John Banim (1798-1842)


Contemporary & after
Thomas Moore
William Carleton
W. B. Yeats
Recent & current
Patrick Joseph Murray
Patrick Sheeran
W. J. McCormack
Bernard Escarbelt
James Cahalan
Tom Dunne
Jan Jedrzejewski
Claire Connolly

Thomas Moore: Moore told John Banim, who had returned to Ireland, that ‘if he had confined his labours to Ireland, he would be a beggar’ (Quoted in P. J. Murray, The life of John Banim, NY 1869, p.288; cited in Rolf & Magda Loeber, A Guide to Irish Fiction, 1650-1900, Dublin: Four Courts Press 2006, Introduction, p.lx.)

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William Carleton, ‘The Late John Banim’ [National Gallery, No. V], The Nation (23 Sept. 1843), pp.794-95: ‘It is a melancholy but indisputable truth, that, taken as a class, men of literary greatness are seldom gifted with that kind of temperament which ensures long life. […] To those who ask why such a short and fretful span of existence was allotted to these men [Dermody, Maturin, Millikin, Callanan, Furlong, Wolfe, O’Brien, Maginn, Griffin [and] the highly gifted John Banim], we reply that […] the mind of a man of genius is too frequently of such a character as to unfit him for the general business and purposes of ordinary life. Its frame, being more refined and delicate, is also much more easily injured by either calamity or enjoyment than are those of minds cast in a coarser and stronger mould […. &c]. The truth is, that the chief reason why men of genius differ from other men is, that whilst the general mass of mankind act from fixed motives or settled principles, whether good or bad, and consequently calculate the results of their actions, it happens unfortunately for the man of genius, that he seldom acts from any fixed principle at all. His actions are essentially impulsive … everything he does is marked by an ardour or neglect that amounts to eccentricity which, although it often injures himself, is, after all, nothing more than the natural result of a temperament too highly wrought for the cold-blooded habits of the world. […] Among the many great names which the literature of Ireland has produced within the last half century, there is none of his particular class that can take rank above that of John Banim. […’; Cont.]

William Carleton, ‘The Late John Banim’ (1843) - cont.: ‘In the volumes which comprise Crohoore of the Billhook and The Nowlans, he appears to immeasurably greater advantage than he does in any of his other works, and we think the reason is obvious: we cannot but feel that, whilst composing the former, he forgot everything but the subject before him, and the consequence is, that these two novels are impressed with a force of intellect much more powerful, and an originality of manner much more Irish and national, than are to be found in his subsequent writings. Had he, therefore, still forgotten all other assocatiations, but those of his own literature and its peculiar spirit, he would have left behind him a much ampler monument of his genius than he did. Unfortunately, however, he began to imitate Sir Walter Scott, and to frame his fictions in the spirit of a coutnry far different from his own. Nor was this all. his plots and characters, instead of rising naturally from the warmth of his own Irish conceptions, were projected in the cold artificial mould of imitation. This was agreat want of judgement on his part, and in a man of less intellect would hav been ruinous. As it was, his reputation did not rise as it ought, and as it would have done, had he avoided the impracical task of forcing the genius of one country into the trammels of another. The literature of every country possesses a character and spirit peculiar to itself. In this spirit every man, when treating of that country, her history, or her people, should write; and he who neglects to do so, no matter how comprehensive his intellect or how unquestionable his talents, will certainly exercise them at great disadvantage. Independently of this, there is something painful in beholding one original genius striving to tread in another’s footsteps - an effort which has never yet been attended with success. / This was the great literary error of Banim’s life - an error in which no man of less power could afford to continue as he did, with undiminished fame.’ [Cont.]

William Carleton, ‘The Late John Banim’ (1843) - cont.: ‘In the stucture of his plots Banim is not generally successful, although they unquestionably contain specimens of singularly felicious invention. He sometimes, forinstance, introduced too much machinery, by which he distracts the attention and weakens the general effect; but on the other hand, the harmony preserved between his incidents and the characters selected to develop [sic] them is certainly admirable, and rearely excelled by any writer living or dead. Had he, however, made his plots in some cases less complicated, he would have avoided the difficulty which many a writer in common with him has felt - not excepting Sir Walter Scott himself, who, as well as Banim, was often guilty of the same error, as in Rob Roy, for instance - the difficulty, we mean, of having superfluous charcters on hand at the close of the work, or overlaying a plot with unnecesary mystery, which would otherwise be clear - a mystery which confuses, but does not excite us. / As it is, we think Banim has written the best historical novels which this country has produced; but we are far, indeed, from saying the best which the genius peculiar to it is capable of producing. His mind had compass, and strength, and feeling, to execute far greater and better works than any which bear his name. As we have already said, the most obvious impediment to his success was a desire to imitate Sir Walter Scott, a man whose very errors have about them all the splendour of the highest genius.’ [Cont.]

