William O’ Brien, Patriot, was born in Dromoland, Co Clare. His mother was Charlotte, née Smith, whose father owned a property called Cahirmoyle in Co Limerick. William inherited it and adopted the additional surname of Smith, thereafter he is known as William Smith O’Brien.
In the 1820’s he took his seat in parliament as the Conservative member for Ennis. In 1835 he became Conservative MP for Co Limerick. Originally a Protestant “Country Gentleman” of conservative politics, his views changed with parliamentary experience. He became an ardent supporter of Catholic emancipation. He joined the Repeal Association in 1843. He became a leading member of the Young Irelanders and with Gavan Duffy and others founded the Irish Confederation in 1847. He was active in seeking relief from the hardships of The Great Hunger.
1848 was a year of revolution all over Europe. In Ireland, William Smith O’Brien urged the formation of a National Guard, and an armed rising was planned. However, The Great Hunger had left the country spiritless and they had made no real preparations. At the end of July a small group under O’Brien clashed with forty-six policemen at Ballingarry, Co Tipperary. This skirmish at widow McCormack’s cabbage garden brought the rising of 1848 to an inglorious end. William Smith O’Brien was arrested and sent to Clonmel for trial.
The jury found him guilty of high treason and he was sentenced to be hanged. The capital sentence was commuted to transportation for life. He was imprisoned for about nine months at Spike Island in Cork and on the 29 July 1849, he was sent to Tasmania with Meagher, O’Donahue and MacManus, his associates in the Rebellion. After nearly five years in exile an unsolicited pardon was accorded to Smith O’ Brien on condition of his not returning to Ireland. In 1854 he came back to Europe, and settled with his family in Brussels. Here he wrote the book ‘Principles of Government’, or Meditations in Exile, which was afterwards published in Dublin. In May, 1856, he was fully pardoned and in July he returned to Ireland. He contributed to the ‘Nation’ newspaper but kept himself apart from politics. After spending a short time at home he departed on a continental tour, visiting North America before his return.
In 1864 he visited England and Wales, with the view of rallying his failing health, but no improvement took place, and he died at Bangor, in Wales on the 16 of June 1864. He is buried in the family vault in Rathronan, Co Limerick.
Photo: Statue of William Smith O’Brien on O’Connell Street, Dublin