“No person knows better than you do that the domination of England is the sole and blighting curse of this country. It is the incubus that sits on our energies, stops the pulsation of the nation’s heart and leaves to Ireland not gay vitality but horrid the convulsions of a troubled dream.” –Daniel O’Connell
Eighteen years after refusing to take the Oath of Supremacy, Daniel O’Connell – The Great Emancipator – dies in Genoa at age 71. O’Connell was the prime mover in attaining Catholic Emancipation – allowing Catholics to sit in Parliament.
Daniel O’Connell was born in Cahirciveen, Co Kerry. O’Connell would go on to be one of the most important figures in Irish political and Catholic civil rights history.
O’Connell was a prominent politician and fine orator who drew huge crowds. His actions, and the concerns of Prime Minister Duke of Wellington (born Dublin 1769) that the continued refusal to provide the vote to Catholics would generate further unrest ensured the passing of the Catholic Emancipation Act. O’Connell was so popular that King George IV complained ‘O’Connell! God damn the scoundrel.’ Oh, the Duke of Wellington is King of England, O’Connell is King of Ireland and I suppose I am only considered as Dean of Windsor’.
Daniel O’Connell originally won a by-election in Co Clare in 1828 defeating William Vesey Fitzgerald, but was not allowed to take his seat refusing to swear an Oath of Supremacy that was incompatible with his Catholic faith.
While making a pilgrimage to the Eternal City of Rome, O’Connell died of “softening of the brain”, but not before imparting to his doctor, Fr Miley, these parting words: “My body to Ireland, my heart to Rome, and my soul to heaven. His heart was buried in Rome (at Sant’Agata dei Goti, then the chapel of the Irish College), and his body was eventually brought back to Dublin and now rests in the magnificently restored mausoleum in Glasnevin Cemetery, surrounded by the last remains of family, friends and supporters, and topped off by the round tower which dominates the skyline of the cemetery.
Sant’Agata herself was a martyr who had both her breasts cut off because she declined to renounce her religion – a macabre event commemorated on the front of the church in a relief, dated 1729, which depicts one of the severed breasts on a plate. Nevertheless, the church dedicated to Agata was a fitting last resting place for another displaced organ: the heart of Daniel O’Connell. On September 17, 1927 when, in the process of moving out of St Agata dei Goti to new premises, the casket and the heart of one of Ireland’s most famous sons had vanished. Daniel O’Connell’s missing heart became a church secret.
Image | The crypt of Daniel O’Connell, Glasnevin Cemetery | Photography by Andy Sheridan