Home Page

1800-1850ContentsIntroductionChapter 1Chapter 2Chapter 3

Chapter 4Chapter 5Chapter 6Chapter 7Chapter 8Chapter 9

Chapter 10Chapter 11Chapter 12Chapter 13Chapter 14Chapter 15

Chapter 16Chapter 17Chapter 18Chapter 19Chapter 20Chapter 21


Chapter Nine

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

Emancipation and Counter-Emancipation

(1820 to 1829)

Summary. This chapter describes the course of the campaign to achieve Catholic Emancipation during the reign of George IV and also the counter campaign to prevent the granting of Emancipation


The New Reign

The Catholic Association and the Orange Order

The Algerine Act and Burdett’s Bill

The Fourteen-Day Meetings

Wellington’s Ministry and the Clare Election

Wellington’s Emancipation Bill 


 The New Reign           

`[January 1820] The struggle of the Catholics for the right to seats in Parliament reached its climax in the years between 1820 and 1829. With the aim of getting a more coherent view they events are described in a separate chapter, though they were  closely linked with the other events described in the preceding chapter. (For greater detail the readers is referred to my other work The Grail of Catholic Emancipation.) By 1819 the position of the Catholics had been restored to what it had been in 1812. O'Connell appeared to have given up the struggle for Emancipation. Some welcomed this, for O'Connell invariably provoked hostile reaction among Protestants, yet others considered that no effective campaign in Ireland could be mounted without his assistance. 

            On Grattan's death in 1820 Plunket presented the petition but insisted on securities. The affairs of the queen took up the time of Parliament so no motion was preceded with. Richard Sheil, and Lord Killeen, son of the Earl of Fingall, emerged as the leaders of the Catholic moderates. O'Connell, in one of the earliest of his 'Addresses to the People of Ireland', suggested abandoning Emancipation until a reformed Parliament was attained. Sheil opposed this. 

            [1821] In 1821 Plunket secured a majority of six for his motion and was allowed to bring in a Relief Bill (1821) on the same lines as Canning's. This Bill passed the Commons but was defeated in the Lords. As it was announced that the king was about to visit Ireland political activity largely ceased for the rest of the year. The Bill, if passed, would have contained Canning’s Securities. Some Irish bishops were concerned about this but there was no major outcry. The bishops were just beginning their negotiations with the Irish Government regarding support for Catholic Education. 

            [1822] The next year, 1822, Canning wished to bring in a minor Bill connected with Catholic peers, so Plunket took no action. The year came to an end with growing manifestations of Orange unease culminating in the 'Bottle Riot’ that was followed by Plunket's attempt to find an Orange conspiracy against the Government.  

 Wellesley removed some Orange sympathizers from the Castle. The problem was that Plunket was looking for an Orange conspiracy, and there was none. There were just a few working-class men who wished to express their opinion of Wellesley and the Grand Jury who sympathized with them recognized this. The question must be asked why Plunket and Wellesley took such a serious view of a minor incident. First it should be noted that there was a widespread Ribbon conspiracy at the time, and in the north of Ireland Orangemen and Ribbonmen were fiercely opposed to each other. If Ribbonmen were put on trial Plunket probably considered it advisable to put Orangemen on trial as well. O’Connell was to exploit the incident and the alleged cover-up to the full as evidence of continuing anti-Catholic prejudices. (He was not a man bothered by the need for the strictest accuracy if he felt that he opponent could not prove him wrong.) Also Plunket was a practising lawyer at the time of the United Irishmen one of whom he defended in 1798. He knew how easily minor conspiracies could blow up into serious disturbances. Goulburn’s Police Act that would render the Government to some extent less depended on the sheriffs in the towns and cities was not yet put into effect. [Top] 

The Catholic Association and the Orange Order      

[1823] Two unexpected events occurred in 1823. The first was the bringing together of O'Connell and Sheil to see if they could work with each other. They were brought together at the residence of a gentleman called O’Mara at Glencullen in county Wicklow. An agreement was devised, Sheil, a considerably younger man, and much less experienced at the bar, obviously reckoning that he now had enough support to enable him effectively to harness O'Connell, and O'Connell clearly believing that he could control any meeting. When a meeting was convoked to form an association it was apparent that Sheil had calculated correctly. Among the supporters that Sheil could count on were the Catholic noblemen, especially Lord Killeen, and Sir Edward Bellew, Purcell O'Gorman (Catholic Secretary), Eneas MacDonnell (London Agent of the Irish Catholics), and Frederick Conway, the editor of the Dublin Evening Post. There were also a considerable number of gentlemen of the old anti-vetoist faction led by the banker Nicholas Mahon whose views were similar to O'Connell's. But they did not trust him, remembering that he had always been anxious to reach an accommodation with the vetoist faction. O'Connell's great support was in the country areas, especially in Munster. He also received much support from the tradesmen in Dublin, but they did not figure prominently in the Catholic Association because of the annual subscription required to become a member. Lastly there was the radical democrat, Honest Jack Lawless, who owed allegiance to no man.

            The second event that occurred in 1823 was an attack by Sir Francis Burdett on what he called 'the annual farce' when Plunket was introducing his motion in favour of the Catholics. His attack was really directed at Canning for he believed that Canning, by accepting office under Lord Liverpool, was keeping the diehard Tories in power. The composition of the House of Commons was slowly changing but it must remain doubtful if Canning had made a bid for power in 1823 he would have been successful. A majority in favour of Emancipation was one thing: a majority against Lord Liverpool was another. A motion to adjourn was passed by the House and a Catholic motion was not introduced for another two years. Support for the Catholics was not confined to the Whigs, and both of their chief advocates in the Commons, Plunket and Canning, were Tories.

