Report of the Daniel O’Connell Summer School

23/24 August 2019

Professor Maurice Bric, Academic Director of the School, welcomed everyone to the 2019 O’Connell Summer School in the Library in Cahersiveen on Friday 23rd August. He said that the Organising Committee was honoured that Seamus Mallon had accepted its invitation to deliver the Daniel O’Connell lecture and to accept the first Daniel O’Connell Award. The Award had been instituted to honour those who best epitomised the principles and legacy of Daniel O’Connell in our time. The Award, which was a bust of O’Connell, had been created by the local artist and craftsman, Brian O’Sullivan of Hillgrove Porcelain, Cahersiveen. He then invited Gerard Collins, former Fianna Fail Minister and TD to open the proceedings.

Gerard Collins said how much he enjoyed attending the School, which was one of the most important events in South Kerry. He said he was particularly pleased that Seamus Mallon, who had recently published his autobiography ‘A Shared Home Place’, would be the first recipient of the Daniel O’Connell Award. As deputy leader of the SDLP, Seamus had maintained the peaceful and democratic objectives of the party during extraordinarily difficult times in Northern Ireland and had enabled John Hume as leader to press the case for a peaceful settlement on the international stage. He referred to the current vacuum of power in Northern Ireland as a result of the political parties failing to agree on the re-establishment of the Good Friday institutions. He said that while Brexit had given rise to talk of unification of both parts of the Ireland, the two communities in Northern Ireland were not ready for such a prospect. Peace had come at a high cost in Northern Ireland, it was still fragile and the road ahead to unity would be very challenging. He reminded his audience that it was 40 years ago this August that Lord Mountbatten had been murdered in Sligo by the IRA.

Shaping the Irish State

 Councillor Norma Moriarty chaired this session. She invited Councillor Niall Kelleher, the Mayor of Kerry, to say a few words and he expressed the support of Kerry County Council for the School.

Professor Mary McAuliffe, Assistant Professor in Gender Studies at UCD, spoke about her research which challenged the stereotype of women involved in the Easter Rising and the War of Independence. She is the co-author of We were there: 77 Women of the Easter Rising and co-editor of Kerry 1916; Histories and Legacies of the Easter Rising. Women were praised, on the one hand, for providing safe houses for the fighting men and carrying dispatches between combatant units. They were condemned, on the other, for being ‘furies’ or out of control revolutionaries, incapable of compromise. A fresh examination of the sources provides a more nuanced understanding of the contribution of women to the military effort. The Cumann na mBán manifesto of 1918, for example, urged women to take up their proper and equal position in the life of the nation. They were to be allies of the IRA military command, rather than auxiliaries. When the first shots of the War of Independence were fired at the Solaheadbeg ambush by Dan Breen and Sean Treacy on 21 January 2018, women were on scout duty. Women such as Marian Tobin offered safe houses after the ambush. Women’s support in providing food and shelter was indespensible to the successful conduct of a guerrilla war.

In Kerry, the situation was fraught by July 1920, with attacks, ambushes and burnings.  RIC barracks were burned and police men killed. There was an increased presence of crown forces. By late 1920, the guerrilla war had begun in earnest. Dan Breen referred to the indispensible contribution of women to the military effort by scouting, intelligence gathering, the making of ammunition and the delivery of arms and ammunition, particularly of those who lived close to barracks in which the Black and Tans were billeted. Women such as Hannah O’Sullivan, née Clifford, carried arms and ammunition and provided clothes for men on the run. She provided a supply line, often travelling to Killorglin to get supplies. Norah Nurse of the Castlegregory branch of Cumann na mBán took particular risks in carrying ammunition past Auxiliaries in her shawl. Cumann na mBán recruits such as Josephine Cashman, played a significant part in the ambush and killing of RIC men at Hillville, Killorglin in March 1921. Their members were involved in scouting, intelligence, watching movements of the Crown forces and hiding of the guns afterwards. Mai Ahern was central to the activities of the North Kerry flying column of the IRA and was involved in the attacks in Kilmorna in April and May 1920, getting bombs and guns away from the train.

Women often experienced the full brutality of reprisals in the late 1920s when the Crown forces realised the role they were playing in assisting the IRA. Unlike men, they were unable to go on the run, particularly if they had children. Many were attacked in their homes and their belongings destroyed. Kate Mannix was one of the Kerry women to be roughly treated and there are hints that she experienced sexual violence. The house of Ellen McGill of Castleisland was attacked and burnt down.  Katie Moore, a member of the Fenit Cumann na mBán suffered raids on her house every Sunday. The house of Mary Coffey in Beaufort was raided the night her father lay dying. Despite these depredations, the nerves of the women held – they were Republicans and stoically reckoned it was what they had to do for Ireland.

However, the women of Cumann na mBán were not recognised by the subsequent Military Tribunal of the Free State as combatants and as such, were not entitled to pensions, unlike their male counterparts. In gendered remembering, they were ‘girls’ who were there to support the male combatants. It is time to recognise that what these women did was central to the struggle for Irish Independence.

