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


Chapter 4: The young gentleman.

James Patrick left Trinity shortly after the death of his father, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts.217 Patrick left a will of which only a codicil, mentioning his rent collector, is extant.218 We do know that he left his daughter Susanna £3,500.219 He divided his lands among his sons with James Patrick inheriting approximately 1,650 acres in the townlands of Lisdeen, Strasburgh, Lissard, Tromra, Toureen, Killard, Ballymackea Beg and Finnor Beg (see Map I p.6).220 These townlands are scattered in several parishes west of Ennis.

Clare suffered a famine in 1822, due to the failure of the potato crop the previous autumn, leaving nearly ninety per cent of the population on the point of starvation. One of the local gentry claimed that the other ten per cent suffered from such losses as a result of the low agricultural prices and that they were unable to relieve the distress.221 Relief committees were set up but with an improved harvest that year were wound down again, even though the state of much of the county was deteriorating even further. Agrarian violence broke out again in March 1823 and the baronies of Inchiquin and Tulla were deemed in a state of disturbance.222

James Patrick's family continued to be involved in the political scene both locally and nationally. In 1823 the members of the Catholic Board came together and healed the rift that had occurred in their ranks in 1817 over who had the final say in choosing the country's bishops.223 In May all the leading Catholics met in Dublin. Nicholas Purcell O'Gorman was praised for his previous work as secretary and it was unanimously agreed that he should continue in the position. Nicholas Mahon proposed that a Catholic Association should be formed. This was also agreed and three days later another meeting was held and the 'Catholic Association' was formed.224 Nicholas Purcell O'Gorman once again got the position of secretary, showing there was a certain degree of continuity of membership between the old and new associations. Nicholas Mahon was chosen as treasurer.225 This new association, with Daniel O'Connell, Richard Lalor Shiel and Lord Killeen at its head, proposed to try to enrol all the Catholics in the country as members. They had three types of membership, the first were the 'founders', the second were the full members who subscribed a guinea each year and the third were the associates who paid a penny a month which was collected at the parish churches on Sundays.226This third type of subscription became known as the 'catholic rent'.227 James Patrick joined as a founder.228

Nicholas fitted well the position as treasurer. As a prosperous merchant in Dublin he was very interested in the world of finance. In December 1823 he involved himself in a discussion as to whether Catholics had the right to become bank directors. He himself had invested in bank stocks, regularly attended their elections for directors and encouraged other Catholics to do likewise. He found it 'absurdly peculiar' that Catholic businessmen should be excluded from the management of their own money.229 The following July we find him chairing a meeting of The Hibernian Joint Stock Security and Banking Company. This new banking company, with Catholics at its head, would have given Nicholas both control of his own money and another means of challenging the status quo.230

James Patrick became a Justice of the Peace in 1824 and was for a short time known as 'behind and 'fore J.P.'231 He dropped the first J.P. himself (to assume the title of 'The O'Gorman Mahon') and had the second removed by the government in 1830 (when unseated by petition after accusations of bribery) leading to this poem appearing in the local paper :-

James Patrick Mahon, Clare's MP.,
In days of agitation
Was dubbed behind and 'fore 'J.P.',
Which fled with 'mancipation.
The reason, should you wish to ken,
God bless us, what a pother,
Justice took from him the one,
And vanity the other. 232

James Patrick's new position as a Justice of the Peace, combined with his wealth from his large inheritance gave him a position of influence in the community. He attended the Petty Sessions Courts in the interest of the local Catholics and on these occasions was said to have shown 'a haughtiness of spirit which had not been shown by any Catholic gentleman in Clare for 100 years'.233 He rode around the county 'with loaded pistols in his holsters and a sword hanging at his side, and equally ready to use either or all'.234

Around this time James Patrick began earning his reputation as a duellist. Duelling was at this time a very popular method of solving disputes. The first question asked about a young man and his suitability for marriage was 'what family is he of? Did he ever blaze?'.235 A gentleman was not given full respect until he had 'smelt powder'. Barristers had to earn their reputations as duellists before they went on circuit around the country. Practically every election had duels.236 Even though duelling was against the law very few people were ever found guilty of the offence, mainly because most of the bench and jury were duellists themselves, which made convictions very difficult.237 This would seem to be the reason James Patrick's father's case, against Keane and Comyn in 1814, over being challenged to a duel, was laughed out of court.238 The embarrassment of this case could have been the catalyst for James Patrick to hone his skills with pistols.

