, would be responsible for its collection and management (SNL 14 July 1825).Sheil made a powerful speech against the Duke of York which gave great offence, not only to the king his elder brother, but to his younger brother, William, Duke of Clarence (William IV) neither of whom ever forgave him (Luby).

It is not clear what exactly this association was intended for, except perhaps as an act of defiance to the Government, and to allow O’Connell to collect and keep the Rent centrally. Probably, it was envisaged that the Dublin newspapers would report the meetings, and so provide valuable publicity. The Catholics later adopted local meetings very successfully, and the Fourteen Day Aggregate meetings to petition Parliament were more to the point and more effective. But there seems to have been no objection to its establishment by any party. Sheil came to the fore at this time and stressed that the Catholics, far from falling into a moody silence, should step up their campaign of agitation (McCullough). Predictably, the disbanded Orange Order set up a similar association to promote the welfare of Orangemen, ‘The Loyal and Benevolent Orange Institution’.

The New Catholic Association met for the first time on 16 July with Mr Redmond in the chair and Mr Bric secretary for the day. It never gained the popularity or esteem of the old Association. Moderate Catholics would have preferred to pursue aims like the promotion of farming or industry through broader based non-sectarian organisations. The clergy of all denominations regarded even secular education like the teaching of arithmetic as falling within their exclusive sphere. While, for Catholic hard-liners, it was a toothless and ineffective body. Still, it continued to meet until the expiration of the ‘Algerine Act’ when it changed back into the Catholic Association. O’Connell noted that the Association could not correspond with another Association, like the English Catholic Association, but could correspond with individual members of that body. A rules committee could be set up to ensure that all their activities remained within the existing law. Frederick Conway was among those chosen for the committee (SNL 18 July).

Cobbett disapproved of the new Association and kept up his attack on O’Connell, by writing a Letter to the People of Ireland.  He alleged that before he came to London he was threatened with prosecution for a criminal and seditious libel. But after he had come to London he sought out Plunket in the House of Commons, allegedly for private business. But Cobbett believed that O’Connell had been offered a patent of precedence in the courts to take effect after the Emancipation Bill was passed. This information he had from Sheil who regarded it as a proof of the Government’s benevolence. For Cobbett, this was clear evidence of a sell-out. Whether there was anything in Cobbett’s suspicions is hard to tell. Cobbett was a man with deeply felt convictions; O’Connell on the other hand usually gives the impression of being a lawyer using legal tactics which are abandoned if they are not yielding results. But most of those involved in Ireland just wished to put the matter into the past. As might have been expected O’Connell retaliated in kind and abused Cobbett. The two were well matched when it came to invective. O’Connell said Cobbett was only funny when he intended being serious. (The Times of London, no friend of Cobbett, printed an unflattering comment about him referring to ‘ his still incorrigible habits of lying and swearing and swaggering and libelling and praising without the slightest regard for truth, propriety, subsequent detection or self-contradiction’ 6 Jan 1820. The notice on Cobbett in the DNB does not contradict this evaluation.)

A meeting of the New Catholic Association held on 30 July with Counsellor O’Brien in the chair and Frederick Conway as secretary for the day. It was reported that 151 gentlemen had subscribed as members, and these included Sir Edward Bellew, Sir Thomas Esmonde, and Nicholas Mahon. A proposal was made to ask for two persons in each parish in Ireland who would collect the Rent and furnish information. Sir Edward Bellew asked if any uniform had been decided on for the new Association for he had seen some gentlemen wearing buttons with the inscription ‘New Catholic Association’. He was told that it had been decided that there would be no common uniform, that the buttons were a private speculation, and that Mr O’Connell would probably soon cease to wear the uniform he had devised for the Association. This uniform consisted of a blue frock coat with covered moulds, an inscribed button under the collar, a buff vest, and white pantaloons. Mr O’Connell and some other gentlemen had worn it at the last meeting (SNL 1 August 1825). O’Connell loved dressing up in uniforms. Any club or society could prescribe a form of dress to be worn at their meetings or on public occasions like parades. (It is not clear what exactly the word ‘moulds’ refers to, whether buttons or piping OED.)

[August 1825] Several  meetings were held in August, but as most of those connected with the bar had dispersed to the various legal circuits to which they were attached to attend the assizes. (Barristers were assigned to one of the six circuits, and formed the bar of that Circuit. O’Connell belonged to the Munster bar, and his appearances in courts outside Dublin were normally within the Munster circuit. He was best known and received his greatest support in the counties in Munster that comprised the Munster circuit. He had little personal contact with gentlemen in the counties comprising the other circuits.) The Catholic barristers, especially O’Connell and Sheil, attended and spoke at numerous Catholic meetings in various places. Sheil never trusted himself to speak extempore, so all his speeches were carefully prepared. Also, unlike O’Connell, he disliked repeating himself, so the speech for each meeting required long and careful preparation (DNB).

There was a well-attended meeting on Saturday 20 August in the Corn Exchange where Lord Gormanston took the chair. When the campaign for emancipation was over various people claimed to be the originators of the various strategies adopted. But at this point it would seem to have been Sheil who suggested plans for a systematic organisation, and for the systematic co-option of the Catholic clergy in Ireland in the campaign for better education which was one of the avowed objects of the Association . He began by proposing to the meeting that the secretary should get the name of every parish priest in write to him asking for his help.

‘Thus an individual and personal intercourse will be kept up with every parish priest, and we shall have an active and powerful agent in every parochial sub-division of the country.

Hitherto we have been desultory and irregular in our movements – one county petitioned at one time, another at a different period. There was no accordance in time or place, nor any simultaneous stirring of the nation’s mind. We must learn to kneel down together – we must be instructed in this exercise of genuflection; on the same day and at the same hour let there be a meeting held under the direction of the parish priest in every closet in Ireland (loud cheers). Offer to yourselves in anticipation the effect of such a proceeding. The cry for liberty sent up from the altars of God will reach into the cabinet, make its way to the throne, echo through the chambers of Westminster, and make even Eldon start.  [ Eldon the Lord Chancellor of England was an inveterate opponent of the Catholic claims.]

But, I may be asked, can the Association effect all this? Not all. We have no right to petition for the redress of our grievances, but we are entitled by a specific clause  to promote education. We shall array the clergy for an end which is perfectly legal, and when they have been once marshalled – when once the political apparatus has been prepared, it will be the office of another Association which can sit for fourteen days (the period allowed by law to an association for the redress of grievances to hold its sittings) to make use of the instruments with which they will have been previously provided’ (SNL 22 August 1825).

A committee of 7 was appointed to choose members for an education committee as education was the principal object of the new Association. Among those proposed for the Education Committee were Primate Curtis, Archbishop Murray, Dr. Doyle, Lord Killeen, Lord Gormanston, Sir Edward Bellew, O’Connell, Sheil, Nicholas Mahon, Frederick Conway etc. (DEP 20 Aug 1825). Sheil then proposed an adjournment of the Association until November, for the absence of so many gentlemen from the city might show the Association in a poor light. But an open Committee, which every member might attend, would be held every week.

        The potentially valuable work of the Education Committee was negatived by the action of the Catholic bishops who preferred to treat education as a private concern, and to negotiate directly with the Government. The Government decided to negotiate with the bishops and not the Association and the National Education Act (1831) was based on the negotiations of the Government with the bishops. The result was that Catholic bishops, priests, brothers and nuns controlled almost all aspects of Catholic education in the nineteenth century in a manner inconceivable in the following century. It would seem that a great opportunity was lost of preventing the decline of education into pure sectarianism. There was also the fact that O’Connell was extremely reluctant to spend the money collected for anything but political aims.

Activity of the Committee virtually ceased during the autumn season, but many local meetings were held throughout the country.

[October 1825] A meeting to petition was held in Co. Louth to petition parliament. Sir Edward Bellew was in the chair. The question of the wings was raised again, but there was no great feeling against O’Connell. It was pointed out that Dr Doyle was prepared to concede them, though under protest.

A rather surprising event occurred in October. The Lord Lieutenant, the Marquis Wellesley, now a widower, married a Catholic woman. After the official wedding according to the rite of the Established Church, Archbishop Murray performed the Catholic rite in the vice-regal lodge in the Phoenix Park, Dublin, the official residence of the Lords Lieutenant. His bride was a granddaughter of Mr Charles Carroll of Carrollstown, Maryland, the only Catholic to sign the American Declaration of Independence. Lord Liverpool took no action against him. The long-standing champion of Catholic interests in the Lords, the Earl of Donoughmore died and was succeeded in the title by his brother Lord Hutchinson. Lord Farnham, a leading anti-Catholic, succeeded him as an Irish representative peer. Lady Farnham was a leading proponent of the ‘Second Reformation’ in Cavan.  A general election was due the following year, and already moves were being made to select or oppose candidates. On 29 October 1825  a small meeting, the first since the adjournment, met, and O’Connell called for a small Aggregate Meeting which would discuss the procedures for petitioning Parliament.

[November 1825] The Little Aggregate Meeting was held on 2 November in the Corn Exchange. Mr Bric was called to the chair, and Conway acted as secretary. There was an entrance fee of one shilling and one penny. (Presumably, though the Irish currency had just been abolished, the sum was counted in Irish pennies of which 13 Irish pence made an English shilling, against twelve English pence.) Presumably this was necessary as the meeting was not to petition but to explain the procedures for petitioning, and also to ensure it counted as a private not public meeting. O’Connell proposed concomitant meetings each week, one of the New Catholic Association, the other of successive meetings to petition. A committee of eleven was appointed to prepare petitions, including as always now Frederick Conway. The Little Aggregate Meetings were also called ‘Separate Meetings’. Though minutes were taken they were not read out and approved at the next meeting. These Separate Meetings were the most useful in the struggle for Emancipation for they enabled an organisation to be kept continuously in being. Any person who missed a meeting would have to ask someone who had attended what had happened, or get the minutes privately from the secretary. The ‘efficient secretary’ Ed Dwyer seems to have been retained, for O’Connell made him responsible for handling cash sent in as Rent. Real public Aggregate Meetings to adopt petitions, and Fourteen Day Meetings, could of their nature be held only rarely.

[November, December 1825] A second small Aggregate Meeting was held on 9 November, again in the Corn Exchange, with Purcell O’Gorman in the chair and Mr FitzSimon as secretary. The faction led by Nicholas Mahon who opposed the ‘wings’ in all circumstances still wanted to make a major issue of it, but Sheil defended O’Connell. The latter still maintained that the freeholder vote was an illusion, as they were forced to vote for their Orange landlords. Some wanted to proceed with large provincial meetings, and Fourteen Day Meetings, but O’Connell said it was necessary for these latter to wait for six months after the passing of the Act. Little Aggregate Meetings, and meetings of the New Catholic Association continued alternately throughout November and December, the one dealing with petitioning and the other with the other business. At a Little Aggregate Meeting O’Connell had to warn the secretary not to read the minutes of the previous meeting. Nicholas Mahon continued striving to get a formal exclusion of the ‘wings’ and Sheil deplored, to loud cheers, the perpetual raking over of who said what and when. Like Sheil, most gentlemen seem to have deplored the ‘wings’ but realised  that if their backers in Parliament introduced them they would have to accept them. It was a strict principle with all MPs and Lords that Parliament legislated not negotiated. The meetings were usually held on different days, but O’Connell sometimes called a Separate Meeting before or after an Association meeting. Jack Lawless found it difficult to keep track of which was which.

It was proposed to revive the Catholic Association for fourteen days in January, for the purposes of petitioning on various subjects. It was also proposed that numerous local petitions should be adopted in the various counties, towns and parishes so that several of them could be presented every day that Parliament sat. It is not clear who first devised this tactic. It was used on a wide scale by the campaigners against slavery, and later in the decade by Protestant groups opposed to Emancipation. The idea put forward by Sheil of getting the addresses of each parish priest in Ireland made the scheme feasible. (A Catholic Directory covering all the dioceses in Ireland would not be published for another ten years.) O’Connell recommended that several different specimen copies of petitions for Emancipation should be circulated. They should just petition for unqualified Emancipation and avoid any other topic.

On 14 and 15 December 1825 the Leinster Provincial Meeting took place in the Catholic chapel in Carlow with Lord Killeen in the chair to petition Parliament. A committee met on the 14th to prepare the petitions. At the meeting on 15th Dr. Doyle, whose lived in that town entered the meeting to give his account regarding the ‘wings’. He stated that he had reluctantly accepted the pensioning of the clergy, but if the Act had passed he would have resigned rather than accept Government money. Doyle’s exact reasoning is not very clear. O’Connell considered that the priests could take the money and act independently of the Government as they always did. Nor was there any objection to prison chaplains, or army chaplains in India taking Government money. Nor was there later any objection by most of the clergy to Catholic priests, Brothers, or nuns taking Government money for schools. Sheil and O’Connell were present and spoke. It was not exclusively a Catholic meeting. Sir Henry Parnell and Lord Cloncurry sent apologies (SNL 19. 20 December 1825)

        On 19 December 1825, at a Separate Meeting, O’Connell stated that the law officers of the crown were of the opinion that the Catholic Association itself could not re-assemble even for fourteen days. There was no point in quarrelling  with their friends in the present administration over this point, so he proposed calling the Fourteen Day Meeting in January, the ‘Catholic Association of 1826’. A requisition calling for such a meeting was thereupon published in the newspapers under the names of Fingall, Gormanston,  Killeen, Sir Edward Bellew, the brothers of the Earl of Kenmare etc. [Top]


The Campaigns of 1826 and 1827 (January 1826 to March 1827)


            [January 1826]  The meetings of the New Catholic Association and the Separate meetings continued regularly. Frederick Conway was the secretary of the Education Committee of the New Catholic Association, and kept in touch with some of the Catholic bishops who kept him informed of the dealings between the bishops and Wellesley’s Education Commissioners who were charged with implementing the Report of the Commission of Enquiry into Irish Education. O’Connell still believed that the work of the New Catholic Association with regard to education was essential, and that the £50,000 that the Rent would provide would prove a powerful lure for the Catholic clergy. (When in 1831 the National Board of Education was set up to partially fund local primary schools, parish priests would have been delighted to get assistance from the Rent. But by that time the Rent was being used for other purposes.)

Preparations were being made for the first of the Fourteen Day Meetings. Lawless proposed that instead of a subscription of £1 to cover the fourteen days, separate subscriptions for each day should be allowed. For he said that his experience of Catholic politics enabled him to say that the most pure and honest were to be found among those who were only able to pay a shilling for their admission. When it was put to the vote Lawless was defeated by 44 votes to 4. There can be little doubt that this means that the strongest opponents of the wings, and supporters of Lawless, were to be found among the tradesmen of Dublin (SNL 12 Jan 1826).O’Connell claimed he had purchased the first ticket for the new temporary association. The Connaught Provincial Meeting met on 10 January 1826 in Ballinasloe with Lord Ffrench in the chair. On the same day a Catholic meeting was held in Monaghan with the local Catholic bishop in the chair.

On 16 January 1826 the ‘Roman Catholic Association for 1826’ met, and Lord Gormanston took the chair on the first day. Lord Fingall sent his apologies from Cheltenham in England where he was taking the medicinal waters. Killeen, seconded by O’Connell proposed the Resolutions establishing the temporary association and they were quickly adopted. A governing committee consisting of Sir Edward Bellew, Sir Thomas Esmonde, Sir John Burke, the Hon. Mr Preston, the Hon. Mr Ffrench, and Messrs Sheil, Whyte, Russell, Grainger, Coppinger, and Lawless were appointed.  The chair was taken on the second day by Lord Ffrench, and on the third day by Lord Killeen, and so on. Each session was occupied to the full. A Resolution calling for unqualified Emancipation without the ‘wing’s was passed, though Sir Edward Bellew had a hesitation regarding the clerical wing, for the bishops were divided on the issue. It was decided to entrust the main petition to Lord Landsdowne in the Lords and to Sir Francis Burdett in the Commons. Mr Corley said he would prefer Mr Plunket which nearly made Lawless speechless. (Lawless put forward a motion condemning Plunket but it was not seconded.) O’Connell eulogised Plunket. O’Connell brought forward an alternative petition on the grounds of the breach of the Treaty of Limerick. (The alleged ‘broken treaty’ of Limerick, like Cromwell, always had a prominent position in Irish national grievances. It was not a treaty but a capitulation of a city and was signed  by the respective generals and ratified by William III after the siege of Limerick in 1692. It set out the terms on which the Jacobite largely Catholic army and their dependants, besieged in the city, could depart to France keeping their arms, and fixing a date for their submission to William. On their arrival in France the Catholic officers offered their services to the French king, as by the terms of the capitulation they were perfectly free to do. But in doing this they did not submit to William by the prescribed date.)  After the 13th meeting on 29 January 1826, the Association adjourned sine die. All the meetings were reported at length in the Dublin newspapers (SNL 17 to 30 January 1826). This, the first of the Fourteen Day Meetings was the most successful. Friction and time wasted were at a minimum. All were united with regard to the kind of petitions to be put forward. The whole of the fourteen days were taken up with drafting petitions, discussing and revising them, and agreeing on strategy. Despite the efforts of Lawless, the ‘wings’ issue was largely ignored, for it was realised that while the Catholics might express preferences the wording of the Bills would be out of their hands.

