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Monday, 9 February 2015

9 February 1903: The death occurred of Sir Charles Gavan Duffy, journalist and Patriot, on this day. He was born in Monaghan in 1816. In 1836 he joined the staff of the Dublin newspaper the Morning Register of which he afterwards became sub-editor. In 1839, he was made editor of the newly established The Vindicator, and he went to Belfast where he remained until 1842. That summer he returned to Dublin where along with John Blake Dillon and Thomas Davis he founded a newspaper called The Nation that was to revolutionise nationalist sentiment in Ireland. He was at first a supporter of O’Connell, and when O'Connell was prosecuted in 1844, Duffy was with him in the dock and subsequently his fellow-prisoner in jail. But he became disillusioned with the Liberator and his constitutional approach that eventually led nowhere.

 After his death he partook in the abortive Rising of 1848. Despite many attempts by the British Government to convict him under the Treason Felony Act he managed to get himself acquitted at the fifth attempt and remained a thorn in their side. In 1850 he helped to found the Tenant League and two years later helped set up the Independent Irish Party, consisting of some 40 Irish MPs and of which he became the leader. The Party had a limited programme of Tenant and Ecclesiastical reform as practical first steps but internal divisions, the machinations of the British Government and the distrust of the Catholic Hierarchy led to disarray and defections.

By 1856 Duffy had had enough. He decided to emigrate to Australia and took his family with him. Here he again became active in politics. A sum of £5,000 was raised by public subscription in Victoria and New South Wales to provide him with freehold qualification for the House of either State. He was elected to the Legislative Assembly of Victoria for Villiers and Heytesbury. His first political action was to sponsor a bill to abolish the property qualification for Members; as the only Member who had also been a Member of the House of Commons, he also became an arbiter of parliamentary procedure. He was distrusted by many of the older Protestant settlers but was very popular with the growing Catholic Irish in the State of Victoria. He was elected to the Legislative Assembly for the years 1856-1864, 1867-1874, and 1876-1880. He was Knighted for his services in 1873. He was Premier of the State of Victoria for a year, between 19 June 1871 and 10 June 1872, at the head of a Ministry that combined free traders and protectionists. He was the Speaker for the years 1877-1880 but by this time he had become bored with the monotony of parliamentary affairs.

In 1880 he left Australia for Europe. He was now over 60 and had a guaranteed State pension that allowed him financial independence. He married for the third time and sired four more children. He kept up correspondence with his friends and colleagues in both Ireland and Australia after he settled in the south of France. He wrote extensively and published such works as Young Ireland: A Fragment of Irish History (1880), The League of North and South (1886), Thomas Davis: the Memoirs of a Patriot (1892) and My Life in Two Hemispheres (1898). One of his last political acts was to express support for the Boers in their struggle against the British Empire – a stance that shocked the British community in French Riviera city of Nice where he made his home. After his death his body was returned to Ireland and interred in Glasnevin Cemetery.