            After the meeting between O'Connell and Sheil a meeting was called in Dublin to see if a Catholic association, or committee, or board, could be re-established. Present at the meeting were Lord Killeen, the Hon. Mr. Barnewall (representing Baron Trimleston), Sir Thomas Esmonde, Sir John Burke, Daniel O'Connell, Nicholas Mahon, Hugh O'Connor, Mr. Murphy, and Mr. Howley. It was decided to establish a private association. Membership would consist of gentlemen who subscribed a guinea per annum (perhaps £50 nowadays). There would be no attempts to revive delegation in any form. The need to show widespread support for the association would eventually be tackled by means of public one-day meetings in Dublin, and by separate county and parish meetings all over Ireland. Jack Lawless, to allow in tradesmen, and so to broaden the democratic base, wished that these should be allowed in to meetings at one shilling a time. Most people preferred to fight only one battle at a time, so the annual subscription was retained.

            The English Catholics then established the English Catholic Association. Aware of the long disputes between Butler and Milner they admitted the clergy into the Association from the very start so that theological points could be threshed out first in private. The Irish Association followed suit. Very few priests actually attended the meetings, though there were one or two who were frequent attenders. 

            O' Connell's prime objective (which remained the same all his life) was to build up an organization (similar to the much later Ancient Order of Hibernians) which could represent all Catholics, deal with their affairs and grievances, be a forum for discussion and agitation on all Catholic affairs, and in general rival what the Orange Order was supposed to be doing. He was not particularly interested in 1823 in petitioning for Emancipation. Nor was he ever interested in an association to unite all classes of Irishmen. Others in the Association, like Sir John Burke and Eneas MacDonnell, considered that petitioning for Emancipation was their primary or even sole purpose. The usefulness of Sheil to men like Sir John Burke lay in the fact that he was not afraid to oppose O'Connell in debate - Sir John himself confessed a fear of directly differing with O'Connell on an issue in public. Many remained sceptical about whether the new association could work or was necessary, and over a year later its survival remained in doubt.

            In the meantime O'Connell went ahead with a scheme he had thought off several years earlier of raising funds for the Dublin Catholic Association and establishing close links between it and every parish in Ireland. He argued that if a million Catholics in Ireland paid a farthing a week or a penny a month an annual income of £50,000 could be guaranteed. Therefore if in every Catholic parish collectors were established, they could collect the 'Catholic Rent' every Sunday. He felt too that if the scheme were to succeed the Catholic clergy would have to be invited to co-operate. Firstly, it was simple to get from each bishop a list of the names of the Catholic clergy in each diocese with the name of their local post office. Secondly, the priest could be guaranteed to be honest and to know which parishioners were honest. The alternative was for the Association to send representatives to every parish. County associations could do it more easily, but would keep a large part of the money collected. O'Connell busied himself with preparing petitions on such subjects as the vestry cess, tithes in kind, and the repeal of the Tithe Commutation Acts (1823-24).

            Concern was expressed at this nakedly sectarian approach. The Protestant middle classes were in general in favour of Emancipation.  Conway of the Post, himself a Protestant, claimed that the 'ascendancy party' consisted of the clergy of the Established Church and the members of the various city and town corporations. This could have been near enough to the truth over much of Ireland outside Ulster if one includes in the ascendancy party those who jobs or offices depended on those two categories. Orangeism was more entrenched in the working class, and it was a tradesman who threw the famous bottle. Sheil, seeing the danger, wished to change the name of the Association to 'National Association'. The Whig leaders, Earl Grey and Henry Brougham, warned the Irish Catholics to omit all references to the Established Church or to the Orangemen as these might prejudice some Members of Parliament against them. But unfortunately for Ireland in the long run, attacking Orangeism, Protestantism, and ascendancy, and confusing them, was essential to O'Connell's strategy. The Catholic bishops, though in general they supported O’Connell, were not happy that he preferred dealing with the priests, and not with the bishops. O’Connell had been very bitter in his attacks on the bishops over the veto.

            Various members of the aristocracy were having doubts about the advisability of trying to work with O’Connell, as he was as likely to alienate supporters as to gain them. They wrote to Primate Curtis expressing their fears, but he reassured them. The aged Dr Patrick Plunkett of Meath became the first bishop to approve the collecting of the Rent in his diocese.

            [1824] After a shaky start in its first year the Association continued to grow, and by the end of 1824 had 3,000 members including a great number of respectable people, peers, bishops, and gentlemen. Better rooms and a public hall were rented in the new Corn Exchange. The leaders of the association tried to act discreetly. The senior member of the peerage present, usually Lord Killeen, was asked to chair the meetings. The number of political gaffes was small but were widely reported. One member of the Association, Stephen Coppinger, (at an Aggregate or Public Meeting) launched into fulsome praise of Napoleon!  Even worse, there was enthusiastic applause. Purcell O'Gorman at one point injudiciously remarked that every Catholic gentleman had a right to carry a sword. Sheil himself, trying to explain away an unfortunate remark about the United Irishmen, referred to the possibility of a French 'steam invasion' and found himself in court. (His innocent point was that unlike in 1798, the French Government now had steamships.)  O'Connell too made a speech in which he strongly praised Simon Bolivar who had rebelled against the Spanish governor of Peru in 1819. The rising was strongly supported in Ireland, and one of O'Connell's sons had joined the 'Irish Brigade' fighting for Bolivar. O'Connell always admired Bolivar 'the Liberator' while making it clear that he would never have recourse to arms. (After Emancipation the epithet was transferred to O'Connell, which delighted him.)  But Plunket and the Irish Government were as suspicious of a Catholic plot as they were of an Orange one. Plunket refused to recognize the Association and always communicated with O Connell as a private gentleman. 

            In the Irish Government and in Parliament strong feelings continued against the Orange Order. After the 'Bottle Riot' a Parliamentary Committee was set up to investigate the Order. An Act was passed against secret oath-bound societies in 1823. This harmonized British and Irish law, for membership of an oath-bound society was already illegal in England. It was directed principally against the Ribbon Conspiracy. In England, trade unions often administered oaths, an issue that was to arise at Tolpuddle.)

