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


Chapter 5: Election Years

Daniel O'Connell's response to the dissolution of the Catholic Association in March 1825 was the formation, using loopholes in the Unlawful Societies Act, of 'The New Catholic Association'. The new society, although severely restricted in its operation, was able to operate without hindrance from the law.269

That Spring O'Connell led 'The Catholic Deputation' to England to try talk at the House of Commons. Richard Lalor Shiel described Nicholas O'Gorman on this trip saying he 'seemed to realise the beau-ideal of Irish self-possession' and tells us that he was of great use in London in controlling 'the spirit of disputation among the deputies' which required 'the perfect good-humour and excellent disposition of the learned functionary'. Shiel also recounted how on important occasions, since his return, Nicholas wears 'a pair of white silk stockings, striped with black' like the pair he saw worn by Lord Grey and they were 'distended upon the herculean symmetrics of the Irish Orator'.270

In April O'Gorman Mahon became more involved in the Association. He formed part of a delegation that was sent to address King George IV with the association's grievances.271 While part of this delegation Mahon visited William Vesey Fitzgerald MP and remonstrated with him against opposing the East Retford Bill, which was an English Catholic cause. Fitzgerald voted against it.272 Mahon was now getting more involved in local affairs as well. He attended the local court sessions, as a magistrate, and joined the local branch of the Freemasons (as did his brother William), taking on the position of Junior Warden.273 The Freemasons at this time were made up of both Catholics and Protestants. The society acted very much like the Chamber of Commerce today in providing a meeting place for the business people of the town as well as partaking in charitable work.274

Association meetings continued to be held and the prominent position of O'Gorman Mahon's family at them is very noticeable. At one meeting that April O'Connell paid special tribute to Nicholas O'Gorman saying 'there is not a heart in the country that beats more truly to the sound of Liberty than that of Nicholas P. O'Gorman'.275 That July, at a meeting in the Chapel in Ennis, Nicholas was also praised for his dedication to the cause. At the same meeting James O'Gorman praised the local parliamentary representatives, William Vesey Fitzgerald and Sir Edward O'Brien for their conduct in representing their grievances, even though they did not always agree with James and his association's views. William and Charles Mahon also took an active part in the meeting where it was proposed a petition should be sent to Parliament for the repeal of the 'penal and restrictive Statutes by which all classes of Catholics are aggrieved'.276 A meeting at St. Audeon's Parish, in Dublin, the same month, was attended by Richard O'Gorman and Nicholas Mahon (its oldest parishioner, at the age of seventy-five).277 There were now seven members of O'Gorman Mahon's family actively involved in the Association: O'Gorman Mahon himself, his two brothers, three uncles and one granduncle. Between them they would have considerable influence over the running and direction of the association.

That summer saw a change in attitude towards the elite. At another meeting in Ennis James O'Gorman made a lengthy speech praising the 'virtuous and patriotic exertions of Sir Edward O'Brien' but expressing disappointment with the lack of support from Fitzgerald. He expressed his unhappiness with the conduct of the local police and praised the letter from the liberal peers of House of Lords, which detailed their opposition to bigotry and intolerance. This was in James's opinion one of the most important documents to be seen by the public for many years.278

In the autumn of 1825 there was a Munster provincial meeting, attended by William Mahon, with Nicholas O'Gorman acting as secretary. The Clergy from all the Dioceses were represented. The loyalty of the Irish Catholics to the Crown was discussed and it was noted that they had served their country equally as well as all others. It was also noted that Daniel O'Connell's recent conduct while in England had been greatly admired by all and an example of how a Catholic, despite the laws, can become a model gentleman.279

O'Gorman Mahon's mother passed away in April of that year leaving her three sons and daughter to take care of each other at Newpark.280

Towards the end of 1825 O'Gorman Mahon had a brush with the law. Mr. J. Leyne, a barrister in the Four Courts, accompanied by Mr. Twiss, a landowner from Kerry, challenged Daniel O'Connell to a duel saying :- 'you have belied my father and myself, and I pronounce you to be a liar, a slanderer, and a coward'. O'Connell went to the police and Leyne was arrested, but was let out on bail. O'Connell's two sons, Maurice and Morgan, went in search of Leyne. O'Gorman Mahon met Leyne and delivered a challenge from Maurice, which Leyne declined to take up. Maurice and Morgan then went to the Four Courts looking for him. They waited in the courtyard for him but he did not come out. The police arrived and decided to arrest O'Gorman Mahon and the two O'Connells but they had slipped away. Hearing of this incident Daniel went to the police and gave information against his sons in the hope of having them arrested and taken out of trouble. Morgan was arrested and bailed but Maurice managed to evade the police. O'Gorman did not let the incident lie and went back to the Four Courts where he had an altercation with Percy R. Payne, a barrister friend of Leyne. The newspaper reported that a duel was expected shortly between the two men but no further reports of this case were published.281