The Irish Catholic bishops were in Dublin at the same time to discuss their response to the proposals of the Education Commissioners. O’Connell proposed that Lord Killeen, Sir Edward Bellew, and the Hon. Mr Preston should wait on the bishops. The bishops however did not discuss educational matters with them, and merely furnished them with a copy of their own resolutions on the subject. (These Resolutions of 1826 were to be a bone of contention among the Irish bishops for half a century, for some bishops regarded them as irreducible demands formally endorsed by all the bishops,  while other regarded them as optimum requirements some of which would not be conceded.)

The only incident to mar the harmony arose when Mr Coppinger wished for a formal reply from the meeting to be sent to a meeting in New York which expressed sympathy with the ‘oppressed’ Irish Catholics, and suggested ‘separation’ from England as the remedy. This echo of the United Irishmen displeased many including Killeen, Bellew, O’Connell, and Sheil. The proposal was put to the vote and defeated ‘ amid a scene of uproar and confusion which we are unable to describe. O’Connell and Sheil called for a public repudiation of the word ‘separation’  used by Anthony Marmion of Co. Louth. This was done by acclamation. Marmion was one of the leaders of those attacking O’Connell over the wings. The very last thing most Catholics wanted was to have their movement tainted by association with the United Irishmen (SNL 28 Jan 1826).

[February 1826] Parliament resumed its sittings on 2 February 1826. A full Aggregate Meeting was held in Clarendon Street chapel on 14 and 15 February 1826 with Lord Killeen in the chair. The Hon. Mr Brown proposed that the petition be adopted, and he was seconded by Mr Thomas Wyse. Wyse had had an interesting career after parting with Ball and Woulfe in Rome in 1816. He travelled widely in the Near East, Greece, Turkey, Syria, Palestine, Egypt, and Sicily along with Charles Barry, the architect of the House of Commons, sketching and measuring temples. Re-visiting Rome he met Napoleon’s brother Lucien, and married his daughter. He returned to Ireland in 1825. In a Resolution designed to undo the damage caused by the unfortunate word ‘separation’ Sir Edward Bellew, seconded by Mr John O’Brien, expressed the undivided loyalty of the Catholics. Lawless proposed a motion against the ‘Algerine Act’ that was adopted. The Petition for Emancipation adopted by the Fourteen Day Meeting was adopted. O’Connell called for a Twelve Day Board, and it was approved. This was to attend to the forwarding of the petitions to London, and so was legal  (SNL 15, 16 February 1826).

In February a dinner was given to the prospective Liberal candidate for Waterford, Henry Villiers Stuart , a grandson of the 1st Marquis of Bute, at which Lord Killeen presided.

[March 1826] The Accounts of the  Old Catholic Association up to 18 March 1825 were published in the Dublin Evening Post. They showed that £8,886 had been collected in 1824, and £10,442 in the first three months in 1825. Cash in hand on that date was £14, 897 (about £600,000 nowadays; to arrive at this figure the pre-1914 value of the pound is multiplied by forty.) By July 1826 the sum in hand was reported to be £13,000 and there was considerable discussion if and how it could be used.

[April 1826] On 17 April 1826 Lord Landsdowne presented the general Irish Catholic petition in the Lords, and paid tribute to the  late Earl of Donoughmore. Grey introduced Lawless’s petition against the ‘Algerine Act’. Burdett introduced the general petition in the Commons. There were no motions on the petitions.

On 19 April 1826 Dr Milner passed away. He was active to the very end in his self-imposed task of saving the Catholic Church from itself.

Landsdowne informed the Irish Catholics that if they insisted on an immediate motion on their petition he would hand over its direction to others. Lord Killeen, Sir Edward Bellew, and Sheil considered that they should defer to his judgement. O’Connell and Sir Thomas Esmonde thought they should press on regardless. It was back to 1805.Without Landsdowne, the support of the senior Whigs in the Lords would be lost.

[May 1826] An Aggregate Meeting was called for 9 May 1826 to resolve the dispute. It met in Clarendon Street chapel with Lord Gormanston in the chair. A committee was appointed to see that a motion, if practicable, was made in Parliament. A Resolution was passed that they would, at the coming General Election, support only those candidates who favoured Emancipation. A Mr Darcy Mahon proposed that £1,000 be given towards the relief of the distressed weavers in the Dublin Liberties, but was told that a special meeting would have to be called for this. This was not called by Purcell O’Gorman because of alleged irregularities in the signatures calling for one. Purcell O’Gorman received a vote of thanks for refusing to allow Catholic funds to be diverted (SNL 10, 22 May, 1 June 1826). O’Connell said that one of those who had signed the requisition on behalf of the weavers was Sir Edward Bellew, a man who had never paid a penny towards the Rent. Bellew replied that he always paid in his own parish as they had been instructed to do.

A letter from Joseph Hume MP, a leading Whig, was read out at a meeting saying the reason for the delay was that a General Election was imminent, and it was feared several of their supporters might lose their seats if too closely identified with the Catholic cause. Almost imperceptibly the character of Protestant objections to Catholic Emancipation were changing. At first it was chiefly political, a refusal to changed the order established in 1688 when the Protestant William replaced the Catholic James. But the evangelical movement was growing stronger almost by the day in England and Ireland. Objections now tended to be based on the need to combat the religious errors of Popery or to prevent the encroachments of Popery. Peel, within three years, was to feel the full force of this wave. The character of Protestant opposition in Ireland was changing too. Since the coming of the Marquis Wellesley it was no longer the opposition of an entrenched ruling class, relying on their positions and patronage to block reform. For the next thirty years, indeed until after the death of Peel, the old ‘Ascendancy faction’ was to be in opposition. It was now more strongly than ever based on the religious prejudices of the ordinary grass roots Protestants. Protestant newspapers now flourished despite the fact that all Government subsidies were withdrawn from them. The officials in the Irish Government were now for the most part, and increasingly, in favour of Emancipation. Within a few years the great majority of the Protestant gentlemen in the counties were to support the Catholics.

[June 1826] On 2 June 1826 Parliament was dissolved and a General Election was called. Plunket was returned unopposed for Dublin University. O’Connell was active in some constituencies and wrote to influential people in others. He and Nicholas Mahon were very active in Dublin County which was always more liberal than the city. In Dublin county Lord Killeen proposed one of the candidates. Pro-Catholic candidates made some gains in Ireland but lost some in England where the strength of the anti-Popery faction was growing. The over-all balance in the Commons was unchanged, and Lord Liverpool remained prime minister.

        The General Election in Ireland in 1826 is famous for the fact that the Whigs began to see a slight change in their direction. Ascendancy candidates who had been entrenched in constituencies like Louth and Waterford for as far as living memory stretched were seen to be vulnerable. Frequently in the past elections were uncontested. Contested elections were extremely expensive, and the total costs had to be borne by the candidate. A preliminary canvass was sometimes held among the great landowners, to see how they intended voting. If the result was clear one party might put up two candidates for the two seats, or the two parties might agree to put up one candidate each, and were declared duly elected by the sheriff. But if three or more candidates stood for election a public ballot had to be held. But often the great landowners agreed among themselves beforehand. The Beresfords had long dominated Waterford, and the Fosters had controlled Louth. In Waterford Thomas Wyse led the campaign of Henry Villiers Stuart against the  Tory candidate Lord George Beresford, and Stuart won. O’Connell joined in the campaign in Waterford. He was proposed and seconded as a candidate to enable him to address the voters indicating that he intended to withdraw, and telling them how to cast their votes. The papers reported the Mrs Bonaparte Wyse accompanied by a few other ladies sat in the gallery of the courthouse. If the sheriff decided that there must be a poll, he fixed the date and caused hustings (a raised platform) to be built outside the courthouse. (Mrs Wyse later left her husband and returned to France, but Bonaparte was retained by the Wyse family as a given name for over a century.) It was estimated that Wyse spent £10,000 of his own money on the election, about £400,000 nowadays. O’Connell did not register himself as a freeholder and disbursed nothing from the Rent (Reynolds).

In Louth, a Whig gentleman named Alexander Dawson, decided to stand, and Sheil went to the county to assist him. Sir Edward Bellew became chairman of Dawson’s election committee and proposed him. The Dublin Evening Post recorded that Lord Oriel (John Foster) had 397 registered voters among his tenants, Alexander Dawson 130, Sir Edward Bellew 118, and so on (DEP 20 June 1826). Landlords registered as many tenants as they felt they needed or could afford, and paid their registration fees. The Tories put up two candidates and the Whigs one. Curtis wrote to Murray that Sheil had come to an agreement with Foster’s agent only to put up one candidate. It was the first contested election in Louth for fifty eight years. The decision to run a Whig candidate was taken only forty eight hours before the election. As Dawson was not wealthy it was agreed to assist with his expenses, and to engage Sheil from Dublin as principal speaker. Alexander Dawson and Leslie Foster were returned, Dawson polling 850 votes, Foster 550, and Fortescue 544. In Louth 1944 votes were cast, but many potential voters were not registered or were incorrectly registered. (Alexander Dawson had 356 votes rejected, Leslie Foster 162, and Mr Fortescue 106. The Whigs in Louth decided that next time, with proper organisation, they could take both seats. The Tory candidates in Waterford and Louth were not particularly anti-Catholic and had objection to retaining Catholic barristers. But the Whigs sensed that the log-jam was beginning to break, and with proper organisation many hitherto safe Tory seats could be taken. Dawson’s total expenses in Louth was put at £2,000.O’Connell proposed establishing an ‘Order of Liberators’ whose purpose would be to organise elections. In some counties like Louth, ‘Liberal Clubs’ were formed to promote the Whig interest. The problem with these was that the gentlemen of the county were still expected to pay all the expenses, and did not relish the idea that they would have to pay all the expenses of any candidate the Club put up. But these were problems for the next decade.

Some of the Ascendancy faction was startled. The Westmeath Journal called for wholesale evictions of recalcitrant tenants, and distraining for arrears. O’Connell claimed that actions against the tenants had begun. In Louth Lord Oriel, and Lord Roden the owner of the borough of Dundalk denied that they had any intention of retaliating.

         There was an entirely different problem with regard to evictions, and this was caused by the fact that improving landlords were commencing to prohibit subletting, for in many parts of Ireland, lands were let, and then sub-let, and sublet again so that there could be as many as five landlords in a chain, the pieces of land getting smaller with each sub-letting. So eventually a farm of 1,000 acres could be parcelled out to 1,000 cultivators each with one acre. Each successive letting was naturally for shorter and shorter periods. To break the series, when the head lease of perhaps 99 years expired, the landowner had to evict the head tenant, who evicted his sub-tenants, who evicted his tenants and so on. Then the landowner could grant leases, probably to many of the same tenants, with an explicit clause prohibiting sub-letting. Because a large number of long leases came up for renewal around the same time, a Sub-Letting Act (1826) was passed in 1826 to regulate the matter ( Keenan II). Or they could evict a tenant at the end of his freehold lease, and offer him a leasehold in its place. Long leases had gone out of fashion, and were replaced by shorter leases. As communications improved so too did the value of agricultural land. Many landlords who had granted long leases at fixed rents found they derived no profit from the high prices for agricultural produce during the War, all of which went to the tenant. For this reason also evictions followed by short leases were preferred by landowners. Some could be offered land without a lease, and became tenants-at-will who could be evicted if ever the rent was not paid. Eviction was an emotive term, but it could amount to little more than a notice of eviction to compel the tenant to accept a more disadvantageous lease such as leasehold for freehold.

The other problem was caused by the fact that in the case of almost all tenants the first half year’s rent was not claimed, but remained due. This was called a ‘hanging gale’ and the landlord could call it in at any time. Because of these two factors, the uncertainty regarding the renewal of the lease, and the hanging gale that could be called in at any time, most tenants preferred to humour their landlords. O’Connell was perfectly aware of this, and knew that the Forty Shilling freeholders were most vulnerable to landlord pressure.

The resumption of land into the landowners’ hand was unconnected with elections, and proceeded steadily throughout the nineteenth century. But it was always possible for an unscrupulous person like O’Connell to cry that the landlords were evicting. On the other hand, if a tenant was badly in arrears, and his chief use to the landlord was that he would vote as directed, if he failed so to do he was likely to be evicted. As O’Connell argued, a steady tenant with a £10 freehold, and his rent paid up to date was unlikely to be evicted, for landlords would be very unwilling to evict steady tenants. There was also the point that while the rent was due to the landlord, it was collected by his agent, and that the agent, for this or any other reason might proceed with eviction notices. From notices in the newspapers it would seem that in Louth Baron Foster and Lord Roden stepped in to prevent evictions for the time being. Alexander Dawson confirmed that in Louth the landowners were not evicting, but their ‘agents and understrappers’ were (DEP 31 August 1826).

Indeed, any evicted tenant could claim that he was being evicted because he voted according to his conscience, and claim recompense from O’Connell’s Rent. It was always possible that a tenant and his landlord could collude to get the rent paid up to date. O’Connell refused to allow any of his Rent to be used to recompense alleged victims, and proposed that a separate collection should be made to assist them.

[July 1826] At a meeting in July O’Connell expressed the hope that the clergy would help in the collection of the Rent. Lawless feared that any attempt to directly involve the Catholic clergy might provoke a backlash among moderate Protestants, but O’Connell said that if they did not undertake the relief they could be charged with betraying the people into misery (SNL 10 July 1826).  He was determined however that the funds of the Old Catholic Association should be protected, and a special rent organised by the New Catholic Association should be used. Sheil suggested that Catholic ladies could be used to collect the Rent, as Protestant ladies distributed Bibles, and the Catholic ladies of Dublin had displayed great activity in getting Turnerelli’s altar erected in the new church in Marlborough Street. Later, in 1828, strict rules were drawn up; only those recommended by their parish priests could get relief; the lease and the landlord’s receipts for the previous twelvemonths must be produced; the recipient must enter into bail with some solvent person to repay the loan within a reasonable time; the parish priest should decide how much the applicant himself could pay; and finally the parish priest should decide if the distraint was normal, or whether it was solely due to voting against the landlord’s expressed wish (SNL 12 Aug 1828). Collection of the New Catholic Rent or Freehold Rent commenced in July. But, as usual activity came virtually to an end until the holiday season was over. It was O’Connell’s custom, after the summer assizes to retire to his home in Kerry and remain there until the law courts re-opened for the autumn term.

[August, September 1826] Reporting on the progress of the Catholic census, Conway had to report little success. This was an interesting project, for estimates regarding the ratio of Catholics to Protestants ranged from 6 to 1 to 3 to 1. Speculations regarding the revenues of the Established Church were equally vague. Of course, few at that time considered that if Catholics outnumbered Protestants by three to one they should have three quarters of the seats in Parliament. For Protestants had at least three quarters of the wealth, and so paid three quarters of the taxes. That the mob or hoi polloi, just because it outnumbered the rich, should decide the taxes and public spending was a view ruled out by Aristotle, and his view was accepted by succeeding generations. That was why, in the Middle Ages, to be allowed even to vote for a member of Parliament, one should have a freehold with at least forty shillings of taxable revenue. (The first decennial census which included a question on religious allegiance was in 1861 when it was found that Protestants formed 25% of the population. This was however after massive emigration following the famine and the growth of industrial towns in Protestant Ulster. But a study of a particular parish in the west of Ireland showed the Protestants in the 1820’s formed 2.8% of the population, while by 1900 they numbered 2.7% (Keenan III)).

 At a meeting of the New Catholic Association Sheil called for an Aggregate Meeting to allow the spending of some of the £13,000 in the old funds on the freeholders. It was agreed to reimburse freeholders in the four constituencies where the greatest efforts had been made to evict the old Tories, namely, Waterford, Louth, Westmeath, and Cavan, and that sums of £150, £100, £100, and £50 pounds respectively should be allocated to them. An Aggregate Meeting was held in Clarendon Street chapel on 7 September 1826, with Nicholas Mahon in the chair for the purpose of devising means to assist the freeholders and if necessary to vote £1,500 from the old Fund for their relief. O’Connell did not turn up, and Sheil said he was embarrassed by the absence of the person chiefly responsible for collecting the money. They were also aware that he could always think of a plausible legal reason why money could not be paid for purposes he disapproved of. However Sheil’s Resolution to pay £1,500 to the New Catholic Association out of the old Fund, for the purpose of relieving the freeholders was passed. The collection for the freeholders continued through the autumn and more than enough to pay the sums required was collected. By the end of November nearly £3,000 was paid to claimants in the four counties (DEP 28 Oct 1826). The New Catholic Rent for the last week in October was £396 and remained at this high level for the rest of the year.

