The following item appeared in Freeman’s Journal and Daily Commercial Advertiser, Dublin, Ireland, on Monday, October 12, 1840.
THE WEAKEST “INVENTION OF THE ENEMY”
Mr O’Connell has often been described by his enemies as “a trader in politics” but it will be seen, from the following elegant epistle, that he has degenerated into a mere trader in buttons:
THE REPEAL BUTTON
TO THE EDITOR OF THE MORNING POST
SIR – I have lately been at Dublin, and in conversation with another button-maker I made some remarks on Mr O’Connell’s Repeal button, which he sells for threepence, which every Repealer, on entering his name as such, or signifying his intention of being a Repealer, pays to Mr O’Connell.
I said to my brother button-maker, “Do you not think that that button could be made and sold cheaper?” “Yes,” says brother button-maker, “but I dare not put Daniel O’Connell’s name on the button except by his permission.” “Well,” I said, “I should be glad to sell twelve for a penny, as they are only brass washed over with gilding, and with the words ‘Daniel O’Connell’ and ‘Repeal’ upon each.”
Now, I do complain that Mr O’Connell should so far obstruct free trade as to hinder us, button-makers, from making the most of a Repeal button.
If Mr O’Connell sell four million of the button at threepence each, the total would produce fifty thousand pounds – the cost would be 1,075l [ on thousand and seventy five pounds] 8s [eight shillings] 6d [six pence].
The profits, therefore to Daniel O’Connell, which I suppose go into this private pocket, must be 48, 924l [forty eight thousand nine hundred and twenty four pounds] 11s [eleven shillings] 6d [six pence].
Is this dupery to be borne? Yours etc.
A Birmingham Button-maker
Birmingham, October 9
N.B. Mr O’Connell boasts that seven-eighths of the population of Ireland are Repealers. I have supposed, however, about one-half, viz four millions. If the number be greater, Mr O’Connell’s profits must be proportionate.
[An editorial note note follows]
Mr O’Connell has been the subject of many a false and stupid calumny, but this of the Birmingham button-maker – thought malignant enough in conception – is so amusingly ludicrous in execution that it would be an injustice to the ingenious perpetrator to place him in the same category with the ordinary liars of the faction. The button lie is, as lies go, a very good one in its way and will be swallow, no doubt, by enlightened John Bull with just as much gout as any of the thousand and one inventions which the veracious Post and high principled Times have crammed down the capacious throats of that gentleman with in the last twelve months.
The image of Daniel O’Donnell was painted in 1836 by Bernard Mulrenin. The drawing alongside it is of a Repeal button like the one mentioned in the article above: it comes from a Project Gutenburg edition of a book called Gossip in the First Decade of Victoria’s Reign, by John Ashton. The accompanying text reads:
With every wish, in this book of Gossip, to steer as clear of politics as possible, yet it would belie its name were the famous trial of Daniel O’Connell not to be mentioned. “Repeal of the Union” was his watchword and perpetual cry, and with it he stirred up the Irish people to a pitch when he found it difficult to manage and restrain them. On 16 March, 1843, was held at Trim the first of great public meetings which he designed, but did not carry out; and on 15 Aug. was a monster meeting on the Hill of Tara; but the one to be held at Clontarf on 8 Oct. was to have eclipsed its predecessors. But this was forbidden by the Government, and, a week later, warrants were issued for the arrest of O’Connell, his son John, and his chief colleagues, on a charge of conspiring to create discontent and disaffection among the liege subjects of the Queen, and with contriving, “by means of intimidation, and the demonstration of great physical force, to procure and effect changes to be made in the government, laws, and constitution of this realm.” O’Connell was allowed bail, but on 8 Nov. a true bill was found by the jury, yet the trial did not take place till the 15th Jan. of this year. On the 12th Feb., the jury returned a verdict of guilty of unlawful and seditious conspiracy, but judgment was not delivered till 30 May, when he was sentenced to imprisonment for twelve months, a fine of £2,000, and to find surety to keep the peace for seven years. He had to go to prison, where he was well treated and allowed to see his friends; his sentence was appealed against, and reversed in the House of Lords, on 4 Sep., 1844, when he was instantly liberated.
During all this time there was great excitement, people wearing Repeal buttons, one of which is here delineated, and other emblems, while the uncrowned King of Ireland was presented, at Mullaghmast, with a velvet cap surmounted with shamrocks, and having a green tassel; the cap, in fact, with which readers of Punch are so familiar.
