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


Chapter 3: College Years

James Patrick entered Clongowes College on the 24 February 1815. The college had just opened its doors for the first time the previous May.165 Before this Catholic students from wealthy families had sent their sons abroad for education. When the Irish Colleges in France closed due to the French Revolution, Stonyhurst College in Lancashire became the desired school. The opening of Clongowes, by the Jesuits, meant that for the first time in over a century, Catholic boys that were not studying for the priesthood could get a college education at home in Ireland.166

During James Patrick's time in Clongowes his class had the same teacher every year (an old Jesuit tradition), his name was Fr. Shine. Many of his classmates, like himself, went on to distinguish themselves in their future lives. It is worth noting that one such classmate was the future Sir John Lentaigne, whose father had attended Wolfe Tone on his deathbed and there is every possibility that the young James Patrick would have heard this story.167

School life was a lot harder at this time than it is today. Pupils at Clongowes got up a six in the morning during the summer and seven in the winter, their day ending with bedtime at nine o'clock. Their dinner was served at midday and they were allowed to drink beer in the evening. When James Patrick was attending Clongowes the uniform they worn consisted of a 'cap made of rabbit-skin, blue cloth coat with brass buttons, yellow cassimere waistcoat, and corduroy trousers'.168 It is possible that this uniform could have been a statement of independence, by the college management, from the norm worn at British schools in that era.

There was one episode recorded at Clongowes, which gives the first insight into the personality of James Patrick. Not satisfied with the program of plays put on at the college, James Patrick, and a friend, sneaked out one evening, caught the Cork-Dublin coach and took it to the capital. There they went to see a new play, by Richard Lalor Sheil, which featured the then famous Irish actress, Miss O'Neill. The following morning they returned to Clongowes on the same coach and were back before arousing any suspicion.169 Little did Mahon know than in less than thirty years Shiel would be writing about him.170 James Patrick became very friendly with Maurice O'Connell, who was in the same class, and in the summer of 1816 was invited to spend his vacation with the O'Connells in their house in Dublin.171 This would suggest that it was more than likely that James Patrick would have known Daniel O'Connell personally before he became active in politics himself.

While James Patrick was attending Clongowes Ireland underwent a period of agrarian unrest.172 There was widespread economic distress resulting in the formation of secret societies that used violence to vent their anger on those they believed responsible for their hardship.173 Clare too had its share of the trouble, particularly in the years 1815-1817.174 James Patrick's father, Patrick, showed that he was on the side of the law by adding three guineas to the reward for the capture of the murderers of a herdsman in early 1815.175 Two acts were passed to cope with these troubles, the Insurrection Act allowed areas to be proclaimed as being in a state of disturbance and the Peace Preservation Act allowed for the sending of a 'magistrate of police' and a force of constabulary to the disturbed area.176 In May 1816 three baronies in West Clare were proclaimed to be disturbed and chief magistrate Major George Warburton, and a force of fifty constables were sent there.177

By January 1816 Patrick Mahon had been appointed as a local magistrate and was actively involved in committing people to the county jail.178 At this time magistrates were most peoples only contact with the law. To get this position they had to own land valued more than £100 a year or a reversion of property worth more than £300. Mahon, as magistrate, had the power to sort out cases himself and most of disputes were settled at his own home.179 This position gave him a lot of power in the community but there is no record of him abusing this power by making unfair judgements. On one occasion 'the spirited magistrate' rescued a woman in a 'remote part of the county' and the newspaper reckoned the perpetrators would have gone free only for him.180 In July of that year his own house was robbed, the papers stated that the thief took '£80 in cash, a case of pistols and some other articles' and they were also happy to say the thief had been caught.181 Four days later the newspaper reported 'Andrew McMahon for stealing goods out of the home of Pat Mahon of Newpark to be hanged the same day'.182

Patrick was now a very powerful man in county Clare. In October 1816 his landlord, Edward Shadwell Hickman, wrote to William Vesey Fitzgerald MP urging him to make sure and see Patrick as soon as possible.183 Hickman was involved in the organisation of election campaigns for Fitzgerald.184 Then in June 1817 Patrick wrote to Hickman asking him if he could use his influence in acquiring a rectorship for his brother who was now a curate in Castleisland, County Kerry.185 He forwarded Patrick's letter to Fitzgerald asking him to see what he could do writing :- 'if you could procure this small living for his brother it would be well done, as he has a very powerful interest in the Books of Registry'.186 Hickman wrote another letter to Fitzgerald ten days later saying he believed Patrick's assistance could be of 'essential' benefit to Fitzgerald. Hickman also noted that if Fitzgerald felt he could do without Mahon that Hickman would like to be informed so he could 'get rid of him'.187 It is possibly to do with his involvement with voter registration that Daniel O'Connell felt under obligation to him (the reason he wished young James Patrick would spend a vacation with them).188 In 1817 some of Patrick's power was reduced as his barony, Bunratty, was declared as in a state of disturbance and control of it was handed over to Major Warburton.189

