The Context and Development of Irish Literature:
History, Poetry, Landscape

Chapter Three:  Revolution, Emancipation, Starvation, page 4

The 19th century saw two crucial changes in Irish-English relations: first, organized non-violent Catholic resistance to British rule; and second, the first signs of a return to armed and violent insurrection. In the midst of this occurred the greatest disaster in Irish history, the Great Famine of 1845-49.

The drive toward Catholic Emancipation--giving Catholics the right to hold high government and legal offices, and to sit in Parliament for their own country--was led by another now-legendary Irish figure, Daniel O’Connell, "The Liberator." O’Connell was horrified by the violence he observed first in the aftermath of the French Revolution and then in the Irish insurrection of 1798. Possessed of great oratorical and organizational skills and a master of political maneuvering, he gained a reputation as a champion of Catholic popular causes. Through his leadership, the bill for Catholic Emancipation passed into law in 1829, marking a decisive civil rights victory for the Irish Catholics. O’Connell attempted to follow this victory up with a repeal of the Act of Union, but this fight was unsuccessful. The British Empire was at its zenith at this time, controlling much of the globe throughout Africa, Egypt, India, and the Middle East, and had no thought of surrendering any part of its dominion.

O’Connell’s great contribution to the development of Modern Ireland was that he virtually created and organized mass opinion as a political force in Ireland; he taught the Roman Catholic majority to regard itself as the true Irish nation; and he contributed further to the foundations for Irish Nationalism, which would be the dominant force in Irish politics for the next 100 years.  His example of organized non-violence would have a powerful influence in the next century on Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Civil Rights movement in the North of Ireland.

View "Daniel O'Connell."

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