Arthur O’Connor (1763-1852)


Life
br. of Roger O’Connor [see under Feargus O’Connor, q.v.]; prob. descended from Cromwellian soldier called Conner who received land around Bandon, where he was brought up; entered TCD, 1779 (aetat. 15), having already read Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations; Irish bar; acted as Lord Kingsborough’s election agent, 1790, and appt. High Sheriff, Co. Cork; entered House of Commons as MP for Philipstown, 1791-95; claimed that Ireland was ruled by a cabal in a parliamentary speech of 1795 and publish a pamphlet representing repression as the best worst means of encouraging rebellion; joined United Irishman and became a member of the Dublin Directory; fnd. The Press (Dublin) with Thomas Addis Emmet, Sept. 1797;
 
travelled to to Hamburg and Paris as United Irish emissary; m. dg. of Condercet, whose works he edited; contrib. ‘The State of Ireland’ returned from Hamburg to stand in elections for Belfast; arrested with others at Margate, Feb. 1798 and emprisoned in Dublin Castle where he was held in solitary confinement for six months; tried and sentenced on the basis of a cipher in his razor case; dispatched to Fort George, Scotland, 1799, on giving information 9in the parlance of the period); released in 1802 on condition of ‘banishment’ advised Watty Cox to desist from publication of Union Star; came close to duelling with Thomas Addis Emmet; became general of the Irish Legion, a division in the Napoleonic army, after 1804;
 
lived on his French estate, where he died at 91, remaining a liberal Protestant; at his death William Conner made a claim to his estate as the natural son of the late general, and was opposed by O’Connor’s widow Eliza-Condorcet O’Connor, being represented in court by François-André Isambert; the case fell through lack of evidence of kinship; O’Connor published works on political questions and is regarded by his modern editor as the ‘chief conduit’ of revolutionary ideas to Ireland; his servant was one Arthur O’Leary; ODNB styles him an ‘Irish rebel’; there is a caricature by Gillray showing O’Connor introducing Charles James Fox (“Citizen Volpone”), his wife with other leading Whigs to Napoleon Bonaparte (viz., “Introduction of Citizen Volpone & his Suite, at Paris”, 1802). ODNB
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Works
The State of Ireland [rep. edn.], ed. James Livesey (Dublin: Lilliput Press 1998), 124pp.

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Criticism
  • Cathal O’Byrne, As I Roved Out (Dublin: Three Candles 1946), p.87 [infra];
  • Jane Hayter Hames, Arthur O’Connor: United Irishman (Cork: Collins Press 2001) [q.pp.].
 
See also Clifford D. Conner, Arthur O’Connor: The Most Important Irish Revolutionary You May Never Have Heard Of (iUniverse.com 2009) [available on Kindle].

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Commentary
Charles Hamilton Teeling includes in an appendix of his History of the Rebellion of 1798, a ‘powerful document’ from the pen of Arthur O’Connor, a prisoner, reporting that on 24th July Mr. Dobbs and the Sheriff entered with a written paper, signed by 70 state prisoners, purposing to give information of arms, &c., provided the lives of Bond and Byrne were spared, O’Connor refusing to sign. The whole document is addressed to Castlereagh ‘sated with blood’. He ends, ‘Convince me that you are guiltless, that I am in error, and I will do you justice [&c.] signed Arthur O’Connor, prison 4 Jan. 1799.’ (See further under Charles Teeling, infra.]

