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Daniel O'Connell

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Daniel O'Connell

by Bernard Mulrenin
watercolour and bodycolour on ivory, 1836
6 1/8 in. x 5 1/4 in. (155 mm x 133 mm) oval, uneven
Purchased, 1866
Primary Collection
NPG 208

Sitterback to top

  • Daniel O'Connell (1775-1847), Irish politician; MP for Dublin City and Cork County. Sitter associated with 230 portraits.

Artistback to top

This portraitback to top

The charismatic pioneer of Irish popular politics, O'Connell had grown up in the shadow of the repressive 'Penal Laws' which maintained the social and civil inferiority of Catholics in Ireland. In 1823 he founded the Catholic Association to mobilise the entire Irish Catholic population in a systematic challenge to the Protestant ruling class, known as the 'Ascendancy'. By sheer force of numbers and the ultimate threat of civil war they finally achieved the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Cox, Paul, Wellington: Triumphs, Politics and Passions, 2015 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 12 March - 7 June 2015), p. 103 Read entry

    Whatever Wellington's hopes and intentions, he became embroiled in two major, divisive political questions. These would cause his wish to serve his country and sovereign to come into conflict with his own conservative and reactionary political opinions. They also alienated him from large sections of his own party. Despite his assurance to the King, the first of these issues was indeed that of Catholic emancipation. Wellington's family background in Ireland, as well as the fact that he had seen at first hand the contribution made by Irish Catholic soldiers to the British army, perhaps made him more than usually accepting of the need for a relaxation of the laws that restricted Catholics' rights to hold public office or positions in parliament. Impetus was given to the cause in Westminster when Daniel O'Connell, leader of the campaigning Catholic Association, was elected for County Clare in July 1828. This was a contentious moment, as British law forbade him as a Catholic from sitting in parliament although not from standing for election. Wellington feared the emergence of disorder if O'Connell's electoral achievement was repeated by other would-be Catholic Members of Parliament, thereby depriving Irish votes of representation in parliament. In consequence, he obtained permission from the King to allow the government to abandon its previous neutrality and debate the issue, in the hope of reaching a settlement. After much persuasion, including the threat of his own resignation, he ensured the passage of a bill removing the restrictions on Catholics serving in government. This made him unpopular with the King, with a large part of the general public, and with the right wing of his own party - the 'Ultra-Tories'.

  • Ormond, Richard, Early Victorian Portraits, 1973, p. 346
  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 466
  • Walker, Richard, Miniatures: 300 Years of the English Miniature, 1998, p. 13

Events of 1836back to top

Current affairs

William Lovett founds the Working Men's Association, the precursor to Chartism, with the aim to achieving equal social and political rights between men of all classes.
A reduction in stamp duty from 4d to 1d helps to keep unstamped newspapers off the street, and leads to wider circulation of legal newspapers.
The first railway line is built in London, connecting to Greenwich and operated by the London Greenwich Railway (LGR).

Art and science

The American poet and writer Ralph Waldo Emerson outlines his theory of transcendentalism in Nature, in which he argues for individualism above traditional authority, stressing the infinitude of the private self and the possibility of achieving an original relation to the universe.
The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer publishes On the Will in Nature, a precursor to his famous The World as Will and Representation.


Texas declares its independence from Mexico following a series of battles, including those at the Alamo and Goliad. Sam Houston is the first president of Texas, serving both in 1836-38 and 1841-44.
The city of Adelaide is founded in Australia, at the mouth of the Torrens river, named in honour of Queen Adelaide, consort of William IV.

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