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Chapter Ten

[Ireland 1800-1850 Copyright © 2001 by Desmond Keenan. Book available from and]

After Emancipation

(April 1829 to October 1830)

Summary. Quite a lot happened in this brief period after the passing of the Emancipation Act. Irish Catholic gentlemen with sufficient wealth began considering a career in Parliament. O'Connell found politics more attractive than a career in the courts. The king died, and the new king, as was customary, called a general election. The Pope, unilaterally, decided on the appointment of Catholic bishops.


Normal Politics Resume

The Election of O’Connell

Revival of Ribbonism and Lawlessness

The Pope, the Bishops, and the Veto

Reign of William IV

The General Election of 1830


Normal Politics Resume

[April 1829] This brief period extended from the passing of the Emancipation Act in April 1829 when the Emancipation issue was settled, and the first Parliament of William IV in October 1831 when Wellington resigned, the Whig Lord Grey took office, and the issue of Parliamentary Reform came to the fore. It therefore comprises the second part of Wellington’s period as Prime Minister. The ordinary government of Ireland continued, and the Irish Government was chiefly pre-occupied with suppressing any kind of Association that might lead to a breach of the peace. The Irish Catholics adapted to the new situation in various ways. Most of the Orangemen regarded Peel as the Great Betrayer and were inclined to defy the Government. But now they were implacably opposed to a Repeal of the Act of Union that became largely an issue for O’Connell and his devoted band of followers. The Tories still had a majority in Parliament, and also among Irish MPs. But die-hard ascendancy people were almost completely weeded out from places in Government. William Gregory, the Under-Secretary, had been removed by Canning who died before the change could be carried out. Angelsey did this on his return in 1831. But by then his influence had vanished.    

 At the end of December 1828 Wellington, at the king’s request, had recalled the Earl of Anglesey and appointed the Duke of Northumberland in January 1829. Northumberland had abstained on the Catholic vote in 1825 but supported Wellington’s Bill. The rest of the Irish Government remained unchanged. After consulting Wellington, Northumberland ignored ordinary political meetings if their only purpose was to secure the return of a particular candidate. In July 1829, and again in July 1830, there were massive Orange demonstrations accompanied in some cases by rioting, so he suppressed these by proclamation. A letter was sent out from the Castle calling the to attention of the authorities in the counties that the Jesuits had to be expelled. (One can perhaps discern the hand of William Gregory the Under-Secretary in this.) The communication was ignored as the Whigs had foreseen. On the 28 April 1829 the English Catholic peers took their seats in the House of Lords, some sitting on the Tory side and some on the Whig side.

Despite the revolt of the backbenchers over Emancipation Wellington and Peel kept their majority in the House of Commons, and Government business proceeded as usual. A Parliamentary Committee on Irish Education was continued. Plans for setting up the new Board of National Education were almost complete. Some of the anti-popery faction contested the annual Maynooth grant but Peel remarked that even Spencer Perceval had not touched it. The Government pursued its programme of useful measures for Ireland. Even in the Tory Party paternalism and Government regulation were losing favour. The Fisheries Board with several others were discontinued, and any necessary regulatory functions were transferred to the Board of Inland Navigation. A Report of the Commissioners of Irish Revenue noted that all the piers built with the assistance of the Fisheries Board had withstood the storms, and where they were built prosperous villages had sprung up, and fishing had replaced smuggling as the local occupation. Money made available under the 1819 Act, together with money given by the London Tavern Committee of 1822, had been used to start a continually circulating loan fund, which would have to be continued. The Board of Inland Navigation was shorn of responsibility for the Newry Navigation that was handed back to a local committee. (The following year the Board was merged with the Board of Works.)

In the budget Stamp Duties were assimilated to those in Britain, which caused a considerable uproar especially among newspaper editors as they claimed duty was being increased by 83%. In April, the proprietors of the principal newspapers met to consider what action to take. Among them were James Magee owner of the Dublin Evening Post, J.D. Potts of Saunders’, Thomas Sheehan of the Evening Mail, Remy Sheehan of the Star of Brunswick, Michael Staunton of the Morning Register, Richard Barrett of the Pilot, P. Lavelle of the Freeman’s Journal, William Stephens of the Mercantile Advertiser, and Nicholas Murray Mansfield of the Evening Packet. (Lavelle became the sole proprietor of the Freeman’s Journal, and Frederick Conway, the proprietor of the Evening Post and the Mercantile Advertizer. Henry Grattan, junior, who had married Philip Whitfield Harvey’s daughter, was the nominal owner of the Freeman’s Journal, but took no interest in the paper.) In February, Magee was indicted for incautious language regarding the actions of the police, and he retained Sheil as his counsel, who advised him to plead guilty. In May Sir John Newport chaired a meeting of 47 Irish MPs in London to protest against the Stamp Duties. Nine Catholics were appointed sheriffs. The Assistant Barristers were now presiding at all Quarter Sessions.