The Orange Order had to reconstitute itself as a non-oathbound society. Saunder's Newsletter (12 May 1825) noted that O'Connell had rescued the Order from extinction. Its membership had so declined by 1823 that it could not last much longer. But when O'Connell started organizing the Catholic Association as a private association with links all over Ireland, the leaders of the Orange Order did exactly the same. Crowds of Protestants rushed to join. There was always, however, a crucial difference between the Orange Order and every one of O'Connell's associations. O'Connell's associations were middle-class organizations to which the aristocracy or the working classes might be admitted. The Orange Order was primarily a working-class organization that admitted gentlemen and peers to the rank of master and grandmaster. It was from the ranks of the working classes that secret societies and combinations originated.

             The Catholic working-class organizations were either illegal or were trade unions. Only Lawless made any attempt to involve the skilled trades. The coal porters from the quays of Dublin organized themselves as O’Connell’s bodyguard, though the Protestants regarded them as his street-fighters. In the 1840's the Catholic working class was inclined to join political clubs willing to resort to violence. As often was the case, their distinction from Ribbonism was doubtful. O’Connell never countenanced violence, whether from Ribbonmen or trade unions. In the Orange Order, and later the Brunswick Clubs, many Protestants of all classes were united in the face of a common threat, an imaginary one at the time, of a takeover by Rome. Still, it must be remembered that probably less that half of the Irish Protestants in 1823 associated themselves with Orangeism as then understood. (The connection of skilled Protestant workers with violent trade unionism is unclear. O’Connell was inclined to attribute trade union violence to 'Orangemen', perhaps just on general grounds. Once again we must remember that Dublin was a very Protestant city, and most skilled tradesmen were Protestants. Orange support was strongest in Dublin, in Ulster, in all the large towns, and in certain midland districts of Leinster. Support for the Catholic Association was strong in Dublin, in Munster, and in much of Leinster. Neither side bothered with backward Connaught.

O’Connell once jibed that the contributions from Connaught did not pay the expenses of the London Agent of the Catholic Association, Eneas MacDonnell, a Connaughtman. Nevertheless, though contributions to the Rent were not particularly high, it must be remembered that Connaught was the poorest province. The average annual contribution per county in Connaught was £130 per annum against £150 for Leinster excluding Dublin city. Dublin city contributed £715, pulling up the Leinster average. In Munster county Waterford contributed £666 and Tipperary £495 leaving an average of £142 for the other four Munster counties. The lowest contributions came from the Catholic counties in Ulster, where the standard of living among the Catholic population was probably even lower than in Connaught. Their average was £125. It is likely too that O’Connell’s influence was weakest in that part of Ireland, unsurprising as O’Connell never went there. It was also a region where the Ribbonmen were traditionally strong (DEP 29 March 1827) 

            Towards the end of 1824 tension was rising among Irish Protestants for an entirely different reason as well. A broadsheet was being circulated in Dublin containing excerpts from the so-called 'Prophecies of Pastorini'. According to these alleged prophecies Protestantism in Ireland was to 'overthrown' in 1825. Protestants came to believe that a general massacre was only averted because the Orangemen had been alerted in time (Evening Packet 24 April 1841).  Who put up the placards in the first place was not disclosed. Some thought Orangemen put them up. [Top] 

The Algerine Act and Burdett’s Bill        

[1825] By the beginning of 1825 the Government had concluded that peace in Ireland would be best served by the suppression of both Associations. Each was annoyed because it believed that only the other should be suppressed. The Irish Government would have preferred to bring in an Emancipation Bill along with the Suppression Bill, but the cabinet would not agree. The Government then could only proceed with the Suppression Bill.  Plunket and Wellesley would assist the Emancipation Bill when introduced privately. The Suppression Bill (1825) passed both Houses and received the royal assent. O'Connell nicknamed it the 'Algerine Act' and by that name it is commonly known. (The reference is obscure, but may refer to some incident in the long-forgotten Algerine War in 1824. A play called the ‘Fall of Algiers’ was produced in Drury Lane, London in January 1825.) As a sop to O'Connell it was suggested that he should be given a 'patent of precedence' in the lawcourts. As a Catholic he could plead in the courts, but could not be given any office like King's Counsel. As these had their cases called first, O'Connell, by now the most distinguished Catholic barrister, would have to wait until the cases of more junior barristers who were KC’s were called. (This was the theory, and probably the practice in the lawcourts in Dublin. On circuit procedure was more informal, and all parties agreed among themselves when cases would be called. Luby mentions that O’Connell successfully defended a highwayman three times in succession. The third time he was charged with piracy, which O’Connell insisted, could only be tried in the Court of Admiralty!)

            Parliamentary Committees (1825) were then established in both Houses to enquire minutely into the state of Ireland. This inquiry was the most important of all the parliamentary committees that investigated conditions in Ireland before the Famine. Numerous witnesses were summoned from Ireland. These included Daniel O'Connell who was questioned at great length by both Committees. He contented himself with answering the questions asked in a moderate fashion and made a good impression. Whig noblemen became interested in meeting him and he was asked to dine in their houses.

            While the Irish Catholic leaders were in London to appear before the Committees of Inquiry, Sir Francis Burdett, with the assistance of Plunket and Wellesley, brought in a Relief Bill. It still contained the old 'securities' (the commissions to scrutinize the names of candidates for the episcopacy and documents coming from Rome) but they attracted little attention. Burdett, Plunket, and the Whigs, to give their Bill a better chance, had decided to annex two other Bills, 'like wings to enable it to fly', i.e. to get a majority in the House of Lords. These 'wings' were a proposal to pay the Catholic clergy, and to raise the property qualification of voters from forty shillings per annum to ten pounds. Three separate Bills were to be introduced which could be consolidated at the Second Reading.

