13 January 1800: Daniel O’Connell made his first public speech at the Royal Exchange, Dublin opposing the idea of a Parliamentary Union of Britain and Ireland.
O’Connell was concerned on two grounds, one professional and the other political. He knew, as did others, that the end of parliamentary sittings in the Capital of Ireland and the removal of the MPs to Westminster would rob Dublin of much of its vigour and political and monetary rewards. As an up and coming member of the Legal profession he well foresaw the pecuniary consequences of such a transfer of power and patronage out of the Country.
On the other hand Daniel O’Connell was as Irish as they come and as proud of the land of his birth and her People as the next man. He rightly suspected that the British Ministers would pay even less attention to Ireland once the Union had taken place and a thorn in their side removed.
‘On 13th January, 1800, he attended a meeting in the Royal Exchange convened by a number of influential Roman Catholics for the purpose of protesting against the insinuation that the Union was favourably regarded by them. Being induced to speak, he opened his mind freely on the subject. It was the first time he had addressed a public gathering; but the diffidence with which he began soon wore off before the approving cheers of his audience. Were the alternative offered him, he exclaimed, of union or the re-enactment of the penal code in all its rigour, he would without hesitation prefer the latter as the lesser and more sufferable evil, trusting to the justice of his brethren, the Protestants of Ireland, who had already liberated him rather than lay his country at the feet of foreigners. To this opinion he continued faithful through life. It is the key-note of his whole political creed — union amongst Irishmen of every religious and political persuasion for national objects an Irishman first and then only a Roman Catholic.’
It is a curious thing enough, he afterwards re-marked to O'Neil Daunt, that all the principles of my subsequent political life are contained in my very first speech.
‘Daniel O Connell’
By Robert Dunlop