[October 1826] During a meeting in October 1826, Surgeon Wright entered and announced the tragic death of Edward Hay. He was living in abject poverty and had gone into the garden to chop firewood. A splinter entered his hand and the wound turned septic. The surgeon ordered a bread poultice to be made, but Hay refused to allow his children’s bread to be used for the purpose. There was in fact no food in his house, and no money set aside for his funeral. He left a widow and eight children. From the discussion that followed it appeared that most people believed that he had a small personal income. Also, a subscription had been raised for him but he refused to take charity. Lord Killeen said he had been anxious to help him, and Counsellor Bric expressed the common feeling that if they had known of his circumstances they could have done something to help him. Hay in fact died from his own proud refusal to be helped. O’Connell characteristically refused to allow any part of the £13,000 to be used to assist his widow. Sheil noted that in 1811 a sum of £500 had been voted for Hay but never paid. A subscription was started to assist his widow and orphans.

[November 1826] Reynolds noted that in 1826, no fewer than 28 of the 32 counties met to petition Parliament. With the autumn it was time to meet to agree petitions to the new Parliament which would open in 1827. At a Little Aggregate Meeting on 1 November 1826 O’Connell called for another Fourteen Day Meeting to petition. In the course of a speech Sheil referred to the Rev. Sir Harcourt Lees the strongly anti-Catholic pamphleteer, and said he would venture a parody of Pope:

‘Say what revenge on Harcourt can be had,

To old for vengeance, for reproof too mad.

Upon a priest your sword you cannot draw,

From Orangemen you cannot have the law.

Uncaged then let the harmless monster rage,

Safe in his madness, party, cloth, and age’ (2 Nov 1826).

Another meeting was held on 3 November to agree the Resolutions for the Fourteen Day Meeting.

A full two-day Aggregate Meeting was held on 15 and 16 November 1826 in Clarendon Street chapel, with Lord Killeen in the chair on both days to prepare for the second Fourteen Day Meeting. This commenced on 17 November but got off to a slow start. The first day was poorly attended and was taken up with notices of Resolutions. Attendance was again poor on the second day. Much time was taken up with discussions of domestic issues such as whether the London Agent, Eneas MacDonnell was worth the money paid him. Lawless again wanted a shilling admission fee per session. O’Connell proposed a ‘mission’ to England to explain the Catholic case. Petitions on ‘Orange’ juries, on repeal of the ‘Algerine Act’, on the Forty Shilling Freeholders, and one by Lawless on the revenues of the Established Church were proposed. O’Connell reintroduced his petition based on the Treaty of Limerick. An address by Thomas Wyse to the people of England was adopted. After the 11th session on the fourteenth day, the Association ran out of time. Despite considerable wasting of time on domestic matters which may have been inevitable because of the lack of a proper forum, the second Fourteen Day Meeting seems to have been also a success.

The new Parliament opened on 21 November 1826, but adjourned almost immediately. About this time Leslie Foster who had been returned in Louth claimed that the ordinary Catholic voters did not support the Catholic Association because they had returned Vesey Fitzgerald in Clare who had voted to suppress the Association. Fitzgerald was however a long time supporter of the Catholics. Nor were all the Catholic leaders desolated to see the Association suppressed (DEP 19 Dec 1826).O’Connell was trying to interest the Catholic hierarchy in his plan for a Catholic school system supported entirely by a Catholic Rent, but not as he pointed out from the £13,000. The bishops had met to consider the progress of their negotiations with the Marquis Wellesley, and were unwilling to break them off for this highly speculative venture. An attempt had been made by the Catholic bishops a few years earlier to establish an independent Catholic school system without Government support, but it had collapsed. Archbishop MacHale later adopted in his own diocese a system of Catholic schools entirely independent of Government assistance, and he ended with the worst schools in Ireland. His successor speedily reversed his policy.

The £13,000 invested in various funds continued to fascinate people, but O’Connell was determined that it should not be frittered away on other people’s projects. A priest wrote to the Dublin Evening Post warning other priests not to heed O’Connell’s ‘specious pretensions’  with regard to the Rent. He had enlisted their services three years before, promising money for schools and for sending out missionaries, but they never saw a penny of it. Instead he was holding on to it and setting it out at usury (DEP 2 Jan 1827).


[January 1827] The year commenced with the death of the heir presumptive to the throne, the Duke of York, on 2 January. The Duke of Clarence was next in line, and after him Victoria the daughter of the deceased Duke of Kent. Clarence was much more likely to favour the Catholics, but he had not voted consistently on the point.

A third Fourteen Day meeting was held from 17 to 30 January 1827, though many felt it was unnecessary. It was reported that Lord Landsdowne and Sir Francis Burdett had agreed to present the petitions. Stephen Coppinger again raised the question of a vote of thanks to the support of the friends of civil and religious liberty in Washington D.C. It is likely that some of these were former United Irishmen. The question of the revival of Ribbonism was raised, and Sheil, in a speech recalled the fact that though the Revolutionary French wanted Wolfe Tone to start up or fan a campaign of agrarian terrorism to tie down the British army he refused, and he believed it would be an utter disaster to Ireland if attempted. (Memoirs of Wolfe Tone had recently been published DNB) He went on the commend the work of Tone when he was Secretary to the Irish Catholics, and his belief that if the delegates in 1793 had stood firm they could have obtained complete Emancipation. The Irish Catholics now were totally united, but circumstances had changed. The Irish bishops today were unwilling to use excommunication against political opinions in the way Dr Troy who feared the spread of Deist opinions did in 1796. There was now no danger of a discontented peasantry and a French invasion because of the use of steamships. Sheil’s precise point is not clear, but in a rather wandering speech he seems to have referred to the possibility of a French ‘steam invasion’ raised about this time by a British naval officer, but his argument discounts its success (Tipperary Free Press 3 Jan 1827. The small successes of the French fleet in 1796 and 1798 were the result storms blowing off the superior British fleet). It resulted in his being summoned to appear before a court, informations having been sworn against him before magistrates. The case dragged on to the summer until Plunket, the Irish attorney general, was promoted to be Lord Chancellor, and the new attorney general dropped the charge.

Archbishop Murray sent the petitions of the Irish bishops to Lansdowne and Plunket.

[February 1827] Parliament re-assembled after the Christmas recess on 8 February 1827. It was to prove an exciting year with three different prime ministers after Liverpool’s unbroken fourteen years in office. On 14 February Landsdowne presented the Irish petition in the Lords, but said he had no motion to propose at the moment.  On 17 February 1827 Lord Liverpool was found unconscious, and Burdett, at the request of the Whig leaders, delayed presenting the petition in the Commons until it became clear if there would be a new ministry under a new prime minister. Liverpool, now paralysed, resigned, though he lingered on as an invalid for nearly two years. The question was whom the king would ask to form a ministry. Wellesley thought it would be him, but nobody else did. It could be Canning or Landsdowne. If either of these, would they get a majority to follow them? Canning had caught a chill at the Duke of York’s funeral from which he never entirely recovered. He was recuperating in Brighton when Liverpool had his stroke. Canning at first suggested to the king that he should attempt to construct an all-Protestant ministry under Peel or Wellington. Presumably this was done for tactical reasons to get the question settled in advance. Peel and Wellington declined to form such a ministry, which they knew could not command a majority in the Commons. All three were prepared to support a neutral ministry like Liverpool’s, but the question was who would succeed Liverpool. The king asked Lord Eldon to form an anti-Catholic ministry, but Peel refused to serve under him (Ward III). According to Canning’s biographer Wellington and Peel rather overplayed their hand and left an impression in the king’s touchy mind that they were trying dictate to him. So he sent for Canning. Wellington was to remember this lesson when he became prime minister. If the king got the impression that his ministers were trying to dictate policy to him he would dig in his heels (‘Canning’ DNB). The king’s command to Canning to form a new administration was not given until 10 April.

[March 1827] Petitions poured in from all sides. Plunket presented several including the one  from the Irish bishops. Lord Nugent presented one from the English Catholics with 23,000 signatures. It was noted that 168 petitions were received against Emancipation to 98 in favour. The anti-Popery campaigners in England and Ireland were getting their act together. This was an entirely predictable result  of O’Connell’s insistence on high-profile campaigning.

On 5 March 1827 Burdett moved:

That the House is deeply impressed with the necessity of taking into immediate consideration the laws imposing civil disabilities on His Majesty’s Roman Catholic subjects with a view to their relief.

Plunket made a masterly speech in support. He claimed that if the Act of Union had not been passed the Irish Parliament would have long since passed a Relief Bill by a majority of two to one. If any attempt were made to deprive Englishmen of their privileges they would see Ira leonum vincula recusantium (the anger of lions refusing to be chained). The climax of the debate was the speech of Canning, still Foreign Minister. He maintained the need for some securities, but said he was not a ‘security grinder’. The king, he felt, should have some say in the appointment of Catholic bishops, but there was no need to manufacture securities against imaginary difficulties.

            Rather surprisingly the motion was defeated by four votes. Why this happened is not clear. The Times of London thought that the uncompromising speeches of O’Connell and Sheil were responsible. The Dublin Evening Post noted that it was the largest vote ever in favour of the Catholics for there were 560 MPs present. The indications are that the anti-popery faction in England was whipping in its vote.

            Peel had persuaded the king to keep the barely conscious Liverpool as prime minister until the vote on the Catholic Question was safely passed. As narrated earlier, the king finally asked Canning to form a ministry. Liverpool’s carefully constructed and balanced ministry promptly fell apart. There were 41 resignations from the anti-Emancipation faction including Wellington, Peel, Eldon, Sidmouth, and Bathurst.  Canning had therefore to turn to the Whigs (Ward III). Landsdowne, Brougham, and Burdett were brought in. In all 12 members of the new cabinet out of 15 were favourable to the Catholics. [Top]


Canning and Goderich  (March to December 1827)


[March 1827] Landsdowne became Home Secretary in place of Peel. Wellesley was left in Dublin for the time being, but William Lamb (later Viscount Melbourne) who had been married to Lady Caroline Ponsonby replaced Goulburn. (She was the only daughter of the Earl of Bessborough, and sister of Lord Duncannon. She had become involved with Lord Byron whom she memorably described as ‘mad, bad, and dangerous to know’. In 1824 she separated from her husband). Plunket expected to become the new Lord Chancellor of Ireland, and resigned from the position of attorney general. The new attorney general dropped the case against Sheil. He was offered the position of English Master of the Rolls, but the English bar objected. So he remained without office for the time being. Lord Manners resigned but the king at first refused to accept his resignation. He last sat in court in July and was replaced by Sir Anthony Hart, an Englishman with no political opinions., who took up office in November. Wellesley at last managed to get Lord Norbury to resign as Chief Justice of Common Pleas, and this position was given to Plunket. He was at the same time given a United Kingdom peerage to allow him to sit and speak in the House of Lords as Baron Plunket. King George was by this time in his life close to his father’s opinions regarding the Catholics, and he wished not only to retain Manners to also to remove Wellesley. Wellesley was left in place for the time being. Canning wished to transfer him and make him ambassador to Vienna, but Wellesley wished to stay. The Marquis of Anglesey was Canning’s choice for Lord Lieutenant.

On 15 March 1827 Sir Edward Bellew died, and was succeeded by his son, Sir Patrick Bellew (later 1st Baron Bellew). Sir Edward was born in 1760, and succeeded to the baronetcy in 1795. In 1793 he had applied to be appointed a magistrate, but John Foster blocked his appointment. He was soon after appointed, and acted firmly as a magistrate in the disturbed period from 1798 to 1803. He was a member of every Catholic association or committee from 1805. Frederick Conway noted that his moderate opinions had made him unpopular for several years with his more fiery compatriots. ‘He was the more obnoxious [to them] on this account because he was a man of very considerable talent and a ready and sensible speaker. He, however, never allowed himself to be disgusted at the very unceremonious treatment he at times received, and we had the satisfaction of assisting with him at the formation of the Catholic Association’ (open letter of Conway to Lord Lansdowne when the magistracy was refused to his son DEP 9 June 1827).

Some interesting figures regarding the accounts of the New Catholic Association in its first year were published in the Dublin Evening Post. Ulster had contributed £541, Leinster £2390, Munster £1730 and Connaught £651. A further £367 came from overseas, mainly from England, America, and France. Expenditure amounted to £773 in Ulster, £1610 in Leinster, £1217 in Munster, and £164 in Connaught. Most of this expenditure was on the publishing of Resolutions of various meetings. £448 was spent on advertising of meetings and postage, and £422 on stationery, advertising and the Secretary’s salary. Of the Ulster total about £500 came from the largely Catholic counties of Monaghan and Cavan, and those with large Catholic populations namely Armagh and Donegal. The average for these counties was £125. The largely Protestant counties contributed virtually nothing, and it seems that the clergy in those counties considered collecting the Rent inadvisable. Leinster excluding Dublin averaged £150 per county, Connaught £130 while Munster averaged £290. Of this Waterford contributed £666 and Tipperary £495 leaving an average for the other Munster counties £142. Dublin city contributed £715 and county Meath £334. O’Connell once jibed that the whole province of Connaught contributed less than the salary of the London agent, a Connaughtman, but the figures show that the contributions were not particularly low. Connaught was the poorest of the provinces.

[April 1827] The Irish Catholic bishops were hardening in their attitude towards public disputations with the ‘biblicals’. Primate Curtis followed the lead of Murray and Doyle in prohibiting them in their dioceses. The irrepressible Lawless however decided to stage a monster disputation in the great round hall of the Rotunda in Dublin. O’Connell took the chair on one of the days, while other Catholic laymen like Thomas Wyse and C. Fitzsimon took the chair on other days. The newspapers printed the debates at length. (These debates were merely rehashes of theological disputes of the previous three centuries.) Conway in an open letter to Lord Landsdowne informs him that ‘the Orange bludgeoneer, the Ascendancy, and the ‘Saints’ were all in common parlance called Orangemen’ (DEP 30 June 1827. Though the contemporary ironic use of the term ‘saint’ was with regard to anti-slavery campaigners, it is clear that Conway associates with them Methodist or evangelical preachers, members of bible societies, and promoters of the Second Reformation who were notorious for their anti-Popery sentiments. Later he refers to the ‘saints’ trying to establish conventicles in army barracks and navy ships. Conway was himself a Protestant.)

            By the middle of April the character of the new administration that Canning had succeeded in putting together was now clear. The Dublin Evening Post on 14 April 1827 announced the resignations of Eldon,  Wellington, Peel, Sidmouth, etc, and said Goulburn’s resignation was expected. (The full new cabinet was not published in Dublin until 1 May.) The vast majority of those who accepted office were in favour of Emancipation, so the measure could be a Government one not a private one. This was the condition that Wellington had always believed was necessary. For the Government, especially if backed by the king, to secure a majority, could use patronage and honours distributed to those who were only slightly opposed. Early in April a requisition for an Aggregate Meeting was published, signed by, among others, Primate Curtis, and almost all of the Catholic nobility. O’Connell wanted the Aggregate Meeting postponed until times became clearer. But Sheil, Curtis and the nobility got their way.

[May 1827] The meeting duly held on 1 May 1827 in Clarendon Street chapel, with Sir Thomas Esmonde in the chair was one of the largest ever held. Four resolutions were passed, one on the necessity of continuing to petition. It is not precisely clear why this was called, but O’Connell had stirred things up by calling for Repeal as well as Emancipation (Luby SNL 13 Mar 1827). Killeen was very anxious that they should get their petition for Emancipation ready. Sheil wanted the New Catholic Association to adjourn sine die to ease Canning’s problems, but O’Connell got this altered to an adjournment for six weeks. Sheil’s point was that the less there was of agitation in Ireland the easier it would be for Canning to coax reluctant lords. O’Connell’s view was that without the pressure of continuous agitation Canning would prefer to do nothing. O’Connell never seemed able to see the bigger picture.

 Canning, in a speech in the Commons on 1 May said he was treating the subject as an open one as his predecessor had.

[June 1827] At a Separate Meeting in June O’Connell proposed giving support to Canning. Lawless wanted a petition to the king asking for the removal of Manners from the Lord Chancellorship on the grounds that he had refused to appoint Sir Patrick Bellew as a magistrate in Louth. Manners had already tendered his resignation along with the others, but the king had refused to accept it. This caused a delay in making the new appointment, by which time Plunket had accepted the lesser office of a judgeship. Saunders Newsletter stated that Manners ‘acted solely on the principle of suppressing parliamentary or political influence with the bar’ (SNL 1 Aug 1827). Sir Edward Bellew had been a magistrate in county Louth for thirty years. According to the Post, his son was refused because he was a member of the New Catholic Association. John Foster (Baron Oriel) advised Manners in this matter.