Of course, his release from prison was an occasion to be made the most of. An amphitheatrical triumphal car was provided, and, upon it, were mounted O’Connell, his son, and the Rev. Dr. Miley, and this gimcrack piece of property was drawn by six horses ridden by postillions. The following is an account by an eye witness:
“The ovation commenced at two o’clock. First came the trades of Dublin, each preceded by the banner of its body, and a band playing such music as only temperance bands can play, and, generally, with much discrimination, selecting rather difficult pieces for their performance, and eschewing all national airs. The banners were usually displayed from coaches, intended to hold four, but contriving to allow from sixteen to eighteen to fit into, and hang on by them. Thus they came on: Bricklayers (with a painting of the Bank of Ireland, and the superscription of ‘Our Old House at Home’); slaters, woollen operatives (in a small open car); nailors (with a picture of Brian Boroihme ‘nailing’ the Danes at Clontarf); coach makers, tailors (with a very gorgeous equipage, six horses, postillions and outriders); tinplate workers, displaying as their sign, a man with a tin helmet on his head, and a dish cover of the same metal on his arm—otherwise unassumingly attired in a blue coat and white trousers; and other bodies of tradesmen too numerous to mention, with their appropriate emblems and banners.
“Next came a number of Repeal wardens, bearing wands, and occupying respectable-looking coaches and carriages. After them drove the committee of the political trades’ unions; the members of it attired in green sashes and scarves, and bearing wands with green flags in their hands. Next in order were the various members of the Corporation, aldermen, town councillors, and officers, dressed in their robes of office and cocked hats, glittering with chains, and furred from head to foot. The majority of these gentlemen were in their own carriages, into each of which were packed as many of the owner’s friends as could find standing room, several private vehicles being mixed up through the order of procession. Then came the private carriages of the Lord Mayor, who was in full dress; and then, preceded by a confused mass of wand bearers, the triumphal chariot itself, surrounded by a mob so dense that it was with great difficulty that the six splendid dappled greys could force the cumbrous vehicle along, which, every instant, seemed to become a second Car of Juggernaut, and crush some of its adorers. More vehicles, a few horsemen, multitudes of hack cars and pedestrians, a tail of old women and little boys, followed; and so the monster procession, after winding its slow length along through the greater part of Dublin, and causing a total cessation of business in the line of its progress, terminated.”
Wikipedia says that Daniel O’Connell, 1775–1847, was an Irish political leader known as the Liberator. Admitted to the Irish bar in 1798, O’Connell built up a lucrative law practice. Gradually he became involved in the Irish fight for Catholic Emancipation, the term applied to the process by which Roman Catholics in the British Isles were relieved in the late 18th and early 19th century of civil disabilities.
O’Connell’s abilities as a speaker, organizer, and leader soon advanced him to the uncontested command of the movement. In 1823 he founded the Catholic Association, a formidable and powerful agitation society which, despite English restrictive measures, became a great national force. The pressure on Parliament was brought to a head by O’Connell’s election in 1828 to a seat in the House of Commons (permitted by the repeal of the Test Act), despite his inability as a Catholic to take the oaths required to sit in Parliament. Alarmed, the government was obliged to pass in 1829 the Catholic Emancipation Act. In Parliament, O’Connell supported the Whigs and the reform cause. He supported repeal of the parliamentary union of Great Britain and Ireland, forming a new agitation society to replace each one suppressed by the government. O’Connell worked indefatigably for the reform of the existing government of Ireland and for the abolition of compulsory support of the Church of Ireland. In 1841, O’Connell became the first Catholic lord mayor of Dublin since the time of James II. In 1843 he was indicted for creating disaffection; he was declared guilty and imprisoned, but the sentence was overturned in 1844 by the House of Lords. Favouring constitutional methods, O’Connell lost support in the 1840s to nationalists who preferred revolutionary means to end the union and to solve the Irish Land Question, the name given in the 19th century to the problem of land ownership and agrarian distress in Ireland under British rule. He also lost followers who resented his Catholic sectarianism. The secession of the Young Ireland group from his Repeal Association signified his declining authority. Ordered to seek a change for his health, he set out for Italy, where he died. O’Connell’s eminence as a leader and creator of national feeling and unity greatly affected the history of Ireland.