O'CONNELL, Maurice Daniel (1803-1853).

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press



23 Mar. 1831 - 1832
1832 - 1837
12 Mar. 1838 - 18 June 1853

Family and Education

b. 27 June 1803, 1st s. of Daniel O’Connell* and Mary, da. of Thomas O’Connell, physician, of Tralee, co. Kerry; bro. of Daniel O’Connell†, Morgan O’Connell† and John O’Connell†. educ. Miss Everina Wollstonecraft’s sch. Dublin 1810; Edward Whyte’s sch. Dublin 1813; Clongowes Wood Coll. 1815; private tutors; Trinity, Dublin 1819; King’s Inns 1821, called [I] 1827; G. Inn 1824. m. 29 Sept. 1832, Mary Frances, da. of John Bindon Scott of Cahircon, co. Clare, 2s. 2da.; ch. illegit. suc. fa. 1847. d. 18 June 1853.

Offices Held

Dir. National Bank of Ireland 1834.


Maurice, the Liberator’s eldest son, was too weak a character to bear the full weight of his parents’ loving devotion. As their extensive correspondence makes plain, he, even more than their younger children, was the constant subject of their deepest anxieties and consuming aspirations. Taken shortly after his birth to his paternal grandfather’s house at Carhen in remote county Kerry, he was doted on by his family, but, in accordance with the old tradition, was fostered out.1 O’Connell reported to his wife, about a visit to him in 1805, that their two-year-old son

is as like you as two eggs - and has all that sauciness of temper and disposition. He is a wonderful favourite and the most affectionate little villain in the world. His temper is certainly hasty, but he is never for one moment sulky or sullen and I already perceive that there would be little difficulty in bringing him into proper discipline.

Later that summer she responded in kind with news that

our dear Maurice is perfectly well. He is much attached to me though he sometimes calls me a bitch and desires me go to Tralee to Dada Dan. His nurse was to visit him yesterday and anything to equal his delight to see her I never saw. He kissed every bit of her and made her take out her breast and press it to his own.2

In 1809 O’Connell detected in Maurice ‘an ardour and a distinctness which please me much’, qualities which he prized ‘because they are I know through life the sources of the only genuine pleasures - of those pleasures which alone render life worth having’. Yet he soon came to worry about his son’s misbehaviour, bidding his wife to be more peremptory with him, and to fear that his gifts would be thrown away in idleness.3 Mary Wollstonecraft’s sister Everina, who ran the boys’ school that he attended in Hume Street, Dublin, commented in 1811 that it was ‘a pity a boy of such talents should be so sheepish and careless’, and by 1813, presumably in order to improve his education, he had been put under the care of Edward Whyte, who had an establishment in Grafton Street.4 In early 1815 he was sent with his brother Morgan to the newly opened Jesuit college at Clongowes Wood in county Kildare, where their father expected them to imbibe ‘principles of Catholic faith and national feeling’. O’Connell criticized what he described to Maurice as ‘a loose and rambling turn in your mind’, and could not forebear to urge him to greater efforts, but the rector, Father Peter Kenney, rated him highly and informed his father in 1817 that ‘if you and we conform him to steady habits of application, we shall get him to do anything. God has given him very ample talents. Exertion and cultivation will make him a solid and conspicuous scholar’.5 He displayed a certain unctuous religiosity, for example in April 1816, when his mother wrote to O’Connell that he ‘thanked God with his hands clasped for your conversion’, or again in June 1818, when he expressed his gratitude to her for ‘that love and tenderness with which you watched over my childhood’. Mary O’Connell took a maternal pride in his development at Clongowes, although in a letter to her husband, 1 Apr. 1820, in which she recognized that Maurice was still very young, she complained that he and Morgan were formerly nice mannered boys, but that now it was ‘almost impossible to get them to divest themselves of the vulgarity they acquired at that college’.6

