On a recent trip to Kerry, we visited the ancestral home of Daniel O’Connell, the Liberator. Since we had visited his crypt and round tower at Glasnevin cemetery, you can read about our visit here and got to touch his coffin and for years admired his statue on O’Connell street, we couldn’t miss an opportunity to see where the great man once lived.
Brief history of Daniel O’Connell’s Life
Daniel O’Connell was born in 1775 in Cahersiveen, Kerry. The O’Connell family had been wealthy Roman Catholics that had been dispossessed of their lands.
His Uncle Maurice O’Connell
At the age of five, Daniel moved to Derrynane House to live with his wealthy childless Uncle, Maurice “Hunting Cap” O’Connell who had fostered him. Maurice was the head of the O’Connell clan and was to have a strong influence on Daniel’s education and life. Daniel was eventually to inherit this house and he renovated it and made it his Summer residence.
Under the patronage of his wealthy Uncle, Daniel went to France to study along with brother, they had to flee France during the French Revolution. Daniel went to Law school in London and trained as a barrister. After he qualified, he worked for several years as a barrister around the Munster circuit.
His wife Mary O’Connell
In 1802, he married a third cousin, Mary O’Connell, despite his Uncle and families wishes, as Mary was not wealthy, it was a love match and they went on to have a happy marriage and seven surviving children. When Mary died in 1836, Daniel was heartbroken, he stated “she gave me thirty-four years of the purest happiness that man ever enjoyed.’
There were rumours of Daniels infidelities and illegitimate children at the time but these may have been spread by his political enemies.
Campaign for Catholic Emancipation
In 1811, he established the Catholic Board, which campaigned for Catholic emancipation. This would give Irish Catholics the opportunity to become members of parliament.
In 1823, he set up the Catholic Association which embraced other aims to better Irish Catholics, such as electoral reform, reform of the Church of Ireland, tenants’ rights, and economic development. This Association was funded by membership with subscriptions set at 1 penny a month so Irish peasants could afford it. The campaign was successful and sufficient funds were raised to campaign for Emancipation.
In 1815, in a speech, Daniel referred to the Dublin Corporation as a “beggarly corporation”. The corporation members were outraged and because O’Connell would not apologise, he was challenged to a duel by John D’Esterre.
They met in Kildare for the duel and D’Esterre who was an experienced duellist shot first, by chance his bullet missed O’Connell and hit the ground in front of him, O’Connell had aimed low and shot D’Esterre in the hip, not intending to gravely hurt him but the bullet logged in his stomach and D’Esterre died from his injuries two days later. Daniel felt much aggrieved at the killing and supported D’Esterre’s daughter for 30 years after.
Daniel O’Connell Member of Parliament
O’Connell stood in a by-election to the British House of Commons in 1828 for County Clare, he won the election but was unable to take his seat as members of parliament had to take the Oath of Supremacy. The Prime Minister fearing another rebellion in Ireland, if O’Connell was refused his seat, introduced the Catholic Emancipation Act 1829.
In 1844, Daniel was arrested and imprisoned for 3 months, he had been charged with ‘seditious conspiracy’ for his campaign to repeal the Act of Union, which had moved the Irish parliament to Westminister in 1800. The Repealers hoped to re-establish an independent parliament for Ireland by putting pressure on the British authorities. The Repeal campaign organised Monster peaceful meetings, one had been held on the Hill of Tara with 100,000 people in attendance.
On his release from prison, a procession was held and Daniel was paraded through the streets of Dublin, in a large chariot, called the Triumphal chariot. This chariot was restored and is now displayed in the Coach house at Derrynane house.
In 1825, Daniel’s Uncle, Maurice O’Connell died and Daniel finally inherited Derrynane House and set about renovating it. The house dated back to 1702 and over the generations, rooms and wings had been added as needed. In the 1950’s, two great-granddaughters of Daniel O’Connell’s who were then aged in their 80’s resided at Derrynane, as the original house dated back to the 1700’s and as no maintenance work had been carried out on the house in many years it had already fallen into disrepair.
After the ladies passed away the house was gifted to the Irish state, by this stage, it was decided that the main section of the house had to be demolished, this housed the kitchens and bedrooms, the other wing of the house, the part that Daniel had designed and constructed in the 1820’s are what remains of the house today. Daniel added a dining room, drawing room, a study and library and changed the entrance of the house, he also added a small church to the house, which also survives.
In 1847, Daniel went on a pilgrimage to Rome to get the Pope’s blessing, in Genoa in Italy, he took gravely ill and died a few days later at the age of 71 years old. He was a man who was ahead of his time, although a religious man, he believed in the separation of the church and state.
This is the actual bed from the Feder hotel in Genoa that Daniel O’Connell died in. It was donated to the Office of Public Works by the Pontifical College in Rome who had come into possession of it back in 1926 from the family that owned the hotel.
Daniel had stated on his deathbed, My body to Ireland, My heart to Rome, My Soul to Heaven
His last request was granted and his heart was sent to Rome and his body returned to Ireland and his coffin is held in a crypt under the Daniel O’Connell round tower at Glasnevin cemetery which you can visit and view.
Daniel’s ancestral home is now maintained by the Office of Public Works and you can visit the house from March until early November, click here to find directions.
Sources: Information gathered during visit to OPW - Derrynane House Background Info: http://www.theirishstory.com/2013/02/03/daniel-oconnells-childhood/ Background Info: derrynanehouse.ie Background Info: wiki: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel_O%27Connell