THE HEREDITARY BONDSMAN: Daniel O'Connell, 1775-1829 by Oliver MacDonagh

THE HEREDITARY BONDSMAN: Daniel O'Connell, 1775-1829

Email this review


An excellent first volume of a projected two-part biography of the ""Liberator"" of Ireland by MacDonagh (History/Australian National Univ.). In a land where rebels have most often come from the rougher classes, it is easily overlooked that Daniel O'Connell had all of the privileges of the upper class, including a Continental education in France, the setting for much of the earlier portion of this book. (The title is taken from Byron's lines: ""Hereditary bondsman! know ye not/Who would be free themselves must strike the blow?"") Growing up in a world in which Gaelic culture had been broken by English rule, O'Connell was able to move effortlessly between both cultures, which ""gave him ease and security in his Irishness and presented him with a key to mastery of the masses."" The author describes the fortuitous flux of chance that resulted in O'Connell being schooled in France at the time of the Revolution. There, O'Connell learned the gentlemanly arts, writing home: ""I have now two objects to pursue. The one, the attainment of knowledge; the other, the acquisition of all those qualities which constitute the polite gentleman."" The ""polite gentleman"" was soon involved in a secret marriage to a penniless distant cousin and in spendthrift debts. But the public O'Connell began to emerge as a master of the unknown territory of mass politics. MacDonagh relies on the correspondence that has been trickling into publication since 1972 to show a resourceful, flexible, and buoyant O'Connell eventually harboring dreams of being Ireland's Washington--the first step of which was the important role that he played in forcing the Relief Act of 1829 to grant Catholic Emancipation in Ireland. MacDonagh breaks off the narrative at this point, leaving the recitation of O'Connell's later triumphs and tragedies for volume two. A delightfully learned volume, elegantly written, that leaves the reader clamoring for the rest of O'Connell's story.

Pub Date: May 2nd, 1988
Publisher: St. Martin's