Having been assisted by a tutor, Maurice studied at Trinity College, but his father found him unconscionably idle as well as dilatory in the observance of his religious duties, and was not surprised by his taking only a reasonably good degree.7 O’Connell, who already employed him in running minor political errands and was glad to have his company during his wife’s absence abroad, took him to the Castle on the presentation of the Catholics’ congratulatory address to Lord Wellesley, the lord lieutenant, in December 1822, and evidently envisaged a career for him at the bar.8 Yet in 1823 he was distraught about Maurice’s ‘fidgets’ or ‘shocking and foolish gesticulations’: he confided to his wife, who pitied him this restless disorder, that he ‘actually has got a trick of lolling out his tongue round his lips which is childish and absurd in its appearance’, and he doubted whether she would ‘think it useless to go to the expense of giving him any profession’.9 However, Maurice mastered his bad habits, at his father’s insistence, and, having finally been to mass, was dispatched to join his mother in France for a short time. His uncle James O’Connell, writing to Daniel in November 1823 to argue that Maurice should be provided for during his intended residence at the inns of court, observed that he was ‘blessed with a good constitution and with talents that ensure success at the bar if he applies but ... I have reason to know he thinks he will have a large landed property. It is cruel not to undeceive him’. An allowance of £200 a year was granted by his great-uncle, Maurice O’Connell of Derrynane, early in 1824, when Maurice began to keep his terms at Gray’s Inn.10 His father berated him for his procrastination and profligacy, but his mother, who benefited from seeing him frequently at her then residence in Southampton, interceded several times on his behalf and attempted to soothe her husband. She wrote to him in February that Maurice, who assured her he was diligent in his studies, ‘is every day improving in his appearance and manners. He is certainly a very fine young man. He will, I think, darling, resemble what you were when I first knew you’; and in April 1824 she noted that her son was ‘quite domestic in his habits and very good in every sense of the word’.11

Increasingly seen as one of O’Connell’s deputies, in December 1824 either Maurice or more likely Morgan (who several times acted in this capacity) fought a duel with Maurice Leyne, a barrister who had insulted their (non-duelling) father in the Four Courts.12 Early the following year O’Connell left him in Dublin to get up Catholic petitions and, from London, asked his wife to ‘tell Maurice I trust to his prudence and care of everything’, though he added that ‘a little law reading and a little earlier rising would do him no harm’. He was proud of Maurice’s speech in the Catholic Association condemning its suppression and attacking John Doherty*, 15 Feb., though he commented that ‘he should not imitate his father’s faults by being so personal’. Maurice wrote to him in defiant mood, 18 Mar., that the Association ‘met today for the last time. A glorious day for Ireland’.13 The following month he acted as secretary to his father’s Catholic deputation to Westminster, attending a royal levée and parliamentary debates on Catholic relief; on 22 Apr. O’Connell related to his wife that the previous day Maurice ‘was near getting us put out of the House of Commons by flinging himself over banisters and down a flight of steps to show his agility. Luckily it was not noticed’.14 Maurice, who spoke at the Kerry Catholics’ meeting in August, was in October described by John Boyle, editor of the Cork Freeholder, as ‘a whelp we understand of extraordinary impertinence’, a slur which aroused his father’s amused irritation.15 In November 1825 O’Connell again trembled for his son’s future, despondently commenting to his wife that ‘you see he attends to nothing useful’, and in March 1826 he begged him to concentrate on his legal training.16 The diarist Henry Crabb Robinson, who visited O’Connell at his recently inherited residence of Derrynane that summer, noted that Maurice ‘has talents and high spirits. He is coming to the bar, but will do nothing there. He is aware that he will be one day rich’.17 He was called in early 1827 and that spring his father initiated him into going the Munster circuit, during which he spoke at Catholic gatherings in Ennis, 11 Mar., and Limerick, 21 Mar.18 However, he soon gave up what little practice he had.19