            O'Connell saw no objection to these. With regard to the payment of the clergy he considered that the Government would have to pay out £600,000 a year in Ireland and get nothing in return. With regard to the Forty Shilling freehold he maintained that it, as it then existed, was a farce for the sole benefit of the landlords. In a contested election O'Connell would probably do better with the Ten Pound freeholders. In theory the Forty-Shilling freeholders could register themselves and take the oaths, but few could afford to do this. They were therefore only registered by landlords as and when they were needed. They were also usually in arrears with the rent, and a freeholder with a vote could presume a bit in this respect.

            It was Jack Lawless, the democrat, who raised the alarm. He got together with William Cobbett, the Radical, who could always be relied on to get any Irish issue back to front, and violently accused O'Connell of selling-out to the Government. The patent of precedence and the dining with the Whig noblemen were adduced in evidence. O'Connell did not realize at first what was happening so Lawless's denunciation of the alleged sell-out reached Dublin first. O'Connell was denounced in various meetings, and his letter in rebuttal was usually not read until a week had passed. It is not clear who won this particular contest, for Lawless was hissed and booed at a meeting in Dublin shortly afterwards, and O'Connell had to plead for him to be a least heard. Suspicion of O'Connell was confirmed among the old hard-line anti-vetoists led by Nicholas Mahon (Luby). (The Radical, or Reform, Party were to oppose Emancipation SNL 30 Oct 1828.)

            Burdett's Catholic Relief Bill (1825) passed the Commons and was introduced into the Lords by the Earl of Donoughmore, whose principal residence was in Tipperary.  It was defeated on the Second Reading. (Passing the First Reading means that the House is willing to consider the matter in detail.) The leader of the opposition was the Duke of York, the king's brother and heir to the throne. Among the supporters of the Bill were the Duke of Sussex, the king's youngest brother, the Duke of Leinster, and the Irish peers, the Marquises of Lansdowne, Downshire, Londonderry (Castlereagh's half-brother), and Conyngham. Conyngham, like Wellington, was from county Meath; his wife was to play a crucial role in 1829. When the main Bill was defeated the two subsidiary Bills were withdrawn. Peel, four years later, with little opposition, retained the abolition of the Catholic Association and the raising of the property qualification, but dropped all the other securities.

            Back in Dublin the leaders of both the Catholic Association and the Orange Order hastened to comply with the law suppressing their associations. O'Connell, as usual, wished to set up another society to continue agitating. If some topics for agitating were excluded by law then he would think of other things for it to do. So the New Catholic Association was set up. Few people saw much point in it, but it at least could get its meetings reported in the press each week and keep O'Connell's name before the public. He thought it could deal with the question of education, but he was rebuffed by the Catholic hierarchy that wished to keep negotiations with the Government in its own hands. A ballot was held to select 21 gentlemen to establish the new association. Sheil's name was at the head of the list with 317 votes, followed by Lord Killeen and Sir John Burke with 313 each, Captain Bryan and Nicholas Mahon with 312, O'Connell with 311, Sir Thomas Esmonde with 309 and Hugh O'Connor with 304. In the circumstances O'Connell did well, between Killeen and Sheil on one side and Nicholas Mahon on the other. Sir Edward Bellew and Stephen Woulfe, both formerly associated with the vetoist faction, were not elected. (The Bellew family was to hold on to their position as the leading Catholic family in Louth until mid-century, equal to the Fosters, with one member of the family or other representing the county as MP. But after 1825 they could never take their position for granted.)

            Some of the Orange leaders set up a society similar to the New Catholic Association. It was called the Orange Benevolent Society. Like its Catholic counterpart it could not discuss political matters and gained as little support among the Orange faction. [Top] 

The Fourteen-Day Meetings      

The Catholic leaders had to devise means to keep up the momentum. Sheil proposed holding simultaneous meetings all over Ireland. This was to prove effective when eventually adopted. In Dublin Aggregate or semi-public meetings were held, and also what O'Connell described as 'Separate' meetings. This meant that each meeting was separate, no minutes were taken or read, a charge of one Irish shilling was made at the door, and a different chairman was elected ad hoc at each meeting. Another scheme devised by O'Connell was to hold Fourteen-Day Meetings or congresses. It was illegal to hold a meeting or convention for longer than fourteen days. Therefore it followed that one not exceeding fourteen days was legal. O'Connell allowed himself to be carried away with the success of these stratagems, and was to boast that he could drive a coach and four through any Act of Parliament. But Plunket, the Attorney General, was a very shrewd lawyer who would ensure that the loopholes were closed in any future legislation. But for the moment, the Irish Government, which sympathized with the purpose of the meetings, found the agitation more tiresome than alarming.

            [1826] In January 1826 the first, and by far the most successful, of the Fourteen Day Meetings was held in Dublin. Its meetings were well attended and the Resolutions put forward for discussion and acceptance commanded general approval. Many Resolutions were adopted for forwarding to Parliament. On the advice of their supporters in Parliament Sheil proposed that a motion for Emancipation would not be put before Parliament that session. Anti-popery feeling was growing in England, and a General Election was imminent. Members of Parliament, faced with re-election, were not anxious to associate themselves too prominently with what could be an unpopular cause.   

            Parliament was dissolved on 2 June 1826, and the Catholic leaders dispersed to the various counties to assist the Whig interest. The Whigs secured two notable triumphs.  Thomas Wyse, in Waterford had been preparing the ground for a Whig attack on a Tory stronghold. A popular candidate was found in Villiers Stuart, who happened to be a relative of the biggest landowner in the county, the Duke of Devonshire. Wyse persuaded the duke to support Stuart, and after a hard-fought election he took one of the seats. Wyse, a young Catholic gentleman from county Waterford, had been educated by the Jesuits in England, and in Trinity College, Dublin, in the company of Richard Lalor Sheil, Nicholas Ball, and Stephen Woulfe. As the bar offered the best prospects for a young Catholic gentleman, all four commenced their studies in the Inns of Court in London. After the battle of Waterloo, Wyse whose family was wealthy, gave up his studies and spent several years travelling on the Continent and in the Turkish Empire, visiting Paris, Rome, Greece, Palestine, and Egypt. On his return to Paris he married Laetitia Bonaparte, Napoleon’s niece. He returned to Ireland in 1825 and was soon ranked with Sheil and O’Connell. Of all the Catholic leaders he was the most educated and cultured.