Conor Cruise O’Brien, Edmund Burke: The Great Melody: A Commented Biography (London: Sinclair-Stevenson 1992), quotes Burke’s remarks on Arthur O’Connor: ‘The only member of the Irish House to make a speech along United Irish lines, delivered 4 May 1795 at Fitzwilliam’s recall, attacking administrative abuses and threatening consequences of general revolt. His speech caused Burke to write to Fitzwilliam warning, “Ireland will Jacobinise all the Energies and the active Talents of that Country. They are considerable [...] Jacobinism is the Vice of men of Parts; and, in this age, it is the Channel in which all discontents will run.”’ (Burke, Corr. VIII, pp.215-16; 242-3; 245-6; here pp.526-27). Further, ‘[527] In a letter to Thomas Hussey a few days later, he refers to O’Connor again, “In Parliament the Language of your friends (one only excepted) was what it ought to be. But that one Speech, though full of fire and animation, was not warmed with the fire of heaven. I am sorry for it. I have seen that Gentleman but once. He is certainly a man of parts; but one who has dealt too much in the Philosophy of France. Justice, Prudence, Tenderness, moderation, and Christian Charity, ought to become the measures of tolerance, and not a cold apathy, or indeed rather a savage hatred, to all religion, and an avowed contempt of all those points on which we [Christians] differ, and those about which we agree.”’ (Corr., VIII, pp.215-6; 242-3; 245-6.) According to Burke, there is a suggestion here of Milton contemplating Satan. (C. C. O’Brien, p.527.)

Chas. George Walpole, A Short History of the Kingdom of Ireland from the Earliest Times to the Union with Britain (London: Kegan, Paul & Trench 1885), remarks on Lady Edward Ftizgerald passing over to France with Arthur O’Connor after the events of 1789 (p.463.)

Cathal O’Byrne, As I Roved Out (1946), characterises O’Connor as ‘the hypocritical patriot’ and cites his letters to R. R. Madden falsely indicting William Putnam McCabe of being a ‘double spy’ (p.87).

Clifford D. Conner writes: ‘[...] After Arthur O’Connor’s death in 1852, William Conner advanced a legal claim in France against O'Connor’s estate on the grounds that he was the natural son of the late General O’Connor. O’Connor's widow, Eliza Condorcet-O’Connor, fought his claim. A very prominent lawyer and close friend of the O’Connor family, François-André Isambert, represented her and, because William Conner could produce no documentary evidence to support his claim, it was disposed of with little difficulty. Isambert declared: “I have lived above twenty-five years on terms of intimacy with the General ... Never did he speak to me upon a matter of so much importance in his life as that of a son whom he had left in his native land, worthy of his name and of his assistance.”’ Conner goes on to say: ‘Lady Lucy Fitzgerald, Lord Edward’s sister, reported in her diary the presence of an illegitimate son of O’Connor’s at Lord Edward’s house in March 1797. (O’Connor himself could not have been there at that time because he was in prison from February through July of that year. Perhaps the boy had been entrusted to Lord Edward’s care.) Furthermore, an account of Conner family genealogy mentions a “William Conner, Esq, late of Inch, near Athy, in the Queen’s County, author of The True Political Economy of Ireland, &c.,” and identifies him as “the son of the celebrated Arthur Condorcet O’Connor”.’ (Diaspora Irish Studies list; email: cliff.conner@mac.com, 11.03.2009).

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References
R. F. Foster, Modern Ireland (London: Allen Lane 1988): O’Connor, or Connor; b. Mitchelstown, ed. TCD, and Bar, 1788; MP [as above], did not oppose Govt. until 1795; joined United Irishmen, having been persuaded not to seek an English parliamentary seat by Lord Edward; edited the Press, arrested in England, 1798; released, 1803, and went to France; appointed general by Napoleon, and m. dg. of Condorcet; anti-clerical, eccentric, churlish, megalomaniacal; derided Catholic relief movements as priest-ridden. (p.268.)

Marianne Elliott, Partners in Revolution: The United Irishmen and the French (Yale UP 1982), 410pp.; index lists significant refs. to Arthur O’Connor at p.208 et passim.

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Notes
William Drennan was called by Arthur O’Connor to give character evidence in England, but was pre-empted by the ill-report of John Gifford.

Namesake: Arthur O’Connor, grand-nephew of Feargus O’Connor, the Chartist, attempted to shoot Queen Victoria in the courtyard of Buckingham Palace, 29 Feb. 1872; holding an unloaded gun with a paper stating distresses at Irish grievances; Victoria was ‘saved’ by John Brown; O'Connor spared flogging on the Queen's intervention, and called by here the "wretched boy"; he was a former inmate of the Ormond Children’s Hospital. (See Michael Newton, The Age of Assassins: A History of Conspiracy and Political Violence 1865-1981, Faber 2012).

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