In 1828, Daniel O’Connell, stood for election to Parliament in the County Clare constituency, winning a resounding victory over his opponent. However, O’Connell, as a Roman Catholic, could not take his seat. The Prime Minister, the Duke of Wellington, felt that if O’Connell were excluded there would be violent disorder in Ireland. Accordingly, despite furious opposition, the government pushed through a Catholic emancipation measure allowing Catholics to sit in Parliament and hold public office, writes ANNE FREHILL


An anniversary of historical importance occurs on 5th July, 2023. At the famous Clare Election in July 1828 (195 years ago). William Vesey Fitzgerald lost his seat as Member of Parliament for the constituency of Ennis, to Daniel O’Connell. This election took place because the sitting member, Vesey Fitzgerald, had recently been appointed President of the Board of Trade, making him a member of the Cabinet led by the Duke of Wellington, alongside Sir Robert Peel, the Home Secretary.

In May 1823, Daniel O’Connell had founded the Catholic Association to campaign for Catholic Emancipation. For a ‘Catholic rent’, of a penny a month, often paid through their local priest, the labouring poor were able to be part of a national movement.

The association was determined to oppose the return to Parliament of every supporter of the Wellington administration because the latter group had refused to adopt Emancipation as part of its policy.

From 1689 onwards, no Catholic had been a Member of Parliament. In 1793 under the Catholic Relief Act, Irish Catholics were allowed to vote in Parliamentary elections but there was one stumbling block which effectively made a farce of this piece of legislation.

Before taking their seat in Parliament every elected person had to take an oath (Oath of Supremacy) because Catholics were not permitted to sit in the House of Commons. This required them to reject important Articles of the Catholic Faith as idolatrous and acknowledge the King as ‘Supreme Governor’.
In short, no Catholic was willing to take this oath so in practise if elected, that seat would be untenable.

On June 18th, 1828, The Catholic Association, after much dissension, chose O’Connell as the candidate to challenge the forthcoming Clare election. It was seen as not only a way to reject a member of Wellington’s circle but also as a most effective way to bring the ‘Catholic question’ into the very centre of Parliament.
Richard Lalor Shiel, a gifted orator and barrister, canvassed for O’Connell, leading up to the Clare Election. The Catholic clergy, apart from a small number under Dean O’Shaughnessy, went to great lengths to support O’Connell and massive crowds turned out onto the streets to back him.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own