What's in a name?
Daniel O’Connell was the Liberator, a peerless political activist, a lawyer, Lord Mayor of Dublin, a family man, a duellist, an M.P. and a bon viveur. Born in County Kerry in 1775, he was taken under the wing of his wealthy uncle, ‘Hunting Cap’ O’Connell, and attended exclusive schools in France. Fleeing from the violent turmoil of the revolution there he studied law in London and Dublin, enjoyed life at the expense of his uncle and formed his radical political ideas.
His aim became the achievement of full and equal rights for Irish Catholics - the underclass in their own country. O’Connell’s political movements were characterised by peaceful, persuasive resistance and brilliant organisation. His personal appeal - he was handsome and a fine orator - was central to his success in achieving Catholic Emancipation in 1829. He could command a crowd of hundreds of thousands and fire them up for Ireland without a drop of blood being spilled. In contrast, but very much in keeping with the times, O’Connell answered a call to duel in 1815 and fatally wounded his challenger.
Following emancipation, the repeal of the Act of Union became O’Connell’s next great cause. The slow, desultory reaction of the London government to the horrors of the Potato Famine was ultimate proof of the need for the Irish to govern themselves. O’Connell worked tirelessly for other causes too - prison reform (having been a political prisoner himself), racism and slavery were some - and was elected to Dublin Corporation in 1841, becoming the first Catholic Lord Mayor of Dublin since 1690. In 1802, O’Connell had married his cousin Mary in secret, fearing Hunting Cap’s displeasure and indeed his worries were well founded. Mary and Daniel had a large family but were often beset by money worries as O’Connell enjoyed the finer things in life and had given up law in favour of politics. Inheriting Hunting Cap’s estate around 1825 made life a little easier. In 1847 O’Connell set off on pilgrimage to Rome. By then a widower, somewhat corpulent in body and suffering health problems, he was also greatly dispirited by the lack of progress on the Repeal issue. He died en route to Genoa on May 15th.
His last wishes were honoured - his heart was buried in Rome and his body in Ireland.
Hidden under the name plaque of O’Connell Bridge is a slab of Aberdeen marble inscribed ‘Carlisle Bridge, Built 1794, Rebuilt 1880’. Installed there by Dublin Port and Docks Boards, they stubbornly refused to remove it, despite Dublin Corporation claiming the right to name the newly rebuilt bridge.
The Corporation members had been quite mischievous in promoting the name O’Connell Bridge, even suggesting that it be painted on every stone and lamp post of the bridge. Then in August 1880 the Lord Mayor, with a deft swing of a champagne bottle, declared the ‘O’Connell Bridge’ officially open and the assembled crowd cheered loudly. He had won over the people and a new plaque, covering the marble one, was duly installed. So who was Carlisle, for whom this bridge was first named?
Frederick Howard, 5th Earl of Carlisle, was a quintessential English diplomat, servant of the crown and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland between 1780 and 1782. His great grandfather was Arthur Capell, First Earl of Essex, who when Lord Lieutenant of Ireland from 1672 to 1677 was considered a very honest and hardworking administrator. On his mother’s side he was related to John Berkeley, co-founder of the state of New Jersey and to Lord Byron, acting as his guardian during the poet’s troublesome youth. Carlisle too was a poet and playwright and while he was described as being rigid and aloof, it was said that the balls and levees at the castle were the best in many a year. He was considered an able administrator, steering the Irish ship of state through some quiet years, though all the while alert to the threat of invasion and rebellion. His support for the building of a new bridge to the east of the old city was crucial and parliament duly granted the money. Though Frederick Howard had departed Ireland many years since, Dublin’s new bridge of 1795 was thus named the Carlisle Bridge.