Daniel O’Connell’s Castlebar visit in 1837
By Tom Gillespie
THE Liberator, Daniel O’Connell, an Irish political leader in the first half of the 19th century, campaigned for Catholic emancipation - including the right for Catholics to sit in the Westminster Parliament, denied for over 100 years - and the repeal of the Acts of Union which combined Great Britain and Ireland.
Throughout his career in politics, O'Connell was able to gain a large following among the Irish masses in support of him and his Catholic Association.
O'Connell's main strategy was one of political reformism, working within the parliamentary structures of the British state in Ireland and forming an alliance of convenience with the Whigs. More radical elements broke with O'Connell to found the Young Ireland movement.
It is 184 years ago this month (January 1837) that the Liberator visited Castlebar and the files of The Connaught Telegraph reported on the visit and the excitement and preparations ahead of the visit of the illustrious guest.
In the weeks preceding the visit, banners were prepared with mottos and emblems suitable to each trade.
A procession involving all trades in the area was organised to give the great man a welcome worthy of his status. It was to assemble two miles out the mail coach road and escort their guest to the town centre.
From early morning on the day of this arrival, people flocked from all corners of the country, eager to join in the tribute to the man who had rescued them from the oppression in which they and their ancestors had been held.
Soon all parts of the town was thronged and banners flew from the windows of several houses, making the scene one of great exhilaration to the hearts of all true patriots and Irishmen.
Ay 9 a.m. the different trades began to assemble in the field in the rear of the barracks, called the 14 acres. At 10 a.m. they formed into a procession and commenced marching through the town on the Green opposite Sheridan’s Hotel (Daly’s and Imperial), preceded by a band of local musicians.
The procession proceeded along Spencer Street and out along the the mail coach road by which route Mr. O’Connell was to arrive.
The procession was led by one of the town’s most respectful and wealthy townsmen, Mr. Morris.
After the band came the saddlers, harness makers and coach builders at whose head rode Mr. Austin O’Malley.
The emblem on their banners was a flying chariot drawn by four houses with the motto ‘United and Firm We Stand’. They also carried a green flag and a shield decorated with the implements used in their trade. The general workers in those trades, wearing rosettes of green ribbons, followed, marching four deep.
Then came the shoemakers, headed by Mr. William Curran. Their banner bore the portraiture of their patron, St. Crispin, and the motto ‘Be Just and Fear Not’. The colour of their flag was blue along the banner. Those working at the trade marched behind.
Unfortunately, Mr. O’Connell did not arrive until evening and the multitudes who had remained in their allotted positions all day long caught but a brief look at their distinguished visitor.
Heading the welcoming party was Sir W.J. Brabazon, the Hon. Baronet and the Hon. Frederick Cavendish, founder, editor and proprietor of The Connaught Telegraph. Mr. O’Connell had been accompanied from Tuam by Archbishop John MacHale.
The band led the procession into Castlebar. As darkness had fallen it was not possible for him to address the public from the specially erected platform on the Green.
The distinguished gathering had lunch in the parish priest’s, Rev. Richard Gibbons, house. Here, Mr. O’Connell was presented with many beautifully crafted addresses of welcome.
Mr. O’Connell later apologised for his late arrival. The welcome he had received in Mayo, a county in which he was a virtual stranger, was one he had not expected and had he been aware of the splendour of the reception that awaited him in Castlebar and the lengths the trades had gone to arrange the welcome, he would have made sure he had arrived in time.
He regretted being unable to address the people, as had been arranged, but assured them he would return again.
Later that night he was the guest of honour at a dinner hosted by the gentry of the town in Sheridan’s Hotel, attended by over 200 people. He spoke at length on having achieved Catholic emancipation and how he had taken up the fight for a repeal of the Act of Union.
For O’Connell, the 1798 rising and the terrible butchery that followed it confirmed his horror of violence. While he approved of the principles of the United Irishmen, their call for reform and for Catholic emancipation, he disagreed with their methods.