O'Connell, Morgan (1804–85), politician, was born 31 October 1804 at 30 Merrion Square, Dublin, second son of the four sons and three daughters of Daniel O'Connell (qv), lawyer and politician, and his wife, Mary (qv) (née O'Connell). He was put out to wet-nurse with a family on Valentia Island, and it is possible that (like his brother Maurice) his first language was Irish. He was educated at a Dublin day-school run by an English widow called Elverina Wollstonecraft and at Clongowes Wood College (1815–19), where he was considered a pleasant but lazy student.
In June 1819, at the age of fifteen, O'Connell was granted a commission in the Irish South American legion under John Devereux (qv). The legion had been recruited to aid Simon Bolivar in winning freedom for South America from Spanish rule. On 12 June 1820 O'Connell arrived in Santa Margarita, where he presented his father's compliments to Bolivar. He returned home in September 1821 after several bouts of fever and two shipwrecks. (Letters from Morgan describing some of his experiences are reprinted in Life and speeches of Daniel O'Connell, ii, 524–9).
Upon his return O'Connell joined the Austrian army with the assistance of his uncle Count Moritz O'Connell (qv) (who had earlier refused to recommend him for the French service because of his educational shortcomings). He became a cadet in its 4th regiment of light cavalry (stationed at first in Vicenza, Italy). His father had wished him to be an attorney, but was overruled by Mary O'Connell, who stated that he would never endure the subordination required by an apprenticeship and that the army was the only outlet for him. Morgan initially wished to join the British service, but this was vetoed by his father for political reasons – possibly because the British army might be called on to enforce repressive measures in Ireland, possibly because Morgan would receive more encouragement in attending his religious duties in the army of a catholic power. In December 1826, while serving at Guns in Hungary, he was commissioned a lieutenant in the 6th regiment of light cavalry.
O'Connell was an amiable, feckless individual who rarely made his own way in life, depending on his father to sort out his career. While in Austria his capers proved a constant drain on his father's finances and on those of Count O'Connell. Lacking the ability or perseverance to prosper or advance in the army, he returned to Ireland about 1830. In a remarkable display of self-deceiving optimism, Daniel O'Connell thought that repeal might come within a year of the Reform Act, and it would then be possible for his son to join the British service. In July 1830 Morgan issued a challenge to Major William Nugent MacNamara (1776–1856), who had accused Daniel O'Connell of backsliding in an agreement to resign the Clare seat in his favour at the next vacancy. Although this duel did not come off, it prefigures Morgan's better-known activities as his father's champion.
Despite the fact that Morgan had little interest in politics, and his ‘sole recommendation was his being son of O'Connell', his father had him returned for Co. Meath in the general election of December 1832; he remained MP for Meath until 1840. His defeat (in 1832) of Lord Killeen (qv), heir of the leading catholic aristocrat Lord Fingall (qv), was denounced by the whig-unionist D. O. Madden (qv) as ‘in the highest degree ungrateful’ and a prime example of the displacement of able non-repeal representatives by untalented O'Connell loyalists (Madden, i, 235, 240). Both as a politician and in private life Morgan followed his father's directions; he was financially dependent on his father, who paid all his election expenses. In 1834 he offered if directed to give up his Meath seat to William Sharman Crawford (qv) and contest Athlone, with the promise of another unspecified seat if he was defeated there. On 22 August 1833 Daniel O'Connell vetoed Morgan's wish to marry Anne Costigan, a family friend, on the grounds that ‘he has no energy . . . he never will better his condition by any efforts of his own . . . They would only breed a progeny of beggars’ (Correspondence of Daniel O'Connell, v, 63–4).
On 4 May 1835, at Chalk Farm near London, O'Connell fought a duel with William, second Baron Alvanley, who had insulted his father by proposing his expulsion from Brooks' Club at a time when he knew the elder O'Connell would be absent in Ireland and unable to state his case; neither participant was hurt. The following day he received a challenge from Benjamin Disraeli, whom Daniel O'Connell had just described as (inter alia) ‘the most degraded of his species and kind . . . heir-at-law of the blasphemous thief who died upon the cross’. He refused Disraeli's repeated, public, and vituperative requests ‘to reassume his vicarious office of yielding satisfaction for his shrinking sire’ (MacKnight, 609–19).
O'Connell's political career ended in January 1840 when he was appointed first assistant registrar of deeds for Ireland. On 23 July that year he married Kate Mary, the youngest daughter of Michael Balfe, of South Park, Co. Roscommon. They had no children. (The appointment and plans for the marriage may have been related.) In 1846 O'Connell's father organised his promotion to registrar, which position he held until his retirement in 1869. These appointments (with the securing of official positions for three of Daniel O'Connell's sons-in-law) formed the basis for later charges of nepotism and place-hunting against the Liberator. His father also settled on O'Connell at some stage a small estate at Brittas, near Mallow, Co. Cork, which had originally belonged to the O'Mullanes, the family of Daniel O'Connell's mother. This estate brought in a nominal income of £400 a year but was burdened by annuities to various O'Mullanes at the time of its original purchase in 1826. (Hence, in 1833, O'Connell commented: ‘as for the O'Mullane property, he will be a very old man if ever he lives to enjoy that’; Correspondence of Daniel O'Connell, v, 63–4.) O'Connell was a co-executor of his father's will. He lived at 12 St Stephen's Green, Dublin, where he died 20 January 1885.
There is a portrait of Morgan O'Connell at Derrynane, Co. Kerry. His correspondence is in the NLI (O'Connell Papers, MS 13645(1, 21), MS 17,882, and D.27,088), and there are numerous references to him in the eight-volume correspondence of his father.