In late 1827 O’Connell appointed Maurice as the national secretary of churchwardens, a crucial position within the revamped organization for the collection of the Catholic rent.20 He continued to play a minor role in the Catholic Association, to which, for instance, he was said to have made a talented speech, 26 Jan. 1828.21 In June he canvassed for O’Connell in his successful contest against William Vesey Fitzgerald* in Clare, where he qualified as a freeholder in order to vote. At the Association, the radical Jack Lawless commended the ‘most excellent and praiseworthy conduct’ during the by-election of Maurice, who, in his father’s absence, presided at the Clare Liberal Club dinner in Ennis, 22 July 1828.22 He chaired a meeting in Tralee of the committee for the opening of that borough, 28 Jan. 1829, and transmitted its thanks to Nicholas Philpot Leader*, for his support.23 In February he followed his father’s line in wishing to postpone the immediate dissolution of the Association, which was expected to have taken place on the government’s concession of Catholic emancipation. The following month he accompanied O’Connell on his abortive journey to take his seat at Westminster; he was reported to have been a social success in the capital, and he spoke at the Thatched House meeting in opposition to the disfranchisement of the Irish 40s. freeholders, 7 Mar.24 He was again active in his father’s successful re-election campaign that summer, when he escaped charges of incitement for having encouraged mob violence against a rival candidate, Toby Glascock.25 Late in 1829 O’Connell, in the course of a furious row with the Beresfords in Waterford, threatened to start Maurice for that county.26 The following year, when there was some mention of an election agent being found for him in Kerry, he evidently suffered a long bout of illness. He used his indisposition as an excuse for not being inveigled into fighting a duel, on his father’s behalf, with William Nugent Macnamara* in county Clare in July 1830.27

Although one local supporter had warned O’Connell that, unlike himself, his untried son would not be an acceptable candidate, Maurice was brought forward at Drogheda at the general election of 1830, when he was again linked to an attempt to open Tralee. In his address he claimed reflected glory from his father’s role in the attainment of emancipation and declared himself ‘a radical reformer of every public abuse’.28 He vigorously attacked his opponent John Henry North, who was also contesting Dublin University, especially as a supporter of the duke of Wellington’s ministry, but trailed behind him in the five-day poll and finished 105 adrift. His brother-in-law Christopher Fitzsimon†, who blamed his defeat on a shortfall in the number of registered freeholders, consoled O’Connell that Maurice, who promised to petition against North’s non-resident freemen voters

has throughout acquitted himself in the most satisfactory manner and has given proof of talent that even surprised his friends. All that is wanting is to induce him to exert his powers and I trust such will be the effect of his visit to Drogheda.29

He spoke at a dinner in his honour in Cahirciveen, Kerry, 15 Sept., and his petition against North’s return was presented, 16 Nov. 1830.30 He, of course, took his father’s side over his arrest and prosecution early the following year and at one point informed Richard Newton Bennett, O’Connell’s intermediary with the Grey administration, that he would not negotiate with ministers unless the charges were dropped.31 In line with his father’s trouble-making opposition to the re-election of Lord Duncannon, the newly appointed Whig minister, in county Kilkenny, in February 1831, he made there what William Gosset*, the Irish under-secretary, described as ‘a most inflammatory speech, if not quite, very near treason’.32

Despite being hopeful of the Drogheda committee’s deciding to seat Maurice, O’Connell was not disheartened by its judgment against him, 3 Mar. 1831, especially as he expected the passage of parliamentary reform to open many potential constituencies to him. In fact, although he would not have countenanced Maurice standing against William Richard Mahon, the brother of the O’Gorman Mahon*, the recently disqualified Member, he had him put up for Clare, with the Mahons’ backing, at the by-election that month.33 There was little enthusiasm for him and he was reported by Lord Anglesey, the lord lieutenant, to be ‘rather a croaker’, but he spoke enthusiastically for radical reform and the eventual repeal of the Union, and vituperatively attacked his reluctantly pro-reform challenger, the former Tory Member Sir Edward O’Brien*, whom he defeated by nearly 200 votes.34 In the Commons he opposed the Ennis Member William Smith O’Brien’s motion relating to disturbances in their county, 13 Apr., arguing, with passion and at length, that the economic distress and related unrest had been provoked by the exploitative and irresponsible local gentry and the indifferent and bungling Irish administration. He was congratulated on his ‘able and forcible manner’ by Frederick Trench, and although the Tory Clare Journal defended the landlords against the effusions of their ‘boy Member’, a liberal political commentator called his maiden speech ‘exceedingly promising’.35 He divided against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment to the English reform bill, 19 Apr. 1831. He stood again for Clare at the ensuing general election, when his father persisted in fielding him in order to keep out the O’Gorman Mahon, whom he blamed for the prevailing agrarian insurgency; he had ministerial backing as a reformer but was expected to lose.36 Having objected to the imposition of an Insurrection Act and promised to continue to work for the amelioration of Irish grievances, he was nevertheless returned behind Macnamara, after a severe contest against the O’Gorman Mahon, whose brother William insulted him in speaking on the hustings and then struck him in the street in a vain attempt to provoke him into fighting a duel.37