             In Louth the contest was more impromptu. As in 1820 the Whigs thought that they could not win. But a gentleman named Alexander Dawson maintained that they could take a seat and asked for backing. The Whigs adopted him, and it fell to Sir Edward Bellew as the leading Whig landlord in the county to organize their campaign. They sent for Sheil to act as their barrister and leading speaker. As a fully contested election could bankrupt both sides in the county Sheil agreed with the Fosters that he would put up only one candidate. The Fosters were then sure of getting one candidate elected with a chance of a second. The Whigs instructed their freeholders to 'plump' i.e. to cast only one of their two votes. There had been no contest in Louth for fifty eight years, but the result showed that Dawson had calculated correctly. He got about 850 votes, Foster 550, and Fortescue 544 (the figures published in the Dublin Evening Post are not quite consistent.) In a county a voter had two votes. He could plump, i.e. use only one of his votes; vote for one Whig and one Tory (in America called 'splitting the ticket’), or, more usually, give both votes to the same party. The organization of both parties was rusty and they lost many votes because they were not properly registered. The Post noted that about 350 Whig votes were rejected as invalid and about 250 Tory votes. Dawson's organizers drew some second votes from Tory freeholders but denied their own second votes to the Tories. Though surprised at their own victory for an outlay of only £2,000, the Whigs in Louth considered that with proper organization, registration, and preparation, they could take both seats the next time. (£10,000 would have been more normal for a contested county election, about £400,000 today.) 

            Many freeholders had clearly defied their landlords. O'Connell announced that the Tory landlords were making wholesale reprisals against them and called on the New Catholic Association to make a collection to assist them. The landlords denied that there was any retaliation or victimization. About £2,000 was collected from all over Ireland, and £390 was distributed in Louth, £550 in Monaghan, £310 in Westmeath, and £600 in Waterford. One can draw no conclusions from these figures except as an indication of where the greatest efforts were made to dislodge Tory members. At a future date rules had to be drawn up to prevent collusion between the voter and the landlord's agent! It was an easy way for both sides to get the rent paid up to date by the election organizers. It seems certain that O'Connell was gambling on a similar restrained reaction from the Tory landlords in Clare in 1829. In the longer term, of course, a tenant who was both politically unreliable and behind with the rent would not get his lease renewed; certainly not a long freehold lease, and not when a landlord was consolidating the holdings. They would not be the last Irish tenants to regret backing the popular orators.

            [1827] In January 1827 the Duke of York, the heir to the throne, and a strong opponent of Emancipation, died, to the great dismay of the Orange and anti-popery factions. The next eldest brother, William, duke of Clarence, was known to favour Emancipation.

            In 1827 Lord Lansdowne and Sir Francis Burdett expressed their willingness to put forward another pro-Catholic motion. Petitions poured into Parliament, 168 against and 98 for Emancipation. Burdett's motion was lost, surprisingly, by four votes. The anti-popery faction was getting itself well organized. When the Bill was still before Parliament Lord Liverpool became unconscious. Peel, knowing that Canning was likely to the next Prime Minister, persuaded the king to retain Liverpool until the vote on the Bill was complete. After this defeat O’Connell wrote a letter to Ed Dwyer (clerk of the Catholic Association) proposing an abandonment of the campaign and starting one for Repeal instead (SNL 13 Mar 1827). It was decided however at an Aggregate Meeting later in the year to continue with the petitioning. O'Connell does not seem to have taken his own proposal very seriously but Conway in the Post (DEP 10 Mar 1827) endorsed it. 

             When Canning became Prime Minister no less than 41 Tories resigned from the Government. Canning had therefore to approach the Whigs to form an alliance. Canning put off the Catholic question for the moment. He introduced into his government as Under-Secretary in the Home Department under the Marquis of Lansdowne an Irishman called Thomas Spring Rice who was to play a very important part in Irish affairs in the future. Then Canning died, to the unbounded joy of the Orange faction in Dublin. Goderich continued the same ministers in office including the Marquis of Anglesey who was to replace Wellesley. He appointed the non-political Anthony Hart to take the place of Lord Manners as Irish Lord Chancellor.

             The campaign for Emancipation had spread all over the country, and was running smoothly. Two successive Prime Ministers had been appointed by the king who was aware of their pro-Catholic sentiments. There was a majority in the House of Commons and in the country as a whole in favour of the Catholics. It was assumed that the king would make no objections, so that only resistance in the House of Lords had to be overcome. Even if the present king was unwilling to use his influence in the Upper House his heir, William, Duke of Clarence, would. Sir Edward Bellew, one of the longest surviving of the old Catholic leaders died, and was succeeded by his son, Sir Patrick Bellew.  Also in Louth, John 'Speaker' Foster (Baron Oriel) died. Though the Orange Order was not supposed to exist there was a massive display of Orange sentiment on 12 July 1827. 

            [January 1828] The year 1828 was to bring many surprises. The first was the resignation of Lord Goderich who found the office of Prime Minister wearing and distasteful. Some people thought that the king would send for the Marquis Wellesley, but he sent instead for the Duke of Wellington. The duke put together a ministry that included some Whigs and Canningites whom he had inherited from Goderich. Anglesey (with his wife) had not yet arrived in Ireland but he was confirmed in office temporarily by the Duke.

            The election in 1826 had shown one thing to both Whigs and Tories, namely that they would need to get their electoral machinery overhauled before the next general election. O'Connell planned an 'Order of Liberators' composed of gentlemen who would undertake to supervise the registering of voters and the preparation for elections. Many people however regarded this as only a manifestation of O'Connell's love of dressing up in fancy uniforms. In a few places like Louth proper electoral societies were set up. The problem with these was that no relationship with the county gentlemen of independent means was ever worked out. Only these could be MPs and the likes of Sir Patrick Bellew objected to taking orders from self-appointed cliques however well-meaning while paying the bills as well.

