Riches of Clare: The O'Gorman Mahon

Clare Champion, Friday, September 13, 2002

The Riches of Clare exhibition at the Clare Museum charts the county's history over 6,000 years using authentic artifacts. In the latest article examining the historical artifacts Fidelma McDonnell writes about the colourful figure known as The O'Gorman Mahon…

This side-by-side pistol was donated to the de Valera Museum by Dermot Foley, Ennis. It was once owned by The O'Gorman Mahon, a politician, soldier, adventurer, and noted duellist, using this weapon on 13 such occasions. Indeed, he once confided to William Gladstone that he was the "aggressor" each time. It may be a measure of the prevalence of duelling in Ireland in the 18th and early 19th Centuries, that an Irish code for duelling was adopted.

At the Clonmel Summer Assizes in 1777 such a code was adopted "for the government of duellists, by the gentlemen of Tipperary, Galway, Mayo, Sligo and Roscommon and prescribed for general adoption throughout Ireland". It is not recorded if The O'Gorman Mahon, as he called himself, subscribed to these rules, but of his 13 duels he is reputed to have been injured in six and to have drawn blood in the other seven.

Charles James Patrick Mahon was born at 40 Parnell Street, Ennis, on St Patricks Day 1802, although some sources say 1799. Using the names of both his parents, he adopted the name "The O'Gorman Mahon" to give the impression he was the head of the Mahon Clan, which was untrue. He graduated from Trinity College Dublin and became a barrister, although he never practiced. Interested in politics, he joined the Catholic Association and had close links with leading political figures of the day including Tom Steele and Daniel O'Connell. It was with Tom Steele that The O'Gorman Mahon persuaded O'Connell to stand for election in the Clare by-election of 1828. O'Connell was of course elected and became a national hero when the Catholic Emancipation Act was passed in 1829. He was elected himself as MP for Clare in 1830 but was unseated following bribery allegations. In 1831 O'Connell contested a seat in Kerry, but backed another candidate for the seat in Clare. The O'Gorman-Mahon also contested the election, attempting to regain his seat, but the O'Connell backed candidate won, leading to a permanent rift between the two men.

The O'Gorman Mahon married a wealthy heiress and spent most of the next fifty years wandering the globe leading a life of great adventure. He worked as a journalist in France, and travelled to Africa, where he became associated with Ferdinand De-lesseps, the French engineer who built the Suez Canal, but he returned to Ireland in 1852 for the general election.

Failing to win a seat, he left Clare again and began a military career that initially took him Russia, where he was appointed lieutenant in the international bodyguard of the Star. Later, he went to South America, and served as an officer in the Uruguayan Army in their Civil War. Still seeking adventure, he then went to the United States and fought as an officer in the Union Army in the American Civil War.

Upon his return to Ireland he became acquainted with Charles Stewart Parnell, It is said he introduced Parnell to Katherine O'Shea's husband in Carmody's Hotel in Ennis. Parnell went on to have an affair with Katherine O'Shea, which caused a great scandal at that time.

Perhaps the most colourful personality Clare has ever produced, Patrick O'Gorman Mahon never lost his interest in politics and was a member of Parliament when he died in June 1891. He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.

View the O'Gorman-Mahon Pistol

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