William Joseph O’Neill Daunt was born in Tullamore, King’s County (now Offaly County) on 28 April 1807, the son of Joseph Daunt and Jane Wilson. In 1828, he broke with his family to convert to Catholicism. A protégé of Daniel O’Connell, he was a Member of Parliament for Mallow between 1832 and 1833, but was unseated by a petition. He was a charter member of the Repeal Association, set up by O’Connell, for a repeal of the Act of Union between Great Britain and Ireland. In 1839, he married Ellen Hickey, and they had two children. They lived at Kilcascan, Ballineer, County Cork.
In 1841-1842, Daunt was O’Connell’s secretary while the latter was lord mayor of Dublin. He collaborated with others to found the Irish weekly nationalist newspaper, Nation, and occasionally contributed to it, though later he distanced himself from it and the radical Young Ireland movement. After O’Connell’s death, Daunt retired from politics. However, in the mid-1850s, he helped to found the Irish church disestablishment movement, and campaigned regularly through to 1869 when the Disestablishment Act became law. He also supported Home Rule, which he viewed as the best likely outcome for Ireland short of full repeal of the union. Daunt died in 1894. Further brief biographical details can be found at The Peerage and Ricorso.
In his entry on Daunt for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (log-in required), D. M. Cregier, concludes: ‘Too introverted and reclusive, and possibly too scrupulous to be a successful politician, Daunt was nevertheless important as a link between the repeal and home-rule movements, and as an observer and chronicler of Irish nationalist politics for over sixty years. His unpublished journals and letters to scores of correspondents, as well as his many published works, are major historical sources, significant for their factual accuracy and broadmindedness.’
Daunt wrote several books on Irish politics and history (as well as a few novels under the pseudonym Denis Ignatius Moriarty). His Essays on Ireland (1888), freely available at Internet Archive, includes an essay entitled The Irish Difficulty. Here’s a sample: ‘For eighty-five years we have been subjected to English legislation, a length of time sufficient to test the effect on Ireland of the legislative union; and at the end of that long period we find our country disturbed by conspiracies; great portions of its revenue, public and private, exported to England; its inhabitants divided into hostile classes; whole districts swept by occasional famines; bitter discontent developing into horrible crimes; manufacturing industry brought so low, that only about 80,000 persons in a population that still amounts to 5,000,000 are engaged in it; multitudes flying to America in pursuit of that prosperity which at home they have failed to acquire beneath the rule of an alien legislature, and bearing with them into exile deep and ineradicable hatred of the system that has stripped their native land of the means God had given for their support.’
Two years after Daunt’s death, in 1896, his daughter, Alice, edited selections from his diaries (40 years worth) which were published by T. Fisher Unwin (London) as A Life Spent for Ireland: Being Selections from the Journals of the late W. J. O’Neill Daunt. Alice writes in her introduction: ‘Mr Daunt’s character stands pretty well revealed through the pages of his diary. He was upright and honourable, unalterably true to his political and religious principles, and to his private friendships. His simplicity was that of a child; he could scarcely be brought to believe evil of anyone, without at least overwhelming proofs. His estimation of himself was a very humble one, and therefore he was quite free from those petty jealousies and spites that sometimes disfigure the career of public men. His urbanity and gentleness were charming, his sweetness of character and manner increasing the more helpless, physically, he grew. Latterly he became very lame and feeble, and moved with difficulty, although he came downstairs daily about two o’clock. The end came very unexpectedly.’
Here are some extracts from Daunt’s A Life Spent for Ireland.
‘In the midst of sharp privations of various kinds, I this day rode to Clonakilty to borrow money at the bank to pay the tithes to the Protestant minister. I have sometimes dined on Indian meal porridge and sheep’s milk, sometimes on a pennyworth of rice, and gone supperless to bed. Of this I do not complain, for it is caused by a visitation of Providence. But of the Established Church I do complain, for it is the visitation of England, not of Providence. . .’
31 January 1851
‘For a fortnight nothing has occurred to diversity the monotony of existence. Planting, thinning, and pruning as usual, and teaching my daughter to read, spell, etc.
2 February 1858
‘Bought a horse . . . from Curly Crowley for £18. He told me he could have got £2 more from a sporting gentleman in our neighbourhood. “You would have got his promise,” said I, “but you know he is not the best pay.” “Och, I wouldn’t care for that,” returned Crowley, “for he couldn’t keep me out of the money beyond the next quarter sessions, and the cost of the process would be only five shillings.” There was something very ‘Irish’ in this notion of selling a horse on the security of a lawsuit with the purchaser. . .’
