Selected Writings – an introduction

As I researched O’Connor Power’s life, I assembled pamphlets and articles from the archives of many journals and newspapers. There are few copies of Irish Political Prisoners, Speeches of John O’Connor Power, M.P. in the House of Commons on the subject of amnesty, etc., and a Statement by Mr Michael Davitt (ex-political prisoner) on Prison Treatment. Michael Davitt’s letters from Dartmoor, his statement on his release, compiled in a room in the House of Commons on 13th and 14th February, 1878, are, therefore, not easy to access in the original context. The Anglo-Irish Quarrel: A Plea for Peace can only be found in a few university libraries. It may be that the phrase ‘Anglo-Irish Quarrel’, replacing the patronising ‘Irish Question’ and indicating parity of interest, is used here for the first time.

O’Connor Power variously signed his work, John O’Connor Power, J. O’Connor Power, O’Connor Power, and was always aware of his target audience. He did not flag his intimacy with senior politicians in articles intended for the Irish and British reader. In ‘Two Great Statesmen’, published in an American newspaper in early 1889, he contrasts the personalities of Gladstone and Disraeli, the two outstanding British Prime Ministers of the late nineteenth century. He describes an octave dinner party in 1881 where his fellow guests numbered Gladstone. His host, Sir Baldwyn Leighton, a prominent Tory MP, had a strong interest in land reform.

‘Two Great Statesmen’ illustrates a preoccupation of the times, the detective genre, where the astute observation and deductive powers of a sleuthing protagonist, infer the inner workings of his subject. O’Connor Power reads the two great men and analyses character and personality by posture, dress and gesture.

He was an accomplished communicator. He writes in ‘Edmund Burke and his Abiding Influence’, ‘From no other speeches and writings can we so easily reconstruct the social and political life of the second half of the eighteenth century’.  O’Connor Power’s writings chart the course of the struggle for independence.  He notes that Burke dictated his articles, ‘A man who is full on his subject, and who writes by dictation, ought to be able to compose three times as fast as one who wields his own pen.’  It is almost certainly the method most frequently used by O’Connor Power. There is a distinctive difference between his dictated pieces and his more measured milestone compositions. In The Making of an Orator he reminds his reader that parliamentary speeches will be reported and studied carefully by contemporaries and posterity.

O’Connor Power was a leader writer for two influential publications, the Daily Chronicle and The Speaker. I have included an unsigned article , ‘FEBRUARY 13th, 1893’ from The Speaker. A significant stepping stone to self-government, Gladstone’s introduction of the Second Home Rule Bill, marked O’Connor Power’s forty-seventh birthday. ‘FEBRUARY 13th 1893’, where he initially assumes the persona of Mr Samuel Pepys to describe the tumultuous  scene in the House of Commons, is a resounding hallelujah. Charles Stewart Parnell, deeply superstitious, dreaded his birth month, October, ‘a month of influence’. Gladstone, a workaholic, assessed the year’s achievements in December, the month he was born. O’Connor Power, with Hibernian flair, invariably celebrated his birthday, February 13.

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