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Daniel O‘Connell‘s stay at Richmond Bridewell

When entering the campus of Griffith College, it is hard to imagine that there was a time, not too long ago, when people were held there against their will.

Over the course of time, the prison which­ was previously known as “The Richmond Bridewell”, evolved and was used as the Irish military barracks up until the early 1990s when acquired as a third-level institution and renamed Griffith College, after journalist Arthur Griffith.

As such, looking back at its history, there have been many memorable individuals that have walked the campus grounds but there was one individual that has helped shape the history of the Irish people like no other.

Born in county Kerry on August 6th, 1775, Daniel O’Connell grew up on his father’s farm. Being raised by poor farmers, O’Connell, who at an early age distinguished himself from amongst his relatives, was adopted by his wealthy uncle who was childless.

Seeing the potential the young boy had, his uncle made sure that he received valuable education that would teach him and enable him to be successful in later years.

As part of his education, he was sent to France and as such, he witnessed the French Revolution. This left a huge impact on his life as he witnessed the violence and bloodshed people were capable of. Being negatively impacted O’Connell vowed to never resort to violence and instead embraced a different path.

This led to O’Connell`s decision to leave France and complete his education in England. After completing his studies, he was called to the Irish bar in 1798.

In later years he would be known as “The Liberator” and enjoy great popularity. He acquired this title as he made it his life‘s mission to advocate and fight for the Irish Catholics who were under the rule of the British Empire and as such did not have any legal right to hold any high position within the government, military, or other equivalent institution.

Seeing this as an injustice, O‘Connell alongside Richard Lalor Sheil, founded the Catholic Association in 1824. Through his fierce consistency and the large number of speeches he held, O’Connell was able to function as the spokesperson of the Irish people and thus be the first catholic Irish man to be elected into parliament in 1829.

His mission did not end there and in 1840, after a lengthy time in parliament, O’Connell, founded the “National Repeal Association” with which he hoped to dissolve the ties the British Empire held on the Irish people. As a result, his association was forbidden, and O’Connell was arrested in 1843 after his party continued to meet and he was sentenced to twelve months in prison.

Although he was imprisoned at Richmond Bridewell, his stay was only three months and in comparison, to others, most pleasant. This was largely due to the fact that the prison was managed by the Dublin Corporation, which held large amounts of O’Connell supporters. As such he was free to receive large crowds for dinners.

After he was released from prison he did not return to politics. Being marked by the negative impact the French Revolution had on his life, he refused to encourage the Irish people to fight the British Empire by violence and so he traveled to Italy where he died on May 15th, 1847.

Now, over 175 years later, people still gather to visit his grave in Glasnevin, and throughout the country, he remains a national treasure.

By Adina Sarah Abraham

Reg Callanan, one of Griffith College‘s founding Directors, shares his insights on Daniel O‘Connell.

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