On 7 May 1829, a motion was proposed to debate the propriety of a Poor Law for Ireland. Spring Rice spoke strongly against them. He recounted all the various Acts in force in Ireland for the benefit of the poor. Nearly one tenth of the total taxation of Ireland was devoted towards assisting education, the sick, the aged, and the lunatic poor. He was in favour however of extending the principle of the commutation of tithes to the rates, and making the landlord, not the tenant responsible. Leveson-Gower, supported by Peel, moved the previous question thus ending the debate, on the grounds that a motion should not be moved until there were plans ready for a remedy.

Conway in the Post noted that one of the articles in the Act of Union (1800) was that the United Kingdom Parliament was, for a period of twenty years, to vote for Irish charities annually a sum not less than had been voted annually by the Irish Parliament. After the twenty years was expired, Parliament had extended the time and increased the sum. But several of these like those to the Linen Board, the Charter Schools, and the Board of First Fruits, had been since discontinued. But others like those to the Dublin Police, to the Records Commission, and to the Solicitor General for public prosecutions had been added.

In October 1829 took place the famous Rainhill trials for locomotives on the Liverpool to Manchester Railway won by George Stephenson’s Rocket. This was the real start of the Railway Age that was to transform the world. In May 1830 Peel's father died and he inherited the title, Sir Robert Peel, by which he has been known ever since. 

 [1830] By May 1830 the primary triangulation of Ireland had been completed with six points from 90 to 100 miles apart. The Irish survey was also linked to a point on the Welsh coast 108 miles distant, so tying it in with the survey of Britain. To fix this point the surveyors had to wait five weeks for a sufficiently clear day. In a debate on the Ordnance Survey, Wellington replied that it was not sufficiently advanced to be used as a basis for valuation. He added that there was Bill in the other House to give it powers to fix the boundaries of parishes and districts, a detail which obviously been omitted from the original Act. Nimmo reported on his work in the Western District. A long road 60 miles long had been built through Mayo, from Ballina to Belmullet peninsula on the coast. The town of Belmullet, which did not exist four years ago now has seventy respectable houses. One merchant could not purchase 100 tons of grain in 1823, but now can buy 2,000 tons. Another road was built from Killala, through Ballina, Foxford, and Swinford, and another from Newport as far as Achill Sound. The Achill islanders still had to carry their produce on their backs as far as the sound. There was need of a coast road from Broadhaven to Killala to prevent smuggling. Work was also proceeding on the main Galway to Clifden road through Connemara, and also on a road along the coast through Kilkieran (Pilot 13 July 1829). [Top] 

The Election of O’Connell  

O'Connell had not taken his seat at the end of the previous term, and it was considered inadvisable for him to try to do so while the Emancipation Bill was before the House. When the Act was safely past he was introduced by John Ponsonby (Lord Duncannon son of the Irish Earl of Bessborough) and Lord Ebrington. Though it seemed very petty and grudging to some, the Speaker ruled, and a vote in the House confirmed, that O'Connell, who was elected before the Act was passed, was obliged to take the old oath. When he refused a new writ was issued and the election was appointed to take place in June. Another election in Clare was necessary and meetings continued to be held in the Corn Exchange for this purpose.

            Nobody knew if O'Connell's return would be opposed. The Forty-Shilling freeholders no longer had the vote so both sides had to ensure that as many of their supporters among the Ten Pound freeholders were validly registered. By a recent law an Assistant Barrister for the county (a practising barrister appointed to assist the lay magistrates) was responsible for the registering. Assessment of the freehold was as follows. The Assistant Barristers were not allowed to assess either in their native county or the county to which they were appointed.  Each applicant had to testify under oath that his income from land, after all charges such as rents legally levelled on it, equalled ten pounds a year. Rates, cesses, tithes, or other property taxes were not counted. Dr Doyle issued a pastoral letter on perjury, and stated clearly what exactly was meant by an annual value of ten pounds. The Assistant Barrister in Clare and some of the landlords were surprised at who was claiming an income of ten pounds from their holdings. The holding did not have to be very large. Ten pounds a year would keep a family at subsistence level, and could be derived by renting out three or four acres of freehold land. But if the freeholder was himself paying £3 an acre and sub-letting at £4 he would need to have more than ten acres. He did not actually have to sub-let, but only to swear that if he did sub-let he would obtain that sum. Freehold in Ireland was defined as the possession of a lease for more than one life, regarded as equivalent to 31 years. Hence Dr Doyle's warnings against perjury. In the event O'Connell was unopposed. The law was far from clear, and Assistant Barristers in different counties interpreted differently. Stephen Woulfe now the assessor in Galway took a large and liberal view; other barristers took restricted and narrower views. On 6 August 1830 Dr Doyle issued a more detailed letter on the subject of perjury, detailing exactly what could not be included. Some of the affidavits prior to the General Election must have astounded him also. The text of the oath, based on what became known as the ‘solvent tenant test’, meant that a solvent and respectable tenant without collusion could afford to pay a further ten pounds above the existing rent (Carlow Morning Post 9 August 1830).

