Appeared in Spring 2001, Vol. XXVI, No. 1
Daniel O’Connell was doubtless the leading Irish politician of his era. He was responsible for the granting of Catholic Emancipation in 1829 which allowed Catholics to sit in the british parliament-and for a host of measures which improved the position of Catholics in Ireland.*1 Scholars have written extensively about O’Connell and his various campaigns. He has been the subject of several biographies, eight volumes of his correspondence have been published and a series of books and articles have examined his political philosophy.1
Relatively little attention, however, has been paid to his religious beliefs.2 Outspoken on just about every subject, O’Connell was quite reticent on this matter. Still, from references in his diary and correspondence, it is clear that he had a tumultuous religious journey. Raised in a devoutly Catholic home, he lost his faith as a young man and became enamored with the philosophes instead. For about fifteen years he remained away from the Church and only returned to the sacraments to appease his wife. Gradually his faith came back, and as the years passed, he became an increasingly articulate and committed defender of the faith. In his later years, his fervor grew and his loyalty to the Papacy became more pronounced. By the time of his death in 1847, O’Connell had become an ultramontane of sorts.
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