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

 

Chapter 2: Early years

Patrick Mahon was known both as 'Pedraigruadth' and 'Pahdraic Mor' suggesting that he was a big red-headed man.68 It is unclear as to where he grew up. It would seem most likely that he spent his early life in Snugville House, Kilmaley, because, in 1812, on the death of Fr. Michael Flanagan, who had been parish priest of Kilmaley from 1770 to 1807, it was Patrick who commissioned the gravestone.69 Patrick for many years managed the lands of his uncle Edmond, at Kilcloher and Cragleigh, and acquired new leases using his uncles' money.70 Patrick did spend time in Cragleigh House in 1795, just after the death of this uncle.71

After their marriage Patrick and Barbara went to live in Snugville and in March 1802 Barbara gave birth to a son, James Patrick, the future O'Gorman Mahon.72 He was born in the house of Barbara's mother at No.40, Mill Street, Ennis.73 It was common for women of this era to go to the house of their mothers for assistance with the birth.74 Most biographical articles state that James Patrick's birthday was St. Patrick's Day, 17 March, agreeing with the first existing record of his age, that of his registration at college, but conflicting with an article in the Clare Journal of 17 March 1890 which states 'Tuesday (March 11th) was his birthday, the date being about the only arithmetic fact in connection with it (his age) that is well authenticated'.75 At a time before civil registration this shows us the lack of verifiable records available at this time even for official purposes. Following the birth of James Patrick, Patrick and Barbara had three more children, Charles Patrick (born June 1805), William Richard and Susanna (born circa 1807).76 The family remained at Snugville until 1809-10 when they moved to Ennis.77

While living at Snugville, Patrick was involved in the administration of justice in the area. He was appointed as a 'Replevenger' by the local sheriff in 1804.78 Here his task was 'to recover goods distrained upon giving a pledge or security to try the right to them at law'.79 This position was filled annually in March but there is no record of his being re-appointed.80 Also during his time here he acted as land agent for the sale of a property in the west of the county and he also showed his non-support of the outrages happening in the county by contributing to at least two rewards for the capture of the perpetrators.81 Patrick's administrative position in Clare was unusual because in most of the country Protestants did not even consider Catholics as fellow Christians not to mind feel they were entitled to the same civil privileges as themselves.82

It is very likely that James Patrick began his education while his family were still living at Snugville. It was not unusual for middle class children to begin their education early in life. Maurice O'Connell, son of 'The Liberator', who was born the year after James Patrick and was his contemporary in college, was able to write to his father at five and a half years of age.833 In his survey of County Clare in 1808 Hely Dutton tells us there was a school in the townland of Kilcloher.84 As the Mahon family held all of this townland it is possible they were the sponsors of this school. In Dutton's survey we are told that along with a few spelling books the normal list of readers for the students included History of the Seven Champions of Christendom, Montelion, Knight of the Oracle, Parismus and Parismenes, Irish Rogues and Raparees, Freney, a notorious robber, The most celebrated pirates, Jack the Bachelor, a noted smuggler, History of Fair Rosamond and Jane Shore, Donna Rosina, a Spanish Courtezan, Ovid's Art of Love, History of Witches and Apparitions, The Devil and Dr. Faustus, Mol Flanders and Mendoza's New system of boxing.85

It is no wonder that a child educated with these books would grow up to become a duellist and adventurer. One of these books in particular, Irish Rogues and Raparees - or to give it its full title - A history of the most notorious Irish tories, highwaymen, and rapparees by J. Cosgrave, would have been very appealing to young James Patrick as it glorified the fight against authority by members of the dispossessed Catholic gentry.86


Ordnance Survey Map of Newpark Estate, 1840. :

Map II. Ordnance Survey Map of Newpark Estate, 1840.
The boxes marked A, B and C are limekilns. D is a turbary.