To be elected to Parliament the prospective MP had to have an income of £600 from land, assessed in the same way as for the freehold. One hundred and fifty acres lettable at £4 an acre would suffice. So too would six hundred acres lettable at £1 an acre. These could in theory be sublet at £2 an acre to qualify a second person, sublet again at £3 to qualify a third. It is likely that O'Connell, who had inherited considerable property in Kerry, used some such system to get his sons returned. Jack Lawless, a bankrupt businessman, mistakenly thought he had the support of a relative in Meath in 1830 at the general election when he challenged Lord Killeen. Sheil married an heiress, and so had no problem. The chief problem rose for O'Connell when he quarrelled with both the Whigs and the Tories. Normally, prospective Catholic candidates had to try to find a constituency where the local Protestant gentlemen would back them. 

            The Orange Benevolent Society was wound up despite some resistance from its members and re-merged with the Orange Order. Orangemen remained alarmed and it was widely rumoured that they were arming. There were riots in connection with Orange marches in July and Northumberland issued a proclamation forbidding further meetings of Orangemen. The Irish Secretary, Francis Leveson-Gower, made clear that meetings for election purposes were lawful so long as they were orderly. [Top]

Revival of Ribbonism and Lawlessness 

It had long been a contention of the Catholic leaders that when Emancipation was conceded, and a parliamentary remedy was readily available to deal with Catholic grievances agrarian terrorism would cease. But on the contrary there were signs that the Ribbonmen were recruiting and arming as well. Ribbonmen had always been entrenched in the mixed Catholic/Protestant regions of south Ulster where agrarian bands were regarded as a defence against the Orangemen, and vice versa. But the agrarian conspiracies were not confined to Ulster. There was a serious outbreak of crime in central Leinster in Dr Doyle's diocese. (The conspiracy was centred on the industrial or 'colliery' district, which makes one suspect a link between agrarian crime and the violent methods used by some trade unionists.) Nobody at any time was able to say why there was an outbreak of agrarian terrorism. The grievances were common all over Ireland, and most of them were common to Catholics and Protestants. Yet outbreaks were always confined to particular localized districts, though they were more common in some counties than in others. There were probably local reasons in each case, but as the people involved were largely illiterate the grievances were not aired either in the local newspapers or in Parliament. Nor were the people involved likely to identify themselves to their MPs. Police spies and informers quickly penetrated most of the illegal societies but only general grievances were uncovered. Barrett the editor of the Pilot gave it as his opinion that the majority of outrages at this time were caused by competition for land.

Doyle’s pastoral letter to the deanery of Maryborough was forthright.  He wrote that apart from some extreme cases that need not be discussed here, combinations forbidden by law are not justifiable. Where combinations were established they led to the most barbarous of excesses. Drunkenness, theft, lewdness, murder, blasphemy, laws destructive of property are enforced by cruelty. ‘This has been the origin, the progress, and the end of every association such as yours which has been formed in Ireland these last three hundred years’; ‘thieves, plunderers, murdering the defenceless, oppressing the weak’. He quoted O’Connell’s opinion that to be a secret society it was not necessary to be an oath-bound one. He once again stressed that all those engaged in a conspiracy were bound to make restitution to the full extent.

            The Government was pursuing its policy of withdrawing the army to barracks and introducing civil policing. The police had strict instructions not to use unnecessary violence, but rather good-humoured persuasion. The profession was popular with many working-class Protestants and Catholics, for the policeman's salary allowed them to marry. The police were accepted in most, but not all Irish counties. Ireland was ahead of all other countries in the 'free world' (i.e. countries without absolutist regimes) in the provision of an effective civil police. In view of continuing sporadic attacks on the police not everyone thought it wise to replace units of twenty armed soldiers with smaller units of four or five policemen. But the Government persisted with the experiment, believing that the number of policemen employed should be the smallest possible consistent with enforcing the law. As the police were systematically enforcing the law and carrying out writs and executing warrants that nobody had bothered about before, it may be that the soldiers were withdrawn too quickly. 

            One incident among several occurred at Borris O'Kane in Tipperary the results of which had strange ramifications. There was a faction fight on a fair day, and the police tried to arrest one of the leaders. He may have been a Ribbon leader, for widespread robberies of arms occurred shortly afterwards. The two factions stopped fighting each other and attacked the group of policemen. Fearing for their lives, and acting under the direction of a magistrate, the police first fired blanks and then ball. A number of people were killed and the police were charged with murder. It fell to the Solicitor General (John Doherty) according to law to prosecute for the Government. The crown lawyers, knowing the slipshod methods of the rural magistrates who usually accepted sworn affidavits without cross-examination, habitually made enquiries of their own before the trial. The local parish priest produced various witnesses who swore that the police fired first, but the Solicitor General found another witness who was able to give a complete account. (The Irish police then normally gave the witness a sum of money to allow him to travel to one of the Colonies for his own safety.) O'Connell, for some reason decided to take a hand in the trial. (He had just applied to the Government to be made a King's Counsel and had been refused.) The policemen were acquitted, it being found that they had acted under the direction of a magistrate.