Dr Eucharia Meehan, Registrar of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies and former Chair of Women in Technology and Science, spoke about the ingenuity and scientific impact of Irish women, some of whom were from Kerry. A number of women from the south west – Kerry, Cork and Limerick – made a lasting contribution to science and innovation in the fields of botany, chemistry, medicine and zoology, despite major barriers to women’s scientific endeavour. During the 18th and 19th centuries, the curious pursued knowledge for its own sake. They tended to have aristocratic or middle class backgrounds and most were Protestant. Among women interested in science, the daughters of rectors predominated. However, women were constrained by the customs of the day. In the 18th and early 19th centuries, the discourse about science was predominantly oral and took place in learned societies, such as the Royal Dublin Society which was founded in 1731. While women could attend and listen to lectures at meetings of such societies, they could not be members or speak themselves. If they wished to contribute it was by way of a letter read by a male relative. Their contributions were acknowledged occasionally in footnotes. Where they made their mark in the late 18th and early 19th centuries was in the illustration of natural science. It was acceptable for women to study in this way what God had created. As science became more professionalised in the second half of the 19th century, barriers to women’s access to university reduced their contribution to science. Those barriers began to be lifted from the 1880s onwards but for many years only a small number of women had the opportunity to access a scientific education.

Ellen Hutchins (1785-1819) was the first Irish female botanist.  From Ballylickey in West Cork, she was the daughter of a tenant farmer. She catalogued 1,200 plants in the south west, including lichens and mosses for the first time. There is a lichen named after her.

The sisters, Anne and Mary Ball (1808-72, 1812-1898) were interested in snails. Mary Ball discovered how insects made noise when they rub together. Their brother was a founder of the Dublin Zoological Gardens and the Natural History Museum.

Katherine Bailey Kane (1811-86) was a botanist of note and published a book on the subject. Agnes Mary Clarke (1842-1907) moved to London at the age of 25 and wrote a popular history of astronomy, which is still recommended to students. She contributed to the journal, Nature and NASA named a crater on the moon after her.

Alicia Boole Stott was the daughter of James Boole, Professor of Mathematics at Queen’s College Cork. She was a mathematical innovator, developing an understanding of polytopes, configurations of four dimensional shapes.

Annie Massey (1867-1931) had no formal education but was employed by the Board of Agriculture to identify crustaceans. She moved from collecting samples to studying them.

Maud Jane Delap overcame the challenges of no formal education to become a noted botanist and zoologist. She was born in Donegal, to a family of six girls and four brothers. Her father, a clergyman and naturalist, moved to Valentia. In the 1890s she carried out a detailed marine study of Valentia and conducted experiments rearing jellyfish. Her work was published in the Irish Naturalist and acknowledged in 1895 by Edward Browne of the University of London. Maud was offered a position in the Marine Biology Laboratory in Plymouth but she was not allowed by her father to take up the post. In 1928 a sea anemone was name after her. She was elected to the Linnaeus Society and was recognised by the Spanish Institute of Oceanography. There is an exhibition of her work in the Valentia Museum.

Professor Yvonne Galligan, Director of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion at the Technological University of Dublin spoke on the theme of ‘Broadening the Public Sphere; the Impact of Women. Professor Galligan credited the Irish Housewives Association (1942-92), under the inspiration of Hilda Tweedy, with being the first consumer protection society in Ireland. They advocated for pasteurisation of milk, school meals and price controls. In 1947, the Association organised a Women’s Parliament with 300 delegates from over 40 women’s organisations. They demanded fair rents, price control and a reduction in the cost of living. In 1951, Tom O’Higgins, the Minister for Industry and Commerce responded with the establishment of the Price Advisory Council.

In the 1960s, the Housewives Association with other women’s groups, called for a national commission on the status of women, in response to the publication of the UN Commission on the Status of Women. The Fianna Fáil government agreed and a Commission was established in 1970 under the chairmanship of Dr Thekla Beere. The Commission reported in 1972, making 70 recommendations to improve all aspects of women’s lives. The report proved to be one of the most important documents in recent social history. The Council for the Status of Women was established in 1973 as a direct result of the Commission. The Irish Women’s Liberation Movement focussed public attention on need for reform of family planning legislation with ‘the contraception train’ initiative. The marriage bar in the public service was abolished under European legislation in 1975 and the Employment Equality Commission was established. By the late 1970s there was a coalition of statutory, voluntary and professional bodies pushing or equality in the workplace, contraception, equal pay, and reform of the tax code favouring working wives.

In 1982, Nuala Fennell was appointed the first Minister for Women’s Affairs at the Department of the Taoiseach and the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women was ratified. A National Strategy for Women was published.

In the decades that followed the Constitution was amended by referendum to provide for divorce, abortion and marriage equality. Article 41.2 of the Constitution, with its recognition of woman’s role as homemaker, remains in tact, despite a recommendation of the Constitutional Convention and the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission that it be amended to make the language gender neutral. The Government’s proposal in July 2018 that the article be deleted generated public unease and the referendum has been deferred.