In April 1809 Newpark House and the surrounding estate was advertised for lease and Patrick took on the lease and moved his family there (see Map II, above). This estate was the property of Edward Shadwell Hickman. His grandfather Thomas Hickman acquired these lands in 1733 from Thomas Henn.87 The Hickman family built two large houses on the estate, firstly Cappahard House and sometime before 1776 they built Newpark House (planting parklands, still in existence in 2004, and changing the old townland name from Gortlevane to Newpark).88 Edward's father, Richard, lived with his first wife in Galway city but on her death he returned to Ennis, remarried and lived in Newpark House up until a year before his death in 1810.89 There is no record of Edward living at Newpark, at this time he had an address in Dublin.90 Edward's sister, Jane, had married Rev. James Kenny in 1787 and it is possible that Patrick Mahon could have received favourable terms in leasing Newpark from Edward through the intercession of Kenny.91

Newpark House was described in 1840 as 'an excellent house of three stories high'.92 Patrick took on a lease of the house and 95 acres and 3 roods.93 The house is situated just over a mile from the centre of Ennis and via the Gaurus River had access to the River Fergus, which was at this time an important commercial waterway. The 1840 ordnance survey map of this property shows an orchard of over two and a half acres.94

This orchard, along with many others in county Clare, was possibly planted in the eighteenth century when Clare was famous for its cider production, though this process died out with mechanisation.95 The variety of apple was called Cagogee and it was thought not to have survived but early in 2004 an apple tree, which could be it, was found in another orchard at Newpark.96 This variety produced on average of six hogsheads of apples each year, with some orchards in the area producing even a hogshead per tree.97 It is not known if the Mahon family used this resource.

There are still (2004) the remains of three lime kilns on this property. Their architectural styles suggest they span the time Newpark was occupied by Patrick Mahon. A lime kiln of the same dimensions as those at Newpark could produce sixteen barrels a day, each of these barrels requiring three hundred-weight of good stone.98 Limestone pavement still runs through the property, the remains of a turbary exist, and there were woodlands on the property at that time showing there was no lack of raw material freely available for this use.99 These kilns along with the piles of loose rock located in their vicinity suggest that the production of lime for manure was done here on a large scale, employing many locals and must have been a valuable source of income for the family.

The changes in the country during the eighteenth century had a profound effect on small county towns such as Ennis. The population of the town had risen from less than one thousand in 1700 to more than seven thousand by 1800. Development had spread away from the banks of the Fergus, but most of this building was of poor quality. Local newspapers were being printed since 1778. The Protestant population still held onto political power but Catholics had an ever-increasing influence in town affairs. Most of the merchants in Ennis were Catholics. The lack of Protestant domination was visible in the fact that there was no Protestant structure dominating the townscape and that their place of worship was just the roofed nave of the dilapidating Abbey. Catholic schools were now rivalling their Protestant counterparts (but it is not known which of these young James Patrick attended).100 The Act of Union, in 1800, opened up Ireland to other markets, resulting in the closure of many industries in Ennis, such as clothing, distilling and brewing, causing significant unemployment.101 During the next four to five years, while James Patrick was still living full-time at Newpark, his father joined his brothers-in-law and got involved in the political scene in the county.

When Barbara's father died, in 1787, her mother Susanna ran the shop in Mill Street until around 1809, even after it had been robbed in 1803.102 She then moved to Dublin, to her son Nicholas, in Harcourt Place and rented the shop for a short period before selling it the following year.103 Nicholas got married that year to Frances Anne, daughter of Charles Smith, of Castle Park, County Limerick.104 Two years later, in 1812, Susanna died in Dublin.105 Nicholas had returned to his legal studies after the failed rising of 1798, qualified in 1803, and practised as a Queen's Counsel from which he became known as Counsellor O'Gorman or The Counsellor.106 Richard also moved to Dublin and became junior partner to his uncle, Nicholas Mahon, in his wool business.107 James had stayed in Clare and up to 1808 he was living at Marino House, on the Atlantic coast between Kilrush and Miltown Malbay.108 In 1804 became Master of the freemason's lodge in Ennis.109

Partly as a result of the rebellion in 1798 the Act of Union was passed. This act was supported by Catholics in the belief that the government would grant them emancipation.110 When a few years passed without any movement on this issue the Catholics (mainly merchants and nobility) came together again, in Dublin, in 1804.111 This was followed by similar meetings in the larger towns of the country, with the first recorded meeting in Clare being held in Ennis in March 1806.112 At this meeting confidence in the administration was expressed (in the hope of future benefits) and a letter drafted for presentation to the King and to John Russell (The Duke of Bedford) who was the Lord Lieutenant.113 Chosen to present it were Nicholas Mahon, James O'Gorman, Nicholas Purcell O'Gorman and Daniel O'Connell of Kilgorey (a cousin of the 'Liberator').114 The two brothers, James and Nicholas, met the Duke in April and presented the letter which was favourably received.115 It is at this time we see lawyers, who had their penal restrictions lifted in 1792, start to gain more control at these meetings.116