             In Ireland, if nobody brought forward a prosecution the Attorney General was empowered to act as prosecutor. The Solicitor General (Doherty) was asked on what basis the crown selected cases to prosecute. He replied that cases where the public peace was affected, but also in recent years, where there was a chance of securing a conviction, but where no one came forward to bring the case, but usually only in cases of murder or similar outrage (SNL 3 August 1829). The system was as follows. The crown solicitor on the circuit received copies of all the informations sworn and lodged since the last assize. These were laid before the Attorney General in Dublin, and he made the selection of those he thought should be adopted for prosecution. Formerly, the cases only concerned Whiteboys, but nowadays almost every serious felony was prosecuted by the Solicitor General. Some however thought that this duty should be given to the police who had the duty of arresting the accused, and protecting the witnesses.

There was more to follow. About the same time a number of men were arrested in Cork and were charged with being involved in the 'Doneraile Conspiracy' some time earlier. A magistrate had been shot. It was sworn before local magistrates that shots had been fired previously at him on two different occasions, on one of which his horse was killed. In a third instance, no shots were fired because he was riding in company. Twenty men were arrested. The chief witness was one of the alleged conspirators, by name Patrick Daly. There was considerable scepticism in most circles in Dublin about the existence of a conspiracy because of the proneness of the country magistrates to exaggerate. But affidavits had been sworn, so the Lord Chancellor (Hart) had to issue Special Commissions to judges to proceed to Cork and try the cases. The charges were brought under Acts of 1796 and 1798 to prove a conspiracy to murder. The trial jury was composed of men who usually sat on grand juries. The Solicitor General, Doherty, on his arrival in Cork, conducted his usual examinations and noticed that there were some discrepancies between what was sworn before him and before the magistrates. The points were minor but he called the attention of the presiding judge to them, being unable himself as prosecutor to point them out to the defence. O'Connell did not bother to turn up to the disappointment of the defendants. The Commission judge, Baron Pennefather, offered them the services of any barrister present for their defence. The accused were tried in batches, and the first group was found guilty after the jury had retired for five minutes. At this point, again for unknown reasons, O'Connell intervened. A second jury was empanelled, the barristers acting for the Government, challenging nine jurymen. He dashed into court, and the judge, knowing that he had not read the affidavits called his attention to the minor discrepancies. It was enough to work on. In the trial of the second batch, three jurymen, one of the twelve jurymen, a magistrate, refused to believe the witness in whose affidavits the discrepancies had appeared and in which that was the sole evidence against the accused, so a verdict of ‘no verdict’ had to be returned. There was some confusion caused by this, as one jury had convicted and another jury refused to convict on the same evidence. The third batch, consisting of two prisoners, were acquitted by another jury. The remaining trials were postponed until the following assizes when some more were found guilty. (It is therefore reasonable to conclude that some kind of conspiracy, and indeed O’Connell agreed, did exist, though whether all those charged belonged to it was for the juries to decide.) O'Connell affected to believe that he had foiled an Orange plot that involved the magistrates, the police, and the Solicitor General. One newspaper considered that the barrister defending the first batch was incompetent.

            He was unwise enough in Westminster to start throwing out insinuations about alleged deliberate murders by the police and cover-ups by the Solicitor General. The latter challenged him to bring forward any evidence he might have in the form of a motion, but O'Connell always backed away. Finally Doherty gave a complete and convincing account of the whole affair from the beginning (Evening Packet 22 May 1830, SNL 30 May 1830). Despite this O’Connell returned again to the charges in 1833, accusing the local magistrates of deliberately suppressing evidence, and Doherty of deliberately putting a man he knew to be innocent in the first batch to have him hanged. Yet it was Doherty who had first pointed out the discrepancies in the evidence. At the re-trial of the second batch at the next assizes, Pennefather instructed the jury to ignore the discrepancies if they considered they arose merely from ‘accident or mistake’. One of the batch was found guilty of murder. Conway in the Post noted at the time that neither Northumberland nor Leveson-Gower had any particular interest in securing convictions. He too had doubts on the reliability of the evidence of approvers, namely those who turn king’s evidence to get a lighter sentence (DEP 29 Oct. 1829). In the event, one of those convicted in the first batch, John Leary, appealed to the Lord Lieutenant, and all their death sentences were commuted to transportation. Even the Evening Packet recommended the commutation. O’Connell was sufficiently convinced of his innocence to bring up the matter of his pardon some years later.