What were previously considered to be personal or ‘women’s issues’ have become embedded in the public sphere and as a result, many discriminations against women have been removed. The UN Commission on the Status of Women and Convention on the Rights of Women provided an international framework to interpret and measure progress. Issues still to be addressed are gender stereotyping and the improvement of the lives of older women.

The Rebellion and Beyond 

Fr Anthony Gaughan, author of a number of books on the history and society of Kerry, moderated the next session of the Summer School. Dr Martin O’Donoghue spoke about the career of Tom O’Donnell, one of Kerry’s MPs between 1900 ad 1918 and his contribution to public life after Independence. Only six Irish Party MPs retained their seats in the general election of 1918. John Dillon, the leader of the Irish Party retired from politics on Independence but Tom O’Donnell continued in public life as a TD in the Dáil. Those sympathetic to the aims of the Irish Party won more seats in the Dáil that they had held after 1918 in Westminster. However, partition in 1920 divided what had been an all-island party, with Joe Devlin representing nationalists in Northern Ireland. O’Donnell was critical of Devlin’s efforts to revive the Irish Party.

In 1926 O’Donnell launched the Irish National League Party, with an echo of Parnell in its name. While it had initial success, it was at the mercy of events beyond its control. The party was Edwardian in its outlook and didn’t involve women. It was supported by a cadre of old Irish Party veterans. The League Party developed policies on education and rural areas. It was critical of the ‘excessive’ expenditure of the Free State and of its taxation policy. The Party opposed partition and compulsory Irish. O’Donnell attempted to merge the National League with the Farmer’s Party but the latter remained loyal to the Cumann na nGaedheal government.

In the election of June 1927, the National League put forward 30 candidates, mainly in constituencies with a strong tradition of support for the Irish Party. They won eight seats in Louth, Waterford, Wexford and Galway. O’Donnell stood in Clare but did not win a seat. The assassination of Kevin O’Higgins in July 1927 precipitated a political crisis in which the Government attempted to pass legislation forcing Fianna Fail deputies to take their seats in the Dáil or forfeit them. There was a possibility of an alliance between the Party League and the Labour party opposing the legislation but the Government was saved by the non-appearance for the critical vote of Deputy John Jinks of Labour and one National League deputy. The Government survived with a casting vote. The reputation of the National League suffered as a result of this failure to unseat the Government and in the subsequent general election in September, the party won only two seats – Coburn in Cork and Redmond in Waterford. Many of the former Home Rule activists joined Cumann na nGaedheal which they saw as less objectionable than Fianna Fail. However, O’Donnell moved closer to Fianna Fail and began to write for the Fianna Fail paper, the Nation. In his writings he supported Fianna Fáil’s campaign on land annuities and their opposition to partition. He contested a seat for Fianna Fáil in 1932, in the same Dublin constituency as Sean MacEntee. He headed the United Farmer’s Protection Association which supported the Fianna Fáil government’s policy on non-payment of annuities to the British Government.

In 1930, O’Donnell was called to the Bar and subsequently served as a district court judge on the Munster circuit.

Professor Terence Dooley, Director of the Centre for the Study of Historic Irish Houses and Estates at Maynooth University, spoke about the Irish ‘Big House’ in a Time of Revolution 1879-1923. He said that the class that experienced most revolutionary changed in the period has attracted the least attention. The social and political lives of the Anglo-Irish gentry were transformed utterly during the period. The degree of intimidation involved is unknown. Some 300 ‘big’ houses were burned between 1920 and 1923. Some were burned to prevent them being used as barracks but mostly they were destroyed because of local land questions. The houses were a physical symbol of the regime that the revolutionaries wanted to destroy. In Kerry, the houses burned included Glenbeigh, Ballyhaigue and Dereen.

In addition to the burning of houses, there was also considerable looting – indiscriminate theft of goods – of contents in the period 1879-1923. According to Genghis Khan ‘to vanquish your enemies, to rob them of their wealth, gives the most satisfaction’.

The Land Acts of the late 19th and early 20th centuries led to the sale of estates and the looting of houses. Many of the artefacts went to the UK, others went to the USA. Some libraries were sold by owners to pay debts, including rare Irish manuscripts. The Leslie family remained on their estate but they had to sell much of the house contents to pay taxes. Many families sold the house contents to pay death duties after the deaths of family members in the First World War. Artefacts, furniture and silver from Irish houses were listed in auction catalogues. That so many items of such great craftsmanship, importance and value were removed from the country is a major cultural loss.

In some cases, gangs of men put families out of their houses and burned the furniture with paraffin. Elizabeth Bowen reported that the family emptied the family home of furniture before the IRA arrived. Dereen House near Kenmare was burned in 1922, despite an advance warning by the agent of the threat to a Minister in Dublin. Before being set on fire, furniture and equipment were stolen. In some cases, it is difficult to distinguish the actions of the IRA from local agrarian agitation. Some auctioneers and solicitors bought and sold stolen contents and occupied houses which they may or may not have purchased. Kevin O’Higgins, Minister for Home Affairs, admitted that many people occupied houses without legal title. He was concerned about the reputation of the new state in relation to upholding the rule of law and established courts to try people for looting.