At a meeting of the New Catholic Association on 30 June O’Connell recited the words from Byron’s Childe Harold that he was to repeat frequently.

‘Hereditary bondsmen, know ye not

Who would’st be free themselves must strike the blow’.

The words are in themselves ambiguous with regard to the use of violence. He himself was always strongly opposed to it, but many of his supporters and opponents took the words literally. He believed, or professed to believe, that if the anti-Catholics had formed the administration there would have been civil war in Ireland. Conway found this view exaggerated (DEP 3, 7 July 1827). The rumour was now circulating in Dublin that Anglesey was to replace Wellesley after Christmas (Anglesey had succeeded Wellington as Master General of the Ordnance on the latter’s resignation.) The New Catholic Association continued to meet regularly, but the Rent had fallen off.

            [July 1827] A full Aggregate Meeting was held on 5 July 1827 in  Clarendon Street chapel with Lord Killeen in the chair. Resolutions to petition for full Emancipation and the Repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts were passed. These latter excluded nonconformist Protestants as well as Catholics from public offices.

            Mr Lamb, the new Secretary arrived in Dublin. The Rent had fallen to £10 per week. A Mr Howley, a Roman Catholic barrister, was appointed Assistant Barrister in county Clare. This was a public appointment. The barristers were appointed to assist the local magistrates who were unlearned in the law, at their quarter sessions. It was a position open to Catholics, but apparently no Catholics were appointed to the office before the arrival of Wellesley (DEP 23 Aug, 15 Nov 1827).

            [August 1827] George Canning, to the astonishment of all Europe, died suddenly on 8 August 1827. There was consternation among the Irish Catholics. The Dublin Evening Post noted the exultation of the Orange faction. In an open letter to Lord Landsdowne, Conway wrote,

‘This city yesterday, My Lord, was filled with exulting placards by the Orange faction, announcing in positive terms the demise of the Prime Minister’.

He continued by saying that some of the High Ascendancy were disgusted by this exhibition (DEP 7 Aug 1827). The rejoicing over Canning’s death was premature. Frederick Robinson, Viscount Goderich (later Earl of Ripon), the former private secretary of the Earl of Hardwicke and MP for the Irish borough of Carlow, was persuaded to undertake the office of prime minister. He was totally unable to stand up to Wellington and his supporters in the House of Lords, and wanted to bring Wellesley and Lord Holland into the cabinet to assist him. Wellesley was due to depart from Dublin and to be succeeded by the Marquis of Anglesey, who as Lord Henry Paget had run away with Henry Wellesley’s wife, whom he married after her divorce. (Henry Wellesley was the youngest brother of Wellington and Wellesley.) Angelsey had been in charge of the British cavalry at Waterloo, where he lost a leg, and had angered the Catholics some years earlier by saying that the cavalry should be used against  them. He had an Irish estate at Carlingford in county Louth. He was supposed to be anti-Emancipation in order to balance the pro-Emancipation Irish Secretary. The first of Anglesey’s household arrived in August 1827, but it was not until February 1828 that the reluctant Wellesley finally departed.

            Cobbett decided to attack Lawless, and in memorable language denounced ‘the folly, the consummate,  the oaf-like, the idiot-like…or jackass-supposed stupidity of this Irish Catholic Association’. Their crime? Supporting Canning.

            [Autumn 1827] The meetings of the New Catholic Association and the Separate Meetings continued, but with no sense of urgency. Questions like emigration, sub-letting, burial grounds, a census of Ireland, the conditions of Catholic soldiers, the repeal of the Test Act, the Vestry Act, agrarian terrorism, the alleged frauds of the biblicals, and education were discussed. There was little sign of the storm of enthusiasm which was shortly to break. The New Catholic Association could discuss Catholics grievances but could do nothing about them. To get up a petition meant holding several Separate Meetings. Some people too felt that they should desist from agitation for a while in case Catholics made themselves obnoxious. Others felt that if petitioning were not continued, the whole question would stagnate as happened between 1817 and 1823. The New Catholic Association had paid out £5,400 for the relief of freeholders threatened with eviction [over £200,000 in modern money]. How many of these were actually threatened with eviction is anybody’s guess. The Association’s debts amounted to £1,400. At a Separate Meeting on 22 September 1827, Conway and Sheil brought forward a Resolution to continue petitioning.

            [December 1827] An Aggregate Meeting was held on 19 December 1827 with Lord Killeen in the chair. It was resolved to petition for Emancipation. A Resolution by Lawless that they should petition for the reform of Parliament was not seconded. Gash asserted that the Catholics had not pressed their claims under Canning and Goderich but resumed their campaigning when Wellington became prime minister, but this is not quite accurate. The defeat by four votes followed by the retirement of Liverpool did cause a pause while the Catholics took stock of the first real change in Parliament since 1807, when a premature pressing of their claims resulted in the Whigs being excluded from office for over twenty years. But the decision to continue the campaign was taken before the resignation of Goderich. There were however in Dublin rumours of possible ministerial changes even involving the resignation of Goderich. No doubt that the return of Peel and Wellington added zest to the campaign. A Fourteen Day Meeting was called for January 1828 (SNL 20 Dec 1827). A Separate Meeting was held on 24 December to prepare the petitions, and another on 27 December when it was decided to hold a Fourteen Day Meeting in January .

            Goderich, in preparation for bringing in an Emancipation Bill renewed the contacts of the Government with the Holy See. Wellington apparently allowed the contacts to continue until June 1828 when Peel definitely ended them (SNL 2 April, 27 Nov 1828, citing St. James Chronicle of London).Goderich had great difficulty in controlling the members of his cabinet, and like Wellington found the infighting between members of the Government distasteful. [Top]


The Campaign of 1828 (January to December 1828)


            [January 1828] On 8 January 1828 Goderich resigned. The king sent for the Duke of Wellington, though many had expected a Whig ministry under Lord Landsdowne, for Canning’s Tory supporters had more in common with the Whigs than with the extreme Tories. Neither Wellington, nor Peel who joined him, relished the task, realising how difficult it would be to get and retain majorities in the two Houses of Parliament. The king, in asking Wellington to form a ministry excluded nobody but Lord Grey, and stipulated that the Government should not bring in an Emancipation Bill. In other words the policy of Lord Liverpool was to be followed. Wellington and Peel were confident that any such Bill brought in by the opposition would be blocked in the Lords. Wellington got promises of support from Canning’s followers but had to promise concessions on the Corn Laws. These had been introduced after the Napoleonic Wars to assist farmers in the post-war depression by excluding imports of corn. Though helping the farmers they kept bread dear. The duke was not happy with the Canningites, and especially William Huskisson who was anxious to reduce the Corn Laws. He was a relatively young man, being then only 59, and it was expected that he would remain prime minister until his death. (He was only 46 when he fought his last and greatest battle. Napoleon was the same age.) Peel accepted the office of Home Secretary and was also put in charge of the Commons as Leader of the House. Anglesey, who was going to Ireland to take up his appointment, was retained there for the moment. Wellesley refused to join his brother’s ministry. Parliament was due to open on 22 January, but due to the changed in the ministry this was put off until 29 Jan 1828.

            The hopes of the Orange faction in Ireland soared. But the Catholic campaign of the previous year was again taken up and even extended. Sheil had proposed that simultaneous meeting should be held all over Ireland, preferably in every parish on the same day, 13 January 1828 to demand Emancipation. O’Connell claimed that 1500 such meetings had been held. The Dublin Evening Post, more cautiously, said that they were very numerous. As Sheil had envisaged the simultaneous meetings generated enormous enthusiasm among the Catholics and corresponding alarm among the Protestants.

            The Fourteen Day Association for 1828 commenced, with the first meeting with Lord Killeen in the chair held on 17 January. O’Connell proposed the drafting of petitions (1) in favour of the English Dissenters, (2) for Emancipation full and unqualified, (3) against the Vestry Bill, (4) against the Sub-Letting Act, (5) on the proper implementation of the Treaty of Limerick, (6) for money for liberal education, (7) against grants of public money to proselytisers, (8) on abuses with regard to juries, and (9) on abuses in Orange-controlled corporations and boroughs. He also brought forward a motion that the Irish bishops be requested  to compose a prayer to soften the hearts of their rulers. Nicholas Mahon seconded. Lawless, however, said he was not inclined to treat the question with ribaldry or insincerity for he was perfectly acquainted  with the conscientious feelings and with the religious character of the gentleman who had brought the matter to their notice. But he considered that such a matter should be left to the clergy. (The bishops replied that suitable prayers were already available for this purpose, but each individual bishop could if he wished compose a special one for use in his own diocese.) On 24 January Lawless proposed a motion that they would not support any candidate who voted against them in Parliament. O’Connell remarked, ‘Mr Lawless happened to be right once in his life, he would not say by chance, but he was right’ (SNL 1 Jan 1828). The Fourteen Day Meeting ended on 30 January, and much business had to be abandoned. The Rent, always a barometer of Catholic feeling,  soared to £600 a week.

        Greville, the political diarist said that Sheil and O’Connell detested each other, but had to work together. Lawless also detested O’Connell and did everything he could to thwart him. O’Connell, though opposed by a powerful faction in the Association was all-powerful in country areas. He and Sheil recognised that they had to work together until Emancipation was achieved, for if the Catholics were to split again they would lose all credibility, and lose all sympathy among the Protestants. Again according to Greville, Dr Doyle was another person who disliked O’Connell. He also noted that O’Connell claimed he could keep the country quiet for another year, but Doyle doubted this. Greville considered that Archbishop Murray was clever, but not as ambitious as Doyle (Greville). In any case, Murray having reached the grade of archbishop and ‘primate of Ireland’ had nothing further to aspire to. The archbishop of Armagh was ‘primate of All Ireland’, and had precedence except in the ecclesiastical province of Dublin. Of Doyle, Anglesey remarked, ‘He was a clever man, full of information, and full of prejudice, and full of condemnation of that in others’ (PRONI). Doyle was perhaps the ablest, and most energetic of the Irish Catholic bishops in the first half of the century, and it was a great pity that his university education was cut short. He was an indefatigable reader, and largely self-taught. He would have benefited immensely if he had been exposed for several years to the company of men of great learning and experience of the world. (Charles Greville, a grandson of the Duke of Portland on his mother’s side, moved in the highest circles. He managed the racing stables of the Duke of York. For forty years he kept diaries, and always tried to get the most accurate inside information.)

Wellington did not change the Irish Government for the moment. Both Anglesey and William Lamb were retained. The cabinet was almost equally divided on the Catholic question that was still an ‘open’ one. Lamb’s estranged wife, Lady Caroline Lamb, died at this time.

[February 1828] The parliamentary session  commenced on 29 January, and throughout February the Catholics held numerous meetings, and petitions poured into Parliament. Not all of these petitions were with regard to Emancipation. Petitions for the emendation of the Sub-Letting Act and for assistance with education were presented. Lord John Russell gave notice of a motion on the Test and Corporation Acts. He was the third son of the sixth Duke of Bedford, the former Lord Lieutenant, and had stayed in Dublin during his father’s brief residence. The repeal of these Acts would allow Dissenters to take office. The effects of the repeal would also apply to Catholics, but as Wellington explained, they would still be excluded from office by the obligation to take the Oath of Supremacy. Some of the Whig lords wished the wording of Russell’s Bill to be changed to allow Jews to sit in Parliament, but Wellington replied that since the Reformation English law did not recognise that class of person. Once again parliamentary tactics required that the easier Act be introduced first. This time the attempt was successful, and the Act passed both Houses and received in due course the royal assent. The matter was largely symbolic for Dissenters could take various offices under various Indemnity Acts

[March 1828] Anglesey arrived in Dublin on 1 March and commenced an investigation of the Catholic Association. On 6 March 1828 Sir Francis Burdett presented the Irish General Petition for Emancipation, and gave notice that he would move on it on 29 April. He proceeded to make himself agreeable to the Catholics. He invited Archbishop Murray to dine, and Lord and Lady Killeen to a vice-regal drawing room, a formal reception to which ladies could be invited. This did not at all please the Orange faction that had been so anxious to get rid of Wellesley. He told the cabinet that he did not think the ‘Algerine Act’ need be renewed. Even in parts like Tipperary disturbed by agrarian crime the police and army were in control. He suggested that the building of military roads and police barracks would be useful. (A new Irish police force armed with muskets had been established by Goulburn.) In the Commons Sir Henry Parnell asked for copies of the Treaty of Limerick so that they could discuss the matter intelligently. Peel, as ever, the master of his brief, argued for the restricted interpretation, but Thomas Spring Rice argued that his contemporary ancestor, Sir Stephen Rice had claimed that the exclusion of Catholics from Parliament breached the treaty (Sir Stephen Rice 1637 to 1715, Chief Baron of the Irish Exchequer under James II). The new Lord Chancellor, Sir Anthony Hart, issued seventy commissions of the peace, many of them to Catholics.

[April 1828] On 19 April 1828 Anglesey’s son Lord Paget with two other lords attended a meeting of the Catholics. The visit was purely out of curiosity, but Lamb was warned by the cabinet not to upset the Protestants too much. The cabinet had reason for this warning for denunciations of Anglesey and Lamb from the Ascendancy faction were pouring into London.

At this very inopportune moment agrarian terrorism flared up again so that Sheil asked:

What is it that makes the lower orders execute these horrors, and what is worse,  makes them believe that they are almost justified  in their perpetration? (loud cries of  Hear, Hear). It is no longer a reproach to die upon the scaffold, and an execution in Tipperary is designated by the mitigated appellation of a funeral….The worst and most striking feature in all the dreadful deeds  which have taken place is the conviction in the minds of the people that they but execute a sentence, which however severe is regarded as just.

Every expedient that legislative ingenuity could devise or official alacrity could execute had been tried. Insurrection Acts, Special Commissions, and special delegations of counsel had been almost every year resorted to –  yet nothing substantial for the real subjugation of the evil has yet been accomplished (SNL 28 April 1828).


He proposed Emancipation as the remedy. The Catholic clergy and the Catholic lay leaders actively supported the Government in trying to put down terrorism.(Sheil would have been horrified to learn that even in the twenty first century his words could be repeated almost verbatim in both parts of Ireland.)

            [May 1828] Finally, on 8 May Burdett, seconded by Brougham, introduced his motion,  ‘That the House resolve itself into a Committee…’, which was the necessary prelude to a debate on the Catholic question. Burdett noted that Canning had died and Plunket had gone to the Lords. He based his argument this time on the terms of the Treaty of Limerick, and dealt with Peel’s restrictive interpretation. He was supported by Spencer Perceval junior, the son of the former prime minister, by Huskisson and Sir John Newport. Peel in his reply defended his interpretation of the Treaty. No fewer than 612 MPs  turned up for the vote, and the motion was passed by a majority of six. Of the Irish MPs who were present 61 were in favour and 32 against, but of the county MPs 46 were in favour and 16 against. Clearly the bulk of the opposition in Ireland was in the corporations and boroughs.

Burdett and Brougham got together with Peel, the Leader of the House, to decide how to proceed. (In the twelve years that Castlereagh was Leader of the House he always supported the Catholics and arranged parliamentary business in their favour. Peel was under no obligation to follow his example.) The first thing to be done was to frame a motion that the House in Committee could debate, and this was agreed. Burdett wished to get the concurrence of the Lords that some adjustment should be made to the laws concerning Catholics, before sending up the Bill the following session. This would mean postponing the introduction of the Catholic Bill in the Commons until the next session. The decision of the House in Committee would be communicated to the Lords and their assent obtained, perhaps with some modifications. On 19 May Wellington appointed  a committee of the Lords to discuss matters with the proposers of the Bill. These were to report back to the Lords on 9 June 1828. Wellington was coming round to the view that the Lords should not provoke a constitutional crisis by annually rejecting a Bill sent up from the Commons and which the country agreed to. (In the following decade he urged the impropriety of the hereditary House totally blocking legislation passed by the elected House, and so caused the constitutional clash to be deferred for eighty years until 1911.) The Times of London commented that even Lord Eldon was no longer speaking of perpetual exclusion, but of terms and conditions.