William Carleton, ‘The Late John Banim’ (1843) - cont.: ‘Banim’s works, published and read in England as they were, unquestionably produced a powerful influence over the British mind. Strong, full of fire - dark we grant, but smouldering and repressed, like the genius of his indignant country - replete with powerful and striking imagery, both moral and physical - sometimes curbing with difficulty the headlong impulses engendered by oppression, and again passing form the vehemence of the anguished and agitated heart to the exhibition of its mournful and most pathetic emotions - it surely cannot be surprising that a spirit so powerful as this, so new to British feeling, so varied, so comprehensive in its grasp, stern, firm, uncompromising, putting itself forward as the exponent of our Irish temperament - equally indicative of its tenderness and its strength, its generosity and its resolution - surely it cannot be doubted for a moment that the hand of John Banim - long palsied by calamity before death, but now for every palsied in the grave - prompted as it was by his noble head and Irish heart, did as much to vindicate our country from falsehood and calumny as any that ever bore a pen in her defence. When he was alive he did not forget his country; and now that he is no more, we hope his country will not forget him or those who were so dear to him.’ [Cont.]

William Carleton, ‘The Late John Banim’ (1843) - cont.: ‘[Carleton calls Banim] a powerful painter, full of darkness and strength [whose] paintings are consequently to be classed more with those of Salvator Rosa than with the productions of any other master we could name. He painted as it were in prison, with the strong light falling upon the stern but pallid features of reckless men, who sat in the gloomof the dungeon, or who, when at large, had their fierce visages lit up by the red glare of midnight conflagration; for it ought not to be forgotten that the oppression which makes daylight a crime to the persecuted wretch oftern turns the very darkness of his vengeance into the fearful poetry of actual passion. For the same reason the dignity of tragedy had it origin in the deeper fierceness of mans revenge. Just as strong and stern are we in our enmity against such revenge; but when harsh and heartless laws are found to engender the very crimes they were intended to repress, and when no experience of their disasterous results has led to a spirit of humanity in those who framed them, we may feel pain but not surprise at seeing the justice of the law in such cases opposed by the justice of the hear, and the criminal of an act of parliament drawing a strong and dangerous distinction between legislative and moral guilt. / To say that Banim was the apologist of either kind of guilt, would be an act of injustice to his memory. No; there is, on the contrary, a tone of high moral feeling and strong religious obligation stamped upon all his writings; and in circumstances where many periods of less rigid notions upon matters that involve political duties might suspend their condemnation of an illegal act, the is always the foremost to inclucate obedience ot the law, whilst it is a law, and in no instance is found to defend him who, by an act of moral guilt, ventures to violate it.’ [End; see longer extract, attached.]

‘National Tintings III: John Banim’, in The Illustrated Dublin Journal, Vol. 1, No. 12 (23 Nov. 1861).
[...] The difficulties which he encountered here in his struggles for wealth and fame are graphically related in his letters home. In 1823, poor Gerald Griffin arrived in London, and was received by Banim with great kindness. “What would I have done,” wrote Griffin, “if I had not found Banim? I should never be tired of talking about and thinking of Banim. Mark me! he is a man - the only one I have met since I have left Ireland, almost.” Meanwhile Banim was pushing his own way in the world; he contributed many operatic pieces to the English Opera House, and became the chief adviser of its proprietor, Mr. Thomas Arnold, to whose liberality and steady friendship he bears honourable testimony. Towards the close of the year 1823, he submitted the first portion of the manuscript of that powerful story, Crohoore of the Bill Hook, to his brother Michael, for his opinion, the latter in return forwarding portions of his works to him. Each brother thus acted as critic to the other, and hence arose the nom-de-plume, Tales by the O’Hara Family, John taking the name of Abel O’Hara, Michael assuming that of Barnes O’Hara.
  In 1824, Banim published a volume of essays under the quaint title of “Revelations of the Dead Alive” the revelations being clever hits at the English follies, fashions, and manners of the year 1823. In 1825, the first series of the Tales by the O’Hara Family were completed, and published in the April of that year, at once acquiring popularity. They were followed, early in 1826, by The Boyne Water, which got rather a rough reception from the critics; their censures, however, were directed rather against its politics than its literary merit. Colburn, who had published the Tales by the O’Hara Family, offered a very large sum for a new story, and John Banim immediately commenced writing his novel, The Nowlans. This work, together with Peter of the Castle, forms the second series of the O’Hara Tales, and was published in November, 1826. The success of The Nowlans was most satisfactory. Although the author’s health was now in a very dangerous condition, from a recurrence of the old malady from which he had suffered after the death of Anne D***, he still wrote on. [...]
—See full text version, attached.

