Clare County Library
Clare History
Home | Search Library Catalogue | Foto | Maps | Archaeology | Folklore | Genealogy | Museum | Search this Website | Copyright Notice | Visitors' Book | What's New

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


Chapter 6: O'Connell's success

The year 1828 was to be a momentous year for O'Gorman Mahon and for Irish politics as a whole. The year began with the Catholic Association calling for meetings to be held in all the parishes in the country. It is estimated that one and a half million people attended these meetings throughout the country. Drumcliffe parish held their meeting in the Chapel in Ennis that January with James O'Gorman acting as chairman. Nicholas O'Gorman began the proceedings by proposing that a petition be sent to Parliament in favour of 'the Dissenters of England'. This was followed by calls for the repeal of the Sub-Letting Act and the Vestry Act. A John Macnamara addressed those assembled. He spoke of the fact that even though Catholics were entitled to be Grand Jury members the sheriff chose almost exclusively Protestants. He complained about the exclusion, from this position, of men such as his 'excellent friend O'Gorman Mahon' and how Mahon, and many more he could name were "Catholic worth and talent thrown into the shade, and £200 a year squireens exalted to be Grand Jurors". James O'Gorman proposed a vote of thanks for Dean O'Shaughnessy for his work in combating the proselytising of the local children. At the end of the meeting Nicholas O'Gorman proposed three cheers for Old Ireland. This was followed by three cheers for Major Macnamara and the meeting ended. The newspaper report of this meeting concluded by humorously asking why the ladies who attended were not cheered as usual. (O'Gorman Mahon did not attend this Ennis meeting as he was attending an Association meeting in Dublin on the same weekend). The editorial in the same paper stated that 'we shall be ever happy to see Roman Catholics on our Grand Jury' and suggested a list of possible jurors under which the town would not suffer. Mahon was suggested as foreman on this list.309

The following week O'Gorman Mahon showed his argumentative side at another Association meeting in Dublin. A Mr. O'Dwyer rose and said that the recent vote of thanks, received from certain parishes in Connaught, to himself, O'Connell and the others who had voted for the appointment of Eneas McDonnell to the position of agent of the Association in England amounted to votes of censure on Nicholas O'Gorman for his opposition to this appointment. O'Gorman Mahon took offence and said that 'with great reluctance' he had to speak up. He asked would any man 'dare' to make this assertion if Nicholas was present and did O'Dwyer know so little about him (Mahon) that O'Dwyer did not believe he would 'stand up' as his uncle's representative. He continued saying that 'he would not stand by to listen in silence to the insolent taunt' that had been directed at Nicholas and that unless Nicholas 'was found guilty of misconduct, no one should insult him with impunity'. Dwyer replied that he had too much good sense to be affected by 'that strain of vapouring' which he had just heard. Tension was rising when a Dr. Burke interceded saying he felt he had to do so because otherwise he feared it would 'lead to mischief'. O'Connell added that did they not feel they had enough enemies already without making more and they should forget about it. Mahon agreed and replied that 'for his own part he was incapable of entertaining towards any human being for a single hour, any sentiment of a hostile nature, at the same time that he was happy to state that on the face of the globe he did not know a single personal enemy' and that he 'knew no enemies but the enemies of the cause, and them he would in the first place oppose with the weapons of argument, and afterwards, if they choose, with any weapon which they might select'. O'Dwyer replied that he had not meant to cause offence and the meeting was adjourned.310 An important political decision was also made at this meeting. A new government had just been formed and it was headed by the Duke of Wellington and Robert Peel, both of whom were against appeasing the Catholics. At the meeting it was decided that that the association could no longer support any MP that supported the government, even if that MP supported emancipation. 311

The Clare Liberal Club met again that April and opposition to the Bible schools was on the agenda. O'Gorman Mahon's brother William chaired the meeting. Thomas Steele stated that persecutions (on the families whose children did not attend the proselytising schools) were still being perpetrated by 'the agent of the Church-land-proprietors' in Dysert, Rath and Killinaboy. He asked that the Protestant Bishop of Killaloe, Rev. Dr. Ponsonby, be asked to intercede on their behalf.312 O'Gorman Mahon brought up this same subject an Association meeting the following month and proposed that the association should contribute to this cause. O'Connell seconded the motion and suggested they should ask the Rev. Dr. Ponsonby not to renew the leases of the rectors concerned and just in case the Bishop might suffer any loss from doing this a subscription fund should be started. Mahon replied 'By H……n, I'll give 100l.' which was followed by cheers. O'Connell the said 'I'll not follow my friend in swearing - but I'll follow his example in giving another 100l.' which was followed by more cheers. Nicholas O'Gorman pledged to contribute also.313

May 1828 saw a government reshuffle with William Vesey Fitzgerald getting the position of president of the Board of Trade. Accepting this position meant that he had to put himself up for re-election. The House of Commons issued an election writ in early June and 30 June was fixed for the first day of polling.314 Following this announcement an anonymous letter appeared in the Ennis Chronicle from 'A Roman Catholic Freeholder'. The letter acknowledged the 'formidable opposition' of O'Connell, Mahon and Steele (describing O'Connell as 'the association dictator') and asking if the freeholders are going to be dictated to. The letter finished by directing several taunting remarks towards all three, telling Mahon that it would be more in his line 'to give his tenants leases and make a few freeholders'.315 This tells us that even though O'Gorman Mahon preached on rights for tenants he was not practising what he preached.