Conway of the Evening Post remarked shortly after, and with considerable point, that when O'Connell was defeated in debate by Doherty he began to long for a Parliament of his own. He was an able debater, and well able to adapt his style to Westminster; he just did not like it. Hard and verifiable facts and a clear and concise exposition did not suit his style. He was above all a Nisi prius lawyer who delighted in winning over unsophisticated country juries by laughing and joking and then bewildering them. The barrister got his money, his client got the verdict, and the jury enjoyed themselves; pity about the poorer man who was actually in the right. What was important about Borris O'Kane and Doneraile was not the actual facts but what most people came to believe were the facts. It is symptomatic of the way nationalist historians treated the sources that even a hundred and fifty years later only O’Connell’s version was being reported, though Doherty’s reply had been all the time in easily available sources. The 'Doneraile Conspiracy' has the same place in Irish history as the 'Tolpuddle Martyrs' in British history. (Lord Brougham, in contrast, though an extremely learned man, was a failure as a Nisi prius lawyer because he disregarded the effects of his words on jurors DNB.)

In May 1830, in Parliament O’Connell moved for a return of the number of people killed by the police since the passing of the Act 3 George IV. Doherty replied that the wording was misleading, and if he meant murdered by the police he should use those words. He went on to say that many sections of the press in Ireland were saying that Catholics were excluded from juries, and that O’Connell was always threatening to apply for a Parliamentary enquiry into the matter but never did so. He challenged him to bring forward his motion now. He added that O’Connell was always making charges against the Irish Government. Let him bring forward those charges so that they could be refuted. O’Connell always refused to oblige, for his audience was back at home. Doherty remarked sarcastically how he observed the manner in which a skilled lawyer constructed the bridge over which he intended to retreat! [Top] 

The Pope, the Bishops, and the Veto           

The Pope, when it was disclosed that the British Government would not require securities, issued his own Rescript  Cum ad gravissimum (1829) regulating the appointment of Irish bishops. It was confirmed that parish priests but not curates should elect of a successor to a bishop. Though not bound by any statute or canon, the Irish clergy, until the setting up of the Irish Free State, maintained the practice they had pledged themselves to during the Veto controversy, namely, to recommend to the Pope only British subjects of known loyalty to the crown. Advocating Repeal or Home Rule was not considered disloyalty. The Irish Catholic bishops then set about the task, which was to prove difficult, of preventing the clergy from taking part in politics or using church buildings for political purposes. On 9 February all the bishops signed a pastoral address to the Irish people saying that the clergy, during the great storm and crisis which had just passed had added their labours to that of the laity. They rejoiced at the outcome, but now that thankfully their task was finished they were withdrawing from politics to follow their proper avocation (SNL 18 Feb 1830).

            Now that Catholics could be members of Parliament, a majority it would seem of the gentlemen who had formed the Catholic Association was content to join the Whigs in working for reforms. Sheil accepted an invitation to act as counsel for the Tory Lord George Beresford in Waterford in February 1830, purely as a professional engagement. Many Catholics who regarded his action as selling-out to the enemy condemned him. The Beresfords had first approached O’Connell, but though he declined the offer because of other engagements he acknowledged that the Beresfords had always been generous towards himself. This was an important acknowledgement because if rich Protestants did not engage a Catholic barrister he would get very few important briefs. Current topics were the reform of Parliament, the necessity or otherwise of an Irish Poor Law, the need to reclaim bogland, and to improve Irish farmland in general. 

            With regard to the Repeal of the Act of Union there occurred major shifts of opinion, of which O'Connell in Munster was only dimly, if at all, aware. With Emancipation, the old ascendancy faction switched overnight from advocating Repeal to supporting the Union. No longer were the Orange corporations (guilds) of masters, and trade unions of journeymen in favour of the protected markets that an independent Parliament would allow. More importantly, Protestants in the middle ground switched to defending the Union. This became noticeable in the change of editorial comment in Saunder's Newsletter and the Dublin Evening Post. Conway of the Post had been an outspoken advocate of Repeal. Now he became a champion of the Union. When O'Connell launched what Lawless described as an 'ill-timed experiment' to try to secure Repeal, few of the important leaders of the Association joined him. Lawless noted that Lord Killeen, Sheil, Thomas Wyse, Stephen Woulfe, and Purcell O'Gorman were not among his supporters. 