By January 1826 with an election looming parliamentary representation was on the agenda at the Association's meetings. It was felt that this was their chance to show the degree of support for emancipation among the general public. At a meeting in Ennis that January, attended by James O'Gorman, Nicholas O'Gorman addressed those assembled and discussed repealing the law that dispensed with Burgesses having to be resident in their borough and restoration of the original town charter. Both Protestants and Catholics agreed that, as Burgesses and the Provost had the right to elect a member of a Parliament, it was unfair that Catholics had little or no input into the election of Burgesses.282 O'Gorman Mahon was by now gaining a reputation as a radical and that February he strongly criticised Daniel O'Connell for his condemnation of the Spanish Cortes (The Spanish assembly of representatives) for its anti-clerical measures.283

There was a lot of interest in the county in the forthcoming election, and talk of an independent candidate being put forward that would represent the Catholics. Parliament was dissolved in early June and the Borough election began on the sixteenth. Even though the Catholic inhabitants were powerless to affect the outcome of this contest O'Gorman Mahon had to get involved. The election took place in the courthouse, which was packed 'to suffocation' with a crowd eager to witness events in a changing political atmosphere. Sir Edward O'Brien proposed Frankland Lewis and was seconded by Andrew Stacpoole. O'Gorman Mahon stood up and objected saying Lewis did not have the support of the townspeople. O'Brien said he did not recognise this objection, as Mahon had no right to reject or oppose Lewis. Mahon replied that he spoke on behalf of the Freemen of the town and in the name of one of them, Mr. James Sexton, he would like to propose William Nugent Macnamara (who had acted as second for Daniel O'Connell in his duel with D'Esterre). Sexton said he had not given Mahon permission to use his name and Lewis, 'a complete stranger', was elected. Everyone was about to leave the court when Mahon rose again and stated that his objection should be noted and a petition should be written up, which he hoped would be supported by the candidates in the following weeks county election. This was followed by a shout of support and another for 'chair him, chair him' from the whole crowd. The armchair normally occupied by the Crown Judge when presiding over the Assizes, was handed over and with Mahon seated in it was carried shoulder high through the streets of the town.284

The following week saw the start of the county election. Excitement in the Ennis was at fever pitch. The courthouse was even more packed that in the previous week. Macnamara was carried from his house in a parade, with the flags of the trade societies flying around him, and shouts of 'you must be our representative' and 'we will return you'. Little did most people realise that this episode had been staged by O'Gorman Mahon, who was now the Catholic Association's election organiser for the county. Shortly after the sheriff arrived nominations began. Fitzgerald was nominated, as was Lucius O'Brien in the place of his father, Sir Edward, who was no longer going forward.

After the nominations O'Gorman Mahon, who had been seated in the gallery, stood up amidst shouts of approval, and addressed the crowd. He stated that he had no personal quarrel with the O'Brien family, he praised Sir Edward for a lot of the work he had done on behalf of the county, but he felt he could not support Lucius because of a speech he had made outlining his support for 'Church and State'. 'Church and State' was at that time a well used phrase by members of the Orange order. Mahon asked that before Lucius be trusted he should be asked to respond to this and if he did not give a satisfactory explanation he would be compelled to nominate Macnamara to contest the seat.285

This speech was received with deafening applause. Macnamara spoke and said that, even though he was grateful for their support, circumstances prevented him from accepting the offer. Mahon continued in his efforts to have Macnamara nominated. Lucius O'Brien addressed the crowd, he apologised for using the term 'Church and State' and declared his opposition to the Orange Society. He also declared that emancipation for his fellow countrymen would be his highest priority should he be elected. Mahon was again called on. He said that since Macnamara was unwilling to stand and O'Brien had pledged his support for their cause he would withdraw his nomination. Both O'Brien and Fitzgerald were then declared elected. In Fitzgerald's acceptance speech he said he intended to support the Catholic cause and he congratulated the attending Catholics for having among them a young man like O'Gorman Mahon. He said that if 'his friend' had turned 'the force of powerful talents which he had that day displayed against himself, he could not withhold from him his unlimited admiration'.286