With confidence in the administration diminishing, meetings continued to be held throughout the country with Nicholas O'Gorman circuiting the country giving speeches at many of them.117 These meetings were held in a spirit of interdenominational co-operation. At a meeting held in Ennis, in Feb 1808, the Chairman, William Butler, gave 'thanks to those distinguished and benevolent noblemen and gentlemen of the Established Church, who have expressed their willingness to impart to their Roman Catholic brethren the blessings of equal laws and equal liberty'.118 The following April James O'Gorman is quoted as saying the 'Catholics of this county owe their Protestant brethren, for their many, generous, disinterested, and patriotic conduct, and the noble manner in which they have this day advocated the Catholic cause' and he praised the High Sheriff for his 'liberal and dignified conduct'.119 This sentiment is echoed by the contributions given by the Protestant community towards the refurbishment of the Catholic Chapel.120

In May 1809 the Catholic Committee was formed, composed of surviving delegates of the Convention of 1792 and members of the delegation to the Duke of Bedford in 1804.121 Nicholas O'Gorman and his uncle, Nicholas Mahon, attended their meeting in Dublin where John Keogh, one of the leaders of Catholic movement, gave Nicholas O'Gorman credit for 'patriotism and purity of intention'. At this meeting both nephew and uncle are noted as feeling that Keogh was 'too temperate' in his dealings with the government.122 Also in 1809 we see Patrick Mahon attending a meeting in Ennis.123

The following year the Committee decided a push should be made for emancipation. This was to be achieved by having more local meetings and the formation of boards which were to report to the leaders in Dublin.124 The sentiment in Clare can be seen at a meeting in Ennis early that year attended by Nicholas O'Gorman, where it was stated that from 1691 to 1778 'the Catholics of Ireland lay prostrate at the feet of their oppressors; they were bowed to the dust by a most cruel and arbitrary system of laws'.125 The following September, at another meeting in Ennis, twenty-one people were elected to represent the county of Clare. Included among these were Patrick Mahon, Richard and Nicholas P. O'Gorman and their uncle Nicholas Mahon.126

Patrick had had a bad start to the year suffering badly with his nerves, but recovered and in August was appointed a member of the Grand Jury in Clare. At this time the Grand Jury was the most important local body. Its main job was the overseeing of the road contracts for the county, Patrick being chosen for this very prodigious position by the high sheriff from the gentry of the county.127

On 1 January 1811 the Committee asked that each county elect ten delegates to represent that county.128This was followed, in February, by the government calling for the arrest of anyone involved in the election of these representatives.129 This threat was ignored and on 3 August when a meeting was held in Ennis.130 Daniel O'Connell (The Liberator) attended this meeting and afterwards wrote to his wife telling her that 'all the respectable Catholics of the county attended and were extremely anxious to run the risk of becoming members of the Committee'.131 Patrick Mahon was elected as one of these delegates along with his brother-in-law James O'Gorman and James's uncle Nicholas Mahon.132 Patrick's new position as Grand Juror made him more involved in the administration of the county and in December of that year he was involved in helping the vice-provost, in stopping a faction fight on the outskirts of Ennis.133

In early 1812, under pressure from the government, the Catholic Committee was forced to disband but they reformed straight away as the Catholic Board.134 In order to avoid trouble with the law this new body was made up of named persons and not delegates.135 Meetings continued to be held in Clare, with Nicholas O'Gorman chairing one in March and Patrick Mahon chairing one in October.136 At these meetings, up and down the country, it was decided that in the upcoming election Catholics should only vote for representatives who supported their cause and not for members of the outgoing administration.137 In December of that year James O'Gorman wrote to the local newspaper complaining about the local parliamentary representative, Colonel Augustine Fitzgerald, saying that he had 'virtually abandoned the representation of County Clare'.138 Further research is needed to ascertain if this accusation was merited.