17 February 1858
‘Visit from C_, who seems to have found the fairy cap. Recently a hamper of wine was sent to him by an anonymous donor, and a friend, who is not a relation, has written to offer him the gift of a large sum of money. . . He tells me that when his brother was appointed rector of D_, Father Creedon, whom the previous rector had tormented with souperism, asked him to abstain from interference with the Catholics. His reverence answered, “I’ll get every man of them to come to my church if I can; but I won’t give them so much as a potato for coming.” Creedon was quite satisfied with this, well knowing that, bribery apart, there would be no conversions.’
25 July 1859
‘My pugnacious youngster came in to-day with his face streaming blood from a blow of a stone near the eye. . . It was almost impossible to get him to tell who hit him. “It is done now,” said he, “and what does it matter who did it?” He took the matter very philosophically, saying that “in our course through life we must expect to meet accidents.” . . .’
3 September 1859
‘Letter from Scott, who tells a story of Father Strickland, S.J., recently returned from India, where he learned to wear a long beard kept trimmed to a point. While preaching a few days since in Sligo, he observed that an old woman was greatly affected, and shed tears. He ascribed her emotion to his sermon, and seeing that she still retained her place when the congregation had dispersed, he went to her and . . . inquired the cause of her tears. She looked up wistfully at his beard, and sobbed out, “Och, it’s bekaise your riverence reminds me powerful of my poor ould goat that died last week.” Father Strickland came away more amused than flattered.’
26 September 1859
‘Arthur O’Connor came here. It seems that his Uncle Feargus made a will leaving Arthur everything he had. The legatee is slightly puzzled to discover whether everything means anything or nothing. I incline to the latter interpretation. . . When I was about six or seven years old, a certain countess, whom my mother took me to visit, pronounced me to be “a handsome boy with a bad countenance.” I do not name her ladyship, who was said to have scared Lord C_ into marrying her, by threatening to stab herself in the event of his refusing to accompany her into Hymen’s temple. She was a very clever woman . . . could be very captivating and very disagreeable. In old age she still clung to the vanities of youth. I have seen her, when more than fourscore, with a bare neck, an enormous sable wig, curled into multitudinous ringlets, and surmounted by a fantastic little pink satin hat, that contrasted strongly with her old, withered, wrinkled, toothless, haggard visage. . .’
3 August 1864
‘Returned home. . . Found a card of invitation to the banquet to come off in the Rotundo on the 8th inst., on the occasion of laying the foundation stone of the O’Connell monument. . . I am pledged to attend the contemplated Repeal meeting whenever it is held, and one political trip to Dublin will be quite enough for me just now.’
9 August 1864
‘Letter from John Martin, asking permission to nominate me one of the Repeal Directory of five. . .’
8 September 1864
‘The Times not having printed my recent letter on the Viceroyalty and the State Church, Mr Carvell Williams sent a copy of it to the Morning Star, in last Thursday’s issue of which it occupies a prominent place.’
9 September 1864
‘The Times has printed my letter, though somewhat of the latest. . .
10 September 1864
‘Letter from the Archbishop of Cashel warmly congratulating me on my letter. . .’
30 September 1864
‘The Times has published four letters of mine. The last was in reply to a Mr W. J. Lawson, who attacked some of my statements on Irish finance and its mismanagement. . .’
24 October 1864
‘The stir we have made about Irish fiscal wrongs has compelled the Government to issue a tract in self-defence. This is a report to the Viceroy by Dr Neilson Hancock on the public accounts between Great Britain and Ireland, and it is precisely such a combination of balderdash, falsehood and impudence as might have been expected, reply. . .’
24 January 1886
‘Letter from Lady F. Dixie, announcing the gracious reception by the Prince of Wales of my article on The Irish Difficulty.’
30 January 1886
‘Parnell and his party have turned out the Tory Government. . .’
16 February 1886
‘Accompanied my son to Dunmanway, where he, as a magistrate, had to register claims to vote for Poor Law Guardians. One of the claimants was a fine old relic of the last century, aged 97; he remembers the French fleet in Bantry Bay. . .’
12 April 1886
‘On the 8th Gladstone made his speech, introducing the measure of Home Rule for Ireland; a speech of splendid eloquence. It occupied three hours and twenty-five minutes. He deserves gratitude for this attempt to solve the old international quarrel. . .’