Even though there had not been an independent candidate elected in Clare the election had produced dramatic results elsewhere. The big breakthrough came in Waterford with the election of the pro-emancipation candidate, Villiers Stuart. This victory was the catalyst for dramatic change in Irish politics.287 In July at a meeting in Ennis Chapel, attended by O'Gorman Mahon (even though he had broken his collar-bone when thrown from his horse the previous week at Ennis races), Nicholas O'Gorman addressed those present. He thanked the freeholders for their conduct at the recent elections and declared his opposition to anyone seeking their disenfranchisement. O'Gorman Mahon spoke on behalf of the freeholders saying that 'the day is past, never to return on which they were driven like herds to vote against the dictates of conscience ……. as a Magistrate I have tried to disable the idea in the peasant so deeply rooted in their minds that there was one law for the rich and another for the poor'. Daniel O'Connell proposed and O'Gorman Mahon seconded a motion thanking Sir Edward O'Brien, on his retirement from public life, for his work on their behalf.288

The Association decided to collect a 'New Catholic rent' for the purposes of supporting and protecting the rights of the Forty Shilling Freeholders. The Munster branch of the Association met in late July in Waterford and it was decided that at least five candidates should be selected for each county for the purpose of soliciting and collecting the new rent. O'Gorman Mahon and Nicholas O'Gorman were among the six selected to represent Clare.289

During the summer of that year tensions between Protestants and Catholics became apparent when a Bible school in Dysert was burned to the ground. This school had been opened, along with others at Rath and Corofin, by Edward Synge, a recent convert to Protestantism, with the co-operation of the London Hibernian Society. Synge gave inducements to his tenant families that sent their children to his schools and made life difficult for those who did not. The local clergy came into conflict with Synge over the school's attempt at proselytising the local children, even to the point of excommunicating the children attending. The local priest at Dysert, Fr. Murphy, appealed for calm but his appeals fell on deaf ears and the Dysert school was burnt down, followed by an attack on Synge's house at Carhu.290

A meeting of the Magistrates was called for and was scheduled to be held at Ennis Court House. The purpose of this meeting was to adopt steps for the capture of the perpetrators of the attack on Synge's house. Just as the meeting was about to start when O'Gorman Mahon stood up. He stated that the document which called for this meeting had been tampered with. He said that, as it would not be recognised by a court of law, it should be considered an illegal document and he called for the meeting to be adjourned. After a lengthy debate by both sides the meeting was adjourned much to the annoyance of the attending Protestant magistrates.291

Shortly after this a number of the Catholic gentlemen, including O'Gorman Mahon, met in Ennis in order to reassure the Protestant community that these incidents were localised and directed specifically at Synge. A thorough investigation of the case was called for and it was decided a letter should be published detailing their feelings for their protestant countrymen.292

Ennis parish (Drumcliffe) held a meeting in late August in order to carry out recommendations by the New Catholic Association with regards to census taking in the local parishes and their request that each parish send a petition Parliament stating their wish for emancipation. At this meeting O'Gorman Mahon called for the establishment of a new rent for the protection of the 'Forty Shilling Freeholders' who had distinguished themselves at the recent election. This proposal was received with enthusiastic cheering. At the close of the meeting the chairman, Michael Kerin, praised Dean O'Shaughnessy for his exertions in opposing Synge's proselytising schools. This was followed by deafening applause which lasted several minutes. It is interesting to note that the newspaper reported that the galleries were filled with ladies who were taking great interest in the days proceedings.293 There is no evidence to suggest that the ladies attendance was as a result of the presence of the O'Gorman Mahon, a young handsome eligible bachelor earning a reputation for himself in the world of politics.

Meetings took place throughout the county and country during the latter half of 1826 resulting in a flood of almost twelve thousand petitions being sent to the British Parliament.294

Thomas Spring Rice, a successful pro-emancipation candidate in the nearby city of Limerick, accepted an invitation to attend the annual Ennis Town Michaelmas Grand Jury dinner and festivities that October. The trades of Ennis came out to greet him with their banners flying and led by a band. They met him two miles outside the town where they removed the horse from his carriage and pulled him into town themselves. He was escorted to the courthouse where he was given a public reception. It was Nicholas O'Gorman who gave the speech.295

Early in 1827 the New Catholic Association met in Dublin. This meeting was important in the Clare context because it was at this meeting that Nicholas O'Gorman introduced Thomas Steele. He proposed that Steele, 'a Protestant Gentleman of the county Clare', be admitted as a member. He stated that he had known him from his early youth and that he was a man who adhered to 'the principals of civil and religious liberty in their most enlarged sense'. The motion was carried.296