In 1933, the Government set up a compensation scheme for those who had had goods stolen but the qualifying conditions were difficult. Claimants had to demonstrate that items had been stolen as part of the campaign to overthrow the Government. To this day it is uncertain if the contents of many houses were stolen, destroyed or are in storage in bank vaults. While 300 houses were burned during this period, this number represented 10 per cent of existing ‘big houses’.

The Daniel O’Connell Lecture 

Professor Maurice Bric introduced Seamus Mallon who delivered the Daniel O’Connell lecture in conversation with Stephen Collins. Maurice referred to Seamus’s outstanding political career which began in the Civil Rights Movement and continued as co-founder with John Hume of the SDLP. A teacher by profession, he was elected to the first power-sharing assembly in Northern Ireland, participated in the Constitutional Convention in 1979, the Northern Ireland Assembly in 1982 and was elected as Westminster MP for Newry and Armagh in 1986. In December 1999 he became Deputy first Minister of Northern Ireland and served in that role until 2001. His autobiography, published in 2019 and co-authored with Andy Pollack, is entitled ‘A Shared Home Place’. Maurice referred to Seamus’s interest in Gaelic football and to his meeting with Frank O’Leary that afternoon, the first time they had met since they played against each other in the Sigerson Cup in 1958! He extended a special welcome to Seamus’s daughter Orla, her husband Mark Lenny and their daughter, Lara who accompanied him.

Maurice also welcomed Stephen Collins who had agreed to interview Seamus and moderate the session.  Stephen, a columnist with the Irish Times, is the former Political Correspondent of the same newspaper and former political editor of the Irish Press, Sunday Press and Sunday Tribune. He is the author of a number of books on Irish politics and politicians.

Stephen asked Seamus about the influence that Daniel O’Connell had on his career. Seamus spoke about watching the recent excellent documentary about O’Connell, presented by Olivia O’Leary. He said that O’Connell’s legacy was crucially important in providing a rationale for opposing violence and for solving problems by a political process.

He said that the origins of the conflict that broke out in 1969 lay in the way the British government set the native Irish and the Scots/English Irish at each other and created a legacy that is still with us. People in Northern Ireland were conditioned by four centuries with having to fight both planter and papist. There is no good in supremacy by either ‘tribe’ and there was nothing intrinsically bad about the people who live there.

He had grown up in a predominantly unionist village where there were no hiding places. Even purchasing a newspaper might involve meeting someone who had lost a relative the night before. It had given him an insight into what unionist people in Northern Ireland feel and think. He felt that nationalist Ireland did not properly realise the depth of feeling in the unionist community about those who were killed in IRA campaigns. They have a great sense of wrong done to them by the killing of RUC and UDR men. It is a wound that still has to be healed. He had come to understand the particular – literal – mindset of the unionist community – everything has to be added up or subtracted. The nationalist community is more conceptual in outlook.

Stephen referred to the decision that Seamus had take early in his career to attend the funeral of every person killed in his constituency, no matter what the background of the person killed. Seamus said that that there was nothing worse than going to the house of someone who had been killed to offer condolences and to be told that you are not welcome. But in the majority of cases, the relatives recognised that I was making a statement on behalf of the majority of the community, that it was not our violence. It was a gesture that was appreciated. His presence was not always welcomed at funerals of nationalists. On one occasion he had been verbally attacked by a spokesperson at the graveside of a young man who was a shoot to kill victim of the army. He said that the situation in South Armagh was as near to a civil war as one can get and the legacy of that time remains.

Stephen referred to the courageous stance that Seamus had taken against IRA violence on the one hand and that of the Glenane gang on the other, in face of threats to his own safety and welfare.  Seamus said that it was incredible that serving members of the RUC, UDR and UDA were in league with a paramilitary organisation such as the UVF but that is what happened in South Armagh. Approx 132 people were killed by members of the gang, including a three year old child. The pressure after the Kingsmill massacre of 10 Protestant working men in January 1976 by the IRA was unbelievable – revenge almost became a duty for each side to fulfil.

Seamus said that the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985 was the most important development of the past 40 years. It was a major breakthrough after the collapse of the Sunningdale Agreement under the weight of loyalist violence in 1973. The Agreement was negotiated between the British and Irish governments and removed the unionist veto over what Britain might and might not do in Northern Ireland. It created a mechanism whereby the problems of violence, counter-violence and the legal system could ventilated by way of contact with the representatives of the Irish government and to some degree, resolved. It laid the foundations for an almost new police force with a different role and fair employment legislation. Most importantly, it legitimised the role of the Irish government in the affairs of Northern Ireland. It opened a door and shed light on many things. Without it, the Good Friday Agreement could not have been negotiated.

