Owen O’Conor, the O’Conor Don 1763 – 1831

Owen O’Conor, the O’Conor Don (1763 – 1831), of Belanagare and Clonalis, co. Roscommon was the brother in law of Patrick Grehan Senior (1756 -1832). He was married to Judith Moore’s eldest sister Jane. So he’s a 5th great-uncle.

He was the first Catholic M.P. for Roscommon since his ancestor Sir Hugh O’Conor Don (1541-1632) ,  his son and two grandsons were also M.P’s. He was a friend, and colleague of Daniel O’Connell, who wrote to his son Denis after his death

” The death of my most respected and loved friend, your father, was to me a severe blow … How little does the world know of the value of the public services of men who like him held themselves always in readiness without ostentation or parade but with firmness and sincerity to aid in the struggles which nations make for liberty … I really know no one individual to whom the Catholics of Ireland are so powerfully indebted for the successful result of their contest for emancipation … His was not holiday patriotism … No, in the worst of times and when the storms of calumny and persecution from our enemies and apathy and treachery from our friends raged at their height he was always found at his post. “

He was only an M.P. from 1830 – 12 June 1831, but the seat was inherited by his son Denis who was an M.P for sixteen years, and later his grandson Charles Owen O’Conor who was an M.P for Roscommon for twenty years.

The O’Conors were descended from the ancient kings of Connaught through a younger son of Sir Hugh O’Conor Don (1541-1632) of Ballintubber Castle, sometime Member for county Roscommon. Owen’s grandfather Charles O’Conor (1710-91) was a noted antiquary and his father Denis and uncle Charles (1736-1808) of Mount Allen, as heirs to one of the oldest and most extensive Irish landholding families in the province, participated in the Catholic agitation of the late eighteenth century.

Owen, who served as a Volunteer in 1782 and was one of the Roscommon delegates to the Catholic convention in 1793, was also active in this campaign and probably became involved with the United Irishmen. However, except for his remark to Wolfe Tone in January 1793 that he was prepared for extreme measures, he steered clear of revolutionary activity, unlike his radical cousin Thomas (of Mount Allen), who in 1801 emigrated to New York; it was there that his son Charles (1804-84) became a prominent Democrat lawyer.

Denis O’Conor’s fourth cousin Dominick O’Conor (d. 1795) had left Clonalis ( the family house, and estate)  to his wife Catherine (d. 1814) and then to Owen as future head of the family. This was disputed by Dominick’s younger brother Alexander, who succeeded him as the O’Conor Don and had delusions of establishing himself as a self-styled monarch in a rebuilt Ballintubber Castle; he and his next brother Thomas, who predeceased him, were described by Skeffington Gibbon as ‘men of high and noble birth, but from their eccentric, secluded, pecuniary difficulties and habits, hardly known beyond the walls of the smoky and despicable hovels in which they lived and died’. After protracted litigation that reduced the value of the property, O’Conor purchased Clonalis outright in 1805, and on Alexander’s death in December 1820 he inherited the headship of the Don part of the old Catholic clan of the O’Conors. 

By the early 1820s the O’Conor Don was one of the most influential of the older generation of reformers in the Catholic Association. He played a leading part in the regular petitioning by Catholics in Roscommon, where he gave his electoral support to the pro-Catholic County Members. He spoke against the introduction of Poor Laws to Ireland and the increased Irish stamp and spirit duties. He stood in the general election of 1830,  pledging to support a range of radical reforms and to devote the rest of his life to the Irish cause. He was returned unopposed as the first Catholic to represent Roscommon since his ancestor Sir Hugh.

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