The following month saw the largest meeting to date to be held in the Chapel in Ennis. It was called by O'Connell who was there on the Court circuit. O'Gorman Mahon was in the chair. His brother Charles proposed that any MP who supported the present government 'is unworthy of the confidence of the Catholics of Ireland and must be actuated by mean and mercenary motives'. Their uncle Nicholas proposed that the Catholic Rent should be preserved for the protection of the freeholders and to support the Catholics persecuted for withdrawing their children from 'swindling schools'. Uncle James proposed that a petition be sent to the King asking him to recommend to Parliament to grant the Catholics their 'just and alienable rights' in order to prevent 'the probable effects of civil and religious discord in this unhappy country'. These proposals were agreed to as well as agreeing to organise and prepare to contest the next election. After the meeting O'Connell, accompanied by one of his sons, went to 'out to O'Gorman's to dine'. It is unclear as to which house is in question - O'Gorman Mahon's at Newpark or Nicholas O'Gorman's. The 'out to' suggests it is less likely to be James O'Gorman who lived in Causeway in the town (Ennis) at this time.297

A week later the newly formed Clare Liberal Club met at Carmody's Hotel in Ennis. After a toast in honour of the club itself, O'Gorman Mahon, the chairman, was called on to speak. He spoke 'with considerable effect' on the need for this association whose aims were to create harmony between all the classes and religious denominations, the elimination of the secret agrarian societies, end faction fighting, organise the freeholders and assist in the education for the poor and the promotion of charities.298

During that summer O'Gorman Mahon had a break from politics to attend the Ballycoree Races, just outside Ennis. This year there had been a new gold cup presented by the MP William Vesey Fitzgerald. The competitors were to be named by the freeholders of the county, at ten sovereigns each. The first running of the Clare Gold Cup occurred that July and Mahon's 'brother to Holenhome' came third in a four horse race (one of the horses bolted).299

In August of that year the Clare branch of the Friends of Civil and Religious Liberty met. O'Gorman Mahon told those assembled that Catholics should never again have to meet as they had done but they should 'meet like men anxious for their liberty, and looking for the freedom of those who like them were suffering'. O'Connell, who was there also, stood up and was greeted with loud applause.

He praised his 'young friend' and said that 'if in every county of Ireland, such an independent and honourable Catholic and Magistrate was to be found' then 'would Biblical bigotry relax its unholy efforts'. Three cheers were given for Old Ireland, followed by three for the ladies who attended, after which the meeting ended.300

August also saw the dedication of a new church at Feakle. After the ceremony more than fifty sat down to dinner and entertainment. The newspaper noted to as regards to the entertainment 'the worth of Mr. O'Gorman Mahon it is unnecessary to dwell on'. Feakle held a meeting of the local union of parishes the following week. It was agreed to act in accordance with the principals of the Clare Liberal Club. This was proposed by O'Gorman Mahon who 'in a flow of eloquence and patriotism' expanded on the benefits of these principals. It was reported that there was much enthusiasm created by "the energy and elocution of this patriotic Irishman".301

That November when Mahon was visiting Kilrush the inhabitants of the area decided to avail of the opportunity and invited him to a public dinner in the Cunningham Hotel. Nearly fifty gentlemen sat down to 'everything the season could afford'. Several loyal and patriotic toasts were given and appropriate music was played by a local band. The evening went off very well and all were pleased in having 'manifested their sense of Mr. O'Gorman Mahon's public and private worth'.302

The year 1827 saw two weddings in O'Gorman Mahon's family. That January his uncle, Nicholas, married for the second time. His bride was Mary, the only daughter of Alexander Power of Ballygallane, Co. Waterford.303 His first wife, Frances Smith, died in 1824 leaving him with three children.304 Charles, O'Gorman Mahon's brother, got married that April to Matilda, the daughter of George Comyn of Hollywell, Co. Clare and they had a son Patrick born the following February.305 His other brother William does not appear to have been married yet.306 Both of O'Gorman Mahons other maternal uncles were married but as yet no evidence has come to light on who or when they married. There is evidence of Richard having one son and James having at least three sons by this time.307

O'Gorman Mahon's father's sister, who had been married to a shopkeeper in Kilrush (who to confuse things was named O'Gorman), had trouble with her marriage and went to live with her brother, Rev. James, in Kerry.308

Portrait of O'Gorman Mahon by Thomas Bridgford in
The British National Portrait Gallery


Chapter 4


Chapter 6