Seamus expressed his deep concern about the Brexit ‘catastrophe’. Under the Good Friday Agreement, he was an EU citizen but this right could be taken away if the UK leaves the EU without a deal. The improved security and peace in Northern Ireland, however tenuous, could be jeopardised. The ‘black economy’ was looking forward to the opportunities created by a ‘no deal’. If Brexit goes wrong, it will be the end of the agricultural industry in the Northern Ireland as most of the milk produced is processed in the South. An EU country cannot take milk and beef to process from a non-EU country. A Northern Ireland that is not part of Ireland, semi-detached from Britain and separate from Europe is going to make life very difficult. He said that the proposed backstop was critical to protecting the interests of Northern Ireland post Brexit.

Stephen asked Seamus if as Deputy First Minister he considered that the British and Irish governments had not done enough to support moderate opinion. Seamus responded that if there was going to be a political arrangement, the question for the governments was how do you bring in the extremes? While the Sunningdale Agreement and the Anglo-Irish Agreement were based on the middle ground, the Good Friday Agreement focussed on the extremes. The SDLP was aware that the governments were negotiating with the extremes. It was part of the political process but it was hard to watch how members of the Ulster Unionist party such as Arlene Foster, Jeffrey Donaldson and others abandoned David Trimble. He was critical of the length of time that decommissioning took – 14 years. There were illegal dumps of arms all over Ireland and the people who owned the guns were in government. He asked what that had done to the unionist psyche? Practically every demand of Sinn Fein was conceded because the governments needed them in the institutions.  He said that since the power sharing government in Northern Ireland had not met in two and a half years, there was a need to look carefully about how to preserve the Good Friday Agreement to prevent it going the same way as Sunningdale.

Stephen asked Seamus his views on a vote on unity as provided for under the Good Friday Agreement and whether Ireland is ready for unification. Seamus said that Ireland, north and south, is not ready for unification and in those circumstances, it would be premature to hold a referendum. He said that the consent of unionists to unity is crucial and that the result of a border poll that was 50 per cent plus one would do to unionism what was done to nationalism in 1920-1. Is a dream of a united state viable or is there something short of it, such as confederal arrangements, which can make people feel comfortable? We do not want a new disgruntled unionist minority on the island of Ireland. He said that we needed to avoid a situation of ‘unity by numbers’. He referred to an observation of Sir James Craig – ‘On this island we can’t live apart, we are too small.’

Mary O’Connor, Chair of the Summer School Committee and Professor Maurice Bric, Academic Director of the School, presented Seamus with the first Daniel O’Connell Award. The Committee decided to make the award to Seamus because his commitment over a lifetime to peaceful political change in Northern Ireland epitomises the principles and legacy of Daniel O’Connell. Seamus said how deeply honoured he was to receive the award.

Mass in the Penal Church

At 19.00 that evening, Mass was celebrated for the first time in nearly 200 years in the Penal Church where Daniel O’Connell was baptised in 1775 and which served the people of Cahersiveen until 1823. The Mass was celebrated by Fr Larry Kelly PP and was dedicated to the memory of Geoffrey and Sheila O’Connor by whose efforts the building had been preserved. Members of the O’Connor family participated in the music and readings of the Mass. Professor Maurice Bric provided an overview of the history of the church and Mark O’Connor spoke about the efforts of his parents to preserve the building for posterity.

Saturday 24th August Derrynane House, Caherdaniel 

The School opened in Derrynane with the formal presentation of the death mask of Daniel O’Connell by Geraldine Wyndham Quin, Countess of Dunraven to Maurice Buckley, Chairman of the Office of Public Works. The mask had been in the possession of the Dunraven family for generations because of a close friendship between a Dunraven ancestor and the O’Connell family. Geraldine said how pleased she was on behalf of her family to present it to the OPW so that it could be seen by visitors to Derrynane House. Maurice Buckley thanked Geraldine and her family for their generous gift and said that the mask would go on display in Derrynane House after some minor repairs. Maurice said how pleased the OPW was that the O’Connell School took place in Derrynane House and was helping to keep the rich legacy of O’Connell alive. He said that the OPW was established in 1831, at a time when O’Connell was at the height of his powers. He suggested that it would be of great interest to know O’Connell’s attitude to the establishment of the Office and its mission.

O’Connell and his Time 

Dr Ruth Barrington, Dublin and Castlecove, moderated the session on O’Connell and his Time. She introduced Fergus D’Arcy,  Professor Emeritus of Modern History in UCD who spoke about O’Connell and the Workers of Dublin, 1820-1840. Professor D’Arcy said that O’Connell’s relations with organised workers in Dublin were complex. During an explosive eruption of violence by workers in 1838/9, O’Connell was lucky to escape with his life. At the time O’Connell criticised workers in Dublin for their restrictive practices – such as trying to control minimum wages – and for the use of violence to achieve their aims. The 1830s was a disastrous decade for craft workers. A combination of competition and mechanisation undermined their incomes. The Act of Union of 1800 meant the abolition of Irish customs which might have been used to protect Irish jobs. With the decline of workers’ incomes after 1816, wage agreements fell apart and there was a free for all in wages. Children were employed in the guise of apprentices. The price of a 4lb loaf of bread is closely related to the outbreaks of violence in the city – the price peaked in 1816, 1820s and 1830s and coincides with the worst outbreaks of violence. There were bread riots and attacks on bakers. The lot of the worker was terrible and it is not surprising that violence entered the picture. Skilled workers in Dublin fought back so strongly that they acquired a reputation for violence unmatched in the United Kingdom. Sometimes, the violence was spontaneous; at other times it was planned. The Dublin sawyers and carpenters led the way in violence.