Maurice, who naturally followed his father’s political lead and sometimes deputized for him, was reasonably active in the Commons, often presenting Irish petitions and raising minor matters of concern. He intervened during the debate on the address to indicate that Clare was now calm, 21 June, but commented on the state of his county, 11, 15 July, 31 Aug. He voted for the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, at least twice against adjourning the proceedings on it, 12 July, and steadily for its details (twice by pairing), though he was in the minority against the proposed division of English counties, 11 Aug. He divided against the grants for professorial salaries at Oxford and Cambridge, 8 July, and civil list services, 18 July, but defended the one for Maynooth College, 19 July. He was listed in the minority on his father’s motion for swearing the original Dublin committee, 29 July, and voted against censuring the Irish government over the Dublin election, 23 Aug. He divided for making legal provision for the Irish poor, 29 Aug., called for the disbandment of the Irish yeomanry, 31 Aug., 9 Sept., and broadly welcomed the appointment of lord lieutenants in Irish counties, 6 Oct. He was in minorities against the quarantine duties, 6 Sept., and for inquiry into how far the renewal of the Sugar Refinery Act would affect the West India interest and against going into committee on the truck bill, 12 Sept. He belittled the Evangelical Tory James Edward Gordon, 9 Sept., and twitted the radical Henry Hunt, 15, 29 Sept. He voted for the passage of the reform bill, 21 Sept., the second reading of the Scottish bill, 23 Sept., and Lord Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct. 1831.

He missed the division on the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, but voted for the partial disfranchisement of 30 boroughs in schedule B, 23 Jan. 1832, again generally for its details and for the third reading, 22 Mar. On 26 Jan. he and seven or eight other Irish Liberals were sent out of the House by O’Connell, who had spoken against the Russian-Dutch loan, in order to prevent government being accidentally defeated on this issue.38 He divided for a select committee on distress in the glove trade, 31 Jan., and information on Portugal, 9 Feb., and spoke and voted for Hunt’s motion for inquiry into Peterloo, 15 Mar. He praised the much improved Irish subletting bill, 20 Feb., but criticized Philip Crampton, the Irish solicitor-general, over the Irish judicial system, 28 Feb., and came down against the inclusion of Ireland in the anatomy bill, 11 Apr. He voted for printing the Woollen Grange petition for the abolition of Irish tithes, 16 Feb., and joined Charles Brownlow in arguing (and voting) that the Irish secretary Smith Stanley’s tithe proposals should be postponed until his select committee had completed its full report, 8 Mar.; O’Connell, who was in Ireland, commented that Maurice’s speech was as usual ‘miserably reported’. Retorting to Smith Stanley’s slighting remarks about the smallness of the minority on the 8th, he declared on 27 Mar. that the question was ‘not between a minority and a majority in that House, but between a minority and a majority of the people of Ireland’, but also condemned the Irish Members who had missed the vote. He drew a sneer from Smith Stanley by suggesting that the subject had been brought forward because of the absence of his father, who afterwards wrote to his wife that Maurice ‘was perfectly right throughout and ... really spoke excellently’.39 He voted against the first two resolutions that day, and the resulting tithes arrears bill, 6, 9 Apr. He again spoke at length against the exaction of ruinously high tithes before the introduction of any conciliatory measures, telling Crampton that ‘you wish to enforce a harsh law on the people without at the same time doing what you admit to be an act of justice’, 9 Apr., and he protested against the third reading of the bill, predicting further widespread and violent resistance to the payment of tithes, 16 Apr. 1832.