Where James Patrick learned to shoot is unclear. His father's landlord, Edward Shadwell Hickman, was a noted duellist.239 It is possible because of his relationship with Maurice O'Connell he would have heard first hand accounts of Daniel's notable encounter with John D'Esterre, and how this duel had given Daniel great respect, but it would be surmising too much to suggest Daniel had a hand in teaching the young boys in the art of duelling.240

During his lifetime James Patrick is reputed to have fought eighteen duels, he was wounded in six, hit his opponent in seven and there were five in which no one was wounded but honour satisfied.241 He said he found it safer the closer he was to his opponent because he felt the better view his opponent had of the barrel of his pistol the more likely his hand was going to shake and miss his target. 'Ten yards, my boy,' he said, 'are infinitely safer than twelve'.242 It was about this time that he began to call himself 'The O'Gorman Mahon' (combining the old Irish titles of 'The Mahon' and 'The O'Gorman' to come up with his own version) and God help the man who called his right to it into question. 'A dozen paces before the mouth of his pistol or a sound thrashing was the alternative'.243

In 1824 we get our first real insight into James Patrick's (hereafter O'Gorman Mahon) personality. William O'Connell, a large landowner in Clare, was annoyed at the corruption in the Grand Jury Presentments and submitted a very low bid for one of the contracts. O'Connell got the contract but when his men proceeded to start the work they were interrupted and a fight ensued. All the parties involved were summoned to attend the Petty Sessions at Quin. O'Gorman Mahon was asked to attend to make sure fairness was given to O'Connell's men. He arrived a bit late after walking with his dogs and gun from Newpark where he was now living. One of O'Connell's men was giving evidence and O'Gorman Mahon interrupted: -

'You say you struck the man?'
'Begor I did, your honour, but he struck me first.' replied the workman.
'Then what the d----- else would you do, man?' shouted O'Gorman Mahon.
The result was applause from the crowd, and bewilderment on the Bench.244

One document that still exists from this period, from O'Gorman Mahon's own personal papers, that gives us an insight in his intellectual tastes. It is an invoice for books purchased from Richard Milliken, a bookseller and stationer, of Grafton Street, Dublin.245 This hand-written document lists approximately fifteen books and six pamphlets of which sixteen can be deciphered.246

There were four books which could be termed English literature: these were Milton's Poems, Shakespeare, Byron's Don Juan Canto and Liberal No.1 which was a literary magazine published by Byron and Shelley.247 There are two dictionaries, T. Browne's Union Dictionary and Lempriéré's Classical Dictionary (still used in the early 21st century as a reference book for proper names in Greek and Roman classical literature).248 Reflections on Lord Wellesley, was more than likely Vindication of the religious and Civil principals of the Irish Catholics, a pamphlet, written in 1823 by James Doyle, the Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, in the form of a letter to Marquis Richard Colley Wellesley, who was at the time Lord Lieutenant for Ireland. Wellesley was in favour of removing the restrictions suffered by the Catholic population. This pamphlet was used by O'Connell as a manifesto for the Catholic Association and he hoped its members would stand by the principles outlined in it.249Chesterfield's Letters are the letters from Lord Chesterfield to his son, Philip. Starting in 1737 and although not intended for publication these letters were considered a manual for moral education.250 There were two Thomas Moore books on the list, his Melodies and Memoirs of Capt. Rock. Both these books were instrumental in creating a feeling of nationalism among Irish Catholics.251Memoirs of Capt. Rock, with its humorous account of the mishandling of Ireland by the United Kingdom, stressed that as long as the common people of Ireland did not have access to the justice system there would be trouble.252 Published in 1824, this book would have been essential reading for an aspiring young Catholic politician.253