It was against this background, that organised workers looked back to the ‘halcyon’ days of Grattan’s Parliament when their incomes were more secure. When O’Connell, after the success of Catholic Emancipation, took up the cause of Repeal and the return of the Irish Parliament, workers flocked to that banner. However, the support of the organised workers became an embarrassment to O’Connell. The workers established the National Trades Political Union as an independent organisation to press for Repeal. O’Connell did not like independent action for the causes he espoused as he perceived it as a threat to his leadership. He emasculated the Union’s impact by flooding its membership with non-workers.

O’Connell’s championing of Repeal at this time was tempered by his role as an MP, the need to support his political allies in Westminster on electoral reform and the requirement to maintain a broad coalition of support for Repeal in Ireland, including the support of employers. He was afraid of a disastrous defeat of Repeal in the House of Commons. In 1835, O’Connell put down a motion in the House of Commons on Repeal but it did not receive the support of a single British MP. The Lichfield House Agreement in the same year, by which O’Connell and his party agreed to support the Whig government to keep the Conservatives from office, contained a number of reforms for Ireland but there was no mention of Repeal.

The workers’ disappointment with the failure to achieve Repeal coincided with a rise in prices. In 1837, there were 97 violent episodes involving workers in Dublin that lead to committals. It also led to a crisis in relations between O’Connell and the organised workers, a battle of recrimination that is unequalled in the annals. O’Connell eventually moved to rebuild his relationship with organised workers. By 1840, the poison began to drain away and the animosity was diluted. This period coincided with the weakening of O’Connell’s alliance with the Whigs and the resumption of the campaign for Repeal. The workers came flocking back to his banner in support of Repeal. The bond of affection between workers and O’Connell was in evidence when they turned out in their tens of thousands for his funeral in 1846.  They also celebrated in their thousands the centenary of O’Connell’s birth in 1875.

There was a marked decline in violence by workers in the years between 1840 and 1911. O’Connell had a profound impact on the attitude of the trades towards violence. They learned from O’Connell to abandon violence and use argument. He persuaded them that moral force and public opinion were better weapons to use. All the toughest trades came out saying that they had learnt from O’Connell.

Deaglán de Bréadún, journalist and former Northern Editor of the Irish Times, spoke about Daniel O’Connell and the Irish language. Deaglán referred to contemporary accounts of O’Connell which commented on his ‘brogue’ and the many idiosyncrasies of speech that he used. He did not speak with a ‘posh’ accent. While he believed in the superior utility of the English language, he said that he ‘couldn’t witness without a sigh the demise of the Irish language’.

There are many reports of O’Connell speaking in Irish. In July 1828, he spoke about Emancipation at a meeting in Louth mainly in Irish. He encouraged his audience to obey the law, respect religion and avoid secret societies. At the time, 20 per cent of the population of Louth spoke Irish. William Fagan, in his Life and Times of Daniel O’Connell (1847/8) describes a Repeal meeting which government agents attended as ‘reporters’ to find evidence with which to prosecute O’Connell. O’Connell, alert to their presence, spoke in Irish to the crowd, explaining who the gentlemen were, the reason for their presence and to loud laughter, asked that they be treated with every courtesy.  He is also reported as speaking Irish at meetings in Skibbereen and Kanturk. During the 1837 election campaign, he spoke Irish in Tralee and with great eloquence gave a withering denunciation of the authorities responsible for the death of 20 people – the Gortroe massacre – who refused to pay tithes.

Irish was the first language O’Connell learnt and his first conversation with his parents at the age of four was in Irish. At the time 89 per cent of the population of Iveragh spoke Irish. Did his wife Mary speak Irish? She may not have been as fluent as he as she grew up in Tralee which was largely English speaking. Irish was the language used when O’Connell was in Derrynane. Family prayers were said in Irish and Irish was the language he used on his death bed.

A summary of Deaglán’s paper is available here.


Cormac O’Grada, Professor Emeritus of Economics at UCD spoke about Kenmare during and after the Great Famine.  He referred to the increase of one quarter in the population in and around Kenmare in the years 1821-45. The Lansdowne estate, the largest in the area, was much neglected. The estate’s agent, Hickson had allowed tenancies to be subdivided in response to population growth. It was one reason why the effects of the famine around Kenmare were worse than elsewhere, worse in 1847 than even Skibbereen. Archdeacon O’Sullivan reported that there were four to five bodies on the streets of Kenmare every morning. There were walking spectres of human beings carrying dead bodies. A local doctor, Maybury, could not find any food in the stomachs of dead bodies. The potato fields resembled tillage fields. Eoin Sullivan referred to ‘death as a blessing’.