Wellington was in considerable trouble over an entirely different matter, and it was to show that although he could command generals, he was totally unable to control cabinet ministers and retain their loyalty. It had been agreed that two corrupt boroughs should be disfranchised, and their seats in parliament re-allocated. The obvious candidates were two of the new large manufacturing towns such as  Manchester that had no representation in Parliament. Wellington and Huskisson disagreed and the latter resigned. He was followed by the rest of Canning’s supporters who then joined the Whigs. (This did not affect the arithmetic on the Catholic Question, but added greatly to the electoral credibility of the Whigs and led to the Whig victory in the General Election two years later.) Those who followed Huskisson were Lord Dudley, Lord Palmerston, Mr Grant, and Mr Lamb. But the resignation of Huskisson from the Board of Trade meant there was a vacancy in the cabinet, and Wellington appointed William Vesey Fitzgerald an MP for county Clare to the vacant position. As this was an office of profit under the crown, Fitzgerald had to resign his seat and seek re-election in accordance with the rules at that time. Fitzgerald was a long-term supporter of the Catholics. Lord Francis Leveson-Gower, a younger son of the Marquis of Stafford, became Irish Secretary in Lamb’s place.

The Catholics continued to meet in Dublin. A Separate Meeting was called to consider repealing  the motion of Lawless that they should oppose every MP who voted against them. MacDonough states that this was done at the request of Lord John Russell who was anxious not to antagonise moderate opinion in Parliament. The Irish leaders were divided. Lawless defended his resolution, while O’Connell attacked it. Sheil said he had no hand in ‘concocting’ the original resolution, but to withdraw it meant approving of Wellington. Others thought that Wellington was doing well in the circumstances in controlling his own hard-liners (SNL 3 May 1828). An Aggregate Meeting was held in Clarendon Street Chapel on 20 May with Lord Killeen in the chair. The Resolutions were of a very general nature.

Anglesey wrote that there was much agitation but no revolutionary spirit in Clare. He told Peel that he had authorised £10,000 for roads in the distressed and disturbed districts, and that he had tried to get Sir Harcourt Lees from raising unnecessary alarms.

[June 1828] The discussion in the Lords commenced on 9 June 1828. Wellington said that for him the matter was not one of principle, but of political expediency. He quoted the concordat of the Pope with Hanover that gave the king a say in episcopal appointments, and he did not see how this could be reconciled with election by chapters (SNL 12 June 1828). Plunket argued that Catholics could sit in the Irish Parliament up to the reign of William III simply by taking the Oath of Supremacy demanded by Elizabeth I, for this was understood in a purely secular sense. The exclusion of Catholics from parliament was merely the result of events in the reign of James II. (The Catholic Parliament in the reign of James II (1685 to 1690 in Ireland) aimed at making Ireland Catholic, was followed by a Protestant Parliament in the reign of William III after 1690, aimed naturally enough at excluding the Catholics.) The  proposal of an agreement with the Commons was rejected by the Lords on 10 June., but Burdett and Brougham approved of Wellington’s speech, where he said no principle was involved.

        On 12 June the refusal of the Lords was debated in the Commons. Burdett expressed the wish that the Catholics would be patient, and would continue to petition. He commended the fact that the prime minister had rejected all ancient theological and historical arguments, and rested his case solely on common sense, justice and expediency. Brougham agreed that the question was now one purely of political expediency. In other words the Government had to decide if less harm would be done by siding with the Catholics against the growing band of Protestant extremists.

The Catholic meetings continued in Dublin. At a Separate Meeting on 4 June Lawless proposed the adoption of Anglesey’s son, Lord George Paget, for Louth. On 7 June there was a rumour in Dublin that Vesey Fitzgerald was going to the Board of Trade, but as he had voted for the Catholic measure his seat was not threatened directly by Lawless’s resolution. O’Connell however, at meetings on 14 and 16 June remarked that he had voted for the ‘Algerine Act’ that was shortly to lapse, and proposed backing a Whig candidate in Clare. But he said he would not be able to assist personally because of the press of private business. He would personally contribute £50 to the election fund (SNL 16, 17 June 1828). The programme of simultaneous meetings, Aggregate Meetings and provincial meetings for the coming December was outlined.(Anglesey claimed later that he and Wellesley had prohibited simultaneous meetings. It is not clear under what Act these proclamations were made; in the event no more simultaneous meetings were held.)

            Meanwhile, Dr Doyle on 19 June wrote a lengthy and rather preachy letter to Wellington on the Securities. He considered that if inequitable laws were removed there would be no need for the priests to attempt to use political influence, so the removal of those laws should be tried first before introducing ‘novelties’. Once again this was missing the point, for the Securities were introduced primarily to allay the fears of the extreme Protestants regardless of what the priests were doing or not doing (SNL 25 June 1828). Rumours continued that a Concordat was being negotiated (SNL 13 Sept 1828).

The sheriff of Clare appointed 30 June as polling day. Fitzgerald asked Sheil to be his assessor (legal advisor), but Sheil declined. It was expected that O’Connell’s old friend Major MacNamara who had been his second in the duel with D’Esterre would be the Whig candidate. O’Gorman Mahon and Tommy Steele, being from Clare, were expected to organise the canvass, and get out the Catholic vote. Lawless wanted to know if it was certain that MacNamara was standing. O’Connell replied at a Separate Meeting on Monday 23 June that MacNamara was standing, and if he did not stand he himself would stand in order to test the law on the matter. This idea of running a Catholic Candidate to test the law was not new and had been advocated by some Catholic lawyers before this. O'Connell’s remark that he would stand himself was greeted with laughter, and he obviously had not intended it seriously. He said he was determined to put up a Catholic candidate in some county where they had support, and where the interests of a friend of civil and religious liberty were not interfered with. If this tactic were to be adopted there were two obvious places where it could be attempted. Lord Killeen, strongly back by the majority of the local gentlemen could be asked to stand in Meath, or Henry Charles Howard, Earl of Surrey in a pocket borough owned by his father the Duke of Norfolk. A committee of 21 was selected to supervise funds and to make advances of money.

Suddenly, an announcement appeared in an obscure mercantile newspaper, the Dublin Mercantile Advertiser on the same day Monday 23 June, but was not picked up by the other papers until it re-appeared in the Dublin Evening Post the following day.

This gentleman (MacNamara) having declined however, were have now to state upon authority that the county will be contested notwithstanding, and that Mr O’Connell will offer himself to the constituency of Clare as a candidate for the representation…

It is impossible adequately to describe the sensation that this announcement caused in Dublin yesterday [Sunday] (DMA 23 June 1828).

There are several questions raised by this announcement. Why was there no general knowledge of the decision until it was re-printed in the Post on Tuesday? Did O’Connell definitely commit him self on Sunday, and then only hint at standing on Monday? Then on Tuesday he finds it an accepted fact from which he cannot retreat? Where was the decision made and to whom was it divulged? How did Saunders Newsletter, usually very well informed, fail to print it on Monday? How was it that Conway, who attended most Catholic meetings did not hear about it until it appeared in the Advertizer? Or was Conway at that time connected with the Advertizer (he later owned it) and printed the news in the first paper he was connected with. Why did O’Connell say at the meeting on Monday that he was glad that MacNamara was standing? According to Ward O’Connell was persuaded to stand by Sir David Rosse, a Dublin wine merchant. Cusack says that Rosse told Mr Fitzpatrick who told Conway. When exactly did news that MacNamara was not standing arrive and who knew it?

            Two meetings were held, both in the Corn Exchange, on Tuesday 24 June. One  was the O’Connell’s Grand Chapter of the Order of Liberators, described as ‘A Voluntary Association of Irishmen for purposes legal and useful to Ireland’. The other was the adjourned Separate Meeting. Charles Mahon, who styled himself The O’Gorman Mahon, reported on his mission to Clare. Richard Scott said that MacNamara had only said he would oppose Fitzgerald in a general election. There were cries for O’Connell and he said he was willing to stand if called on, but not at his own expense (SNL 26 June 1828).

            The following day £5,000 was voted from the £13,000 and O’Connell announced his plans. (The courts sat only in the mornings, and most other gentlemen dealt with their business at that time of the day also. Afternoons were available for meetings, while dinners and other entertainments took place in the evening.) When the courts rose on Saturday he would go to Clare with O’Gorman Mahon. A letter from Dr Doyle pledged support. Sheil, Counsellor Roynane, and the Rev. Thomas Maguire the controversialist, were also to go to Clare and address the electorate in different parts of the county. Separate or Adjourned Meetings were held every day that week. There was much discussion whether if he was elected he could take his seat. O’Connell claimed to have found a legal loophole. English legislation on the subject did not apply to Ireland, while Irish legislation did not apply to Westminster. However, as Wellington had recently pointed out, anyone wishing to take his seat would have to take the oath that Catholics could not take. But it was good stuff to put in a speech. An English newspaper claimed that it was Mr Blake, Wellesley’s friend, who had discovered this supposed loophole, but others attributed the interpretation to Charles Butler .

            Steel and Mahon dashed round the large county constituency. It was stated that the latter was addressing meetings in chapels in the middle of the night, with people being dragged out of their beds to hear him. O’Connell with Purcell O’Gorman timed his departure from Dublin so as to arrive in Ennis on the morning of the election. (Presumably the urgent legal business was handed over to his junior, Michael O’Loughlen, to deputise for him.) Crowds lined nearly the whole route. Anglesey moved troops and artillery southward as a precaution. But O’Connell had stressed that there was to be absolutely no violence, no retaliation if attacked, and no truckling with the secret societies, for he knew that the anti-Popery press would seize on any incident. Reporters descended from all sides on Ennis, the county town of county Clare. It was about 15 miles from Limerick, which in turn was 75 miles to Dublin. Though Ennis was a post town, the post was slow, so newsagents hired post-chaises to bring news back to Dublin. There was a regular stage coach from Dublin to Limerick, but O’Connell on his way down travelled by private post chaise.

            On the morning of election day Monday 30 June crowds of Forty Shilling freeholders ‘in grey coats and corduroy inexpressibles’ gathered in the Catholic committee rooms. (Inexpressibles were trousers or breeches,  words not to be used in polite company.) The sheriff opened the election proceedings on Monday 30 June in the court house in Ennis. Reporters were admitted early and then the court room was packed with the supporters of both parties. O’Gorman Mahon proposed O’Connell and Tommy Steel seconded. After speeches on the other side the sheriff put the question and O’Connell was declared elected on a show of hands. Fitzgerald demanded a poll, and the sheriff ordered that the ballot commence at 10 a.m. the following day. The piece in the court house was largely a bit of theatre, for there was no way of telling which of those who raised their hands were registered freeholders. But a poor showing by O’Connell’s followers would have doomed his chances, for few would vote for him unless he had at least an equal chance of winning. Why throw away the lease on your farm?

            The sheriff had then to order the erection of hustings outside the courthouse. This was a raised platform of sufficient size with room for tables and chairs to hold the sheriff, the Clerk of the Peace with his list of registered and sworn voters and his bible for administering the anti-bribery oath, an official assessor or assistant barrister to decided on disputed qualifications of the voters, the candidates, their agents and the voter who had to be visible to the assembled crowd and who had to state his choice in a loud clear voice.

            [July 1828]  The poll commenced on Tuesday 1 July. An election could take several days for the voters had to come from all over the county. When a proper canvass was done all supporters  of each candidate were identified. Voters pledged to either party were brought in beforehand and lodged in the town at the candidate’s expense. He was expected to provide food and drink to all his supporters with a princely bounty. (There were always tricksters who got their food and drink from one candidate and then voted for the other. This was supposed to be funny.) However, here no proper canvass had been done beforehand. People like Sheil in the outlying districts, when they had identified those likely to vote for their candidate with a degree of firmness, gathered them into bodies to walk to the county town, stopping of course at various places for liquid refreshment supplied by the candidate’s agents. There were many costs in an election but treating the voters was the most urgent one. Numerous Catholic priests lent their assistance to bring in their flocks to vote (Ward III). (For a humorous description of an Irish election of the period the reader is referred to Lover’s Handy Andy published in 1839.)

         On the morning of the election O’Connell’s agents claimed to have 3,000 registered voters along with their women and children in town and expected him to win by 50 to 1. By 3 p.m. O’Connell had 117 votes and Fitzgerald 82, but when the polling for the day ended at 6 p.m. Fitzgerald and almost made up lost ground. At the end of the first day’s voting O’Connell’s supporters had cast 200 votes and Fitzgerald’s 194. O’Connell was slightly ahead and the confidence of the freeholders grew that he would win. The next day the landslide commenced. We can reasonably suppose that if Fitzgerald had been ahead at the end of the first day the landslide would have been in the opposite direction. Fitzgerald was popular with the Catholics and had constantly supported them. At 2 p.m. on Wednesday O’Connell was 167 ahead, and at 6 p.m. 316 ahead. By the fifth day, Friday, it was estimated that O’Connell was polling 10 to 1 and was ahead by 2027 to Fitzgerald’s 936. On Saturday 5 July Fitzgerald asked the assessor to rule that O’Connell as a Catholic could not be elected, but he decided that he could be elected even if he could not take his seat. Polling resumed and there was time only for eight votes to be cast before the end of the day, 6 for O’Connell and 2 for Fitzgerald. As the law at the time required that the election must be terminated when fewer than 20 votes were cast on a given day, the sheriff declared the polling concluded. Fitzgerald conceded defeat. He said that he hoped that the result of the election would bring about Emancipation, a cause that he had always favoured. He did not object to the contest, nor did he believe that any man should be prevented from standing on account of his religion. He had prolonged the contest to the last day on legal advice so that the opinion of the voters of the county should be tested to the fullest. Sheil, Steel, and O’Gorman Mahon all expressed their esteem for Fitzgerald. He could still have petitioned parliament to have the qualifications of O’Connell’s supporters examined by Parliament in detail, and no doubt could have could have had the majority against him considerably reduced, but almost certainly  not overturned his majority. (The next decade was to see a great increase both in registering voters and checking on other voters’ qualifications, leases and values, and petitions against the results of the ballots.) A seat was found for Fitzgerald at Newport in Cornwall early in the following year. In 1831 he was elected for the borough of Ennis. He succeeded to the Irish peerage in 1832, and in 1835 Peel obtained an English peerage for him.

            Back in Dublin the Catholic meetings continued in a state of great anxiety. In a manner inconceivable today, the people of Dublin were entirely ignorant of what was happening in Clare. A swift and overwhelming victory had been expected, so depression set in when there was no news of it. No news was dispatched until after the voting on Tuesday. The news that O’Connell was ahead by six votes arrived in Dublin on Wednesday and was published in the papers on Thursday. Saunders Newsletter on Thursday carried the reports from Ennis on Monday and Tuesday in the same edition on Thursday (SNL 3 July 1828). A Separate Meeting was held on Tuesday 1 July and crowds gathered to hear if there was any news from Clare but there was none. Another meeting was held on Thursday, and again it was reported that there was no news. (Presumably the last edition of Saunders Newsletter which contained the news that O’Connell was ahead by 6 votes had not been printed by the time the meeting started. Morning newspapers ran off several editions on their hand-presses between midnight and midday, after which the evening papers took over.) At a Separate Meeting on Friday a letter from O’Connell to his wife was read out saying that victory was assured, for nearly all Fitzgerald’s voters had polled, and he had many in reserve. On Saturday the New Catholic Association met, and after it had concluded its business the Separate Meeting was formed with a different chairman. Lord Killeen appeared for the first time that week and was greeted with cheers. He confessed that he had been worried that the great popularity of Fitzgerald would result in a defeat for O’Connell, which would retard the Catholic cause. The narrow majority for O’Connell at the end of the first day, showed that he was right to have worries. Killeen was not alone in believing that the Catholics should have a second barrel ready in case the first shot was ineffective. It was reported that £4,000 had been collected in nine days for election expenses, besides a further £1,000 subscribed at a meeting in London. The London newspapers were by now filled with the sensational result, which eclipsed the Russian invasion of Turkey for news value. The newspapers continued to report the events of the previous week in Clare, the details of what happened on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday not being printed until the following Monday (SNL 7 July). (The Russian attack across the Danube was reported in Saunders on Monday 30 June.)

            The Catholics celebrated O’Connell’s victory with great enthusiasm. These ended in an anti-climax. O’Connell could not try to take his seat until the sheriff’s writ reached the Speaker of the House of Commons. On 16 July the Speaker ruled that a petition against the election could not be presented until after the arrival of the writ. Spring Rice noted that with the rising of Parliament the ‘Algerine Act’, against which he had voted would expire. In any case there was no point in trying to raise a major issue during the last days of the session. Parliament rose on 28 July.

            It would seem that this campaign was not pre-meditated, and what commenced as a half-joke on O’Connell’s part was taken seriously, and most people overlooked the risk to the tenants. There were numerous advantages in putting up Lord Killeen to contest county Meath. He was altogether more acceptable to the Protestants, to the Government and to the king, and the risk to the freeholders who would be largely voting in accordance with their landlords’ instructions would be minimised. We can also be sure that O’Connell was aware of this fact but realised that if he did not seize his chance Lord Killeen would emerge as the undisputed leader of the Catholics, and that he himself would have to reconcile himself to  a career at the bar.