O'Connell at long last was able to take his seat legally when the parliamentary session of 1830 began. There was no rush by the leaders of any party to court him. Lord Killeen was elected unopposed shortly afterwards at a by-election in Meath caused by the removal of Lord Bective to the House of Lords, and also took his seat. Another Whig gentleman, Mr Naper of Loughcrew stood down so that he should be unopposed. In Parliament, almost none of the leaders of the Catholic Association, as one by one they were elected to Parliament, supported O’Connell. Almost without exception they supported the Whigs. (In the second half of the century many Catholics supported the Tories.) The Carlow Morning Post in May 1830 noted that there were then four Catholic MPs: the Earl of Surrey, elected 9 May 1829, Daniel O’Connell elected 4 February 1830, Lord Killeen elected 22 February 1830, and Daniel Callaghan elected in Cork 26 April 1830 (CMP 6 May 1830). Lord Cloncurry established a Society for the Improvement of Ireland, and this attracted most of the gentlemen who had been active in the Catholic Association. O’Connell attacked it because it was not an ‘agitating society’. Cloncurry later suspended its meetings, not as he said because its meetings were illegal, but local magistrates might consider them so. 

O’Connell opened (January 1830) a Parliamentary Office in Dublin from which he could organise his campaigns, and the government ignored it. Still hankering for a society of his own he formed one called the Anti-Union Society which the Lord Lieutenant promptly suppressed. The Government continued to argue that if O'Connell organised, the Orangemen would too. Then the Ribbonmen would start to arm, and then the Orangemen would too. O'Connell always argued that if there were associations that could successfully advocate peaceful change nobody would need to arm, and if the Orangemen were outvoted and did not like it the Government ought to repress them by force. The counter-argument was that one already existed, namely the Whig party. And so the argument continued. He entered into a rather childish duel with the Government, setting up variously named societies that the Government promptly squashed. He would never accept any blame, always insisting that it was the fault of the Orangemen. The Whigs were trying to get some measure for Parliamentary Reform passed. O'Connell seemed to be doing his best to wreck their plans. On 28 May 1830 he rushed in ahead of them with a Bill for radical reform without making any preparations, and got only thirteen votes. Lord John Russell’s less sweeping proposal, to enfranchise the large new towns like Birmingham and Manchester, was defeated by 213 votes to 117. It may be that he was trying to show that reform was impossible in Westminster. Or he may have just been trying to grab the limelight. He could put any gloss he liked on his actions when he got back to Ireland.

            It is worth quoting Frederick Conway's opinion of O'Connell in 1830 to show more clearly how the Whig leaders saw him:

            ‘Had he not been disqualified by that absorbing vanity, that recklessness of purpose, and that appetite for vulgar applause which has reduced him from being a senator and the interpreter of the nation's wishes to the position of a political spouter and a scribbler of seditious trash . . .[In Parliament] he could not play the first fiddle, nor even the second, or the third, and he sighed for aggregates and the shouts of the mob’ (DEP 21 Oct 1830).

            Again, in a letter to the editor of Saunders’ Newsletter he wrote:

            ‘It is needless to say that Mr O’Connell is in the constant habit of vilifying the motives of those who differ from him on any point however important or however immaterial…That he has lost character by his reckless and unprincipled Billingsgate he must feel himself - that he has made assertions he cannot prove he must know. (SNL 21 Oct 1830; Billingsgate was the vulgar abuse notoriously common in London’s fishmarket. The fishwives there were proverbially known for their invective.)

            Conway, though a Protestant, had been an extremely active member of the Catholic Association, and boasted that he had drawn up more documents for it than O’Connell himself. He had been brought into the Post to rescue it after O’Connell had involved the former editor John Magee in his own disputes with the Government. 

            There was once again a great scarcity of food in parts of Ireland, and the discussion of a Poor Law again came to the fore. A meeting was held in the Mansion House in Dublin to examine the question. Spring Rice proposed a Select Committee of Parliament to enquire into the condition of the poor in Ireland and it was duly established. It sat for 40 days and collected 1,000 pages of evidence. Dr. Doyle was among those summoned to London to give evidence. A Bogs Drainage (Ireland) Act (1830) was passed. [Top] 

Reign of William IV           

On 25 June 1830 George IV died, and the Duke of Clarence became king with the title of William IV. The latter had served in the Royal Navy in his youth and had a number of illegitimate children by an Irish actress. His two legitimate children died in infancy, and so the heiress to the throne became his niece the twelve-year-old Princess Victoria. Though not as intellectually brilliant as his older brothers he was by no means stupid. He was good-natured and in favour of reform, but just up to a point. Only with his assistance could the Whigs have passed their legislation in the 'First Great Era of Reform'. All through his reign, the Irish, already strongly entrenched in the building trade in London, continued their work on the reconstruction of Buckingham House. When it was completed William died and Victoria moved into it. The new king announced, as was traditional, an early dissolution of Parliament so that his advisers would reflect current feeling in the country. This election had been anticipated and Sheil was already canvassing in Louth.

            On 4 March 1830 Sir John Newport put forward a motion for the fairer distribution of the revenues of the Irish Church and the reduction of pluralities and unions. Leveson-Gower proposed an enquiry into the actual revenues of the Church first. Peel considered that there was a great improvement brought about by existing reforms. Sir Robert Inglis moved the previous question. In April a barrister named Richard Radford Roe obtained a writ of error to bring his appeal to the House of Lords, the first instance since the Union. Also, Sir Jonah Barrington, a judge in the Irish court of Admiralty was removed from office by votes of both houses of Parliament, the only way a judge could be removed. This followed an enquiry into the administration of justice in Ireland. He had mixed up some of his court’s money with his own. He is chiefly famous however for his amusing ‘Personal Sketches.’ The removal of a judge by Act of Parliament is an exceedingly rare event. 

