William Smith O'Brien - Encyclopedia

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WILLIAM SMITH O'BRIEN (1803-1864), Irish revolutionary politician, son of Sir Edward O'Brien, a descendant of Brian Boroimhe (d. 1014), king of Ireland (see Clare), was born in Co. Clare on the 17th of October 1803, and received his education at Harrow and at Cambridge. He took the additional name of Smith on inheriting his maternal grandfather's estates in Limerick. He entered parliament in 1828 as member for Ennis, and from 1835 to 1848 represented the county of Limerick. Although he spoke in 1828 in favour of Catholic emancipation, he for many years continued to differ on other points from the general policy of O'Connell. But he opposed the Irish Arms Act of 1843, and became an active member of the Repeal Association. Though he was destitute of oratorical gifts, his arraignment of the English government of Ireland secured him enthusiastic attachment as a popular leader. In July 1846 the "Young Ireland" party, with Smith O'Brien and Gavan Duffy at their head, left the Repeal Association, and in the beginning of 1847 established the Irish Confederation. In May 1848 he was tried at Dublin for sedition, but the jury disagreed. In the following July he established a war directory, and attempted to make a rising among the peasantry of Ballingarry, but although he was at first joined by a large following the movement wanted cohesion, and the vacillating crowd dispersed as soon as news reached them of the approach of the dragoons.

O'Brien was arrested at Thurles, tried and sentenced to death. The sentence was, however, commuted to transportation to Tasmania for life. In February 1854 he received his liberty on condition of never revisiting the United Kingdom; and in May 1856 he obtained a full pardon, and returned to Ireland. In 1856 he published Principles of Government, or Meditations in Exile. He died at Bangor, north Wales, on the 18th of June, 1864. He had five sons and two daughters. His eldest brother, Lucius, became 13th Baron Inchiquin in 1855, as heir male to the 3rd marquis of Thomond, at whose death in 1855 the marquisate of Thomond and the earldom of Inchiquin became extinct. (See INCHIQUIN, IST EARL OF.)

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