William Smith O'Brien
William Smith O'Brien (Irish: Liam Mac Gabhann Ó Briain; 17 October 1803 – 18 June 1864) was an Irish Nationalist and Member of Parliament (MP) and leader of the Young Ireland movement. He was convicted of sedition for his part in the Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848, but his sentence of death was commuted to deportation to Van Diemen's Land. In 1854, he was released on the condition of exile from Ireland, and he lived in Brussels for two years. In 1856 O'Brien was pardoned and returned to Ireland, but he was never active again in politics.
Born in Dromoland, Newmarket on Fergus, County Clare, he was the second son of Sir Edward O'Brien, 4th Baronet, of Dromoland Castle. William took the additional surname Smith, his mother's maiden name, upon inheriting property through her. He was a descendant of the eleventh century Ard Rí (High King of Ireland), Brian Boru. He received an upper-class English education at Harrow School and Trinity College, Cambridge.
Although a Protestant, he supported Catholic Emancipation while remaining a supporter of British-Irish union. In 1843, in protest against the imprisonment of Daniel O'Connell, he joined O'Connell's anti-union Repeal Association.
Three years later, disillusioned by O'Connell, O'Brien withdrew the Young Irelanders from the association. With Thomas Francis Meagher, in January 1847 he founded the Irish Confederation. In March 1848, he spoke out in favour of a National Guard and tried to incite a national rebellion. He was tried for sedition on May 15, 1848 but was not convicted.
Rebellion and transportation
On 29 July 1848, O'Brien and other Young Irelanders led landlords and tenants in a rising in three counties, with an almost bloodless battle against police at Ballingarry, County Tipperary. In O'Brien's subsequent trial, the jury found him guilty of high treason. He was sentenced to be hanged, drawn, and quartered. Petitions for clemency were signed by 70,000 people in Ireland and 10,000 people in England.
In Dublin on 5 June 1849, the sentences of O'Brien and other members of the Irish Confederation were commuted to transportation for life to Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania in present-day Australia).
O'Brien attempted to escape from Maria Island off Tasmania, but was betrayed by Ellis, captain of the schooner hired for the escape. He was sent to Port Arthur where he met up with John Mitchel, who had been transported before the rebellion. The cottages which O'Brien lived in on Maria Island and Port Arthur have been preserved in their 19th century state as memorials.
Having emigrated to the United States, Ellis was tried by another Young Irelanders leader, Terence MacManus, at a lynch court in San Francisco for the betrayal of O'Brien. He was freed for lack of evidence.
In 1854, after five years in Tasmania, O'Brien was released on the condition he never return to Ireland. He settled in Brussels. In May 1856, he was granted an unconditional pardon and returned to Ireland that July. He played no further part in politics.
His sister was Harriet O'Brien who married an Anglican priest but was soon widowed. As Harriet Monsell, she founded the order of Anglican nuns, the Community of St John Baptist, in Clewer, Windsor, in 1851. The gold cross she wore, and which still belongs to the Community, was made with gold panned by her brother during his exile in Australia.
|“||The new Irish flag would be Orange and Green, and would be known as the Irish tricolour||”|
|“||To find a gaol in one of the lovliest spots formed by Nature in one of her lonliest solitudes creates a revulsion of feeling I cannot describe||”|
—November 1849, when first sighting Maria Island.
- Davis, Marianne, ed. (1998). The Rebel in His Family: Selected Papers of William Smith O'Brien. Irish Narratives. Cork University Press. ISBN 1-85918-181-3.
- O'Donoghue, John (1860). Historical Memoir of the O'Briens. Dublin: Hodges, Smith & Co (reprinted 2002, Martin Breen). pp. 544–545. ISBN 0-9519551-2-8.
- Venn, J.; Venn, J. A., eds. (1922–1958). "O'Brien, William [Smith]". Alumni Cantabrigienses (10 vols) (online ed.). Cambridge University Press.
- Gwynn, Denis (1949). Young Ireland and 1848. Cork: Cork University Press. pp. 165–187.
- Lawler, Ruth; from originals held by National Archives of Ireland (2001). CD ROM - The 1848 Petitions – The William Smith O'Brien Petition, Irish Records Index Vol. 2. Dublin: Eneclann Ltd. ISBN 0-9537557-2-X.
- Touhill, Blanche (1981). William Smith O'Brien and His Irish Revolutionary Companions in Penal Exile. Columbia & London: University of Missouri Press. p. 124. ISBN 0-8262-0339-6.
- Article by John Cussen
- Smith O'Brien, William (1856). Principles of Government or Meditations in Exile. Dublin & Boston: James Duffy, Patrick Donahoe. Vol. I – 388pp., Vol. II – 380pp. US edition single vol. 480pp.
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