Daniel O'Connell

 Section of the rue de Rivoli where the Hôtel Windsor stood   Count Charles de Montalembert
Daniel O’Connell (Cahirciveen, Co. Kerry, 1775—Genoa, 1847) spent his early schooldays at the Irish college in Douai and St. Omer in northern France and had several relatives who lived in France. One of these was his uncle, Count Daniel Charles O’Connell, who is worthy of an entry of his own. Count Daniel served in the French army before 1789, then fought for the counter-revolutionaries, before enrolling in the British army in 1792. He moved back to Paris after the Treaty of Amiens was signed in 1802. Count Daniel was detained briefly by the French after the breakdown of the Treaty in 1803, but was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the French army upon the Bourbon restoration in 1814.  

In 1822, O’Connell travelled from London to Pau via Paris to join his wife and family. His stay does not seem to have gotten off to a good start in Paris, where he stayed "at a shabby hotel called Hotel d'Irlande" in the rue Richelieu (2nd arrondissement). His dislike of France remained with O’Connell for the rest of his stay. Writing from Bordeaux in August 1822, he said that "my opinion of France and Frenchmen is not raised by a near inspection. Their climate is to me detestable. Nor can I endure the parched and sunburned appearance of the country." 

The following year, O’Connell arranged to go meet his family again, who by then were staying in Paris. In a letter sent to his family in July 1823, O’Connell looked forward to “the joy of being with you to see that proud but filthy capital. The contrast between it and London is excessive.”  (O’Connell’s view that Paris was a poor patch on London is corroborated by the French geographer Bernard Marchand who writes that even a decade after O’Connell’s visit, “Paris was still several decades behind London and other English cities,” and that “concerns about hygiene appeared much later in France than in England.”) Nothing that O’Connell saw on his visit to Paris in September 1823 seems to have changed the poor impression of France and the French that he had formed in the previous year. “The French are very inferior to the Irish”, he wrote soon after his return to the British Isles. “The poor Irish have miseries and consequent vices but they have not the native depravity of the French." The latter, he deems, “are indeed an odious people”. 

Text of funeral oration for O'Connell at Notre Dame

Perhaps his opinion was coloured by the expense of this whole expedition. According to his exasperated brother, James, O'Connell’s decision to send his large family on a prolonged jaunt through France in 1822-1823 dilapidated the Liberator’s already fragile finances, in part because the family stayed in "the most splendid and expensive lodgings in Paris". There was justification in James’ stand, for O’Connell family had taken up residence at the Hôtel Durand at 4, Place Vendôme—even then one of the most exclusive addresses in Paris. Refusing several loan requests from Daniel, James pointed out that not only was his brother spending money he didn't have to keep his big family in France, but also that "it is notorious that Paris contains more temptations for female vanity to lay out money than any metropolis in Europe."

On March 26, 1847, on his first trip outside the British Isles in 24 years, O’Connell arrived in Paris on his way to Rome. O’Connell was now old and very sick and no doubt would have been better advised not to travel, but he was convinced by his chaplain to obtain a blessing from Pope Pius IX in the capital of the Papal State. Once in the French capital, he checked into the Hôtel Windsor at 38, Rue de Rivoli, just around the corner from the Hôtel Durand, where his family had stayed 24 years before, and just beside the Hôtel Brighton, where Charles Stewart Parnell was to stay in 1881. O’Connell was visited by the Comte de Montalembert, the archbishop of Paris and a succession of other dignitaries, but an invitation to dine with the British ambassador had to be turned down because of O’Connell’s bad health. 

Confounding his earlier anti-French prejudices, O’Connell was impressed by the reception he received in Paris (but did it compensate for the feeble French response to An Gorta Mór?), including an accolade by the Comte Charles de Montalembert on behalf of the Comité électoral pour la défense de la liberté réligieuse. “We are all your children, or rather your pupils”, Montalembert said, “You are our master, our model, our glorious preceptor.” He was also touched by the hundreds of people, “and amongst them several well-dressed ladies, assembled in the courtyard and under the arcades of the rue de Rivoli”, who turned up outside his hotel to see him off on March 29. 

That day, O’Connell left the French capital by train for Rome via Orléans, Lyons and Marseilles. Alas, O’Connell never got as far as Rome; he died of a brain tumour in Genoa in May 1847. However, Paris had not yet finished with O’Connell, for in February 1848, Catholic activists organised a requiem mass for O’Connell at Notre Dame cathedral. 

Select Bibliography

Liberator: The Rise of Daniel O’Connell, 1775-1829 (2008)

Patrick Geoghegan 

King Dan: The Life and Death of Daniel O’Connell, 1830-1847 (2010)

Patrick Geoghegan 


Last Days of O’Connell (1847)

William Bernard MacCabe 

Paris, histoire d’une ville, XIXe-XXe siècle (1993)

Guy Marchand 

Correspondence of Daniel O’Connell, vol. ii, 1815-1823 (1973)

Ed. M. O’Connell, Irish Manuscripts Commission 

Dónal Ó Conaill (1849)

Father Antaine Ó Duibhir