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.

January 1868

In the autumn of 1867, O’Connor Power travelled to North America to discuss reorganisation with the American Brotherhood. When he returned to Ireland, he moved, in early January 1868, as the Supreme Council’s representative for Connacht, to County Mayo to set up Fenian units.*

On 13 February, his  twenty-second birthday, O’Connor Power was in Dublin to meet with the Supreme Council, the governing body of the Irish Republican Brotherhood. A few days later, he was arrested on suspicion and held under the Habeas Corpus Suspension Act, a law which allowed detention without trial or evidence. He spent five and a half months in Kilmainham jail.

*SPO Fenian Files, 4 January 1868, MS 242R.

Confusion Fusion

John O’Connor Power and John O’Connor, Fenian leaders and prominent members of the Supreme Council of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, were also members of Parliament and Priors of the Johnson Club. The two patriots, conveniently diminished in historical narratives, were frequently fused in accounts and in accompanying indexes. There is a dismaying confusion with Tay Pay, T P O’Connor, a contemporary.  Tay Pay was a member of the Irish Parliamentary Party, a popular journalist and author. Through sheer longevity, he became the longest serving member of the House of Commons.

That Irishman and the Quakers

On a visit to the Quaker burial ground in Temple Hill, Blackrock, I paid my respects to the resting place of Theodore Moody (1907-1984), Professor of History at Trinity College, Dublin. Moody, who reorganised the Quakers in Ireland records, also did a great deal to encourage research into the life of John O’Connor Power.

O’Connor Power moved to Rochdale, Lancashire in 1861.  He formed a connection with the Chartist, John Bright, an English Quaker and a tireless champion of Irish causes.  Bright, a Radical Liberal, was one of the first Quakers to sit in the House of Commons.  He was Prime Minister Gladstone’s adviser on the Irish Question and provided a safe house for the Fenians to air their grievances and plan a future. In his diaries, Bright mentions that O’Connor Power ‘lived in Rochdale at one time’.

Alfred Webb, a Quaker Nationalist, also has a place in the Temple Hill burial ground. He resigned from his position as Land League treasurer, complaining of Parnell’s ‘autocratic management of funds’.

The Childhood Years

I received a facebook message from Paula Lynch Keogh, an Irish American.  She has the Vanity Fair Spy print of O’Connor Power on her sitting room wall –  and a family connection.

Paula’s father, Joseph Lynch, shared a story with his children.  Her great- great- grandmother, Catherine O’Connor (1822-1866), married Ayre Duffield in Ballinasloe 11 January 1849.  They lived in 60 Society Street, with an office and yard in Bolgers Lane.*  Their daughter, Jane Duffield Lynch (1852-1915) was Paula’s great-grandmother.  Jane talked of her ‘half-brother’, John O’Connor Power, who lived with her family when she was a child. They stayed in touch and, on his visits to the United States, O’Connor Power visited her in Andover, Massachusetts.

Ayre Duffield (born in England) was a 31 year old baker from Banagher when he married Catherine Carthy in Ballinasloe Registrar’s Office. His father, William Duffield, was also a baker.** Catherine Carthy, formerly O’Connor, a shopkeeper, was a twenty-eight year old widow. Her father, Pat O’Connor, was a farmer. The witnesses were Peter Dunne and Michael Cogan.

The Valuation Office holds records of Society Street. In 1860, Catherine Duffield was living at 60 Society Street. In 1861, the Valuation Book, ‘revised April 1861’, has the name Catherine Duffield crossed out and replaced by a Charles Nangle. Catherine’s death certificate is dated 17 January 1866. She was forty-four years of age and a widow.  She was still living in Society Street and her daughter, Jane Duffield, was present at her death.

There was an economic depression in Ireland in the early sixties and many emigrated to find a new life.  O’Connor Power went to Lancashire and took up a trade in house painting, while recruiting for the Irish Republican Brotherhood. His brother, Thomas, three years older, joined the British army. Catherine Duffield’s daughter, Jane, moved to the United States and is  listed in the 1870 census as a lodger in the home of Robert Power, a 28 year old painter. She is working in a local textile  mill in Chelmsford, Lowell, Massachusetts. She was later married locally by a Justice of the Peace.