There is no accurate record of deaths in the area during the famine years. Births and baptisms plummeted. The population of the townland of Tuosist before the famine was 7,000. It is estimated that during the years of the famine, deaths in Tuosist averaged five a day. One official of the Bord of Works described the area being depopulated with ‘railway speed’.

The story of the Great Famine is often told in terms of relief. The workhouse in Kenmare opened a few years before the famine. The workhouse authorities did not welcome inmates before the famine and there are stories of paupers leaving the workhouse because the food was so bad. As the workhouse was funded by local taxation, the area struggled to find resources to cope with the destitution of the famine. The conditions in the workhouse were awful. Other properties were opened to cope with the numbers looking for relief. Some 3,000 people were in workhouse accommodation at the height of the famine.

As the potato crop continued to fail, there was a growing realisation that the population could not be supported and that emigration was the answer. However, the poorest people could not afford to emigrate. In 1840, Lord Lansdowne decided to assist the passage of poor tenants and with his funds and that of the Poor Law, an estimated 4,000 people from the area were shipped out. Most went to the United States. It is possible to document what happened to those emigrants when they reached New York. Many immigrants opened accounts in a savings bank. Within a month or a year, they were saving significant sums with the bank. The savings bank recorded many details about each saver – the parents’ names, the townland they were from, the names of siblings left behind, the name of the ship they travelled on, their addresses in New York and the amount of their deposits and savings. Initially, most of the addresses were in the 6th Ward, the poorest area of New York. It is possible to follow most of these people through the censuses of 1861 and 1871 when most were still living in the 6th Ward. The majority were described as labourers but there were also inn keepers and hucksters among them. Over time most did well and moved to more prosperous parts of the city and the US.

While assisted emigration as a response to the Great Famine is a controversial policy, this case study of emigrants from Tuosist to the US demonstrates that it worked for these people. Emigration was part of the solution to the tragedy of the Great Famine.

However, the policy was introduced too late to save many lives.

South Kerry and the Sea 

Mary Lyne of Ballinaskelligs moderated this session. She invited Mary McGillicuddy, whose father came from Castlecove, to speak about the role and function of women in the fish curing industry.   Mary referred to the thriving mackerel fishing industry between 1880 and 1920s in South Kerry and West Cork which brought much employment to the area in those years. However, the role women played in the fish curing industry had been ignored. Valentia was a great fishing centre at the time, supplying salted fish to Dublin by rail. The women’s contribution was in splitting and cutting the fish – they had to work quickly, skilfully and for long periods of time – processing and selling the fish and mending nets. Women followed the fishing fleet, migrating from Donegal, to West Cork and the Isle of Man. Old photographs in the Butler Arms Hotel show the women working on the fish in Portmagee, South Kerry and West Cork.

Fionnbarr Moore, Senior Archaeologist, Underwater Archaeology, National Monuments Service spoke about the underwater archaeology of South West Kerry. He referred to the role of the National Monuments Service in identifying and preserving monuments underwater, in particular underwater ship wrecks. In 1987, wrecks of more than 100 years old were protected. He said that many new wrecks had been reported and that there was now an archive of 18,000 ship wrecks around the Irish coast recorded on the on-line Wreck Inventory of Ireland database. He suggested that there may be twice as many wrecks since many have not been reported. Information about each recorded wreck is available on the on-line database. There are 860 known wrecks off the coast of Kerry of which 10-15 per cent have been located. The main concentration of wrecks is around Dingle, Tralee and the Skelligs. The earliest recorded wreck in these waters is from 1379 when a Cornish expedition en route to Brittany, led by John Arundel, experienced a terrible storm and struck rocks off Scarrif island.  In October or November 1578 the ship Emanuel was wrecked on the west cost of Smerwick on an expedition to Canada to exploit minerals.

There is a shipwreck in Derrynane harbour which dates from the 18th century. It was discovered by the crew of the Derrynane Inshore Rescue. It may have attempted to enter the harbour on the wrong route and was wrecked on Lamb island. It had two anchors and 6 cannon. It may well have been associated with the smuggling and trading activities of Hunting Cap O’Connell.

The National Seabed Survey has been responsible for recording many wrecks. It is estimated that there are 1,000 wrecks dating from the First World War, of which the Lusitania, torpedoed off the Old Head of Kinsale in 1915, is the best known. Dive projects are exploring the wrecks of ships of the Spanish Armada, of which there are two in the Blasket Sound.

Fionnbarr suggested that the protection for wrecks around the Irish coast was not adequate and that Brexit could lead to foreign claims over some of them.

