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Ireland's rebellion of 1848 has no proud place in the history of Irish nationalism, and the leader of the doomed enterprise, William Smith O'Brien, is not a celebrated hero of his country's struggle for independence. Nevertheless, the O'Brien story is an important one. During most of his political career, O'Brien believed in the British Parliament's capacity to give good government in Ireland. His attempts to secure liberal reform were largely unsuccessful, however, and he entered the 1840s with a growing conviction that the Irish Members were wasting their time at Westminster. In 1843, his extraordinary Commons campaign for 'justice' for Ireland prefigured the tactics of Parnell, but the effort ended in disappointment and O'Brien joined the Repeal Association in October 1843. For the next five years he was a major political figure, first as O'Connell's loyal deputy, then as his critic and rival, and finally, in 1848, as the leader of a rebellion. O'Brien was an exceptionally brave politician whose sense of honour and duty sent him into the lion's den time and time again. However, his ignominious failure in 1848 meant that he could be despised by men who were not his betters -- by British leaders who failed to govern well, and by Irish politicians, including many who called themselves nationalists, who did not share his attachment to the idea that they should govern themselves.
William Smith O'Brien and the Young Ireland Rebell
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