He probably paired for Ebrington’s motion for an address calling on the king to appoint only ministers who would carry the reform bill unimpaired, 10 May, but was absent from the division on the second reading of the Irish bill, 25 May 1832. From London, O’Connell instructed his factotum Patrick Fitzpatrick in Dublin to ‘explain to him how impatient I am for his arrival here’, 30 May, but Maurice was not prominent at Westminster the following month.40 He gave an ironic cheer against Lord Althorp, the leader of the House, while supporting O’Connell’s motion for restoring the Irish 40s. franchise, 13 June, but missed the division on his motion to extend the vote to £5 freeholders, 18 June. He attacked the Tory Frederick Shaw for opposing the Irish party processions bill, 14 June, but turned against it as unnecessary for the maintenance of public order, 25 July, when he sided with the minority against its committal. He divided for requiring coroners to have medical qualifications and for inquests to be held in public, 20 June. He voted for establishing a system of representation for New South Wales, 28 June, and Shaw’s amendment to preserve the voting rights of Irish freemen, 2 July, and spoke against transferring Ennis’s seat to county Clare and limiting Dublin University’s franchise to its MAs, 9 July. He justified the efforts of Irish Members to delay the passage of the government’s tithe legislation, 10 July, and spoke and voted for postponing the topic to the reformed Parliament, 13 July 1832.

Maurice, whose parents had frequently tried to interest him in rich or well-connected heiresses, eloped, to O’Connell’s initial fury, by boat from her father’s house on the Shannon with the daughter of a wealthy Tory Protestant landowner. He married her in a Catholic ceremony at Tralee, 29 Sept., and again, according to the rites of the Protestant church in Kenmare, 1 Oct. 1832; but the couple separated in early 1841 and he apparently thereafter fathered more than one illegitimate child.41 Despite fighting a duel with Arthur Blennerhassett of Ballyseedy that month, he was returned as a repealer for Tralee after a brief contest at the general election in December 1832 and he held the seat, almost uninterruptedly, for the rest of his life.42 One of the members of O’Connell’s small family party, he was lackadaisical in politics and never as close to him as were his brothers. According to James Grant, in the Commons, where he was largely silent and careless of his appearance, he often sat affectionately hand in hand with his father, who once remarked in an off-hand fashion that ‘the "pledge" worked a miracle on Maurice. People won’t believe that he is Maurice at all now’.43 He evidently struggled under his father’s constant embrace and shortly after his death in 1847, when he inherited the encumbered Derrynane, he commented on being denied permission to spend money on a yacht by his executors that ‘I have been too long trained to suppress and sacrifice my own feelings, in order to give way to my dear father’s wishes and orders, to suffer much from my struggle against them at present’.44 Perhaps under the influence of a congestion in the brain which was to kill him a few hours later, in mid-June 1853 he apparently told Charles Gavan Duffy† that he had disapproved of the break between O’Connell and the Young Irelanders in 1846, a rupture which he blamed entirely on his brother John’s pernicious influence over their ailing father.45 Remembered for his conciliatory manners and moderate politics, he was succeeded by his elder son Daniel (1836-1919), a naval officer and architect.46