            Against objections from Lawless, O'Connell involved the Catholic priests directly in the collection of the Catholic Rent. He also got permission from the Catholic bishops to used Catholic chapels for his meetings. This was very important for in many part of rural Ireland the chapel was the only large building to which Catholics had ready access. According to canon law churches and chapels could not be used for profane purposes such as for concerts or dances or political meetings. But in the case of Emancipation the bishops gave special permission. Lawless had lived and worked in Belfast for a period and had some idea of how to live in a mixed society. O'Connell was inclined to judge everything by what he saw in Kerry, and went ahead with his schemes. Meetings were held in 28 out of the 32 counties to petition Parliament. A second Fourteen Day Meeting took place in November 1926.          

At the beginning of 1828 the Catholic effort had reached its climax. Another Fourteen Day Meeting was held, but there was much disputing over particular Resolutions. In many cases the disputes had not ended when the fourteen days were completed, and the resolutions had to be abandoned. The simultaneous meetings advocated by Sheil took place on the same day in most of the parishes of Ireland. O'Connell had perfected his system of "Churchwardens' to collect the Rent, and it was flowing in at a rate of about £200 a week. [Top] 

Wellington’s Ministry and the Clare Election 

            The ministry put together by Wellington, like all its predecessors since 1812, was based on the 'open principle', namely that each member of the Government was free to act as he liked on the Catholic question. Anglesey, the Lord Lieutenant, and William Lamb, the Irish Secretary, favoured Emancipation. Plunket, though now a judge, had a seat in the House of Lords. Lord John Russell brought in a Bill to repeal the Test and Corporation Acts, and his Bill passed both Houses without much difficulty, and received the royal assent. This meant that the annual Indemnity Bill would no longer have to be passed to allow Dissenters to take public office. Neither Anglesey nor the Whigs favoured renewing the 'Algerine Act' which was due to expire, and so no renewal Bill was brought in. Sir Francis Burdett brought in a Catholic Relief Bill (1828) which passed the Commons, but was once again defeated in the Lords. When the 'Algerine Act' expired the Catholic Association and the Orange Order reconstituted themselves.

            Some people believed that Wellington was considering introducing a Relief Bill himself in the following session. As far back as his time as Irish Secretary Wellington favoured an Emancipation Bill, but remembering what happened to Pitt, was opposed to its introduction until the entire cabinet was united behind the measure.

            Various people were discussing whether the actual law excluding Catholics from Parliament was as clear as it seemed. The matter could be tested by putting up a Catholic candidate, who when elected would try to take his seat. The obvious candidate for the experiment was the Earl of Surrey, the son of the Catholic Duke of Norfolk, who could stand in a pocket borough belonging to his father. Another possibility was Lord Killeen whose family was very popular in Meath, where most of the landlords favoured Emancipation. As both were sons of peers and were men of moderate views there could be no personal objections to them.

            [Summer 1828] At this point Huskisson and his friends resigned from the ministry. Mr. Vesey Fitzgerald, a pro-Catholic, accepted office under the crown as President of the Board of Trade and so resigned his seat to seek re-election in Clare. There was some dispute as to whether the Whigs in Clare would oppose him. A friend of O'Connell's advised him to stand himself. It is unclear if he actually expected to win, but if he did he would have snatched the leadership of the Catholics decisively away from Killeen and Sheil. The first most people heard of his intention was a brief notice in the Dublin Mercantile Advertiser (23 June 1828) a trade newspaper. Many people, including Killeen, had grave doubts about the enterprise, but many Catholics backed O'Connell enthusiastically. (They overlooked the effect of their choice of candidate on the Protestants, but that was nothing unusual in Ireland.)

            Voting commenced on Monday 30 June. According to the procedure at the time, the sheriff of Clare called a meeting in the Court House in Ennis. The two candidates were proposed and seconded and made their speeches to as many of their followers as could cram themselves into the Court House. The sheriff put the question and O’Connell was declared elected on a show of hands. Fitzgerald demanded a proper ballot and the sheriff concurred and ordered the erection of hustings outside the Court House for voting to commence the following day. Nobody paid any attention to the show of hands; it was all part of the fun for nobody proved that any of those present were registered voters. The hustings was a raised platform with a table and chairs, of sufficient size to hold the sheriff, the Clerk of the Peace with his record of sworn and attested freeholders who had registered for the election and a Bible for administering the anti-bribery oath, an assessor or assistant barrister to try to settle disputes about voters qualifications, the candidates, their agents, and the voter.  He had to be visible to the crowd when he took an oath on the Bible that he had taken no bribe and then announce whom he was voting for in a loud clear voice. Representatives of the local landed proprietors were also present either on the hustings or near them to see that their tenants voted according the manner they instructed. People with local knowledge were also employed to note who voted and for whom, so that if it were necessary the result could be challenged by petition to Parliament alleging bribery, intimidation, or invalid qualification of voters. It was in everybody’s interest except the candidate’s to keep the election going as long as possible for the candidate was supposed to provide all his supporters with free accommodation, food and abundant drink as long as the election lasted. The result in Clare was far from being a foregone conclusion. But at the end of the first day O' Connell was six votes ahead of Fitzgerald. It was realized on all sides that O'Connell could win and the freeholders flung caution to the winds. In any case there was safety in numbers. On the following days the majority for O'Connell grew until by the end of the week O’Connell had gained 2027 votes to Fitzgerald’s 936. The assessor sat on Saturday to hear objections. Fitzgerald asked the assessor whether O’Connell could be elected since he was a Roman Catholic. The assessor said he could be elected even if he could not take his seat. The following Monday 5 July the sheriff declared that 2057 votes had been cast for O’Connell and 982 for Fitzgerald, so O’Connell was duly elected. Fitzgerald conceded victory. In his speech of congratulation to his rival he hoped that his victory would advance the cause of Emancipation for which he himself had long worked. The sheriff then had to send the writ to Parliament, after which the elected member could present himself and petitions against his return be considered. In July, with the expiration of the Algerine Act the Catholic Association was revived. The Rent was still pouring in at the rate of over £2,000 a week, but it was soon to fall considerably.

