The year 1843 became memorable because it saw the climax of the repeal agitation under Daniel O'Connell. O'Connell was really the man who had carried Catholic Emancipation, or, at least, had compelled English statesmen to carry it. Since its accomplishment he had turned his attention completely to an agitation which had for its object the passing of a measure for the repeal of the Acts of Parliament which brought Great Britain and Ireland into a legislative union. O'Connell's object was to restore the Irish Parliament, and to allow Irishmen to make laws for the domestic government of their own country. His desire was, in fact, to obtain for Ireland just such a local parliament as Canada and each of the great Australasian Colonies now possess. He was entirely opposed to all idea of separation from England and had no sympathy whatever with the political action of men like Wolfe Tone and Lord Edward Fitzgerald, who created the rebellion of 1798. Having had much of his early education in France, where he saw some of the horrors of the Revolution, he had come back to his own country with a perfect hatred of all revolutionary methods. No human cause, he proclaimed again and again, is worth the shedding of one drop of blood. Yet, though he would have nothing to do with physical force, he was quite willing to make such demonstration of physical force as might influence an English Ministry, or frighten an English Ministry, towards the object he desired to gain. His plan of agitation was to hold great "monster meetings," as they were called, in all parts of Ireland meetings often attended each of them by forty or fifty thousand persons. The meetings would gather together by processions from various outlying places, and there was a good deal of military show about the arranging, the marshalling, and the moving of the processions. O'Connell himself was fond of talking of his gallant armies of repealers.
At every one of these meetings, which had now become a familiar object in every part of the country, speeches more or less impassioned were made by local orators, and of course, when O'Connell himself was present the speech of the day came from him. O'Connell was probably the greatest open-air speaker ever known in Great Britain or Ireland. There are three distinct styles of political speech-making; there is the open-air speech, the speech in a great hall, and the speech on the floor of the House of Commons. O'Connell was a great success in each of the three styles; but his greatest success was in the open air. His commanding presence, his incomparable voice, and his power of rapid change from rich humour to deep pathos and overwhelming passion could always hold his audience enthralled. Some of his speeches no doubt were very violent; for it seemed to be a part of his policy to keep the passion of his countrymen always aroused, and to impress, at least indirectly, upon the Government, the power which he had to create a rebellion if ever he should think fit to exercise it. One of his greatest meetings, indeed his last great monster meeting, was to be held at Clontarf, near Dublin, on October 8, 1843. The Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland declared the intended meeting unlawful, and issued an order forbidding it. Every one was anxious to know what step O'Connell would take. Would he defy the Lord-Lieutenant and persist in holding a meeting, and let the troops and the people settle the matter by physical force ? No doubt if O'Connell had persisted in holding the meeting it would have been the outbreak of a rebellion; and although the rebellion would have been crushed in the end, yet it could not have been crushed without immense loss of human life. O'Connell issued a proclamation of his own, in which he declared that the Lord-Lieutenant must be obeyed, that the meeting was not to be held, and that the people must return quietly to their homes. O'Connell's commands were obeyed to the letter; the vast crowds dispersed, and there was not the smallest disturbance of the peace. But the immediate result was a secession of some of O'Connell's most earnest and most able followers from his ranks; the collapse of the Repeal agitation; and the creation of a new national movement.
John Tyndall. 182O-1893.
Under O'Connell's own training a number of clever and brilliant young men had been brought up to the task of political agitation. A new national literature, in books, in newspapers, and in poems, had grown up all over the country. Despite O'Connell's peaceful declarations, nearly all the young men firmly believed that they were in training for an armed rebellion; and that when the right moment came O'Connell would give the signal for action. To them the right moment seemed to have come when the Lord-Lieutenant for the first time issued his proclamation to forbid the holding of the meeting at Clontarf. When O'Connell decreed that the proclamation must be obeyed, the younger men felt that any further agitation of the same kind must be but an anti-climax. In the meanwhile the Government, who did not seem to understand in the least the reality of the triumph they had gained, set to work with the prosecution against O'Connell and some of his principal followers on a charge of having conspired to raise disaffection amongst Her Majesty's subjects. O'Connell himself, with his son, John O'Connell, and with Sir Charles Gavan Duffy, who afterwards became a distinguished statesman in Australia, and is alive and honoured to-day, were among the leading men against whom the prosecution was directed. The whole business of the prosecution became in the end a dismal and disastrous failure for the Crown authorities. The Crown Prosecutor objected in turn to the name of every Catholic who was called to serve on the jury, and the result was that in the capital of the country, five-sixths of whose population were Catholics, and on a question politically affecting the whole national sentiment of Ireland, not one single Catholic was allowed to serve on the jury empanelled to try the Irish national leader. O'Connell and his associates were convicted, of course, and were sentenced to a fine and to various periods of imprisonment. O'Connell went to prison and appealed to the House of Lords.