O'Connell, Maurice Daniel (1803–53), politician, was born 27 June 1803 in Tralee, Co. Kerry, the eldest son of the four sons and three daughters of Daniel O'Connell (qv), lawyer and politician, and his wife, Mary (qv) (née O'Connell). Unlike most of his younger siblings Maurice was wet-nursed in Kerry and spent his early childhood with his father's parents in Carhen; hence he acquired Irish as his first language. He received his early education at home under the supervision of his mother and at a Dublin day-school run by an English widow, Elverina Wollstonecraft. He then entered Clongowes Wood College, where he was a bright but lazy student and failed to win a scholarship to TCD. Nevertheless, he entered Trinity in October 1819, and was privately tutored before being admitted to Gray's Inn in 1824.
An initial lethargic approach to his studies gave way to a sudden burst of application, and O'Connell was called to the Irish bar in 1827. After returning to Ireland he joined the Munster circuit and enthusiastically helped his father to run the Catholic Association. His father appointed him coordinating secretary for the churchwardens, who were in charge of the rent collectors for the association. Unable to muster much enthusiasm for the law, he soon stopped practising: his laziness and financial extravagance were encouraged by the fact that the Derrynane estate was entailed upon him as the eldest son; even had Daniel O'Connell wished to disinherit him he would not have been able to do so. Like his father, Maurice revelled in hospitality regardless of expense; he was a handsome young man and had a lifelong passion for yachting.
At this point Daniel O'Connell introduced his son as an aspiring politician. After failing to win a seat at Drogheda in 1830, he was elected MP and sat first for Co. Clare (1831–2) and then for Tralee (1832–7, 1838–53). He also contested Carlow unsuccessfully in 1835. He had considerable political ability, but he lived in his father's shadow. Despite showing promise in the early stages of his career as a politician, he soon reverted to his old lethargic ways and had to be forced to canvass for support in Tralee at election time. (He even lost Tralee – increasingly an O'Connell family borough – in 1837 but regained it after his opponent was unseated on petition.) In the event, his father did most of his electioneering for him. When the latter established the National Bank in January 1835, Maurice was appointed a director. He was appointed a DL for Co. Kerry by the whig government of Lord Melbourne (qv) and removed by the Conservatives under Sir Robert Peel (qv), but reinstated by Lord John Russell's whigs amid accusations of jobbery and favouritism from both Conservatives and Young Irelanders.
In 1842 O'Connell was one of the leading members of the Repeal Association who were sent out into the country to organise meetings and establish a network to agitate for repeal. A member of the association's parliamentary committee, he wrote a report on fisheries which was published in September 1844. Unlike his brother John O'Connell (qv), he did little to aggravate further the tension between his father and the Young Irelanders before the 1846 split. After the death of Thomas Davis (qv) he wrote a verse lament which was published in the Nation – though Charles Gavan Duffy (qv) complained that when chairing Conciliation Hall meetings O'Connell stifled debate on the prosecution of the Nation for seditious libel after John Mitchel (qv) published an article advocating the derailment of troop trains in time of crisis.
Duffy states that shortly before his death O'Connell told him, before named and living witnesses, that he had opposed the expulsion of the Young Irelanders from the Repeal Association (which he blamed on the intrigues of his brother John) and had even quarrelled with his father on the issue. However, the historian Maurice O'Connell (1922–2005) pointed out that the published correspondence between O'Connell and his father shows no traces of the supposed quarrel (though this could be explained by the massive emotional and financial dominance exerted over the younger man by his father, who paid him an allowance of £700 per annum) and that, after his father's death, O'Connell gave two speeches at the Repeal Association expressing hostility towards the Young Irelanders. He also refused them permission to take part in Daniel O'Connell's funeral procession and campaigned for candidates opposed to them, even leading a mob on behalf of the Palmerstonian Whig Patrick Somers (1801–62) in Sligo.
O'Connell wrote for the Nation under the signatures ‘Ith’ and ‘M O'C’ and provided stories and poems for the Irish Monthly Magazine under the names Fion, Patrick O'Diggrell, Patrick O'Taffrail and Denis McFinn. He also wrote for the Comet, Catholicon, and other publications. His most popular verse, ‘The recruiting song for the Irish brigade’, was included in The spirit of the Nation (1845). In addition, he edited the Personal narrative of the rebellion (1832) by General Thomas Cloney (qv) and contributed stories to Mrs Johnstone's Edinburgh tales (1845–6).
In the early 1840s O'Connell became his father's agent in Kerry. His ability to speak fluent Irish and his easy-going ways made him popular with his father's tenants; during the great famine he carried out his father's instructions regarding the relief of the poor on his estate. He was a co-executor of his father's will, but his failure to realise the full scale of the estate's indebtedness exacerbated its financial problems. (In 1848 he spent £1,260 on a yacht, and had to be pressurised into selling it again.) Only drastic action by the solicitor Pierce Mahony (qv) kept the estate in O'Connell's hands.
O'Connell eloped with a protestant, Mary Frances, the only daughter of John Binden Scott, banker, of Cahircon, Co. Clare, and they were married according to catholic rites on 1 October 1832. As the solemnisation of a mixed marriage by a catholic priest was both illegal and rendered the marriage invalid by the law of the land, they also married according to Church of Ireland rites on the same day. They had two sons and two daughters. The marriage broke down in 1841: Mary appears to have had mental problems. During his last years of residence in Derrynane, O'Connell engaged in liaisons with local women, fathering several children; confused memories of his activities contributed to the folk image of his father as a promiscuous seducer.
In 1851 O'Connell's backing of Lord John Russell's government after the introduction of the Ecclesiastical Titles Act was widely denounced, but continuing political support for the O'Connell family in Kerry allowed him to survive politically. Frederick Lucas (qv) alleged that he acted as go-between in the negotiations which led to John Sadleir (qv) and William Keogh (qv) joining the Whig administration. O'Connell died 17 June 1853, at his apartment at 22 Half Moon Street, Piccadilly, while visiting London on parliamentary duties. His papers are in the NLI.