Rumours of the death of the Irish political leader Daniel O’Connell at Genoa, Italy while he was on pilgrimage to Rome had proven correct reported the News Letter in May in 1847. O’Connell drew his last breath at Genoa on Saturday, May 15, 1847, he was aged 71 years old.
The News Letter published a number of letters which gave “descriptive” details of O’Connell’s final hours. The first was penned by an English physician called Dr Duff which had been written from Italy on May 16.
Dr Duff wrote: “On Monday, May 10, I saw Mr O’Connell for the first time, and he was then suffering from profuse and involuntary diarrhoea, with great pain in the abdomen under pressure, strong rapid pulse, flushed face, etc. Mr O’Connell had also chronic, bronchitis of some years’ standing.
“From the remedies employed these symptoms were much ameliorated, and on the morrow he seemed convalescent. But from Mr O’Connell’s great repugnance to swallow even the most simple medicine, this state of improvement could not be followed up.
“On the evening of Tuesday, the 11th, the new symptom of congestion of the brain presented itself. Active measures were immediately had recourse to, and from them there was a decided improvement. Again the aid of internal remedies was denied, Mr O’Connell refusing to take any medicine.
“Towards the evening of Wednesday, the 12th, the symptoms increased; Mr O’Connell was restless, and sometimes slightly incoherent. Our former measures were again employed, but with slight success.
“During Thursday all the symptoms increased, with great tendency to sleep, from which, however, he could easily bemused; the breathing was much embarrassed; circulation became difficult, and in some degree indistinct, and the mind wavered. Thursday night was passed in a state of profound heavy sleep, with increased difficulty of breathing; and, in addressing those about him, he imagined himself in London, and spoke to them as if there.
“On Friday he was much worse, the breathing very laborious, the voice scarcely audible, and the words half formed; in fact, all the symptoms had increased. In this state he lingered on till Saturday night, seemingly conscious of the presence of those about him, but neither attempting to move nor speak.
“My treatment of Mr O’Connell was always in conjunction with Dr Beretta, of this place, and a young French physician, who had accompanied him from Lyons, and, on the day preceding his demise, we had the advantage of consulting with Dr Viviani, the oldest practitioner of Genoa, and of high repute.
“By his advice, and as a last resource, a further application of leeches to the temples was advised, but all was in vain; he expired last night at half-past nine o’clock (pm), apparently suffering little pain.
“During the whole time of our attendance upon Mr O’Connell it was with the greatest difficulty he could be induced to take medicine, or even necessary food, and he perseveringly abstained from drink for fully forty hours. Had this been otherwise, the period of his death might have been procrastinated, but his failing health and spirits, with constant tendency to cerebral congestion, rendered certain his death at no very distant period.”
The other letter, which was published by the News Letter, was one written by the Reverend Dr J Miley, O’Connell’s chaplain, to Maurice O’Connell.
The Rev Miley wrote: “May the God of Mercy sustain and comfort you – the worst has befallen us – the Liberator, your illustrious father – the father of his country – the glory and the wonder of Christendom – is dead! Dead! No, I should say rather, O’Connell is in Heaven, his death was happy; he received in the most fervent sentiments the last rites, and up to the last sigh was surrounded by every consolation provided by our holy religion.
“You are already aware from my last letter, and that which was written by Daniel at a later hour, how matters stood up to six o’clock on last (Saturday) evening. From that hour up to eight o’clock he continued to sink gradually, but without suffering. Daniel and me, and his faithful Duggan, he recognised to the last.
“Our supplications, in the sublime and consoling language of the church, were mingled with our tears, as we knelt around his bed. When at last his mighty voice was hushed, his countenance – his hands – responded to the prayers.
“At thirty-seven minutes past nine, the hand of the priest of God, privileged ‘to bind and loose on earth even as it is done in heaven’, was extended over him. There was no struggle – no change visible upon the features, except, that, as we gazed, it was plain that a dread mystery had cast its shadow over him.
“We are thrown upon our own counsels, with nothing to guide us but what we inherit from his conversations and casually expressed wishes. Acting on this we have determined to have the heart embalmed –placed in a silver urn and transported to Rome, as of old the heart of Robert Bruce was carried to Jerusalem, when it was not permitted him in by Providence to perform, in his own person, that pilgrimage to the holy sepulchre which he had vowed, as O’Connell had vowed, his pilgrimage to the tombs of the apostles. His body, also, is to be embalmed, and deposited in a chapel of the Church of our Blessed Lady, Delle Vigne, where it is to repose until, on our return from leaving the heart in Rome, we convey it to Ireland.”
Dr Miley concluded his letter to Maurice O’Connell by stating: “I should add that we are satisfied with the physicians. We are certain there was no mistake about the disease, and, but for the science and skill of the continental physicians, it must have had much sooner a fatal termination, or one still move afflicting. We have had a cast taken of his head, which has filled with wonder the physicians who have seen it.”