In his biography of Father Patrick Lavelle, Mayo historian Gerard Moran describes O’Connor Power as ‘middle class’.


*Griffith’s Valuation. The house was valued at £13, the office and yard at 5 shillings. Andrew Banfield, an attorney, was the landlord. In the 1901 census, John Nangle, baker, is living in 30.1 Society Street. He has a sixteen year old son, Charley.

** William Duffield, Baker, Main Street, Banagher, is listed in the 1823 Commercial Directory and the 1846 Slater’s Directory. Banagher was a thriving market town, twenty miles from Ballinasloe. It was on the mail car route and on the Grand Canal line to Dublin.


Paula visited Ballinasloe with her husband last year. She has sent me some photographs of Society Street and Bolgars Lane.


Society Street, June 2015.


Bolgers Lane. Site of Duffield bakery on the right.




Site of Mary O’Connor Duffield’s shop and home to That Irishman in the 1850s.


That Irishman and India

Irish and Indian Nationalists made common cause. In 1875, together with Ganendra Mohan Tagore and Frank Hugh O’Donnell*, O’Connor Power founded the Constitutional Society of India, a group promoting political autonomy for India – Indian Home Rule.  The Prince of Wales was to travel to India and O’Connor Power questioned the benefit of his visit ‘either for the people of England or the people of India’. India had no representation at Westminster and there was a proposal to run an Indian candidate for the British Parliament.

During the debate on the Army Discipline Bill in 1879, O’Connor Power asked that flogging be abolished in the armed forces ‘with the object of bringing native soldiers in India under the operation of the Bill’.

In 1885, O’Connor Power was elected a member of the administrative council of the Indian National Congress. In 1892, with the help of the Irish vote, an Indian Nationalist, Dadabhai Naoroji, was elected, as member for Finsbury Central, to the House of Commons.

The close relationship between India and Ireland is reflected in similarities in their constitutions and their flags. On Friday 2 June 2017, Leo Varadkar, the son of an Indian father and an Irish mother, was elected as leader of the Fine Gael party. He will be the first openly gay Prime Minister of Ireland.  The opening line of his acceptance speech:  Prejudice has no hold on this Republic.

 Home Rule for India. Mr O’Donnell’s grand passion in politics was a confederation of all the discontented races of the Empire under the lead of the Irish party. He once brought down some scores of dusky students of the races and creeds of Hindustan to the House of Commons.

William O’Brien, Recollections, 1905.

That Irishman at the Aras

On Friday 8 May, Mrs Sabina Higgins, the wife of the President of Ireland, hosted a tea party for members of the Irish Foreign Affairs Family Association. The occasion was to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the organisation. The committee chairwoman presented a copy of That Irishman to Mrs Higgins to thank her for her generous and gracious hospitality.

The Greening of Dublin Castle

I have a library copy of The Greening of Dublin Castle by Lawrence W McBride. Published in 1991, it is a study of ‘the transformation of bureaucratic and judicial personnel in Ireland 1892-1922.’

In 1892, the administration of Ireland was dominated by Protestants and Unionists. Thirty years later, in 1922, the administration was largely controlled by Nationalists and Catholics. The British were preparing to withdraw.

In 1922, the Provisional Government ministers, had no experience of civil administration. The one exception was W T Cosgrave, the Minister for Local Government, who had been a Sinn Fein member of Dublin County Council.

Portraits en vitriol

One of the few [Irish M.P.s] who  stood out from the ruck of Irish placehunters.  Whose profound knowledge, his temper … his profound contempt for the ignorance and, as he thought, at the same time, the insanity of Parnell … made him a source of division.

… a powerful but very ugly face, the ugliness accentuated by the severe attack in childhood of smallpox.

T.P. O’Connor,  Memoirs of an Old Parliamentarian,  1928


Reeking of the common clay

Parnell’s aristocratic sensitiveness recoiled in his presence.

T.M. Healy, Letters and Leaders of My Day, 1928.


You may have often heard the question put – Who is this Mr. O’Connor Power? I often did but never could get an answer.  I am, however, now in a position to tell you that he is the bastard son of a policeman named Fleming from County Cavan.

Father Patrick Lavelle, in a letter to Isaac Butt, 1874