O’Connell’s supporters had expected a walk-over with a majority of 50 to one. The closeness of the vote at the end of the first day suggests that the voting could have gone either way, and that if Fitzgerald had been ahead at the end of the first day the subsequent landslide could have gone in his direction. Back in Dublin where an early victory for O’Connell had been confidently expected the lack of news caused alarm and depression. Saunders’ Newsletter published the results of the first day’s balloting on Thursday when O’Connell was ahead by 6 votes. The following day, in its second edition, it brought the news of the big swing to O’Connell. Had Fitzgerald won, Lord Killeen would have stood in Meath and the moderate party among the Catholics would have won. As it was O’Connell gambled with the livelihoods of the Forty-Shilling freeholders, and his position as leader of the Catholics was secure from challenge almost until his death.

The Orange faction succeeded better. Especially after the Clare election they set up 'Brunswick Clubs' to ensure the return of true 'Protestant' candidates. Their task was simpler. They had only to register the voters and get them to the polls, leaving to the county gentlemen the task of selecting an uncompromising 'Protestant' candidate. The Protestant ‘Ultras’ who were violently opposed to any concessions to Catholics were increasing in strength in Parliament and in the country. Its most noted leader was the Earl of Winchilsea. Saurin was the chief promoter of the Brunswick Clubs in Ireland. The most important was the Brunswick Club in Dublin formed in August 1828 just after the election in Clare. By November 1828 108 of the Brunswick Constitutional Clubs had been formed. Each club was independent for legal reasons. The preferred the name club, because of difficulties the word association might bring. Their name was taken from the royal house; though called Hanoverians in England because George I was the elector of Hanover. His family name was George of Brunswick. The model was derived from a London Club belonging to the Protestant Ultras. Angelsey regarded them as being as great a nuisance as the Catholic Association but with less excuse.

The Catholic priests who had joined the Catholic Association got a taste for politics. Dr Doyle warned his clergy against forming or joining Liberal Clubs in order to take part in politics. The reason he gave was that engaging in political action might disturb the good relations that had hitherto existed between Protestants and Catholics. But on the committee of the county Sligo Liberal Club were three Catholic bishops including John MacHale. Furthermore, Catholic priests were to be ex officio committee members in the branches in the baronies (Sligo Observer 13 Nov 1828). New local newspapers were established in various county towns at this time, each taking a strong pro or anti-Catholic line. Wellington wrote to Archbishop Curtis expressing in general terms a hope of a satisfactory solution. Curtis published the letter, so Wellington wrote again expressing his annoyance at the publication of a private letter. Curtis replied that once it was seen at the local post office that the Prime Minister wrote a letter to the Primate he had no alternative but to make the innocuous communication public. [Top] 

Wellington’s Emancipation Bill

            Wellington now had a decision to make. It was true that the campaign for Emancipation had been entirely peaceful, and the Catholic Association had consistently opposed any recourse to violence. Although Angelsey had taken the precaution of send extra troops to Clare for the election it had passed off peacefully. But the Irish Government believed, not without reason, that it would continue peaceful only so long as peaceful methods were producing results. If results were not forthcoming rapidly then there would be others who would advocate a violent solution and would be listened to. Agrarian crime was again showing signs of breaking out. The outbreak of atrocities and counter-atrocities in 1798 had probably owed more to a conspiracy of the agrarian secret societies than to the middle-class United Irishmen with their aspirations towards Emancipation and Parliamentary reform. (Irish history provides several examples of political campaigns and murderous campaigns running side by side.) And on this occasion the Orangemen were well prepared all over Ireland. Wellington himself would have had no difficulty in suppressing both sides simultaneously with the use of the army, horse, foot, and guns, but it was something he was very anxious to avoid. He therefore concluded that it was best to bring in his own Bill now rather than later. Though, as he wrote to Primate Curtis, he would like if all agitation died down while he was going about it. First he had to overcome the reluctance of the king even to discuss the matter. The older George became the more like his father he became. The very mention of Emancipation brought on the father an attack of porphyria, and many suspected that George IV had the same disease in a milder form. Wellington regarded this battle to gain the king's consent the most difficult in his career. Eventually George gave a grudging consent, but only to the introduction of a Bill.

            Goderich had opened communication with the Holy See regarding the Securities, but this was discontinued by Wellington (SNL 27 Nov. 1828 citing St. James’ Chronicle of London.) The Dublin Evening Post denied there were any negotiations but said that Canning wished to ascertain indirectly what were the feelings of the Pope (DEP 17 April 1828). Peel was absolutely opposed to anything like a concordat for this would mean recognizing papal power in the United Kingdom (SNL loc.cit.)  Peel had decided on a full and simple restoration of rights to Catholics, with the exception of promotion to such offices where patronage in the Church could be exercised. The chief offices therefore were the Lord Chancellor of England and the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland who were responsible for the appointment of Protestant bishops. There would be no deal with Rome.

            [Autumn 1828]  The Protestant anti-Emancipation campaign had also got into its stride, and the Protestant Rent was also pouring in at an enormous rate (Evening Packet 30 August 1828) In Britain the anti-popery faction was holding numerous meetings to present petitions against Emancipation to Parliament. Though numerous, Peel did not feel that they had great weight.  The system of Clubs was now in full operation so the ending of the prohibition against associations made little difference to the Protestants.