The Catholic influence on the election was minimal, some pro-catholic seats were actually lost, but when the new parliament assembled, in early 1813, it seemed things were looking up.139 Several Catholic Relief bills were passed but by the time they reached the House of Commons they were so watered down even their own supporters considered them worthless.140 O'Connell and the Catholic Board were split over their support for these bills due to the concessions they would have had to make regarding the nomination of bishops, the oath of allegiance as well as other economic and nationalistic matters.141 At a meeting of the Board in July 1813 O'Connell put forward a motion disqualifying any of its members if they failed to wear clothes made in Ireland.142 This motion was seconded by Richard O'Gorman saying O'Connell had anticipated him.143 It is not surprising that Richard would have already thought of this due to his involvement in the woolen trade and one would wonder were his motives totally altruistic. Nicholas O'Gorman and Patrick Mahon attended another meeting in Ennis in August where they one again considered petitioning the legislature for emancipation.144

Patrick Mahon had an eventful start to that year. In February he was in court accusing Thomas Keane of Ballyvoe of challenging him to a duel and T. Comyn of Ennis of delivering the challenge.145 This was the only recorded mention of Patrick and duelling. The prospect of this trial caused great excitement in the county but was adjourned till the following year.146 In March, through the 'active exertions' of Patrick, who was now a magistrate, a notorious criminal named Thomas Killeen was captured.147 This was big news and Patrick was praised and received a reward from Charles Lennox, the Duke of Richmond, who had taken over the position of Lord Lieutenant from the Duke of Bedford in 1807.148 In July Patrick was involved in a dispute over the regulation of tolls at the local fair which had been unfairly raised.149 He, along with fellow landholders, banded together and decided not the pay above the usual rate, which proved successful.150

In March 1814 Patrick's case came before the courts, the counsel for the defendants was an eminent lawyer, Henry Dean Grady. We are told he 'handled the case in so humorous and caustic a manner, and made it so ludicrous that the court was in roars of laughter, and the jury had no hesitation in acquitting the defendants'.151 We are also told that costs for losing this case would have been significant and a big financial loss to Patrick, not to mind the humiliation of being laughed out of court.152

Also that year Patrick was granted the contract to rebuild on the road outside his land at Strasburgh, Kilmaley.153 This contract was granted to him by the Grand Jury of which he was a member. At this time the Grand Jury system had a bad reputation and corruption was widespread.154 It was estimated that only about a third of the monies allocated to these projects were actually spent on the proposed works.155 The MP for Ennis, William Vesey Fitzgerald, attempted to reform the system that year, but he was quoted as saying that it was much more difficult than he imagined.156 It was another three years before Fitzgerald managed to have to system changed, preventing Jurors granting themselves overpriced contracts.157 There is no record of Patrick gaining any extra benefits, because of his position, from this corrupt system.

In a letter from Daniel O'Connell to W. V. Fitzgerald MP in May 1814 we are told if the 'bill passes Pat Mahon is to be our sheriff'.158 The bill referred to was a Catholic relief bill presented to Parliament that month but did not pass.159 At this time the sheriff presided over the judicial and administrative system in the county. He was appointed by the lord Lieutenant, who, in most cases, chose a person nominated by the outgoing sheriff. The local MPs had a large say in this matter also. W. V. Fitzgerald wrote of the 'absolute prostitution' of the position, and that he had canvassed many for the job but got no takers. Candidates for the job were usually members of the gentry, they needed to have plenty money at hand for the payment of their bailiffs and for a surety to the king of one thousand pounds.160 The fact that Patrick was considered for possibly the highest job in the county shows the status he and his family had attained.

Catholic meetings continued to be held in Ennis. In August, at a meeting attended by Patrick Mahon and Nicholas O'Gorman, Daniel O'Connell gave a speech asking for the peasants of Clare to remain peaceful.161 Agrarian unrest had broken out around the country at this time as a result of the huge drop in price for agricultural produce, which came with the ending of the war with the French. West Clare farmers, who grew a lot of corn, suffered badly with its price dropping by nearly half.162 Clare had remained peaceful as yet and O'Connell was hoping it remain so.163

During this period Patrick's brother James qualified with a Bachelor of Arts from Trinity College, in 1802, became a clergyman and was curate in the parish of Killehenny, in county Kerry, in 1803. Here he met and in 1805 married Penelope, daughter of William Townsend Gunn of Rattoo, county Kerry and they had two children, Anthony Staughton Mahon and William Gunn Mahon.164

 

 

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