National Liberal Club – a home for democracy

In 1882 the National Liberal Club was established by William Ewart Gladstone. It was to be ‘a home for democracy’. In November 1884, O’Connor Power was present when the foundation stone  for the new premises was laid on the Thames Embankment. The club house was opened in 1887 in time for Queen Victoria’s Jubilee celebrations.

Earlier the NLC was headquartered in Charing Cross, where a radical clique met in the Vespers, a small smoking room. O’Connor Power, Thorold Rogers, Alfred Bennett, Fisher Unwin, and F W Chesson were members of the group and, in December 1884, were founding members of the Johnson Club. Fisher Unwin was married to Richard Cobden’s daughter.

In December 1885, the Manchester Guardian reported that O’Connor Power had successfully introduced weekly discussions on practical politics in the NLC. He continued to be an active member and, in the 1890s, he directed a political committee, organising functions and inviting speakers.

In May 1897, he addressed the Women’s National Liberal Association Conference in London on ‘Colonial Policy’.

In November 1898, he represented the NLC at the funeral of T B Potter, a Radical MP for Rochdale and founder of the Cobden Club.

In March 1909, he was the guest speaker and his topic was ‘The House of Lords’. In May he spoke on ‘Adult Suffrage’.

In January 1912, he chaired a talk given by Tom Kettle to the NLC’s Political and Economic Circle.


John O’Connor MP, KC, 1850-1928.

A fierce big man.*

John O’Connor, born in Mallow, County Cork, was a leading member of the Supreme Council of the Irish Republican Brotherhood. Known as ‘Long John, six foot six of treason felony’, he was over six foot six inches in height. He was imprisoned on several occasions for Fenian activities.

The image is from the front page of the Daily Graphic, 17 December, 1892. See Posts ‘The Johnson Club, December 13th, 1892,’ ‘Confusion Fusion,’ ’13th December, 1892′.

See also That Irishman, Part Three, p.117.

*O’Connor  was an inspiration for Conan Doyle’s character, Colonel Sebastian Moran, ‘a fierce big man’.

Second Reading of the Land Law Ireland Act 1881

On Thursday the chief speakers were O’Connor Power …  Mr O’Connor Power was courageous enough to promise the Bill his support, in spite of Mr Parnell’s decree that the Irish party was not to vote on the Second Reading, and his ably reasoned suggestions of improvements in the Bill made a profound impression on the House.

Spectator May 7 1881.

The second reading passed with the support of Irish members, including James Joseph O’Kelly.

Mobile, Alabama, 1876.

O’Connor Power was in Mobile, Alabama, January 7th, 1876. He was on an extended tour of North America, September 1875 – March 1876. 1876 was the Centennial of American Independence and he visited Irish strongholds, promoting Home Rule and reinforcing the Fenian network.


O’Connor Power’s letter, ‘Is it another broken treaty?’ appeared first in the Irish Independent 19 June 1916. The next day it was published by the Cork Examiner, issue 19,695. See ‘175 years of letters’ in the Irish Examiner August 30, 2016.

For the full text see That Irishman, pp. 221-222.

The John O’Connor Power Debating Competition

Proclamation Day at St Jarlath’s College, Tuam: congratulations to the winners of the John O’Connor Power Debating Competition.

That Irishman was a mature student at St Jarlath’s 1871-1874. In his last year he lectured in Irish history.  He was ranked as one of the greatest orators of the late nineteenth century. In 1906, at the age of sixty, he published The Making of an Orator.

Jedi lightsabers

[That Irishman] and his associates were driven by a desire to make the world a better place;  they spoke and wrote robustly of moral conviction, moral energy, the moral force of right. ‘Vigorous’ and ‘energetic’ were adjectives they favoured. In recent times there has been a degradation of liberal vocabulary. Morality was not a ‘Thou shalt not’ but a compelling command for good works. Words, actions, were Jedi lightsabers cutting swathes through an unjust world.

That Irishman, Afterword, p.233.