Scott's Field Sports was a practical guide to shooting, fishing, hunting, coursing, racing and cock fighting.254 James Patrick's uncle, James O'Gorman, was considered one of the best anglers in the country in his day. Late in life he wrote a book which is considered the first real angling book written about Ireland by a fisherman. He spent a lot of his time on Clare's rivers and lakes fraternising with gentry of the county and his book shows that, even though he was a Catholic, they showed him a lot of respect.255 James's interest in game sports would seem to have rubbed off on his nephew. The Edinburgh Gazetteer (a geographical dictionary), Goldsmith's Geography, and an atlas were complimented by The Methodical Encyclopaedia and Jorgensen's Travels. The Methodical Encyclopaedia was an encyclopaedia of naval knowledge of the eighteenth century.256

The most interesting book listed was Jorgensen's Travels. Jorgen Jorgensen was born about 1780 in Copenhagen. Although well educated he decided on to choose the life of a sailor and sailed the southern oceans on a whaler. After a time imprisoned as a gambler he was recruited for a British expedition to Iceland. When a stand-off for trading rights occurred on the island Jorgen persuaded his ship's captain to declare Iceland independent and made himself King. The British authorities did not agree with this action and had him removed. In 1817 he published Travels through France and Germany in the years 1815, 1816 and 1817, detailing his life at the time he was a British spy and present at the Battle of Waterloo.257 It is possible that it was the tales of Jorgensen that ignited in O'Gorman Mahon the feeling that the world was his oyster with endless possibilities.
All these books were bought over a period of three months, with O'Gorman Mahon spending an average of seven pounds a month. The total cost of these books was only one third of the bill. Two thirds of the bill had been carried over suggesting than O'Gorman Mahon had bought twice as many books previous to these.258 This happened at a time when there were very few bookshops outside of Dublin and most of the country had little or no access to literature.259 These books show him to have been intelligent and very well read for such a young man.

By early 1824 the Catholic Association was back in full swing. Meetings were being held throughout the country explaining the direction of their campaign and the necessity of full support for the Catholic Rent.260 In April a meeting was held in Ennis with Nicholas O'Gorman, now living at Bushy Park, Ennis, giving a very well received speech praising the peasantry for their conduct so far and advising against agrarian violence, telling them about the Catholic Rent and expressing the Association's opposition to biblical schools such as the Kildare Street Society.261

Later that year we see another side to Nicholas. He joined with Richard Lalor Shiel in composing "Songs in Praise of the Catholic Association" to which Nicholas wrote the music. They then employed ballad singers to be sent to strategic places to perform them.262 The words of one of these songs was recorded in the newspapers: -

Let bumpers be flowing in our native land
And toast to O'Gorman with one in hand
Counsellor O'Connell his name we'll revere
And Coppinger too in our hearts most sincere
No matter to us what critics might say
The Catholic Rent we'll cheerfully pay
The friends of our country adopted the plan
And every class to assist who can
The rich will join noble with honor bright
And the poor will increase it by throwing in their mite.263

The words of this song show us that the association knew how to use the media in promotion and publicity in order to further their aims.

The association was now more powerful than ever before, local branches had gained a lot of self-confidence and became more politicised. O'Connell was now not just one of the more famous members of the association, but he had become their leader.264 By late 1824 the association had grown and achieved a strength totally unforeseen by the Government.265 This alarmed the Government and a bill was passed, in early 1825, suppressing all Irish associations.266 At a meeting in Ennis that January O'Gorman Mahon, his brothers William and Charles, and his uncle James O'Gorman expressed their opposition to the new bill.267 Anticipating the suppression of their organisation a deputation of Irish Catholics was sent to plead their case in the House of Commons. O'Connell and Sheil were accompanied by Nicholas O'Gorman but their mission was to no avail and in March the Catholic Association was dissolved.268


Chapter 3

Chapter 5