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



'The soul of O'Gorman Mahon walked forth in its own majesty.'

This is how Richard Lalor Shiel described O'Gorman Mahon after witnessing the incomparable scenes in the courthouse, in Ennis, at the start of the famous Clare election of 1828. It was here that Mahon's "indefatigable exertions, his unremitting activity, and his devoted zeal" helped O'Connell to this monumental success.1

James Patrick Mahon, or O'Gorman Mahon as he wished to be called, was born in Ennis in March 1802. He was educated at Clongowes College and Trinity College. He nominated Daniel O'Connell for the famous Catholic Emancipation election in Clare in 1828 and was himself elected as a Member of Parliament for Clare in 1830 but was unseated by petition after a short period. Failing to get re-elected he returned to Trinity to complete his studies. In 1835 he went to live in Paris where he made the acquaintance of Louis Philippe and Tallyrand. Then after travelling in Greece and Egypt he returned to Ireland in 1846. Here he was once again elected to Parliament, this time representing the town of Ennis, and held this seat for five years.2

After this he set off on his travels once more, beginning with St. Petersburg where he was appointed a lieutenant in the International Bodyguard of Nicholas II, he hunted bear with the Czarevitch (the future Alexander II) in Finland, in the service of the Czar he fought the Tartars and journeyed as far as China and India. He also fought under the Austrian flag.3 In early 1859 we find him surveying Nicaragua for a possible canal linking the Atlantic and Pacific and later that year he was a Colonel and Aide-de-camp to the President of Nicaragua.4 After this he went to Uruguay where he took the government side in their civil war and then became an Admiral in the Chilean Navy in their war with Spain. Following this he was made a Colonel by the Emperor on Brazil.5

Mahon returned to Paris in 1866 where he met up with his former acquaintance, Louis Napoleon, who had returned from exile years earlier. Louis Napoleon changed the regulations and made him a Colonel in his Chasseurs. Here in Paris, in 1867, he was spotted in the Imperial cortege by a London newspaper correspondent who wrote :-

Looking to the left I saw advancing on a prancing charger a magnificent man of large stature, with a luxurious white beard carefully trimmed, and a countenance full of vigour, and looking younger than the beard. This beard's owner wore a scarlet uniform with enormous epaulettes, and a cocked hat with a profusion of feathers. Scrutinising him closely, anxious to know what great English general this might be, I recognised the fine features of The O'Gorman Mahon.6

Later in 1867 James Patrick went to Berlin where he got to know Bismark and the Crown Prince Frederick.7 By 1873 he had returned to Ireland and the following year contested, representing the Home Rule League, the Ennis Parliamentary elections. On this occasion was unsuccessful, but this did not deter him as he won the seat in 1879 and held it in again in 1880.8 He retired from his seat in 1885 but had his mind changed by Gladstone and took the seat for Carlow in 1887 which he held to his death in 1891.9 During his life he was a noted duellist, and he claimed to be the aggressor in all cases. But along with this his wit, good looks and exemplary manners made him a unforgettable character to all who met him.10

This dissertation examines O'Gorman Mahon's family background, his early life and his influences to see how he rose to prominence in Irish political life. It explores the records that reveal the correct version of his early life, identifying his full name, his birth date and many other details of his early life. The registration details from the schools and colleges he attended provide these details in the absence of birth and baptismal records.

The main sources used are the two local newspapers, The Clare Journal and the Ennis Chronicle. From these one can trace the fortunes of his family during the eighteenth century. Using details from these papers it is possible to cross check the events uncovered with family papers in the National Library and official papers such as the Chief Secretary's Office Registered Papers and the State of the Country Papers in the National Archives as well as the British Parliamentary Papers. The Registry of Deeds and Encumbered Estate Papers reveal information on the land that the family held, while other details are available in the O'Gorman Mahon Papers in the University of Chicago Special Collections Library, as do contemporary accounts of that period in Clare from surviving memoirs of the people involved, ultimately these sources and this study show us who was James Patrick O'Gorman Mahon, where he came from and who influenced him in his rise to notoriety.




Chapter 1