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Busy O'Connell Street | by Can Pac Swire
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Busy O'Connell Street

O'Connell Street is probably Dublin's most famous thoroughfare. It's named after Daniel O'Connell (1775 to 1847).

 

Back in the 1720s, the British administration deprived the Irish Catholics' rights to vote in elections, and the right to become members of parliament (MP). Such Penal Laws ensured the majority Catholic population had no say in the affairs and government policies of Ireland.

 

While most of the Penal Laws were rescinded in 1793, restoring the Catholics' right to vote (at least for the small number of Catholics who were landowners), they still could not become MPs. So even though some Irish Catholics could now vote, they essentially were forced to vote for the Protestant landowners to "represent" them at the Parliament. Needless to say, most Protestant landowners didn't care what's best for the majority Catholic farmers.

 

Successive attempts to pass the Catholic Emancipation Act were vetoed by the British House of Lords in the 1800s. Increasingly, the Catholics were enraged by the oppressive British government.

 

Meanwhile, Daniel O'Connell, an Irishman who was educated in France, returned to Dublin to become a lawyer. In 1823, Mr. O'Connell founded the Catholic Association and encouraged people to join the new political organization. Soon, membership exploded and the Catholic Association was swamped with surplus fund. Mr. O'Connell also discovered that the Penal Laws didn't forbid Catholics from being elected to the British Parliament, it simply required them to swear an oath that no true Catholics could do.

 

So in 1828, Daniel O'Connell stood for election for a vacant MP seat. Because of the massive support by the local Catholics, he won the seat by a landslide. When he arrived at Westminster, he simply refused to take the oath. The other British MPs and peers (in the House of Lords) knew that if they were to force Mr. O'Connell to take the Oath of Supremacy, the Catholics in Ireland would probably rise up to revolt, yet they didn't dare to deny the popularly- and democratically-elected Mr. O'Connell from taking his office. Finally, the British Parliament was outwit and beaten by Daniel O'Connell. The Emancipation Act was passed in 1829 and Mr. O'Connell became the very first Irish Catholic MP in the British Parliament, and for that he became known as the "Liberator of the Nation" and forever remembered as a national hero.

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Taken on May 23, 2013