Anglesey wrote on 16 July to the cabinet that he did not apprehend the tranquillity of the country to be immediately endangered, and there was no necessity for new laws to strengthen the arm of Government. On 26 July he wrote that most people were now convinced that the question must be adjusted at no too distant future (Ward II). On the 29th July he wrote that though he was prepared to put down rebellion under any circumstances, he would not consent to govern the country much longer under the existing laws. Ward concluded that Peel was strongly influenced by the prospect of virtually a class struggle in Ireland with the landlords on one side and the peasants led by the priests on the other. Nor could he appeal to the country in an election, for while he might have some gains in England he would lose most Irish constituencies. (Of course, if violence had actually broken out the priests and O’Connell would have been instantly shouldered aside.) On 31 July 1828 Anglesey reported to the cabinet,

        It seems agreed on all sides that the public feeling was never at so high a pitch as it is at present. The language of both parties is violent in the extreme and both appear ripe for action. The organisation of the Catholics is very complete. They carry banners. They form and they march by words and in good order, but they commit no outrage, and I discourage interference or display of both the military and the constabulary…

The Brunswickers are rivalling the Association in violence and in Rent. Two Associations and two rents are formidable. The Brunswick establishment is not very flattering to the king, or to his ministers, or to his army, since it seems it necessary to take the whole under its especial protection…

The Catholics are persuaded that the Brunswickers will bring on collision if they can with a view of committing the Government against them (SNL 8 May 1829).

Anglesey set out the options

            There may be rebellion. You may put to death thousands. You may suppress it, but it will only put off the day of compromise. The present order of things cannot, must not last.

            There are three modes of proceeding,

First, that of trying to go on as we have done,

Secondly, to adjust the question by concession, and such guards as may be deemed indispensable,

Thirdly, to put down the Association and to crush the power of the priests.

The first I hold to be impossible, the second practicable and advisable, the third is only possible by supposing that you can reconstruct the House of Commons, and to suppose that is to suppose that you can totally alter the feelings of those who send them there (Maxwell).

Both Peel and Wellington came to the same conclusion, but Peel felt that if the matter were proceeded with he would be bound to resign from Parliament.

        The use of the term ‘Brunswickers' is interesting. The term refers to the Orange or Ascendancy faction, and about this time, for no very clear reason, began to be applied to the faction and their organisations. The name is derived from that of the royal family, George IV being George of Brunswick or von Braunschweig. As Anglesey observed, it was not very flattering to the king for them to take him under their protection. It was highly predictable that when the Catholics built up an organisation and collected a Rent, the Orange faction would do the same. Orange demonstrations annually reached a peak on 12 July, the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. (The battle was fought on 1 July according to the Old Calendar, which became 12 July when Britain adopted the New Calendar in 1751, and removed eleven days to come into line with the Gregorian Calendar). Excitement would have reached new peaks this year after the news of the Catholic victory in Clare on 5 July. Collection of money began. The ending of the ‘Algerine Act’ benefited the Orange faction perhaps more than the Catholics, for their skilled lawyers had devised ways round it. The Catholics, in order to try to calm the situation, decided that there would be no triumphal entry of O’Connell into Dublin. The Enniskillen Reporter said that armed bodies of young Protestants ensured that no tar barrels were lit in Enniskillen.

            Meetings of the New Catholic Association and Separate Meetings continued through the rest of July. The Rent on the week ending 12 July was £2,705. O’Connell resumed his interrupted business in the courts during the assizes. At a meeting of the New Catholic Association on 26 July O’Connell declared that the ‘Algerine Act’ had expired and he was standing in the old Catholic Association. (He seems to have anticipated the proroguing of Parliament). When that Act was passed he had promised to drive a coach and six through it, and he had kept his  word. He queried why the Orangemen in Enniskillen were armed, a man in the crowd replied it was because the Ribbonmen were armed. The Ribbonmen were the Catholic agrarian terrorists along the Ulster border. O’Connell said he had not been supported in Clare by the Catholic bishop and a dean, and that O’Gorman Mahon had taken 75 voters away from a priest who was leading them to vote for Fitzgerald (SNL 28 July 1828). O’Connell got to see Anglesey which caused busy rumours to circulate in Dublin. Anglesey later explained that he was only part of a deputation whose ostensible aim was to ask for an enquiry into a certain murder on 12 July (SNL 8 May 1829). The Rent for the last week in July was £2,297.

            There was a report in the strongly Protestant Evening Packet of an attack on Goulburn’s  police in Fermoy in county Cork (EP 24 July 1828). These attacks by Catholic mobs on parties of policemen were to become common, and were often attended by fatalities. The Catholic Association deplored such attacks and did everything it could to prevent them. But the Protestants saw them as another example of the type of criminal behaviour that would result if the Catholics were not kept under strict Protestant control

            [August 1828] The Meetings of the New Catholic Association continued but the Rent rapidly fell to a quarter of what it had been. Strict conditions were drawn up to try to prevent false claims by those who said they were threatened with eviction in Clare. The Catholic Association under its old name resumed meeting on 16 August, but as O’Connell had departed to Kerry on his annual holiday there was little business to transact. The ‘New’ was simply dropped from its title.

            Matters were very different on the Protestant side. A Brunswick Club had been established in London and was privately approved by the king, who had by this time completely turned against the Catholics. George Dawson, MP for Derry, who was married to Peel’s sister, made a speech giving some indication that he considered that some concessions should be made to the Catholics. It was believed, wrongly, that this speech was inspired by Peel, who was immediately denounced as a traitor to the cause (O’Connell DNB, SNL 18, 22, 25 Aug. 1828). Brunswick Clubs were formed everywhere, the first being in Dublin in August (SNL 28 Aug. 1828). Saunders reported the ‘establishment in Dublin of the Brunswick Constitutional Club of Ireland on the same principles as the London Club of which the Marquis of Chandos is secretary’ (SNL 22 August 1828). Almost immediately a Brunswick club was formed in Sligo. The use of the name club seems to have been fortuitous. According to Dr Johnson in his famous dictionary, a club was an assembly of good fellows meeting under certain conditions. The original purposes of clubs in England were convivial, but could be formed by people with a particular connection as with horse racing, the theatre, or for particular purposes like gambling. They were perfectly legal. According to Saunders it was a better word than association because of the recent connotations of the latter. The Packet noted that every speech by the member for Clare fanned the spread of the Protestant societies.

            Wellington and Peel realised that Parliament would not grant emergency powers on the issue, and that it was undesirable if not impossible to hold down the Catholics by force. Wellington was less impressed by the Catholic Association which he did not think was contemplating rebellion, than by the Protestants of Ulster who were pressing  for a definite settlement on their own lines. He cautiously approached the king on 1 August, showing him Anglesey’s letter, and he promptly became ill. It is suspected that he, like his father suffered from porphyria and that attacks were brought on by stress. He was often drunk or stupefied by laudanum, and the Duke of Cumberland was always urging him to resist. Wellington just wished at this stage for permission to discuss the question in cabinet. Wellington discussed the matter with Peel. He proposed to Peel the annual suspension of the laws, plus an exclusion from voting on particular issues like the Established Church, together with payment of the clergy. Peel however replied on 11 that they were inadequate.

‘There would be an advantage in the sincere and honest attempt to settle the question on just principles…There is upon the whole less of evil in making a decided effort to settle the Catholic question than in leaving it, as it has been left, an open question – the Government being undecided with respect to it, and paralysed in consequence of that indecision upon many occasions particularly requiring promptitude and energy of action’ (Ward III).

He was also against State Provision for the clergy that was no security and implied recognising the Holy See. He also thought the franchise should be raised (Gash I). It was the Protestant bishops who finally put paid to payments to the clergy (DNB Wellington). Peel realised that if strife broke out in Ireland amounting to a civil war the Government must be united in any action it would take. There might be a need to send in the army, embody the militia, and disband the unreliable Protestant-sympathising yeomanry. Wyse noted that after the electoral victory in Clare efforts were made to develop the separate Ribbon conspiracies into an effective fighting force. These would be the natural leaders of the Catholics if they felt they were to be attacked by the Protestants We may doubt that they had any plans to carry Emancipation by force. Unlike the much later Home Rule movement or the earlier United Irish movement there was noting in Emancipation to benefit the leaders of agrarian conspiracies. F or the moment Peel dissociated himself from any attempt to arrive at a solution, leaving Wellington to handle the matter alone. Wellington described how he dealt with the king,

            I make it a rule never to interrupt him, and when by turning the conversation he tries to get rid of a subject in the way of business he does not like I let him talk himself out, and then quietly put before him the matter in question, so that he cannot escape from it (Maxwell).

It would seem that the king’s desire to recall Anglesey dates from this letter. Nor could a general election be held for it was considered that gains in Ireland would be matched by losses in England.

            Jack Lawless considered that he was a person who understood the Ulster Protestants, and decided to proceed through Ulster to explain the exact effects of the victory in Clare to them. He could also try to enlist the supporters of O'Connell against Ribbonism, and insist that Catholics must display no violence, and not retaliate if attacked. Whether Lawless misunderstood  the people north of the Boyne, the traditional boundary of Ulster, or they misunderstood him can be discussed at length. This was a personal project of Lawless though the Catholic Association had discussed it. O’Connell was at this time in Cork, but mentioned the fact in a letter.

            [September 1828] Lawless addressed a great and enthusiastic meeting, composed largely one supposes of Catholics in the town of Kells in county Meath. A report about Lawless, the Northern Missionary, and the meeting in Kells was made to the Catholic Association on 6 September, so presumably his mission had some endorsement from the Association if not from O’Connell. Next he held a triumphal meeting in Collon, county Louth. This was the seat of John Foster, Baron Oriel, who had just died on 23 August 1828. Holding a rally in Collon at that time was both tasteless and provocative, but Lawless never impressed one as being particularly sensitive. It was claimed in the newspapers that 30,000 people accompanied him into Collon. He proceeded to Carrickmacross in county Monaghan, where it was claimed that 250,000 people met him. Lawless found that the people of a local small town called Ballybay were smarting under the innocent blood recently shed there, and he was told that there was ‘a vulgar and ferocious rabble in that town led by a sanguinary fool’. (Obviously, this rabble and fool were Protestants, who would have used identical language to describe Lawless and his followers.) Lawless was invited to lead his great assembly through the town of Ballybay, whether the Protestants objected by force or not. The Catholics of Ballybay saw in the immense assembly of Lawless a way of retaliating with safety, but Lawless would have none of it. When the Catholic mob surrounded his carriage to force him to go through Ballybay, he got on to a horse and galloped off. He proceeded to Castleblaney followed by the Catholic clergy. He discussed plans for public safety with the local army officer, General Thornton, but the Catholic mob was very disappointed with him (SNL 27 Sept 1828). Reports were coming in from Tipperary that the Catholics were preparing to march on those towns that contained Orangemen. O’Connell wrote a letter to the People of Tipperary from his home at Derrinane in Kerry, urging them to hold no large meetings, and no secret meetings. They should appoint ‘pacificators’ to try to make peace between Catholics and Protestants (SNL 8 Oct. 1828). There were reports too that the Orangemen in Armagh and Down were arming themselves against Lawless. Both sides clearly saw him as the general of the Catholic army.

            Brunswick Clubs were being formed everywhere and steps were being taken to restore the Grand Orange Lodge of Dublin, and the Grand Orange Lodge of Ulster to co-ordinate the activities of the county organisations. The Orange Order in England was reformed under the Duke of Cumberland, the king’s brother, and in Ireland under the Earl of Enniskillen. Anglesey in September went to co. Louth to visit his estates at Carlingford.

            Anglesey wrote to Peel on 20 September that there was reason to fear that the priests and agitators had lost control of the infuriated people, on 23 September 1828 saying that some strong action would soon have to be taken, and on 26 September that he would soon have to proclaim some counties on his own authority (SNL 8 May 1829, Memoirs of Sir Robert Peel). On 24 September Anglesey wrote to Wellington, that he was persuaded that a Catholic Bill would pass at this time, on as good terms, and with little opposition from either the bishops or the agitators. Wellington replied that the only possible settlement was as a Government measure, and because of the king’s mind this was impossible (Ward II).

            [October 1828] A Catholic priest from Newry, co Down wrote, ‘Every Orange town in the North is like a camp, and the gunsmiths’ shops are engaged in cleaning up the old and making new instruments of death’. He believed that the yeomanry should be disarmed, and advised that Lawless should not attempt to advance further north. (The yeomanry were voluntary forces raised in 1797 to serve in their own localities. They were supposed to disband after 1815, but in strongly Orange areas did not, but remained legal bodies.) By 1828 most of those serving in the yeomanry were strong Protestants. Anglesey issued a circular to the counties to find out how many yeomanry units were still under arms. The returns showed that there were over 13,000 yeomen in Ulster, about 3,500 in Leinster and about 1,500 each in Munster and Connaught. (There was no overt attempt by the Catholic secret societies to procure arms and recruits but we can be sure they did both, especially in places where the Orangemen were openly arming.)

            The Catholic Association recalled Lawless to Dublin to report. Anglesey proclaimed some counties, prohibiting meetings and assemblies ‘ for no purpose known to law’, but in such general terms that it was impossible to say who he was aiming at. Lawless maintained that it was the fault of Lord Rossmore who as governor of the county failed to use the military to keep order among the Orangemen. Rossmore was a strong supporter of the Catholics and had contributed to the Catholic Rent. The county governor had charge of the militia of the county. Lawless saw himself as conducting a purely political campaign, and if anyone took up arms against him they should be arrested and disarmed by the army. Nobody else saw his campaign like that. Lawless wrote to Leveson-Gower to say that he did not think his meetings came under the proclamation, but the Secretary replied that it was left to the local magistrates, if they have good reason to think a particular assemblage ‘is calculated to alarm and terrify His Majesty’s subjects they are to prevent such meeting’. There was no special anti-terrorist legislation in force at the time, so the proclamation was issued under the normal laws. A warrant was made out for the arrest of Lawless stating ‘that on 23 September last he had headed 20,000 men to the amazement, dismay, terror, and astonishment of his Majesty’s subjects’. A member of the Catholic Association said that Lawless’s claim that he had ‘taken Collon’ was provocative (SNL 17 Oct 1828). Lawless was arrested and Nicholas Mahon and Michael Staunton, a newspaper proprietor stood as sureties.

        The English Whig peer Lord Ebrington wrote that he wished to be enrolled as a member of the Catholic Association, not because he always approved of its acts but because of the Brunswickers. Lord Nugent, whose mother and whose title was Irish, wrote to his constituents warning them against forming a Brunswick club. ‘The Irish Brunswick clubs, which are formed for a practical purpose –  that of exciting civil war in order to restore the waning ascendancy of an illegal faction, I view with alarm and detestation’ (SNL 24 Oct 1828). That of course was not how the Brunswickers saw themselves, but rather as defenders of the Glorious Revolution of 1688 which ‘ gave us religion, and freedom and laws’.

            A meeting of the freeholders of Kent in England was called by the sheriff of that county at Penenden Heath on 24 October to oppose concessions to the Catholics. Sheil acquired a small freehold property in the county to enable him to speak, and when given permission by the sheriff addressed the meeting. As usual with open-air meetings few could hear the speaker, but the shorthand reporters for the newspapers were positioned close to the speaker to record and print the speeches. The anti-Catholic Resolution was declared passed by the sheriff after a show of hats (SNL 27, 28 Oct 1828). Dr Murray and Dr Doyle were in Paris in connection with property belonging to the Irish colleges and it was reported that they had meetings with the papal nuncio to France over the text of the oath of loyalty. Reports came from Rome that the Government had made contacts with the Pope. (Neither Wellington nor Peel had any contact with the Holy See, but neither did  they stop the contacts made by Goderich). How much truth there was in these reports nobody knew, but in the heated atmosphere of the time, the rumours were seized on avidly. The Rent continued at two or three hundred pounds a week, which was good, but did not indicate any particular ferment among the Catholics.

