William Smith O’Brien was a Protestant Irish nationalist Member of Parliament (MP) and leader of the Young Ireland movement. He also encouraged the use of the Irish language. He was convicted of sedition for his part in the Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848, but his sentence of death was commuted to deportation to Van Diemen’s Land. In 1854, he was released on the condition of exile from Ireland, and he lived in Brussels for two years. In 1856 O’Brien was pardoned and returned to Ireland, but he was never active again in politics.
A statue of O’Brien (crafted by Thomas Farrell) was erected in Dublin’s O’Connell Street in 1870.
The Irish Times – 27 Dec 1870 wrote:
“The first time for 70 years that a monument had been erected in a public place in Dublin to honour an Irishman whose title to that honour was that he devoted his life to the Irish national cause. In other countries it is such men only that received the honour of a public monument, but in this city there were statues to men who had served and loved England, and did not care for Ireland. As to this country, it had been held that it was treason to love her, and death to defend her. The monuments which had been erected till now have been rather monuments of this haughty mastery of the English people and our servility and helplessness. A favourable change took place recently. Ireland had ventured to erect statues to Moore, Goldsmith and Burke, whose genius was Irish, and whose sympathies also were mainly Irish. Though these men loved Ireland, and their memories were thus commemorated, none of them ever exposed themselves to the danger of imprisonment or transportation for life for Ireland. There stood the statue of a man who 22 years ago, was sentenced to be hanged, drawn, and quartered for his love of Ireland.”
Photo: William Smith O’Brien Statue, O’Connell St, Dublin, credit: Alex Art