Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/O'Conor, Charles Owen
O'CONOR, CHARLES OWEN, styled O'Conor Don (1838–1906), Irish politician, born on 7 May 1838 in Dublin, was eldest son of Denis O'Conor of Belanagore and Clonallis, co. Roscommon, by Mary, daughter of Major Blake of Towerhill, co. Mayo. His family was Roman catholic. A younger son, Denis Maurice O'Conor, LL.D. (1840-1883), was M.P. in the liberal and home rule interest for Sligo county (1868-83).
Charles Owen, after education at St. Gregory's College, Downside, near Bath, matriculated at London University in 1855, but did not graduate. He early entered public life, being elected M.P. for Roscommon county as a liberal at a bye-election in 1860. He sat for that constituency till the general election of 1880. In 1874 he was returned as a home ruler, but, refusing to take the party pledge exacted by Parnell, was ousted by a nationalist in 1880. In 1883 he was defeated by Mr. William Redmond in a contest for Wexford. An active member of parliament, he was an effective though not an eloquent speaker and a leading exponent of Roman catholic opinion. He frequently spoke on Irish education and land tenure. He criticised unfavourably the Queen's Colleges established in 1845 and the model schools, and advocated separate education for Roman catholics. In 1867 he introduced a measure to extend the Industrial Schools Act to Ireland, which became law next year. He opposed Gladstone's university bill of 1873, and in May 1879 brought forward a measure, which had the support of almost every section of Irish political opinion, for the creation of a new examining university, 'St. Patrick's,' with power to make grants based on the results of examination to students of denominational colleges affiliated to it. This was withdrawn on 23 July on the announcement of the government bill creating the Royal University of Ireland. Of the senate of that body he was for many years an active member, and received the honorary degree of LL.D. in 1892. He was also on the intermediate education board established in' 1878.
O'Conor steadily lurged a reform of the Irish land laws. During the discussion of the land bill of 1870 he advocated the extension of the Ulster tenant right to the other provinces. He sat on the select committee appointed in 1877 to inquire into the working of the purchase clauses of the Land Act of 1890.
On social and industrial questions he also spoke with authority. He was a member of the royal commissions on the Penal Servitude Acts (1863), and on factories and workshops (1875); and the passing of the Irish Sunday Closing Act of 1879 was principally due to his persevering activity. He seconded Lord Claud Hamilton's motion (29 April 1873) for the purchase by the state of Irish railways.
From 1872 onwards O'Conor professed his adherence to home rule and supported Butt in his motion for inquiry into the parliamentary relations of Great Britain and Ireland in 1874, though admitting that federal home rule would not satisfy nationalist aspirations. He also acted with the Irish leader in his endeavours to mitigate the severity of coercive legislation, though declaring himself not in all circumstances opposed to exceptional laws.
After his parliamentary career ceased in 1880 O'Conor was a member of the registration of deeds commission of 1880, and took an active part in the Bessborough land commission of the same year (see Ponsonby, Frederick George Beabazon). He was a member of both the parliamentary committee of 1885 and the royal commission of 1894 on the financial relations between Great Britain and Ireland, and became chairman of the commission on the death of Hugh Culling Eardley Childers [q. v. Suppl. I], in 1896. O'Conor held that Ireland was unfairly treated under the existing arrangements. In local government he was also active. He had presided over parliamentary committees on Irish grand jury laws and land valuation in 1868 and 1869, and was elected to the first county council of Roscommon in 1898. He was lord-lieutenant of the county from 1888 till his death. He had been sworn of the Irish privy council in 1881.
O'Conor was much interested in antiquarian studies, and published in 1891 'The O'Conors of Connaught : an Historical Memoir compiled from a MS. of the late John O'Donovan, LL.D., with Additions from the State Papers and Public Records.' He was for many years president of the Antiquarian Society of Ireland, as well as of the Royal Irish Academy. He was president of the Irish Language Society, and procured the insertion of Irish into the curriculum of the intermediate education board.
O'Conor died at Clonallis, Castlerea, on 30 June 1906, and was buried in the new cemetery, Castlerea. He married (1) on 21 April 1868, Georgina Mary (d. 1872), daughter of Thomas Aloysiua Perry, of Bitham House, Warwickshire; and (2) in 1879, Ellen, third daughter of John Lewis More O'Ferrall of Lisard, Edgeworthstown, co. Longford. He had four sons by the first marriage.
[Burke's Landed Gentry of Ireland; Walford's County Families; Men of the Time, 1899; Who's Who, 1906; The Times, 2 and 5 July 1906; Roscommon Journal, 7 July (containing obituaries from Freeman's Journal, Irish Times, &c.); Hansard's Parl. Debates.]