Thursday 22 February 2018

O'Connell deserves credit

Madam – Eoghan Harris (Sunday Independent, April 6, 2014) rightly praises Daniel O'Connell for succeeding in repealing the British law "De Judaismo", which prescribed a special dress for British Jews. He then neutralises this praise by saying: "But O'Connell's clean sheet was only because the Jewish community of 200 souls was too small to attract attention."

However, O'Connell's record reveals that he was made of sterner stuff than perhaps Eoghan gives him credit for. I believe, had Ireland's Jewish population been larger, O'Connell would have been more vociferous in his support for them. I base this conviction on his role in the anti-slavery movement in America. O'Connell was one of the most vocal and influential abolitionists in the world at that time. The fact that prominent escaped slave Frederick Douglass came to Ireland to visit him is testament to his pedigree. Although the British government supported abolition, it largely remained silent for fear of falling out with its American cousins. O'Connell had no such qualms and his forthright opinions regularly drew ire from the Southern States. He ignored all warnings that he would lose US support.

In August 1875, celebrations took place to mark the centenary of O'Connell's birth. Some of the largest gatherings took place in the US, where he was exalted for his role in ending slavery.

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