The International Impact of O’Connell 

Fiona de Buis, of Waterville, moderated this session. She introduced Fionnghuala Sweeney, Senior Lecturer in American Literature at the University of Newcastle and invited her to talk on the subject of Daniel O’Connell, Frederick Douglass and the Campaign against Slavery.  Dr Sweeney referred to O’Connell and Douglass as two of the most influential opponents of slavery in the 19th century. In 1845, their paths crossed when Douglass, who had been active on the abolition of slavery since 1841, attended one of O’Connell’s speeches. He commented at dinner afterwards that what the US needed was a ‘Black O’Connell’. Douglass had published his seminal work opposing slavery in 1845 and had to flee the US for fear of recapture. Douglass admired O’Connell’s capacity to mobilise the masses for a political cause. However, he did not sympathise with O’Connell’s demand for Repeal as he was an anglophile and was suspicious of ‘Romanism’. For Douglass, O’Connell’s real virtue was O’Connell’s prominent stance against slavery despite the personal and political cost. For Douglass, O’Connell was an Irish exception – a statesman and man of culture.

Douglass subsequently referred to himself as the ‘Black O’Connell’. He repeated O’Connell’s jokes against slave holders and his slogan – agitate, agitate, agitate – was adopted from O’Connell. Under O’Connell’s influence, he moved from moral suasion to developing a movement of mass mobilisation for the emancipation of slaves. For this reason, O’Connell plays a major role in Douglas’s writings.  It was a ‘near miss’ relationship – O’Connell was at the end of his career and Douglass at the cusp of his. The relationship moved Douglass towards acceptance of human rights and of slavery as the most stark challenge to those rights. However, while he was horrified by plight of the poor on his visit to Ireland, driven to destitution at the outbreak of the Great Famine, he blamed it on intemperance and the ‘slavery of Romanism’, which was the current view in the US of the Irish poor.

In 1969, fifty years ago, General de Gaulle and his wife, Yvonne came on a holiday to Sneem and visited Derrynane House. Hugh Gough, Professor Emeritus of French History at UCD, recalled the background to the holiday and to De Gaulle’s interest in Daniel O’Connell. There was a great deal of surprise at the time that De Gaulle should choose Ireland as a holiday venue. Ireland was little known in Europe and few French people could identify where it was. De Gaulle, who had dominated French politics for a generation, was challenged by the student and worker protests of 1968 and resigned when he lost a referendum. He felt it necessary to leave France and stay out of the way for the duration of the presidential campaign. He arrived at Cork airport on 10th May 1969, where he was welcomed by Taoiseach Jack Lynch.

De Gaulle’s choice of Ireland as a place to keep a low profile is partly explained by his interest in the independence of small nations, his understanding of Irish neutrality during the Second World War and his sympathy for Irish membership of the EEC, once the issues surrounding UK membership had been resolved. He had a personal interest in O’Connell as his maternal grandmother, a McCartan from Co. Down, had written a biography of the Liberator in the 1880s. De Gaulle spoke of ‘an instinct that led me to come back to where I came from.’ Even Mme de Gaulle had links to Ireland. She had been raised by an Irish nanny, a lady named McCarthy who, at the time of the holiday, was a patient in Kenmare Hospital. Mme de Gaulle visited her during her stay.

The de Gaulle party stayed in Heron Cove in Sneem, then a hotel. The Hotel offered minimal comfort to the visiting party, although the food was reported to be quite good. The Office of Public Works was commissioned to make an extra long bed for the General to make his stay more comfortable. There was intense media interest in the visit and it took much effort on the part of the Gardai and locals to protect the privacy of the visiting party. Despite their best efforts, a long range photograph of de Gaulle in his hotel bedroom was published in Paris Match! De Gaulle attended mass in Sneem where he received a warm welcome.

De Gaulle’s visit to Derrynane House was a highlight of his holiday. He was shown around the House by Professor Maurice O’Connell, a descendent of O’Connell’s and a distinguished historian. Professor O’Connell was surprised by how well informed de Gaulle was about O’Connell and they spoke about his grandmother’s biography. De Gaulle signed the visitor’s book ‘in honour of the Liberator’.

Closing Remarks

Mary O’Connor, Chair of the Organising Committee, closed the 2019 School by thanking the speakers, chairpersons and the audience and the Director, Professor Maurice Bric, for contributing to a very successful and enjoyable two days celebrating the legacy of Daniel O’Connell and the culture of South Kerry. On behalf of the Organising Committee, she thanked the sponsors of the School – the Office of Public Works, Kerry County Council, Cahersiveen Library, the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Dermot and Shiovan Walsh, Supervalue Cahersiveen, the Glasnevin Trust and Fexco. She paid tribute to enthusiasm and dedication of the Organising Committee, to the wonderful team in Cahersiveen Library and Derrynane House and to the local volunteers who help ensure that the programme of events ran seamlessly in Caherdaniel and Cahersiveen. She hoped to see everyone again at the 2020 School.


Sunday 25th August

St Crohan’s Church Caherdaniel 

The memorial mass for the O’Connell family took place on Sunday 25th August in St Crohan’s Church, Caherdaniel and was celebrated by Fr Martin Spillane P.P. It was followed by refreshments in the parish hall.

Daniel O’Connell Summer School 2020

The Daniel O’Connell Summer School 2020 has been deferred due to the situation created by the Covid-19 virus. The next School will take place on the weekend of 27-29 August 2021.

For further information on the School, please see