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James Patrick "The O'Gorman Mahon": His Early Life and Influences
by Declan Barron



The object of this study was to investigate the early life and the influences on James Patrick 'O'Gorman Mahon' and show how he rose to fame in the Ireland in the early nineteenth century. Although there are few records existing it has been established that he was born James Patrick Mahon in Mill Street, Ennis, in March 1802. Both sides of his family had come through the eighteenth century well, amassing capital and lands. His mother's side, as merchants, were not much affected by the penal laws. His father's side used the system to ensure their survival with many of them changing religion to ensure they retained possession of their lands.

There were several influences on Mahon's political life. First and foremost was his family background. In his early life he may well have been influenced by tales of his Gaelic lineage and how his uncles fought for Catholic rights in the final years of the 1700s while in his early schooling he would have read tales of the dispossessed Irish and their struggle to survive. In his years at Clongowes he mingled with the Irish Catholic elite and it was during his time here he first encountered Daniel O'Connell. As a friend of O'Connell's son he saw first hand O'Connell's rise to the top of the Irish Catholic political activity. After finishing his education he
joined his uncles and O'Connell at the forefront of the battle for emancipation as a member of the New Catholic association.

His adventurous lifestyle would seem to have been inspired by reading books like Freney, a notorious robber and Jorgensen's Travels. It is unclear who was most influential in Mahon adopting duelling as his favoured method of conflict resolution, though seeing how O'Connell and others of that time gained respect from their peers by showing their bravery in duelling and seeing how his father was humiliated in court after not accepting a duel must have been a factor in his decision. Whether or not the accusation of murder levelled at his father influenced him in any way is impossible to say, nor, indeed, is there any sign that he knew anything about it.

It was during the Clare Election of 1828 that Mahon came into his own and played a huge part in O'Connell's success. In the run up to this election Mahon received a lot of coverage from the newspapers which brought him fame. There is little doubt that the attraction of crowds cheering at his antics and speeches would have been like a drug for this outgoing, handsome, wealthy and unattached young man.

Although the main influences in his life were his family this coincided with a period in Irish history when Catholic gentry were exercising rights the previous generation only dreamt about. It was a combination of both of these that enabled Mahon stand tall in the belief that he was more than an equal to anyone else and God help anyone who would question this. Recent research has shown how some Catholic families prospered in the eighteenth century and this study confirms this. Further research on Mahon's family is needed to show the full extent of their wealth and how they acquired it. This research would compliment the recent work on Catholic families during the era of the penal laws.

This study also advances our understanding of relations between the Catholics and Protestants in county Clare. We see how the relationship between them was for the most part good. Although the incidents relating to the proselytising by the bible schools cause some bad feelings it was not until the Protestant community felt their position of power and control threatened by O'Connell that we see the relationship between the denominations becoming strained, something which is reflected by the serious change in tone from local newspaper editorials around the time of the Clare Election. The character of Mahon's father and uncles are revealed in this study. As well as learning about Mahon's father Pat and his character we get an insight into the administration of the county at this time. From studying Mahon's maternal uncles we can trace the development of the nationalist and emancipationist politics and we see how this changed the mindset of Irish Catholics which in turn gave Mahon the confidence to hold his head high without the feelings of inferiority of the proceeding generations.

In conclusion this study has chronicled the early life and revealed many of the influences that shaped James Patrick O'Gorman Mahon into the charismatic character that earned his place in Irish history.

Chapter 6