Frank Hugh O'Donnell


Frank Hugh O’Donnell was an Irish politician and journalist, known as a fierce opponent of British imperialism and the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland. He was born Francis Hugh MacDonald at a barracks in Devon to a sergeant in the British Army. He was educated in Galway at a Jesuit high school and then at Queen’s College, where he rapidly earned a reputation as an orator and controversialist.

In 1874 he was elected Member of Parliament for Galway but, in a judgment probably influenced by political bias, was convicted of electoral malpractice and removed from office. Undeterred, he returned to the Commons three years later as Member for Dungarvan, Co. Waterford, and held that seat until its abolition in 1885. A provocative and popular figure within the Home Rule League, he served the party with champion filibustering and in 1888 he launched the historic libel action against The Times which led to C. S. Parnell’s exoneration from conspiracy in the Phoenix Park Murders.

In Parliament he often spoke on British imperialism in India in analogy with Irish matters. He received a schooling in Indian nationalism from his friend G. M. Tagore, with whom he, J.C. Meenakshya and four other Irish MPs joined in 1875 to form the Constitutional Society of India. Further information was gleaned from his brother Charles J. O’Donnell, an civil servant in Bihar who earned the nickname ‘the enfant terrible of the ICS’ for his public criticism and exposure of government policy. In 1882 he told Parliament that the Irish Party were ‘the natural representatives and spokesmen for the unrepresented nationalities of the empire’ and in 1883 he threw his weight behind a premature campaign to have Dadabhai Naoroji elected to Parliament. In 1905 he sent a message of support to Shyamji Krishnavarma upon his inauguration of India House.

Defeated by Parnell in his bid for the party leadership, O'Donnell abandoned parliamentary politics and, after joining the Irish Republican Brotherhood (Fenians), pursued a chequered career of furious pamphleteering. During the Boer War he secured funds from the Transvaal Government to militate against Irish enlistment, but he was later accused of pocketing the money and condemned by the United Irishman. He spent much of his later career campaigning for secular and mixed education in a series of determined sallies against the political might of the Catholic clergy. He died unmarried at London, and is buried at Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.

Published works: 

Souls for Gold (1901)

Paraguay on Shannon (1908)

A History of the Irish Parliamentary Party, 2 vols (1910)

Date of birth: 
09 Oct 1846

Maud Gonne, Shyamji Krishnavarma, J. C. Meenakshya, Dadabhai Naoroji, T. P. O’Connor, Charles J. O’Donnell, Charles Stewart Parnell, G. M. Tagore, Alfred Webb, W. B. Yeats.

Secondary works: 

Jeffery, Keith, An Irish Empire? Aspects of Ireland and the British Empire (Manchester, Manchester University Press, 1996)

Visram, Rozina, Asians in Britain: 400 Years of History (Pluto Press, London, 2002)

City of birth: 
Devonport, Devon
Country of birth: 
Other names: 

Francis Hugh O'Donnell

Date of death: 
02 Nov 1916
Location of death: 
London, England
Tags for Making Britain: 

London Indian Society


In 1865, the London Indian Society was founded under the guidance of Dadabhai Naoroji. It was formed by Indian students as a forum to air political grievances. Europeans were allowed to be honorary members but could not vote or hold office. Of the founding group of students, they included W. C. Bonnerjee, Manomohun Ghose, Pherozeshah Mehta and Badruddin Tyabji.

In 1866, the London Indian Society was superseded by the East India Association, although it did continue to exist in some separate form for a few more years.

Other names: 


Secondary works: 

Cumpston, Mary, 'Some Early Indian Nationalists and their Allies in the British Parliament, 1851-1906', The English Historical Review 76.299 (April 1961), pp. 279-97.

Ralph, Omar, Naoroji: The First Asian MP (St John's, Antigua: Hansib, 1997)

Seal, Anil, The Emergence of Indian Nationalism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1968)

Date began: 
24 Mar 1865
Date ended: 
01 Jan 1866
Precise date ended unknown: 
Tags for Making Britain: 
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