At the outset it looked likely that no one would go up against Fitzgerald but, at one of the association meetings, O'Connell reminded them that they had resolved to oppose any member of the present government. At this same meeting Nicholas O'Gorman expressed his doubts of their chances of success due to the huge support Fitzgerald had with Catholics as well as Protestants. His brother Richard agreed with him. This contrasted with the feelings of O'Gorman Mahon and Thomas Steele who felt sure the people could be roused.316 This was followed by another meeting in Dublin where O'Connell reminded those attending of Fitzgerald's vote against the East Retford Bill. He also reminded them of Fitzgerald's vote which helped in the suppression of the old Catholic Association and more importantly as Fitzgerald was a member of the existing government he should be opposed and O'Connell proposed a motion that the freeholders of Clare should vote against him. Mahon seconded this motion promising the freeholders that not a 'single hair' of their heads would be threatened by voting against Fitzgerald and he pledged that the Association would support them 'necessary, from their own private fortunes'.317

The Ennis Catholics met in the Chapel on 22 June amidst great excitement. Mahon and Steele arrived at the meeting (they claimed it was the fourth they attended that day). Their horses had been unhooked from their carriage at the edge of the town and the carriage was drawn by the townspeople to the chapel. Several people (including Mahon and Steele) addressed those assembled 'using very strong language' to point out Fitzgerald's political conduct. James O'Gorman attempted to say a few words on Fitzgerald's behalf but was forced to quit from the 'shouting and hissing'.

Before this the Clare newspapers offered very little commentary on the Catholic meetings. The attack on Fitzgerald's character and the tension that was being felt due to this election, and its possible outcome, changed the situation. In the editorial in the Ennis Chronicle of 1828 we can see the depth of resentment towards the current situation, warning that if Fitzgerald was not elected it would show the 'short-sightedness' of his father in opposing the Act of Union because without it Ireland would now have 'a complete Priest-chosen and just as complete a Priest-ridden Parliament in Ireland as Mr. O'Connell could wish'. The editorial added that Nicholas O'Gorman was once heard saying that there was no word in the Irish language for gratitude, and stressed that the treatment received by James O'Gorman should not have been received by even his 'bitterest foe' and was probably the reason no body else spoke up at the attack on Fitzgerald. Another letter from 'A Roman Catholic 40s Freeholder' was printed in the same issue. He wrote about the reasons why he believed Fitzgerald should be re-elected. He played the sympathy card by mentioning Fitzgerald's father, who 'now lies on the bed of Sickness, perhaps of Death' (he died in 1835), and finished by urging the voters to follow the wishes of their landlords 'who it is our duty as well as our interest to be guided by'.318

Major Macnamara looked most likely to be the association's candidate but he declined the offer due to his friendship with Fitzgerald. The young William Smith O'Brien was then asked but he too declined for similar reasons. Mahon and Steele found, from visiting several churches in the county, that the priests and the freeholders were willing to do whatever the Association asked. With this news Mahon headed for Dublin.319

It is not clear what persuaded O'Connell to stand for Clare. The idea was suggested to him by P.V. Fitzpatrick after Fitzpatrick had been given the idea by Sir David Roose on 22 June. Mahon arrived in Dublin, on the 23 June, and first tried to persuade William Paget (the Lord Lieutenant's son), but did not succeed.320

According to an article written after Mahon's death in 1891 Mahon arrived in the capital and went to visit O'Connell. When they met Mahon asked O'Connell to come with him at once to Clare and start the fight. O'Connell at first objected. Behind where they were standing was a large open window. Mahon grabbed O'Connell and as the newspaper put it he 'threatened in a manner not altogether humorous to send him through on to the pavement' unless he agreed to stand. The report then says that that this was too much for O'Connell and he 'promptly yielded'.321 No other evidence has been uncovered to collaborate this version of events nor has any that contradicts it either. The following morning, the 24 June, the Association met in Dublin and Mahon put forward the motion that O'Connell should be the candidate. The motion was adopted, O'Connell accepted and he went straight to the office of the Dublin Evening Post and submitted his election address.322

After O'Connell's nomination as the Association candidate O'Gorman Mahon returned to Clare and with Steele began canvassing the electorate. The landlords at this time believed they had the right to control their tenants' votes and took offence at their being canvassed. Mahon and Steele anticipated this by declaring that they were ready to duel with any of these landlords who felt aggrieved.323