            At the beginning of October Anglesey asked for two extra battalions of troops, and one was landed  in Belfast in the North and the other at Waterford in the South. He then wrote that he was confident he could deal with the Catholics and the Brunswickers simultaneously. There was this great difference between the two sides. The extreme Protestants who joined the Brunswickers formed a united body, united under military officers and many of the nobility and gentry of the counties for a single purpose – to defend themselves if attacked. The Orange Order had succeeded largely in its purpose of channelling working-class Protestant anger into legal ways. No leader on the Catholic side ever succeed in doing that. The Catholics in the Catholic Association corresponded to the moderate Protestants. But vast numbers of Catholics were as likely to follow the agrarian secret society leaders drawn from their own class as they were the Catholic nobility and gentry in the Catholic Association. There was the problem too of the kind of violent rhetoric used by many speakers in the Catholic Association. As Anglesey noted, the language  was ‘so nicely measured and so equivocal as to admit of an explanation that might be strained into an excess of loyalty’. (An example, taken from later in century, of rhetoric about crimes of landlords crying out to heaven for vengeance, and the speaker then expressing surprise when one of his hearers actually shot the landlord.) As Doyle had pointed out earlier, the Catholics of Ireland had this conviction that the Irish were a deeply-wronged people wound up to a pitch to see the wrongs righted. As the expedition of Lawless showed, many Catholics considered that direct violent action was called for. Fortunately, at the time, there was no alternative politically-motivated movement calling for a violent insurrection.

            [November 1828] Wellington was coming to the conclusion that Anglesey should be removed. He taxed him on 11 November for not removing Tommy Steele and O’Gorman Mahon from the magistracy for their blatantly partisan actions in the Clare election. They wore green ribbons on a day when a breach of the peace might be expected. (Wearing Orange ribbons had long been prohibited in the army, militia, and yeomanry.) His failure to act in this matter was causing difficulties with the king who daily complained that the peace was being breached in Ireland. Clearly Cumberland was furnishing the king with accounts of every breach of the peace in Ireland. Anglesey replied on 14th rebutting the charges made against Steel and Mahon, saying that though their language was indecorous it was not illegal, and there was a precedent in an Orange magistrate wearing orange ribbons. O’Gorman Mahon had attended a meeting called by the sheriff for the purpose of forming a Brunswick club and was refused admittance, and this was the root of the complaints against him (SNL 8 May 1829).Wellington’s complaints to Anglesey at this time seem rather captious. He was irritated by the king’s incessant and detailed complaints, and was disinclined to trust and defend Anglesey’s judgement. One can only assume that the long-buried matter of the elopement had never been forgotten or forgiven. (According to Longford, Wellington was a man who did not easily forget and forgive.) Anglesey’s replies, given later in full in a debate in the House of Lords, show him to have been a well-informed and reasonable administrator. Among the complaints against him was that he had met Lord Cloncurry who had once been a United Irishman and who had once attended a meeting of the Catholic Association. But then Anglesey does not appear to have recognised how even his most innocuous activities were being scrutinised in the ever-increasingly hostile atmosphere of anti-Popery circles in London. By November 108 separate Brunswick Constitutional Clubs had been formed. (In Ireland where one side copied from the other it was no surprise to find the system of Clubs being later adopted by the Young Ireland movement.)

            One of Wellington’s problems in dealing with Anglesey was that he knew from experience that no secret could be kept in Dublin. And he did not wish to say anything until he had obtained some measure of consent from the king. Anglesey was now openly favouring the Catholics, which caused the niggardly complaints to London. But Anglesey failed to take any hints.

        The Catholic Association found itself embroiled in an internal dispute as to whether Catholics should practise ‘exclusive dealings’ i.e. not to trade with or employ those who disagreed with them, which meant most Protestants, though they claimed that the action would not be directed against Protestants as such.At a meeting of the Catholic Association on 20 November, with regard to those who were to go to London, Lawless proposed proper delegates whose expenses would be paid by the Association, not individual gentlemen who paid their own expenses. To which O’Connell replied pointedly, that if there were a delegated mission he would not be on it. At a meeting on 25th O’Connell said the purpose of the mission to England were merely to inform, and it had no authority to negotiate or bargain (SNL 21, 26 Nov 1828).

        No national Catholic newspaper had ever been founded in Ireland. (Dr John England’s adventure into journalism had been purely local.) In November, Richard Barrett, a Protestant,  launched The Pilot to support O’Connell. It was a rather worthy, turgid and one-sided newspaper, which supported O’Connell until his death. O’Connell’s speeches were printed in full in them. In print they are stupefyingly boring, but may have been more effective if read aloud to groups of Catholics as was the common practice. O’Connell always supplied Barrett  with copies.

        [December 1828] At a meeting of the Catholic Association on 2 December 1828, O’Connell got the motion on exclusive dealing quashed. On the 4 December the results of the ballot to choose gentlemen for the mission to England were announced. The voting seems to have been solely on the names on O’Connell’s list. 105 votes were cast and O’Connell got 97 votes, Sheil 94, Wyse 91, O’Gorman Mahon  82, and there were 5 other gentlemen. (It seems to have been assumed that some of the Catholic nobles at least would go, so they were not voted for.)  It was suggested that Purcell O’Gorman should be added to the list, and this was agreed. Lawless then entered and asked that the vote be set aside, and another one held ‘on fair, broad, and honest principles’. O’Connell had no sympathy for him. He said he had stayed until eight o’clock, while Lawless, anxious about his dinner had left the meeting at five o’clock. One suspects that O’Connell took advantage of Lawless’s absence to hold the ballot on the single list presented before Lawless could return with his own list. Mr Dwyer said Lawless’s name was not put on the list because he insisted that his expenses be paid (SNL 5 Dec 1828). Not for the first or last time, Honest Jack was out-manoeuvred. At 10 p.m. O’Connell moved the order of the day, preventing a vote on exclusive dealing. The old question of the securities was again revived. Many gentlemen like Lord Killeen, and Thomas Wyse were unwilling to go, not seeing any point in it, and as Killeen pointed out it would only diminish the impact of O'Connell's appearance in Parliament.

        Wyse later recalled a disquieting development in the Catholic movement.

It was at the Provincial Meeting in Connaught in 1828 that the Catholics first ceased to invite the Protestants as guests to their meetings. There were good reasons for the alteration. It placed both parties at their ease: the consequences were important (Wyse).

The question was how could Catholic orators denounce Protestants in round terms if there were Protestants present who wished to assist them. The struggle for many Catholics was not how to get a handful of representatives into Parliament, but how to displace the Protestants from every elected office in Ireland, so that they, not the Protestants, could control the political rackets. (It was a problem that never went away.) The unreal expectations generated in the run-up to Emancipation contributed to the feeling of disillusionment when a handful of Catholics were eventually elected to Parliament, and a handful of Catholics were appointed to public offices.

            An Aggregate Meeting was held in Clarendon Street chapel on 16 December 1828 with Lord Killeen in the chair, to adopt resolutions for the coming session of Parliament.

            Dr Curtis, the primate,  on the advice of his friends, decided to write to Wellington, whom he had assisted at Salamanca. The Duke replied politely expressing hope of a settlement, but also of a period of calm in Ireland, and hoped that the question could be buried in oblivion for a time. As the letter had been franked in the prime minister’s office, everyone in Drogheda soon knew that he had written to the primate who resided there. Curtis had no option but to make the letter public, which annoyed Wellington who considered the matter private. Curtis wrote to explain. The Dublin Evening Post printed the letter, but put in ‘the settlement’ instead of ‘a settlement’ implying that the Duke had agreed to Emancipation and was preparing a Bill. Curtis informed Anglesey who thanked him (23 Dec.) and said it was the first inkling he had of His Grace’s intentions, and urged that all constitutional methods should be used to advance the cause. Anglesey was recalled on 28 December. His recall had been on the cards for some months but in the excited atmosphere, but many felt it was because of his letter to Curtis, but this letter was not published until after he had received his recall. He left in January but Northumberland did not arrive until March1829. Leveson-Gower and the attorney general, Joy, called on him and told him that Dublin was in a ferment. Both parties remembered the recall of Fitzwilliam. Anglesey showed them his letter to Curtis and allowed them to publish it (SNL 2, 3 Jan 1829). This had the effect of calming matters. [Top]


The Passing of the Emancipation Act (1829) (January to March 1829)


            [January 1829] The end came with astonishing suddenness. Before Parliament opened Peel decided to change his stance and assist Wellington. He was also persuaded not to resign from Parliament, but to stay to see the measure through. The 1829 Act was drafted by Peel and was a model of simplicity, clarity, and comprehensiveness. In principle, Catholics would be allowed to vote in all elections and could be admitted into all offices unless they involved patronage in the Church of England. (The effects of these were greater in England than in Ireland, for Catholics in England did not have the vote, and were excluded from more offices.) There would be no concordat with Rome, no  payment of the clergy, nor commissions to approve bishops nor examine correspondence. The threshold for freehold voters would be raised from forty shillings (two pounds) to ten pounds. (The sum of forty shillings for elections in Ireland was set by an Act of 33 Henry VIII, but it was traditional for jury service long before that.) Allowing for the inflations in Tudor times and at other times it was estimated that ten pounds was the equivalent of the medieval two pounds. Others added niggling conditions like the expulsion of the Jesuits that were never put into effect.

            Wellington told Peel on 17 January 1829 that the mind of the king was so opposed to Emancipation that if he did not stay in office he did not see how the measure could be passed. Peel agreed to stay and assist. Wellington, thus fortified, was able to approach the king and get permission to discuss the measure in cabinet. The rest of the cabinet fell into line behind Peel. Wellington was successful so far that the king allowed consideration of Emancipation by Parliament to be included in the King’s Speech at the opening of Parliament. The Duke of Northumberland was appointed to take Anglesey’s place. He was a moderate Tory who had opposed Emancipation in the past, but had abstained in 1825, and was happy to back a measure introduced by Wellington. He also asked that his term of office should not exceed two years.

            This year there were no series of meetings to petition for Emancipation. Attention was focussed on O’Connell’s entry into Parliament. The Catholic Association continued to meet, though there was no much to discuss at the moment. The Rent was back to over £600 a week.

             [February 1829] Parliament was opened on 5 February, not by the king, but by commissioners. Included in the King’s Speech which sets out the programme for that session were the words,

His Majesty recommends…that you should take into your deliberate consideration the whole condition of Ireland and that you should review the laws that impose disabilities on His Majesty’s Roman Catholic subjects.

This in itself meant no more than that the king agreed that the matter should be discussed, and George doubtless comforted himself with the solid majority of peers in the Upper House who could be relied on to oppose it. Still less did he commit himself to sign the Bills.

            Fitzgerald’s petition against the election in Clare was rejected on the first day because of defect of form, but he was given leave to emend it and re-present it.

            Wellington had to get the Bill through both Houses, stave off the furious challenge of the English extreme anti-Popery Protestants, and finally to persuade the king to sign. Clearly a Suppression of Associations Bill would have to be passed to get the main measure through Parliament. Though this might annoy O’Connell who wished to use the Association for his own purposes, Killeen and Sheil saw that, if the main Bill were passed, the Catholic Association had outlived its usefulness. Even O’Connell saw this and proposed that the Association be dissolved when complete Emancipation had been conceded (SNL 6 Feb 1829). But it was the plan of the Government to suppress it as a means of getting the main Bill passed. The dropping of the proposed concordat removed one of the planks of the anti-Popery faction, though the Pope would not have placed any difficulties in the way of a concordat.

            Peel to the utter dismay of those who had regarded him as the bulwark of Protestantism, took personal charge of the three proposed Bills, to suppress the Catholic Association, to emancipate the Catholics, and to raise the franchise. But Peel, like William Pitt, held that to maintain a consistent attitude amid changed circumstances  was ‘ to be a slave to the most idle vanity’. In a speech to Parliament on the King’s Speech (5 February) Peel set out the Government’s programme. He gave his reasons for the Government’s change of stance. Since 1807 there had been five general elections to elect the House of Commons. Four of these parliaments had passed resolutions favouring the relief of Catholics. For a long time it had been possible to construct ministries which balanced the interests of Catholics and Protestants. It was no longer possible to do this. The Government therefore determined to restore law and order by suppressing the Catholic Association. Then it would reject any partial solution of the Catholic Question, and would limit restrictions only to what was essential to safeguard the Established Churches. He would not enter into the question of Securities at the moment (SNL 9 Feb 1829). The next day he gave notice of  his intention to introduce The Dangerous Associations Suppression Act (1829).

            O’Connell with his entourage was proceeding through England. It had been decided not to attempt entrance to Parliament until the result of Fitzgerald’s petition was known, which would be at least a week after Parliament sat. He wrote to the Catholic Association from Shrewsbury in England on 8 February not to disband the Association until Emancipation had been conceded. This letter was read out at a meeting of the Catholic Association on 10 February with James O’Connell in the chair. But some of the members present favoured a dissolution to anticipate the Act. Sheil said the advice of Anglesey, Lord Holland (nephew of Charles James Fox), Maurice Fitzgerald (the Knight of Kerry), Sir John Newport, and Henry Brougham was to dissolve immediately.

            But I come here sustained by a far greater influence. I come here with two and twenty mitres (hear!)… The Catholic hierarchy are at this moment in Dublin – the Catholic bishops have authorised me (I lay emphasis on the word) to come down to you (loud and universal cheering) and state their opinions…I stand here as the delegate of your hierarchy; it is their strong and universal desire that the Catholic Association should be immediately dissolved.

Sheil was strongly backed by Lord Killeen. Killeen said he had been the first chairman of the Association. When he had come to Dublin on his way to London he had some doubts about the propriety of an immediate dissolution, but from conversations he had had, and information he had received he was decidedly convinced the sooner they dissolved the better. Having been at the first meeting of the Association he would like to be there at the last.

            O’Connell’s son wanted an adjournment for two days until another letter was received from his father. There was a general cry of ‘Dissolve, dissolve’. Sheil said that the majority wished to dissolve immediately but Lawless denied this. Sheil then proposed an adjournment for two days. It was also proposed that the accounts should be made up to date and published. Killeen was then called to the chair, according to the custom of the time, to thank the chairman of the meeting. He then set out for  London to join O’Connell’s party.

            On 12 February 1829 the Catholic Association assembled for the last time. Sir Thomas Esmonde was called to the chair. A letter from O’Connell was read out advising against dissolution. Sheil considered it their duty to smooth Wellington’s path. Credit must be given to Mr Peel despite his past words and actions. The primary object of the Association was to achieve Emancipation. He proposed a resolution ‘That the Catholic Association do stand dissolved upon its rising today’. There were some speakers against the motion, but on being put there were few dissentients (SNL 13 Feb 1829). What precisely was O’Connell’s aim in delaying the dissolution that he knew to be essential and inevitable is not clear, nor what benefit there would be in a few days delay. The Rent  for the week was £915.

            Another letter told of the arrival of O’Connell at Butt’s Hotel in Dover Street, Piccadilly in London on 10 February. He was accompanied by a priest, the Rev Mr. Michael Doyle, of the church of St Michael and St John in Dublin as his chaplain, Mr O’Gorman, Mr O’Gorman Mahon, Mr D. Bellew, and Mr Murphy. On the way they were greeted with many threats and shouts of ‘No Popery’ and had to threaten to fire their pistols. It was typical of O’Connell to bring a Catholic priest as a chaplain. To play down the religious aspect on the grounds that it was solely a matter of civil liberty and not an assertion of belief  was not his way (SNL 13 February 1829).

            On 10 February 1829 Peel introduced the Dangerous Associations Suppression Act (1829). He said the principal defect of the 1825 [Algerine] Act was that it made so many exceptions in favour of agriculture, commerce, and religion that it proved ineffective. Peel’s remedy was to give power to the Lord Lieutenant to decide if an Association was dangerous and to interdict it. He proposed allowing the same officer to select two magistrates who would have power to institute enquiries and to summon the parties before them. He also proposed banning the collection of money in the form of a Rent. He considered that only moderate penalties would be required, and that the Act need not be permanent. The consummate ability and good sense of Peel are evident. This was to be shown again when he opened the ranks of the Conservative Party to Catholics a few years later. Another excellent speaker for the Bill was John Doherty the Irish Solicitor General who gave details of why the 1825 Act was not renewed. The cabinet was divided on the subject, so it was unlikely that the 1825 Act could be extended. The Government had watched closely the activities of the Catholic Association, but had concluded that any attempt to prosecute individual members of it might fail in the courts and would be worse than useless. It would irritate without putting down members of the Association, and it was a matter of extreme difficulty to draw up an indictment of seven million people (SNL 14 Feb 1829).

            The Bill mentioned the Catholic Association by name and said it was to be ‘utterly suppressed and prohibited’. Power was to be given to the Lord Lieutenant ‘to prohibit and suppress any association, assembly, or meeting of persons in Ireland’. He was also allowed to prohibit paying money to any such suppressed Association. Any conviction under this Act not to be removable by certiorari or otherwise. The Act was to be in force perpetually with regard to the Catholic Association and with regard to the rest for one year, and then to the end of the next session of Parliament. The clause against certiorari meant that appeals to higher courts were excluded. The strength of this Bill lay in the fact that the Lord Lieutenant could decide immediately and with being subject to a legal challenge what association or assembly was unlawful, whether or not the organisers of the meetings intended to act illegally. The dangerous character of the Catholic Association lay in the inflammatory language used by some of the speakers including O’Connell even though they might for example argue that their language was no worse than that of Cobbett. The danger arose from using such language in particular circumstances, and it was left to the Lord Lieutenant to decide in particular cases. The vast majority of associations dealing with education, religion, agriculture, commerce, etc. would be unaffected. The Whigs were unhappy about giving such arbitrary power to the Lord Lieutenant even for a short period.