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Stephen Farrell


  • 1. O. MacDonagh, Hereditary Bondsman, 8, 78-80 and Emancipist, 6; E.I. Bishop, World of Mary O’Connell, 73; O’Connell Corresp. i. 96, 124, 144; viii. 3381.
  • 2. O’Connell Corresp. i. 151, 154.
  • 3. Ibid. i. 233, 325-6, 442.
  • 4. Ibid. i. 278, 415.
  • 5. Ibid. ii. 508, 545, 595, 641, 715.
  • 6. Ibid. ii. 624, 830; Bishop, 74-75.
  • 7. O’Connell Corresp. ii. 813, 855-6, 955, 963, 990, 1005.
  • 8. Ibid. ii. 649, 958, 983, 990.
  • 9. Ibid. ii. 1009-11, 1022, 1032, 1036.
  • 10. Ibid. ii. 1036, 1042, 1053; iii. 1075-6.
  • 11. Ibid. iii. 1087-8, 1092-3, 1095, 1102-4, 1109, 1121.
  • 12. D. Gwynn, The O’Gorman Mahon, 38-39, 111-12.
  • 13. O’Connell Corresp. iii. 1168, 1170-1, 1173-4, 1184, 1194.
  • 14. Ibid. iii. 1204, 1207, 1211.
  • 15. Ibid. iii. 1254; Dublin Evening Post, 13 Aug. 1825.
  • 16. O’Connell Corresp. iii. 1258, 1298.
  • 17. Crabb Robinson Diary, ii. 31.
  • 18. O’Connell Corresp. iii. 1366, 1372, 1375; Dublin Evening Post, 15, 17, 31 Mar. 1827.
  • 19. MacDonagh, Emancipist, 5.
  • 20. MacDonagh, Hereditary Bondsman, 240.
  • 21. Dublin Evening Post, 26 Jan. 1828.
  • 22. Ibid. 28 June, 1, 3, 15, 26 July 1828.
  • 23. PRO NI, Leader mss D3653/16/3/37.
  • 24. The Times, 14 Feb. 1829; O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1516, 1528-9, 1533.
  • 25. Clare Jnl. 8 June; The Times, 11, 13 July 1829.
  • 26. PRO NI, Hill mss D642/243; Warder, 9, 12 Dec. 1829.
  • 27. O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1635, 1652, 1689.
  • 28. Ibid. iv. 1667; Clare Jnl. 26 July; Dublin Evening Post, 31 July 1830.
  • 29. Drogheda Jnl. 3 July, 3, 7, 10, 14 Aug. 1830; O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1701-2.
  • 30. Dublin Evening Post, 28 Sept. 1830.
  • 31. O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1764.
  • 32. Derby mss 920 Der (14) 121/1/2, Gosset to Smith Stanley, 24 Feb. 1831; ‘My Darling Danny’ ed. E.I. Bishop, 44.
  • 33. O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1778, 1780, 1782, 1787; viii. 3424.
  • 34. Dublin Evening Post, 17, 24 Mar.; Clare Jnl. 21, 24 Mar.; Derby mss 119/2, Anglesey to Smith Stanley, 21 Mar.; 121/1/2, Gosset to same, 22 Mar., to Earle, 26 Mar. 1831.
  • 35. Clare Jnl. 21 Apr. 1831; F.B. Hamilton, Picture of Parl. (1831), 64; ‘My Darling Danny’, 53-54.
  • 36. O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1800, 1809; Wellington mss WP1/1184/24; Grey mss, Smith Stanley to Grey, 9 May 1831.
  • 37. Freeman’s Jnl. 26 Apr.; Clare Jnl. 28 Apr., 9, 16, 23, 26 May; Dublin Evening Post, 21, 24, 26 May 1831; O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1811, 1813-14.
  • 38. Three Diaries, 184.
  • 39. O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1876, 1881; ‘My Darling Danny’, 89.
  • 40. O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1895a.
  • 41. Ibid. i. 96; iii. 1407-8, 1428; iv. 1549, 1550a, 1552; MacDonagh, Hereditary Bondsman, 276 and Emancipist, 6-7, 77-78, 215-16; M.R. O’Connell, Daniel O’Connell: The Man and his Politics, 93-94.
  • 42. Kerry Evening Post, 3, 21 Nov., 1, 15 Dec. 1832.
  • 43. [J. Grant], Random Recollections of Commons (1837), 327-8; Recollections of Aubrey de Vere, 110.
  • 44. MacDonagh, Emancipist, 309-10.
  • 45. Sir C.G. Duffy, My Life in Two Hemispheres, i. 174-5; O’Connell, 114-15.
  • 46. Dublin Evening Post, 21 June 1853; Gent. Mag. (1853), ii. 201.