Daniel O’Connell

Many Catholics in Ireland had believed that the Act of Union which came into force in January 1801 would bring with it Catholic Emancipation. They were to be disappointed as King George III vetoed the proposal. The sense of betrayal by the propertied and middle-class Catholics was seized on by Daniel O’Connell, a Catholic barrister from Co. Kerry.

O’Connell became the leading figure of the Catholic Association founded in 1823 to campaign for the removal of discrimination against Catholics. He was ambitious and charismatic and over the course of his career he travelled around Ireland many times attending meetings and holding what became known as ‘Monster Meetings’ where thousands would gather to hear him speak.

Above: Daniel O’Connell. The Champion of Liberty, 1847
Above: Extract from Carlow Convent Annals, 1829 which references Daniel O’Connell and Catholic Emancipation.

On his travels O’Connell visited a number of Presentation convents. When on the campaign trail in 1826 supporting Henry Villiers Stuart, a pro-Catholic Emancipation candidate in Waterford O’Connell had breakfast with the Presentation Sisters in the city. Two years later O’Connell stood as a candidate himself in Co. Clare and was victorious. His success ushered in Catholic Emancipation in 1829 and the following year he was one of the first Catholics to take their seat in the Parliament at Westminster.

O’Connell returned to visit Waterford Convent and also travelled to the convents in Portlaoise and Kildare. Clearly he was impressed by the Presentation Sisters for, in 1840, he invited the nuns to establish a convent in Caherciveen in his home county of Kerry. He bought a property for them in the town and one of the first sisters to move there was his cousin Sr Joseph O’Mahony. When the convent opened he presented the new arrivals with a piano for their parlour.

‘This year was remarkable by the ever memorable Emancipation of the oppressed Catholics of this Kingdom by the unremitting exertions of Daniel O’Connell who is justly styled ‘The Liberator’.’

Extract from Carlow Convent annals, 1829. It is noteworthy that a harp and shamrocks which are often used as symbols of Irish nationalism adorn this page.