O’Connell’s path is now more important than ever

O’Connell’s path is now more important than ever

A national holiday has now been “tainted with the memory of a heinous atrocity against innocent families”, writes Mary Kenny

I wouldn’t want to seem in any way disrespectful to the traditions of the French people, especially considering the terrible suffering that has been inflicted on the victims of the Nice atrocity on Bastille Day. But each time that Bastille Day – July 14 – comes around, marking the beginning of the French Revolution in 1789, I increasingly reflect on Daniel O’Connell’s experiences during that time, and how wise his conclusions were.

O’Connell was just a schoolboy studying at Douai in France, and spending some time in the small northern French town of St Omer. He never forgot what he saw during that period after the Revolution, known as ‘the Terror’, when blood ran in the streets and severed heads were displayed on pikes.

It gave him a lifelong revulsion against political violence. But it also developed in his mind a commitment to social and political change through the rule of law. The rule of law, not violence in the streets, or violence through any other means, was, for Daniel O’Connell, the motor which would bring change: political emancipation first for Catholics, then Jews, and acting as an exemplar and a mentor to Frederick Douglass in America for emancipation for African-Americans.


O’Connell had sympathy for Wolfe Tone’s patriotism, but he did not go along with Tone’s support for the French Revolution because he retained that horror of blood in the streets. O’Connell stuck to his principle: peaceful change through the rule of law, and eventually, through parliamentary means.

Surely, in today’s violent world, where there is so much tragic and distressing bloodshed – from Baghdad to Louisiana, from Nice to Ankara – O’Connell’s message is more important than ever. There may be, as the Book of Ecclesiastes says, “a time for war”, but surely politics, wherever possible, should proceed through the parliamentary process and the rule of law?

For most French people today, July 14 is just a national holiday which is hardly political at all – the details of the French Revolution, as witnessed by Daniel O’Connell, have been lost in the mists of time. It has been a harmless occasion for jollity and celebrations – alas, from now on, tainted with the memory of a heinous atrocity against innocent families watching fireworks over the Cote d’Azur.

But July 14 is also, to me, a reaffirmation that O’Connell’s peaceful, legal and constitutional path was the right one, and the one that should be a shining example to the world.

How old is too old?

It would be difficult to hold up Sir Mick Jagger as a paladin of family values: ex-wives and ex-girlfriends galore are the subject of tabloid and internet gossip.

However, there has been rather too much condemnation of Jagger on the grounds that he is ‘too old’ to father another child – he will be 73 next week and it’s been announced that he is having a baby with the 29-year-old ballerina, Melanie Homrick. As the child of an elderly father, I feel I should come to the rescue of old dads. Who is to judge who is ‘too old’?

While Sir Mick doesn’t exactly represent family values, he could be described as ‘pro-natalist’, since he usually seems to have encouraged procreation.

Ms Hamick is less than 12 weeks pregnant, and the baby is identified, globally, as Sir Mick’s unborn child.

What Galway lacks…

Galway is pulsating with liveliness and its arts festival is always a great success, so it didn’t surprise me when it was named ‘European City of Culture’ for 2020.

However, the nomination has drawn some criticisms. The poet Rita Ann Higgins has penned a lacerating ode entitled Our Killer City which is fiercely critical of Galway’s shortcomings, mentioning the record of contaminated water and the smell of sewage in the streets in somewhat robust language.

On social media, the actress Kate O’Toole posted this response to Galway’s win: “No airport, no great galleries, no opera house, no art house cinema, no theatre big enough to receive any No.1 touring shows… the list of what Galway lacks, culturally, is a very long one. What it does have is the worst traffic in Ireland and some very ugly new buildings.”

Lelia Doolan, formerly chairperson of the Irish Film Board, has struggled valiantly for some years to get an art cinema built in Galway, and the plan looks stunning.


But the funding problems have been enormous and the last I heard was that the money had run out.

And it is surely odd that a major ‘City of Culture’ has no airport, let alone gallery, opera house or big theatre space. Maybe all this will be corrected by 2020: maybe the award will give the powers that be an incentive to provide some of these amenities.

What Galway lacks, obviously, is a Msgr Horan.