The editorial in the Ennis Chronicle several days later announced O'Connell's candidacy and made an all out attack on his character. He was described as 'mean, venal and mercenary to the last degree'. It was claimed that it was not worth O'Connell's time standing because due to him being a Catholic the editor believed that even if he were to be elected he would be disqualified. The editor went on to claim that the 'poor abused Forty Shilling Freeholder' was not free to make his own choice due to pressure from O'Connell's side.324 That same week another editorial from the same paper stated that 'Mr. James Pat Mahon' was no longer to use O'Gorman because of his 'reputed political delinquency' in not defending the character of his uncle James O'Gorman when James had attempted to speak, in defence of Fitzgerald, at the previous weeks meeting.325

Richard Lalor Sheil gives us a first hand account of this momentous election. Firstly he introduces the characters. He describes O'Gorman Mahon :-
Nature has been peculiarly favourable to him. He has a very striking physiognomy, of the Corsair character, which the Protestant Gulnares, and the Catholic Medoras, find it equally difficult to resist. His figure is tall, and he is peculiarly free and dégagé in all his attitudes and movements. In any other his attire would appear singularly fantastical. His manners are exceedingly frank and natural, and have a character of kindliness as well as of self-reliance, imprinted upon them. He is wholly free from embarrassment and mauvaise honte, and carries a well-founded consciousness of his personal merit; which is, however, so well united with urbanity, that it is not in the slightest degree offensive. His talents as a popular speaker are considerable. He derives from external qualifications an influence over the multitude, which men of diminutive stature are somewhat slow of obtaining. ….. when O'Gorman Mahon throws himself out before the people, and touching his whiskers with one hand, brandishes the other, an enthusiasm is at once produced, to which the fair portion of the spectators lend their contribution. Such a man was exactly adapted to the excitement of the people of Clare; and it must be admitted, that by his indefatigable exertions, his unremitting activity, and his devoted zeal, he most materially assisted in the election of Mr. O'Connell.326

On the day of the election, before the proceedings began, Mahon caused a scene in the courthouse which was related by Sheil :-
… instead of sitting like the other auditors on the seats of the gallery, he leaped over it, and, suspending himself above the crowd, afforded what was an object of wonder to the great body of the spectators, and of indignation to the High-Sheriff. The attire of the individual who was thus perched in this dangerous position was sufficiently strange. He had a coat of Irish tabinet, with glossy trousers of the same material; he wore no waistcoat; a blue shirt, lined with streaks of white, was open at the neck, in which the strength of Hercules and the symmetry of Antinous were combined; a broad green sash, with a medal of "the order of Liberators" at the end of it, hung conspicuously over his breast; and a profusion of black curls, curiously festooned about his temples, shadowed a very handsome and expressive countenance, a great part of which was occupied by whiskers of a busy amplitude.327

The newspaper gives an account of the events following :-
The Sheriff - I call upon that person there (pointing to Mr. O'Gorman Mahon …) to remove from his person that party badge he now displays.
The O'Gorman Mahon - I tell that person who commands this person, that this person disdains to wear a party badge …. He has the ensign of his country displayed round his neck, and never shall it be taken from him but with his life. (Loud Cheers.)
Mr. O'Connell - Green is no party colour; it may be sure be hateful in the eyes of our opponents, but that darling colour shall flourish when the blood stained orange shall fade and be trodden under foot. (Cheers.) We are in Ireland still, and neither Wellington nor his Cabinet shall trample upon us. (Cheers.) Out of courtesy to the Sheriff I did not wear the badge, but the colour is dear to me as my heart's blood. (Cheers.)
Mr. O'Gorman Mahon - I will not lower this green badge as long as I have an arm to protect it. (Cheers.) I owe the Sheriff no courtesy, and he shall have none from me. I called upon the Sheriff to give us time by postponing the election to get a proper Candidate, and he refused …. And is it to this man that I am to pay a mark of courtesy? … (Cries of no, no.)328

Sheil continues :-
The High-Sheriff looked aghast. The expression of self-satisfaction and magisterial complacency passed off of his visage, and he looked utterly blank and dejected. After an interval of irresolution, down he sat. 'The soul' of O'Gorman Mahon (to use Curran's expression) 'walked forth in its own majesty', he looked 'redeemed, regenerated, and disenthralled.' The medal of 'the Order of Liberators' was pressed to his heart. O'Connell surveyed him with gratitude and admiration; and the first blow was struck, which sent dismay into the heart of the party of which the Sheriff was considered to be an adherent.329

After this nominations began. Mahon proposed O'Connell and was seconded by Steele.330 O'Connell went on to win the election by a clear majority of 2,057 to 982 and begin a new era of Irish history.331

Sketch of O'Gorman Mahon from The Clongownian 1898 Vol.2. p. 13

Sketch of O'Gorman Mahon from The Clongownian 1898 Vol.2. p. 13.


Chapter 5