Category: Archive

174 years ago: Second of three parts

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Second of three parts

For two decades, Daniel O’Connell had waged a campaign for repeal of the last anti-Catholic Penal Laws in Ireland. He and his supporters found enough sympathetic Irish MPs to get Catholic Emancipation bills introduced into Parliament in 1805, ’08, ’19 and ’21, but all were rejected. Following this last defeat, O’Connell decided to adopt a new approach. Rather than focus his attention on winning votes in Parliament, he would build a grassroots political movement in Ireland to demand Catholic Emancipation. He knew the British establishment feared Catholic Emancipation, but also that they feared the outbreak of rebellion in Ireland even more.
O’Connell’s new strategy was centered on an organization he founded in May 1823. The Catholic Association began as a small reform organization of Catholic landowners, merchants and professionals in Dublin. But O’Connell soon transformed it into an organization with chapters in every county in Ireland. Significantly, he opened the membership to the Irish peasantry and 250,000 joined. Dues cost only a penny per month — a fee known as the “Catholic rent.” Local parishes all across Ireland became centers of Catholic Association agitation, and by 1825 O’Connell had a mass movement behind him, spurred by mass rallies, newspapers and speaking tours. Contributions topped

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