O'Brien, William Smith

O'Brien, William Smith,

1803–64, Irish revolutionary. He entered Parliament from Ireland in 1828 and worked for Catholic Emancipation, Irish poor relief, and state support of the Irish Catholic clergy. O'Brien's political opinions moved steadily to the left. At first he opposed the agitation of Daniel O'ConnellO'Connell, Daniel,
1775–1847, Irish political leader. He is known as the Liberator. Admitted to the Irish bar in 1798, O'Connell built up a lucrative law practice.
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 to repeal the parliamentary union of Great Britain and Ireland, believing that the British Parliament would grant some relief to Ireland, but in 1843 he joined the Repeal Association and rapidly became O'Connell's second in the Irish nationalist struggle. O'Brien's group, called Young Ireland, became convinced that only direct action would free Ireland, and in 1846, with John MitchelMitchel, John,
1815–75, Irish revolutionist and journalist. A practicing lawyer, Mitchel contributed articles to the Nation (Dublin) and the United Irishman, which he founded in 1848, calling for rebellion against Britain.
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, Thomas Francis MeagherMeagher, Thomas Francis
, 1823–67, Irish revolutionary and Union general in the American Civil War, b. Waterford, Ireland. A leader of the Young Ireland movement, he was arrested and condemned to death for his part in the abortive rebellion of 1848, but the sentence was
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, and Charles Gavan DuffyDuffy, Sir Charles Gavan,
1816–1903, Irish-Australian statesman. He founded (1842) the Nation, a patriotic Irish literary journal. Duffy agitated for the repeal of the union of Ireland and England, first working with Daniel O'Connell and then with the more radical
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, O'Brien seceded from O'Connell's association to form the Irish Confederation. The aggravation of the famine and Mitchel's arrest and conviction in 1848 determined them to rise against the government. The revolt was abortive, and the only engagement was an attempt to attack a police detachment in Co. Tipperary. O'Brien was arrested and sentenced to death for treason, but the sentence was commuted to transportation to Tasmania. He received a full pardon in 1856. Afterward he returned to Ireland and traveled on the Continent and in America, but he was no longer politically active.

Bibliography

See D. Gwynn, Young Ireland and 1848 (1949); biography by B. Touhill (1981).

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