State papers: Curious case of Daniel O’Connell’s ‘missing’ death bed

Difficult end for Liberator, but he ‘died as an infant sinks upon his mother’s breast to sleep’

The shipping of Daniel O’Connell’s death bed to Ireland ran into some trouble in 1991 when it appeared that no one knew exactly where the bed was, according to State papers just released.

The political leader died on May 15th, 1847, in Genoa, aged 71. He was making a pilgrimage to Rome when he fell ill. And the bed in which he died eventually made its way to the Irish Pontifical College in Rome in 1926.

In the early 1990s, the Office of Public Works (OPW) asked the rector of the college, the then Msgr Seán Brady, to seek the return of the bed because it wished to put it on display at O’Connell’s ancestral home in Derrynane, Caherdaniel, Co Kerry.

The request was approved by the trustees of the college and it was agreed that the OPW would pay the costs associated with shipping the bed to Ireland.


However, the matter stalled there, and it was described as an issue of “some sensitivity” in a telex sent by the Irish ambassador to Italy, Robin Fogarty, to the Department of Foreign Affairs, in June 1991.

The ambassador noted that Msgr Brady maintained he never had any contact from the OPW or anybody else about the death bed. When he was contacted again, Mr Fogarty noted the cleric said the bed could only be released if the Irish College was provided with an official written request by the OPW.

Unsure of location

On the basis of “very confidential information”, the ambassador said he had formed the impression that there was “some embarrassment” on Msgr Brady’s side as it appeared he was “quite unsure” of the bed’s location.

“As far as he knows, it was at some stage dismantled and may be in a storeroom in the college,” Mr Fogarty said.

The Department of Foreign Affairs recommended that then taoiseach Charles Haughey approve the formal request to the Irish College for O’Connell’s death bed.

It was eventually located and is now on display at Derrynane House. According to the museum, the politician and statesman died in the bed in the Hotel Feder, Genoa at precisely 9.37pm on May 15th, 1847. While his final days were difficult, the museum quoted his chaplain the Rev Dr Miley who said O’Connell “died as an infant sinks upon his mother’s breast to sleep”. (File: 2021/78/1683)

Alison Healy

Alison Healy

Alison Healy is a contributor to The Irish Times