“Fergus O'Connor and Independence”


Remember O'Connell's victory over Vesey in '29. Don't vote now for "those tithe-eating gentry." "Be advised by the clergy our Lord sent to guide you, And vote for brave Fergus and Sheela na Guira." Send Fergus to London. Repeal the Union.


The context is "The Tithe War": O'Connell's Catholic Association was formed in 1823 to resist the requirement that Irish Catholics pay tithes to the Anglican Church of Ireland. The "war" was passive for most of the period 1823-1836, though there were violent incidents in 1831 (source: _The Irish Tithe War 1831_ at the OnWar.com site)

Zimmermann: "Fergus O'Connor, before becoming the most prominent spokesman of the Chartist movement in England, was elected M.P. for Cork in 1832 and 1835."

The reference to 1829 and Vesey has to do with the July 1828 election in which Daniel O'Connell defeated Vessey Fitzgerald as Westminster MP from County Clare (see "The Shan Van Voght (1828)").

The last line of each verse is a variation of "Vote for brave Fergus and Sheela na Guira" or "Repeal the Union for Sheela na Guira." Zimmermann's tune is "Sighile Ni Ghadra." The following note is from Andrew Kuntz's "The Fiddler's Companion" site: "'Sheela Nee Guira' was one of the numerous allegorical names of Ireland; and this song['Sighile Ni Ghadhra'] was a patriotic one, though it could be sung with safety in the time of the Penal Laws, as it was in the guise of a love song." - BS

When England pushed Ireland into the Parliamentary Union after the 1798 rebellion, William Pitt had wanted to make a great concession: He wanted to permit Catholics to vote.Parliament rejected this out of hand, meaning that the Members for Ireland ended up being all Protestant. Even had one been elected, they could not in good conscience take the membership oath, which reviled Catholicism. (See Terry Golway, _For the Cause of Liberty_, p. 100.)

But there was nothing in the law which prevented Catholics from running.

In 1828, at the height of his popularity, O'Connell decided to do just that. William Vesey Fitzgerald, a Member for Clare, had taken a government position, and so had to contest a by-election for his seat.

The irony is, Vesey Fitzgerald was "an emancipationist [i.e. he stood for giving Catholics voting rights], a kind and popular landlord... and the son of a Patriot in Grattan's parliament." In other words, the sort of man Ireland needed. But his was the seat that was available. O'Connell ran against him, and won by 2057 votes to 982. (Peter and Fiona Somerset Fry, _A History of Ireland_, pp. 220-221). In 1829, the British Parliament gave in and passed the Catholic Emancipation Act, opening all but the very highest offices to Catholics (though another act raised the property requirement for voting, meaning that most Catholics were still excluded).

Fergus (or Feargus) O'Connor (1794-1855) was one of the first to take advantage of the new conditions. In 1832, he was elected to Parliament from County Cork on the Repeal platform (calling for the repeal of the Union of Ireland and Great Britain). He was expelled in 1835 for being too poor, leading him to found a newspaper, the _Northern Star_, in 1837. He is said to have gone insane in 1850.

Incidentally, O'Connell would later say that the zeal of men like O'Connor actually hurt the cause of Repeal; they pushed him to bring it up in the British parliament too soon, causing the measure to go down in flames in 1834 (see Robert Kee, _The Most Distressful Country_, being Volume I of _The Green Flag_, pp. 190-191).

For a song more obliquely talking about the events of this period, see "The Ass's Complaint." - RBW

Historical references

  • 1794-1855 - life of Fergus (Feargus) O'Connor

Cross references


  1. Zimmermann 43, "A New Song in Praise of Fergus O'Connor and Independence" (1 text, 1 tune)
  2. BI, Zimm043


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1832 (Zimmermann)