In the summer, just fifteen years after the battle of Waterloo, the French decided to take the problem of Algiers and the corsairs in hand. The British Royal navy had twice, in 1816 and 1824 tried to prevent the corsairs from attacking shipping in the Mediterranean. (The United States sent its little fleet to Tripoli (1801-05) to discourage attacks on their trade.) This began the great French expansion into North Africa that lasted for nearly a century and a half. The Foreign Legion was formed in 1831. Wellington did not interfere. In July came the news from France of the 'July Revolution' which brought a constitutional monarchy and a Parliament to France. More importantly, in the view of the Irish Repealers, was the revolution in Brussels in Belgium in August 1830, by which the former Austrian Netherlands, forcibly united in 1815 to the Protestant kingdom of Holland, asserted its right to independence and established a Catholic kingdom. The person chosen as king was Prince Leopold. His sister, the Duchess of Kent (and Countess of Dublin), a Protestant and a Whig, was the widowed mother of the Princess Victoria. The duchess's private secretary was an Irishman named Captain John Conroy. Victoria disliked him. Her State-appointed Governess was the Duchess of Northumberland. Victoria did not grow up ignorant of Ireland. When Lord Melbourne became her mentor he could tell tales about his Irish in-laws, the Ponsonby's. Top 

The General Election of 1830 

When William IV called a General Election in July 1830 there was a scramble by the Catholic politicians to find seats. Because of political infighting in Clare O'Connell withdrew and chose to contest Waterford which Thomas Wyse had been cultivating for several years. O'Connell took a seat in Waterford, but Wyse got elected in Tipperary. Sheil decided to stand in Louth, which the Bellews regarded as their own. Anglesey, who owned an estate at Carlingford, was asked if he was putting forward a member of his family, Lord William Paget, as a candidate. He replied that the decision rested with Lord William. Alexander Dawson was re-elected, but both Sheil and Montesquieu Bellew (brother of Sir Patrick) were defeated. (When the Whigs came into office Anglesey found Sheil a pocket borough.) There was some opposition to Lord Killeen in Meath because he refused to give any 'pledges' on any topic. His principles, he said, were well known, but a Member of Parliament, as Edmund Burke had stressed, must be free to make up his own mind after listening to the debates in Parliament. O'Connell supported Killeen on this occasion, while Lawless (with Sheil's help) opposed him. Killeen was returned. Sir John Burke was returned for Galway, O'Gorman Mahon for Clare, the Hon. William Browne (brother of the Earl of Kenmare) in Kerry, O'Connor Don in Roscommon, and Richard More O'Ferrall in Kildare. 

            Urged by Lord Leveson-Gower the Irish Secretary, the Government called several Catholic barristers to be King's Counsel that meant that the crown could call on them to act for it in court. This is called ‘taking silk’ for KCs were allowed to wear robes of silk in court. The first to be called was William Bellew (brother of Sir Edward) who had been the first Irish Catholic to be called to the outer bar in 1793. Also called were Richard Sheil, Nicholas Ball, Michael O'Loughlin, and Richard More O'Ferrall. O’Connell, rather pointedly, was not among those so honoured, doubtless because he was outspoken about Repeal of the Act of Union. But he regarded it as a personal insult. He never admitted to any negotiations with any Government regarding public appointments. He was a very vain man, but no Government ever felt that his support was worth the price he put on it. They might have made life easier for themselves and more peaceful for Ireland if they had soothed his vanity. Conway noted that it was Primate Boulter (died 1742) who excluded Catholics from taking silk, or practising at the bar. 

            Leveson-Gower was then given a ministerial appointment in Westminster and Sir Henry Hardinge replaced him as Irish Secretary. Harding was an army officer who had served with distinction under Wellington.  O’Connell typically denounced him as a ‘one-handed miscreant’. He wrote a public letter to him listing twenty four reasons why he was unfit to be Irish Secretary that shows that he was stung. 

            Before going on deal with the exciting events which occurred after the Whigs took office it worth looking at British and Irish society in 1830. In 1830 it was generally expected that the Duke of Wellington would continue in office for a long time, that the commercial prosperity now being restored after the banking crisis would last, and the modest programme of reforms initiated by Peel would continue.

