*Photograph: John Mangan
Ennis’ links to Daniel O’Connell are to be explored with the view to building a festival around the theme.
Mayor of Ennis, Cllr Paul Murphy (FG) planted the idea at the January sitting of the Ennis Municipal District as he urged the MD and the County Arts Officer to liaise with the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media to “explore all avenues regarding the unique opportunity that Ennis has regarding its links to Daniel O’Connell”.
Potential ideas mooted by the Clarecastle representative included promoting Ennis as Daniel O’Connell’s town or the town of Daniel O’Connell, running a festival based around The Liberator, to screen films about him on the gable wall adjacent to O’Connell Monument on a daily or weekly basis or the re-enacting of scenes throughout the town.
Founder of the Catholic Association in 1823, five years later a by-election win for O’Connell proved to be a turning point in his career. Polling took place at the old courthouse where his monument now stands, at the final count, O’Connell was elected by a majority of about eleven hundred votes. The ascendancy party had suffered its first big knock since 1798.
It led to the British Government granting Catholic emancipation in April 1829. The Kerry native was now the undisputed leader in Ireland but the King would not let him take his seat until he had been re-elected in Clare. In February 1830, O’Connell became the first Catholic in modern history to sit in the House of Commons.
According to Cllr Murphy, “most of what he achieved is linked to Ennis and Co Clare”. He referenced O’Connell Monument, O’Connell Street and O’Connell Square as examples for the county’s affection for the man, “it is crying out for us to maximise its potential”. He said that Senator Roisin Garvey (GP) has committed to attempt to secure the support of Minister Catherine Martin (GP) for the idea.
New Ross’ success in building on the John F Kennedy Summer School was cited by Cllr Clare Colleran Molloy (FF) as an example to follow. “It is amazing this hasn’t been devised before now,” she stated.
O’Connell’s story is very applicable today, Cllr Johnny Flynn (FG) believed. “When you look at the threats to modern democracy that we are seeing all over the world over the last decade and the idea of undermining the idea of independence and free-thinking, his election in 1828 was and is of crucial importance”. He urged personnel involved in advancing the idea to link in with local historian Declan Barron.
Making Ennis the Fleadh Town and tying in with the Siege of Ennis were previous suggestions tabled to help Ennis attract more visitors, Cllr Pat Daly (FF) recalled. He called the monument a landmark of the town and added, “it is about time we claimed O’Connell”. Cllr Mark Nestor (FF) urged persons involved not to leave the idea on a shelf.
People would travel from all over the country if any of the ideas were progressed, Cllr Ann Norton (IND) commented. She maintained the people of Ireland’s interest in history would add to its success. “We have the monument, the square and the street with the museum so close. Ennis is so well known for its history”.
Utilising the space at O’Connell Monument offers “a great opportunity”, Director of Service Carmel Kirby told the meeting. A renovation of The Height is planned if financed can be obtained from the Urban Regeneration and Development Fund (URDF). Ideas to brand Ennis are being worked on by Promote Ennis, she confirmed.
“It is time that we claim O’Connell as our own. Collins and de Valera were divisive, O’Connell wasn’t, we can use that to our advantage,” Mayor Murphy remarked. He concluded, “Domestic tourism is going to be where it’s at for the foreseeable future, some people will fly off to Lanzarote but a lot of people will stay local”.