Feargus O’Connor (1794-1855)

Notes


Life
b. Connorville, Co. Cork, son of Roger O’Connor, who inherited his wealth from merchant success in London and was noted as a volatile figure, supporting the United Irishmen while punishing agrarian disturbers; Feargus was thus a nephew of Arthur O’Connor [q.v.] and half-brother of Roderic, became a prominent land-owner in Australia; ed. TCD; Gray’s Inns; noted as a reforming landlord in Co. Cork; supported the anti-Tithe Movement and Repeal Association; elected MP for Cork, 1832-35; proposed land-purchase scheme to solve the Irish agrarian problem; quarrelled with O’Connell and was unseated as lacking property qualifications; issued A Series of Letters from Feargus O’Connor to Daniel O’Connell (1836), urging alliance between Irish peasantry and English working class (‘the working Saxon and Celt’); referred to O’Connell’s rhetoric as ‘balderdash’ and accused him of dictatorship; transferred his interest to radicalism in England;
 
fnd. the Chartist weekly, Northern Star, in 1837; excluded from National Charter Association, and did not participate in drawing up People’s Charter of 1838, but acted as chief spokesman; quarrelled with James Bronterre O’Brien, becoming undisputed leader of the Chartists; claimed to speak for men of ‘fustian jackets, blistered hands and unshorn chins’; was imprisoned for seditious incitement of the Newport Rising [1839], 1840-41; elected MP for Nottingham, 1847 and presided over great Chartist Meeting, London 1848; the movement lost impetus when he repudiated middle-class alliance; latterly advocated rural resettlement; his increasingly violent behaviour resulted in committal to a mental asylum, 1852; d. 30 Aug. 1855; his funeral was reputedly attended by 55,000. ODNB DIB DIH OCIL

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Criticism
  • Asa Briggs, ‘Fergus O’Connor and J Bronterre O’Brien’, in Leaders and Workers, ed. J. W. Boyle [Thomas Davis Lectures] (Cork 1966), q.pp.;
  • Paul A. Pickering, Feargus O’Connor: A Political Life (Wales: Merlin Press 2008), 180pp.

See also Mark Hovell, The Chartist Movement (Manchester UP 1963); James Epstein & Dorothy K. G. Thompson, eds., The Chartist Experience: Studies in Working Class Radicalism and Culture 1830-60 (London: Macmillan 1982); Richard Brown & Christopher W. Daniels, The Chartists (Basingstoke: Macmillan 1984).

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Commentary
Francis MacManus, ed., M. J. MacManus, ‘’Twas a famous victory’, in Adventures of an Irish Bookman (Dublin: Talbot Press 1952), pp.66-71 [chap.], gives an account of the massacre at Bartlemy’s Cross, Gortroe, in Co. Cork, on the road from Rathcormac to Middleton, in 1834, when a crowd of 150 were fired on my troops [causing 16 fatalities] in support of the tithe claim of Rev. William Ryder; the event was witnessed by Feargus O’Connor among others. [See also allusions to the same events in J. J. Horgan, Parnell to Pearse, 1949, supra.]

Ethel Mannin, Two Studies of Integrity (1954), quotes Father Prout, who compares O’Connor, a Chartist and by implication a Unionist, favourably with Daniel O’Connell: ‘We’ve got great Feargus fresh from Cork / Who would not sell for love or money / His native land, nor, like vile Daniel, / Fawn on Lord Althorp like a spaniel.’ Here (p.171.)

Patrick Rafroidi, Irish Literature in English (1980), Vol. 1, ‘Neither O’Connell nor the Young Irelanders had shown the sympathy one might have expected from them towards Feargus O’Connor, an Irishman from England and spearhead of the movement. But in an inflammatory speech O’Brien made to the Commons on his way back to Ireland from Paris, he was heard to declare, ‘I trust that the Repealers of Ireland will accept that aid which the Chartists are universally prepared to give them.’ (p.87.)

Desmond Fennell, ‘Irish Socialist Thought’, in The Irish Mind, ed. Richard Kearney (1985), O’Connor, Chartist leader, begun political life as parliamentary colleague of O’Connell; elected for Co. Cork in 1833 and 1834; deprived of seat as lacking property qualification; went into working-class politics in North of England; hijacked Chartism from its London founders; they were socialists, but O’Connor cannot be so described; hated industrialism; wanted to re-settled the unemployed on non-collectivist colonies as peasant proprietors, envisaging beneficial rise in wages for urban workers as a side-effect. (p.194.)

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References
Whelan Books (Cat. 32) lists The Trial of Feargus O’Connor and Fifty Eight Others on a charge of sedition conspiracy, tumult and riot, a verbatim report of the trial [rep. of 1848 edn.] (NY: Kelley 1970).

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Notes
Kith & Kin: a brother, Francis, won high military and political rank in Bolivia; another, Roderic (1784-1860), being the son of Roger O’Connor with his first wife Louisa Anna (née Strachan), an eccentric Irish landowner and descendant of a rich London merchant whose whose sympathies veered from suppression of agrarian riots to support for the United Irishmen, emigrated to Van Diemen’s Land in his own ship Ardent, accompanied by his natural sons William and Arthur (Rattigan) and became a noted landowner on the Lake River and elsewhere; he also acted as a public servant under the patronage of Lieut.-Gov. Sir George Arthur and was highly active in the Commission for survey and valuation established by him and afterwards served in the legislature on several occasions. He controlled hundreds of convicts in his capacity as Inspector of roads and bridges and acted as a magistrate. He converted to Catholicism late in life. (See Australian Dictionary of Biography, online; accessed 08.05.2010.)

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