It would seem that Patrick Mahon was farming close to four thousand acres at that time and overseeing a lot of the work himself.190 We get an insight into some of his values in a letter in June 1817. Clare was at this time undergoing a minor famine, as a result of bad weather and crop failure in the previous autumn.191 Writing from his lodge at Lisdeen near the west coast (see Map I p.6) he wrote that the inhabitants of the locality were starving, he expected ten percent of them would be dead before the harvest, but instead of trying to solve their distress he was more worried about his cattle. He wrote that 'at present I find it necessary to direct the few head of cattle I have here, to be put into house by night, and place a watch over them, to prevent their being stolen, for the purpose of killing them to eat'.192 There were perks to being a magistrate. In late 1818 Patrick committed to jail a sheep-stealer from County Galway. The paper noted that 'Mr. Mahon humanely sent the lambs to one of his fields', knowing full well there would be little chance of them being claimed.193

In April 1819 an anonymous letter was written to William Vesey Fitzgerald MP alleging that Patrick Mahon had committed a 'brutal atrocity as could be expected from savages'. He was said to have brought a woman into his house, who had been loitering outside, stripped her and whipped her as hard as he could. After being thrown out of the house, still naked, she made it home where she died that night. The coroner's inquest stated that she died of a severe beating by an unknown person.194 The local sheriff, Bindon Blood, wrote to the Chief Secretary's office with a complaint about Mahon and early the following year Major Warburton conducted an inquiry into the case.195 Several of Mahon's employees were reputed to have witnessed part of the event.196The result of the inquiry is not extant but Patrick does not appear to have been found guilty of this offence as he retained his position as a magistrate.197 Did he get away with murder? Several years later Major Warburton was asked if, during his time in Clare, any magistrates had used their position to evade legal proceedings. He answered that he only knew of one such instance and the details given show this was not the same case.198 This would suggest that Warburton did not find any evidence that would have led him to believe that Mahon was guilty. However it appears not everyone was convinced of his innocence because sixty years later when one of the Church of Ireland Mahons was asked if he knew if they were related, he said that if they were he was glad it was distant as Patrick was 'no great shakes morally or socially.'199

The same year Patrick was chosen on the committee to manage the affairs of the newly formed Ennis Charitable Loan Society. Their purpose was to relieve the economic distress in the area by providing loans of small sums of money.200 No records could be found that might show who the real beneficiaries of this scheme were but Patrick was at this time mortgagee to a Richard Gregg. The amount of money to be paid back came into dispute and was before the Court of Exchequer several time, eventually resulting in the sale of Gregg's land years later to pay the debt.201

The split in the Catholic Board brought about a sense of futility.202 Meetings continued to be held in Clare and Dublin but O'Connell felt there was no life left in the board. He dissolved the Catholic Board and in July 1817 he started what became known as the 'Reorganised Catholic Board'.203 The new board met in Ennis that July with James O'Gorman chairing the meeting. Nicholas O'Gorman and Daniel O'Connell both attended.204 Also that summer at a meeting in Dublin O'Connell proposed a letter of complaint be sent to the pope regarding the treatment by the Vatican of a priest who agreed with O'Connell that the King should have no input in the appointing of Bishops. Brothers, Nicholas and Richard along with their uncle Nicholas Mahon opposed this. A compromise was reached with a much tamer letter being sent. The new board did not meet at all in 1818 and that December O'Connell stated that it had ceased to exist.205

After finishing in Clongowes James Patrick entered Trinity College, which he attended from 1819 to 1822. While there his father gave him an allowance of five hundred pounds a year. Being one of the few Catholics in this Protestant institution did not upset him one bit. He made it his mission to be recognised, and have all Catholics recognised as equals with their Protestant counterparts.206

Back in Clare there was a re-emergence of agrarian unrest in 1820.207Members of the Ribbonmen Society were reported on Clare's border with Galway. When they crossed into Clare the authorities set a trap and captured the ringleaders at Killinaboy, in the Barony of Inchiquin.208 A few days later an Ennis Loyal Association was formed and Patrick Mahon, as one of its members, seconded a motion in praise of the gentlemen of the Barony of Inchiquin for their conduct.209 The Ennis area saw some trouble also. At Ballycoree races, just outside the town, the police were wearing orange lilies. These lilies were symbols of the Orange order and were seen as a provocation to the crowd. James O'Gorman asked as many of them as he could to remove the lilies in order to maintain order. This behaviour annoyed him enough to write to the local paper complaining about the 'indiscreet conduct of the police'.210

Patrick was still up to his old tricks, he placed an advertisement in the paper stating that he had found a calf wandering the road and that the owner could get it back on paying for the expenses incurred in keeping the animal.211 With such widespread economic distress it is doubtful whether the calf's owner, if he turned up, would have been able to pay for its keep and probably forfeit the calf.

Patrick was in support of the monarchy. In February 1821 he attended a 'Loyal Meeting' of gentlemen, clergy and freeholders of the county and later that year signed an address of congratulations to the King on his visit to this country.212 None of the O'Gormans signed this list even though Nicholas was now residing some of the time in Patrick's lodge in Lisdeen.213

Nicholas was now the secretary for the Catholic Board and continued to be at the forefront in the fight for emancipation.214 In March 1822 he sent a petition regarding emancipation from the Catholics of Ireland to the Attorney-General, William Conyngham Plunkett, requesting him to present it to the House of Commons.215

Although Patrick's health seemed to be fine when attending a meeting in Ennis, in April 1822, where the town's inhabitants were petitioning for the repeal of the window tax, he died at his home in Newpark, less than three months later.216 He was probably only about fifty years of age.


Chapter 2

Chapter 4