            Innumerable petitions for and against Emancipation were presented. The anti-Popery faction in England was now well-organised, and determined to prevent the passage of the Relief Bill. According to Ward there were 957 petitions against the Catholics and 357 for (Ward II). Wellington introduced the Suppression Act in the Lords. Moving the Second Reading on 19 February he said,

             He believed that he was justified in stating that in the original institution and form of the society calling itself the Roman Catholic Association, there was nothing illegal. The constitution of that Association was not illegal, buts its illegality proceeded from its acts. Those illegal acts consisted principally in the levy of a tax on His Majesty’s Roman Catholic subjects, under the name of Rent, and by the extreme violence of language and sentiment calculated to create great heartburnings and jealousies among His Majesty’s Irish subjects. There were other illegal measures of a subordinate character. Treasurers were appointed for receiving and collecting the tax denominated the ‘Rent’, and measures were taken to effect the complete organisation of the Roman Catholic population, which organisation could certainly have been used for no good purpose…The Roman Catholic Association too affected to assume the character of government, and exercised much of that authority which ought only to belong to a government…a considerable part of that tax, for instance, was applied to election purposes.

            He did not deny that it was the duty of every man to watch over the administration of the country, but he could never admit that such a right ought to be exercised by a self-elected association, having large sums of money at its command, and employing that money in promoting its own views, in exciting litigation, and increasing agitation and discontent among His Majesty’s subjects (SNL 23 Feb 1829).

        There seems to be two main points in this argument. The first and more reasonable one was that the excesses of language used stirred up animosities and excited hatred against another group of His Majesty’s subjects. The other was that in actual practice, if not in its written constitution, it was totally against the Convention Act. The Convention Act was aimed at preventing rival to Parliament. The Catholic Association was aimed at collecting a tax, and the tax money was aimed at securing control of the Irish seats in Parliament. It was not an argument, as Joy recognised, that would stand up in court as the manifest breach of an existing law, but his argument was that means had been found to circumvent the intentions of the framers of the Convention Act. He did not state in so many words that the Rent was an enforced tax. One can be sure that in many rural areas only a very brave Catholic could stand against the pressures to contribute. But the large fluctuations of the Rent show that it was to a large extent voluntary. (A claim that O’Connell’s later Repeal Rent was an enforced tax would be much more credible. It was similar to the enforced obligation of everyone in a mining town to contribute to the miners’ strike fund – either contribute or leave town.)

            Two of the king’s brothers, the Dukes of Clarence and Sussex, declared their support  for the Emancipation. During the Third Reading in the Lords  on 24 February Anglesey said they should drop the Suppression Bill. The Catholic Association was no longer in existence, and the Brunswick clubs only existed to oppose the Catholic Association. They should not join an act of grace with an ungracious act. He paid tribute to the good intentions of the Brunswickers including some of the noble lords present, but as governor of Ireland he did not need their assistance and found them only an additional nuisance to control.

            And now let me say one word – one parting  word – concerning the Association. That body was composed of men of the first genius and abilities in Ireland. Amongst them were many ardent, violent, speculative spirits all writhing under galling wrongs. They have been violent, irritating, offensive, insulting –   frequently dealing in unjustifiable personalities. But had it not one redeeming character? I say it had and that so important a one, that it may be considered  as an equivalent – a set off against all its vices and its errors (SNL 28 Feb 1828).

The Dangerous Associations Suppression Act (1829) passed its Third Reading in the Lords on 24 February, was signed by the king and became effective immediately.

            Meanwhile, Wellington had to do without the services of Peel. He felt himself bound in conscience to resign his seat at Oxford, where the Established Church was entrenched, and sought the stewardship of the Chiltern Hundreds on 20 February. This was nominally an office of profit under the crown. Members of Parliament could not resign or even depart from Parliament while it was in session without royal permission. To resign, a Member of Parliament asked the king for the stewardship that traditionally was always granted. Several MPs could be granted the stewardship successively in a single day. To regain his seat, Peel had to seek re-election in Oxford. Sir John Inglis immediately after him sought the stewardship so that he could contest the seat in Oxford against him. The anti-Popery faction was ready for him and Inglis defeated him by 143 votes. In great secrecy another MP was induced to resign and Peel got elected for Westbury before his opponents could arrive with an opponent from London. He took his seat in Parliament again on 3 March. (Inglis is however chiefly remembered for denouncing the colleges of the new university in Ireland ‘as a gigantic scheme of godless education’ whence was derived the phrase ‘godless colleges’. There were no chairs of divinity in them, and he wished them under the control of the clergy of the Established Church.)

            An English newspaper, the Morning Chronicle of London claimed that the No Popery frenzy was drawing rapidly to a close.

            In England and Scotland there was an almost complete separation of the classes, with the upper and educated classes on one side and the poorer and uneducated on the other. Nine tenths of newspaper readers in England and Scotland are favourable to the measure. Of the others while it is true that they can read, they rarely read newspapers, but only the occasional  act or tract that corresponds with their prejudices (Cited in Saunders Newsletter 2 April 1829).

            Anglesey presented a petition in the House of Lords signed by two dukes, 17 marquesses, 26 earls, 11 viscounts, 2 counts, 22 barons, 35 baronets, 52 MPs and over 2,000 persons of other ranks all of whom were personally interested in the tranquillity of Ireland. He again expressed his disapproval of the Suppression Bill. Plunket however said that he had nothing against the present leaders of the Association but they had created a formidable organisation that could be used by other people for other purposes. Plunket had a point. If Emancipation were not conceded there was no guarantee that O’Connell, Sheil, Killeen and the other moderate leaders would be left in control. He also pointed out that the Irish Government under Wellesley and Anglesey had only interfered twice with Catholic meetings in Ireland, once by Wellesley and once by Anglesey to prohibit simultaneous meetings. He was less tolerant than Anglesey of the Brunswick clubs in which he said sedition and treason were openly discussed, and the noble lord had paid the Protestant Rent. Lord Longford replied he had paid no Rent, but merely his subscription, to which Plunket said there was no difference for the money was subscribed for political purposes. He went on to say that the Brunswickers by their actions deserved fully half the credit for bringing in Emancipation. The Catholics had the excuse of having suffered  long continued and most grievous wrongs, while the Brunswickers lorded it over their fellow men by the possession of an odious monopoly. The Catholics, unlike the Brunswickers, had never taken arms into their hands, nor had they ever declared that the king had forfeited his right to the throne (SNL 2 , 3 March 1829). Presumably the idea was that the Brunswickers revolted all moderate Protestant opinion and made the Catholics in comparison look tolerable. (The Brunswickers could reply that even if the Catholic Association had no guns the Ribbonmen had.)

            [March 1829] On 3 March 1829 Peel gave notice that he would bring in an Emancipation Bill. Peel was no sooner back in Parliament than he was nearly out of office again. The following day the king sent for Wellington, Peel, and Lyndhurst the Lord Chancellor to demand an explanation. The Duke of Cumberland had been absent from England since the beginning of the year, which was the reason Wellington and Peel had been able to get the king thus far. He now returned though Wellington bluntly requested him to stay away and not interfere. He now persuaded the king that an anti-Catholic ministry could be formed. The king said he refused his consent to the repeal of the transubstantiation  Test Act, and any modification of the oath of supremacy. The three ministers tendered their resignations, and all except Wellington considered that they were turned out of office. But at 8 p.m. that night the king sent a letter to Wellington telling him to continue with the proposed measure. Wellington wrote back at midnight calling the king’s attention to the cabinet minute of 2nd and asked his approval. The messenger was sent galloping through the night to Windsor outside London. The king replied from his bed at 7.15 a.m. the following day approving the minute. Wellington knew and the king realised that there was no possibility, unlike in the days of the Duke of Portland, of forming an anti-Catholic ministry (Maxwell, SNL 6 Mar 1829).On the same day Fitzgerald’s petition was re-presented and a committee was appointed to examine it. It commenced its work the following day.

            On 5 February 1829 Peel introduced the Catholic Relief Act (1829) in a crowded House and spoke for four hours again displaying his mastery of detail. Scotland as well as Ireland and England would be included in the Bill. It would be based on the principles or civil equality and civil right, but with some safeguards for the Established Churches. The only oath required would be the oath of loyalty. The only civil offices from which Catholics would be excluded were those of the Lord Chancellor of England, and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland or Regent of the Kingdom. (Both of these exercised patronage in the Churches. With regard to Regent, if the king and the Duke of Clarence died before the Princess Victoria came of age, a Regent would have to be appointed.) He said they could not stay where they were but must either go forward or go back. He recalled that Pitt wanted unqualified Emancipation but was unable to carry the cabinet with him. He then recounted in great detail the history of the previous thirty years.

With regard to Securities, they would be such as would apply to Catholic and Protestant alike, and would consist in raising the qualification for the franchise to £10. On the question of freehold he did not intend to deal with land tenure in Ireland. By freehold in Ireland was meant a leasehold for more than one life. He would just insist on a bona fide freehold of ten pounds a year. Replying to a question why the Irish freehold should not be made the same as the English one, Peel replied that the English system allowed more abuses. One could have the freehold of a piece of mountain on which all rights like grazing or turbary were reserved to others, so the property, though valueless was still legally a freehold. Nor did he wish to deal with the franchise in corporate towns that were derived from their individual charters. But the ten pounds of income would also apply. All freeholders would have to be registered in advance, after proof, with the assistant barrister of the county. This latter was a minor but important change. Previously they were registered with the Clerk of the Peace for the county, a local appointment. Assistant barristers were Government appointees, who were never appointed to their native counties. He rejected the old Securities, partly because it would mean recognising a foreign jurisdiction in England, and also because opinion was against paying Catholic clergymen. There would be no inspection of correspondence with Rome for it was no more the business of the Government than to inspect the correspondence of the Wesleyan Methodists (SNL 9 March 1829). There were other clauses added which everyone disregarded knowing they would never be enforced, the banning of robes and ceremonies outside churches, the prohibition on using ecclesiastical titles, and restrictions on Jesuits and friars. (Peel had no intention of chasing more than one hare at a time, but leaving the franchise in the towns unchanged would benefit the Protestants, while the Catholics could expect to win the rural constituencies of the counties. These were was his intentions set out in his speech; minor modifications were introduced in the Bill and during the ensuing debate.)

            It was a masterly solution, but the great question remains unanswered, Why did it take Peel so long to arrive at it, or at least to declare for it? It is reasonable to assume that Peel had given considerable thought to the problem and had arrived at his own solution long before, and that it was not thought up in three months. Brougham commended the proposals as ‘simple, efficacious, and unclogged with anything with which the Roman Catholics could reasonably be dissatisfied’. O’Connell found several things to be dissatisfied with, principally the raising of the threshold of the franchise. Also the fact that the franchise in the boroughs, the strongholds of Orangeism, was left largely unchanged. (This was partly remedied a few years later by the Irish Reform Act (1832) which followed the Great Reform Act in England, and opened up the boroughs to all freemen of the borough.) Ward noted that the Relief Bill was essentially a civil one and did not deal with specifically religious grievances. These were the legal validity of Catholic marriages, the right of Catholic soldiers to their own worship, and regarding Catholic charities as ‘superstitious usages’. The penal laws on these points differed in England, Scotland, and Ireland, and would have required three separate Acts to deal with them, and indeed were gradually tackled over the next century in various pieces of legislation. The biggest criticism must be the unnecessary clause such as those dealing with male religious (but not female), the wearing or robes etc., which were largely ignored in the Catholic parts of Ireland.

            William Lamb succeed to his father’s title and took his seat in the House of Lords on 1 February 1829 as Viscount Melbourne, the name by which he is always remembered. The committee on Fitzgerald’s petition reported rapidly on 6 March, declaring that Daniel O’Connell was duly elected. Election committees could drag on for months as individual voters were summoned before it, but here there was just one question, Could a Roman Catholic be elected to Parliament as opposed to taking his seat in Parliament? The answer was a simple Yes. 

            The Protestant ultras were becoming a problem. After they had been out-witted by Peel at Westbury they kept up their furious campaign in the newspapers against the Bill. Wellington decided to put a stop to it after a particularly outrageous comment by the Earl of Winchelsea. This English nobleman was a leader of the evangelicals in England, and often spoke in Exeter Hall their great centre in London. He wrote to a friend that Wellington ‘under the cloak of some coloured show of zeal for the Protestant religion, carried on an insidious design for the infringement of our liberties, and the introduction of Popery into every department of state’. The duke replied with a challenge, and the duel took place on 21 March 1829, the duke’s second being Sir Henry Hardinge. The earl assumed that a few shots fired in the air would redeem honour but Wellington insisted on a full apology. The duke fired and missed, afterwards Winchelsea fired in the air and apologised. Thereafter the language of the anti-Popery faction was toned down. The country was astonished to find its prime minister fighting a duel in the midst of a crisis, but Wellington’s biographer remarked that for him it was just another exercise to dislodge an enemy.

            O’Connell got little support for his opposition to the Qualification of Freeholders (Ireland) Bill to raise the qualification to £10. Following the usual practice if two or more principles were introduced into a bill, the relief of Catholics, and the raising of the qualification, they were introduced as separate bills so the principles could be debated separately. In the later stages, concerned with the details they could be amalgamated. In this case they were not amalgamated and three separate bills were passed. Nor did the religious orders get much support in their efforts to remove the clauses against them, probably because nobody took the threat seriously. Most of the prejudice against the religious orders in the cabinet came from the duke. His experience of religious orders was in the Peninsula and he did not like what he saw. Dr Doyle had been similarly unimpressed. (Both the reforms of the religious orders and the stripping of their property in the nineteenth century had not then commenced. Peel was not terrified of the Irish Jesuits he had met. Nor could anyone be who had dealt with Archbishop Troy or Dr Doyle.

            While the Bills were in progress Vesey Fitzgerald took his seat as MP for Newport, a pocket borough of the Duke of Northumberland, and took part in the debate, and played a leading part along with Peel in getting the Bills passed. He said he had never criticised the freeholders for voting as they did. Peel insisted on retaining the clause ‘who shall be elected  after the passing of this Act’ doubtless to avoid making the Act retrospective, though some Irish Members wanted it deleted. O’Connell was called away on urgent business to Downpatrick in county Down. The two Bills passed their Third Reading in the Commons  on 30 March, and the following day Peel accompanied by 100 MPs brought them up to the Lords.

Two royal dukes, Clarence and Sussex, assisted Wellington, Anglesey, and Plunket, with the help of the Whigs to get the Bills through the Lords and passed its First Reading on 31 March.

[April 1829] Wellington announced that the Second Reading of the Emancipation Bill would be two days later as the peers had all the relevant facts before them for two months. On Thursday 2 April 1829 the Second Reading commenced. The Bill was opposed by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Protestant Archbishop of Armagh, as also by  the Archbishop of York and the Bishop of Durham. The vote was taken on Saturday 4 April and the Second Reading passed with a majority of 105. The result of the vote was greeted with tremendous cheers that lasted several minutes (SNL 7 April 1829). The Third Reading passed on 10 April.

Those who opposed the Relief Bill had not yet exhausted their strategies, and an Address signed by most of the Irish Protestant bishops was presented to the king at Windsor. An attempt to organise a march from London to Windsor failed. Lord Eldon declared that he would never consent. On the other side various petitions were presented against the Disqualification of Freeholders Bill, but could get no further because of the absence of a parliamentary sponsor. One of these was from Jack Lawless and O’Gorman Mahon asking to be heard at the bar of the House against the disqualification. Landsdowne wished the Act not to be retrospective. The proposed Bill in 1825 was not retrospective. This was not allowed, though it would take time to re-register all the voters.

Wellington still had to deal with the king who had declared that he would not sign such a Bill even if it passed both Houses. It was over a hundred years since a monarch had refused to sign a Bill that had passed both Houses. The Protestant bishops almost to a man supported him, as did Cumberland. The king appealed to his conscience to the astonishment of Harriet Arbuthnot, a lady friend of Wellington and diarist, who said it was well known that he had not got one. The various officers in the royal household however supported Wellington. Support for Wellington came from an unlikely source. The Marchioness Conyngham, the close lady friend of the king, pressed him to sign. The king gave way, but rather than sign he gave the royal assent by commission (Longford II). The Act was due to come into force from 23 April 1829.



Copyright Desmond J. Keenan, B.S.Sc.; Ph.D. ;.London, U.K.