            The Irish economy was prospering. The harvests were generally fine, and the price of corn, though somewhat above the level of pre-War times, was not excessive. Farmers were gradually changing to cattle-raising and took the fat cattle to the nearest port without hawking them around the fairs. The Irish economy would have to develop far more rapidly if the numbers in abject poverty were to be reduced. Therefore there were general calls for the improvement of agriculture, the drainage of land, and a Poor Law, i.e. paying for public works especially of drainage. In Dublin the first steps were being taken towards the construction of the first railway in Ireland, the Dublin to Kingstown line. The Liverpool to Manchester line had been opened in September 1830, and William Huskisson, the former President of the Board of Trade had been killed by an engine on the opening day.

            A mild recession in Ireland early in 1830 caused very considerable distress, and there were renewed calls for a repeal of the Act of Union especially among tradesmen in Dublin. Not all agreed that this was the remedy. The trade of Dublin was rapidly expanding, and some carpenters, for example, claimed that more of their trade were at work than before the Union. Others, too, maintained that losses of trade in Dublin were caused more by combinations of trade unionists than by the Union. Shipbuilders on Tyneside, they said, had far lower labour costs than Dublin shipbuilders.

             The grain and potato harvest in the autumn of 1830 failed in many parts of Mayo. This part of Ireland had a shrinking economy as it failed to adapt to new conditions, and also a rapidly growing population. In many parts of Mayo one could find the typical stereotype of pre-Famine Ireland: absentee landlords, few large farms, and innumerable Gaelic-speaking squatters living an often in some ways, idyllic life, supported by the potato, milk, butter and leather from the cow, wool from the sheep, and turf from the bog, with singing and dancing at the crossroads and virtually no crime. It seemed an easy-going life as long as the potato could be relied on. Whether in fact it was idyllic may be doubted. (Thoreau was to show shortly afterwards that one could survive by working only one day in seven instead of the usual six.) But when the potato did fail there was no structure that could cope with the distress. In the Highlands of Scotland, where a similar structure of population and a similar culture could be found, the Kirk had maintained its strong parish structure intact. As in 1822 collections for Famine relief were made as far away as London. It is against this background that Dr MacHale's attacks on Earl Grey must be read. His diocese was in the affected area.

            Parts of Ireland were again being swept by a wave of agrarian crime, but the wave spread also to England. There was much distress in rural England as the Speenhamland system was beginning to collapse. In 1795 the county magistrates at Speenhamland in Berkshire began to impose a parish rate to top-up wages. As the farmers were the rate-payers they retaliated by lowering wages. The workers began to do less and less in order to claim more relief. At the same time attempts were made to form trade unions (sometimes oathbound) among the farm labourers. At Tolpuddle, in Dorset, some men were accused of being members of an agrarian secret society, but they claimed to be only a legal trade union. The jury, and on appeal, the Home Secretary (Melbourne who had experience in Ireland) decided that they were guilty as charged, and they were transported. 

            In Birmingham, a group of men, led by Thomas Attwood, formed the Birmingham  'Political Union' and borrowed from O'Connell the idea of a penny-a-week subscription. Another, called the Metropolitan Political Union, was formed in London, but because of the laws passed at the beginning of the French Revolution they could not communicate with each other. 

            In Dublin, in the summer of 1830, a 'Trades Political Union' was established. Some Catholic tradesmen were actively engaged in assisting Henry Grattan, Junior, during the General Election, and they complained of police brutality. (Protestants frequently complained of the lack of gentleness in the mobs that surrounded O'Connell!). They felt that some better form of political organisation was required. Led by a tradesman named John O'Brien they assembled to form the 'Liberal Mechanics and Trades Association'. (Liberal, at that period, meant more or less Radical, but not necessarily Utilitarian.) In particular, they wished for Repeal i.e. for Protection in trade. They wrote to O'Connell for advice on how to from a legal association, and he replied from his home at Derrynane, county Kerry, explaining the law. They changed their name to the Trades Political Union and asked a barrister named Marcus Costello to be their president.

            Only Catholic journeymen were involved. The Protestant journeymen could either form their own unions, or be content with the trade guilds. These latter were chiefly associations of masters for the regulation of the trade, but in former times the journeymen and apprentices might put on plays for the Lord Mayor or Lord Lieutenant. It was these Protestant guilds which failed to assemble and march with their banners to greet the new Lord Lieutenant, Anglesey, in the traditional way. The Trades Political Union did not march either.

            Repeal was not widely discussed in Ireland until the autumn of 1830 when the issue was brought forward by a group of pro-Unionists led by the Duke of Leinster. He wished to get as many people as possible to sign a declaration in favour of the Union. Many people did; others declined. But its importance lay in the handle it gave to O'Connell, after his quarrel with the Whigs to seize on an issue to embarrass them.   

             On the 26 October 1830 William IV's first Parliament assembled. The Whigs had made some gains, but Wellington and Peel were still in office. On the 15 November Sir Henry Parnell introduced a motion to refer the proposed Civil List to the scrutiny of a Select Committee. The motion was passed, and Wellington resigned the following day. Wellington for some time had been looking for an excuse to get out of the job of Prime Minister that he detested. 



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