Jack Lawless believed that he understood Ulstermen and undertook to proceed to Ulster to explain the Bill to the Orangemen. Huge crowds attended his progress northwards through Louth and into Monaghan. A Catholic priest reported that the Orange faction was busy arming itself. At Monaghan the sheriffs refused to guarantee Lawless's safety, in view of the great feeling building up against him. Angelsey issued a generally worded proclamation urging the local authorities to prevent disturbances. His expedition had to be called off. There can be little doubt that many of the great crowd that greeted Lawless in Monaghan were Ribbonmen who expected that he would lead them in a march against the Orangemen. Lawless in a letter in 1834 claimed that he had the support of the great majority of the Dissenters in Ulster, and this may have been true (Pilot 15 September 1834). But few of them lived in the border areas through which he was progressing. In these regions the struggle between Orangemen and Ribbonmen was intense. Lawless was arrested and charged with leading a crowd of 20,000 and terrorizing the inhabitants.

 Angelsey was getting worried. In the summer he had said there was no need for extraordinary legislation to keep the peace, but in the autumn he wrote to Wellington that in view of the extraordinary excitement in the country such might be necessary. He also felt that the Brunswickers were trying to provoke a major clash with the Catholic Association so that the Government would be forced to suppress it. He asked Wellington to send two additional battalions of troops to Ireland to enable him to deal with the Catholics and Brunswickers simultaneously (SNL 8 May 1829). A letter from the Rev. James Keenan of Newry on 1 October said that every Orange town in the North was like a camp with every gunsmith cleaning up old guns and making new ones and recommended disarming the yeomanry (SNL 3 Oct 1828). The strength of the yeomanry was 13,440 in Ulster, 3,513 in Leinster, 1,507 in Munster, and 1,393 in Connaught. The militia consisted only of the staff officers and the bands, the militia not being embodied. The police, though having their own officers, were still to considerable extent under the control of the sheriffs, and several of these were Brunswickers.

 At this point Peel came to Wellington's assistance. He suggested a simple Bill without securities but with the Catholics excluded from posts that had a direct connection with either of the Established Churches. As he had been elected to oppose Emancipation he felt bound to resign and seek re-election. The anti-popery faction put up a candidate against him and he was defeated. A seat in a pocket borough was hastily and secretly vacated for him and he was re-elected to Parliament a few hours before the anti-popery candidate arrived to oppose him.

Canning had appointed Angelsey before he died, but Wellington confirmed the appointment. Though he had served under Wellington at Waterloo, and lost a leg there, he was still married to Wellington’s former sister-in-law with whom he had eloped. His sympathies were with Canning’s followers, and he was inclined to resign when they left Wellington’s cabinet. He had written to Wellington in August 1828 recommending Emancipation, though he said he was reluctant to be seen to bow to pressure from the Catholic Association. The king thereupon asked for his recall. Wellington demurred until some plausible excuse could be found. Angelsey was pushing for an immediate announcement of the Government’s policy on Emancipation, but Wellington was waiting until he had a definite consent from the king.  Finally he recalled him in December 1828 saying that his attitude towards the agitation for Emancipation was quite different from that in the cabinet. The Duke of Northumberland replaced him as Lord Lieutenant in January 1829. He was satisfied with an Emancipation Act that Wellington might propose.

            [1829] In the Commons Wellington and Peel were faced with the revolt of a large part of their own party, and so had to rely on the Whigs. The Prime Minister called out one of his most outspoken critics the Earl of Winchilsea, and they fought a duel. Thereafter criticism was muted. To gain more widespread agreement they inserted clauses to suppress the Catholic Association, and to raise the property qualification for voters to £10. The Dangerous Associations Suppression Act (1829) was now carefully worded to allow the Lord Lieutenant to decide in each case what was an 'unlawful society'. The Catholic Association was to be banned in perpetuity; the remaining clauses to have effect for one year, and then to the end of the next session of Parliament. They also added some clauses like the suppression of Irish monasteries. The Whigs did not object, agreeing with Charles Butler that these clauses would never be enforced. (Butler had been active in the Catholic cause since 1782; he died in 1832 aged 82.) Peel introduced a Bill for the suppression of the Catholic Association on the sixth of February. Sheil considered that the Catholic Association had outlived its usefulness and, advised by the Whigs in London, brought forward a motion for its dissolution on the tenth. The final meeting that took place on the 12 February wound up the Association against O’Connell’s advice.  An association of some kind was probably necessary to drum up sufficient support in Ireland for a serious campaign for securing Emancipation. Whether the actual Catholic Association, from O'Connell's presence, its manner of conducting business, the language it used, and its anti-Protestant bias, did more harm than good may be disputed. (The Orange leaders maintained a low profile, and the Orange Order does not seem to have been proclaimed and suppressed.)

            On the 3 March 1829 Peel introduced his Bill into the Commons. He noted that there had been many petitions presented for and against the proposed measure (Ward: 957 against; 357 for). He estimated that most Members for counties were in favour of the measure. The Bill passed its Second Reading easily with a majority of 180. After the Third Reading on the 30 March 1829, Peel accompanied by 100 MPs carried the Bill to the Lords. Wellington rushed the Bill through its three stages rapidly, saying that it was two months since the Bill was published and the Lords had plenty of time to make themselves acquainted with it. In the House of Lords two of the king's brothers, William, Duke of Clarence, and Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex, gave their support and a majority of 105 was obtained. On the 4th April 1829 the Bill passed its Second Reading, the crucial stage, with a majority of 105 votes.

            The last hurdle was to obtain the consent of the king. His brother, the Duke of Cumberland, was opposed, as were most of the bishops. The members of the Royal Household, unlike in 1812, were now in favour, and the Marchioness of Conyngham strongly urged him to sign. Finally the king rather ungraciously gave way and the royal assent was given by commission and the Catholic Relief Act (1829) became law. It was to come into effect on 23rd April, so the English Catholic peers could take their seats after that date. The Bill raising the franchise from forty shillings to ten pounds was introduced and passed immediately. And so ended the long campaign for Emancipation. 



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