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W. B. Yeats, Representative Irish Tales, ed. Mary Helen Thuente [1891; rep. edn] (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1979) - Introduction: ‘John Banim and his brother Michael, who both have the true peasant accent, are much more unequal writers than Carleton. Unlike him, they covered the peasant life they knew with a melodramatic horde of pirates and wealthy libertines whom they did not know. John Banim, who seems to have invented the manner of The O’Hara Tales, lived mostly in London, surrounded by English taste, and had just enough culture to admire and learn and imitate the literary fashion of his age. At times he would write pages, terrible and frank, like all the first half of The Nolans, and then suddenly seem to remind himself that the public expected certain conventional incidents and sentiments, and what he did his brother Michael copied. Neither had culture enough to tell them to leave the conventionalities alone and follow their own honest natures. For this reason it is mainly the minor characters personages like The Mayor of Windgap - that show the Banim genius. They seemed to indulge themselves in these fine creations as though they said “the public will forgive our queer countrybred taste for very truth if we keep it in holes and corners”. Carleton, on the other hand, when he began writing, knew nothing about the public and its tastes. He had little more education than may be picked up at fair greens and chapel greens, and wrote, as a man naturally wants to write, of the things he understood. The Banims’ father was a small shopkeeper; Carleton’s a peasant, who perforce brought up his son well out of the reach of fashions from oversea. With less education John Banim might have written stories no less complete than those of Carleton, and with more have turned out a great realist - more like those of France and Russia than of England. The first third of The Nolans is as fine as almost any novel anywhere, and here and there melodrama and realism melt into one and make an artistic unity, like “John Doe”, but much that both he and his brother wrote was of little account.’ (p.30; see full text in RICORSO Library, “Irish Classics”, via index or direct.)

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Patrick Joseph Murray, The Life of John Banim (London: William Lay 1857): ‘[t]o raise the national character in the estimation of other lands, by a portrayal of the people as they really were[;] but at the same time to vindicate them of the charges of violence and bloodthirstiness, by showing in the course of fiction, the various causes which he supposedly concurred to draw forth and foster these evil qualities. He fancied that of the lawlessness of the peasant he could discover he actuating principle in that bitter thought of Shylock, which teaches that those oppressed will in their turn oppress; and he longed to be their champion. The Irishman had been the blunderer of the stage for years - his stupidity being only equalled by his vulgarity and coarseness:- not alone on the stage was he misrepresented, the novelists had likewise held him up to ridicule, he was their butt or their adventurer - a species of commingled "Gil Blas" and "Vanillo Gonzales" speaking a barbarous English with a most abominable brogue - and in the whole range of the drama or of fiction, the only moderately fair portraiture, before the appearance of the "Tales of the O'Hara Family", of an Irishman, was to be found in the Sir Callaghan O'Brallaghan of Macklin's "Love a la Mode" and in the Sir Lucius O'Trigger of "The Rivals". Whether Banim knew these mistakes of former writers, or whether he was incited in his project by the success of the Waverley Novels, is now a question of little moment. Doubtless he knew that half the merit of Sir Walter's wonderful fictions consisted in their nationality, their naturalness, and their truthfulness. Fielding and Smollett and Macklin had caricatured the Scottish character in precisely the same manner as that adopted toward their own countrymen [93]: yet despite the ridicule of the older wits, Scottish character will be truly understood [cites Oldbuck and Dumbiedikes, Baillie Nocla Jarvie, Caleb Balderston, and Rob Roy and Jeanie Deans] all so dissimilar, and yet so Scottish in their individuality, the world has learned to know Scotland and her people. And to accomplish such a work as this for Ireland, was the great aim of Banim's efforts - the which from this period, and at all after times, was ever honestly before him. We are here writing of the reasons which induced him to become an Irish novelist, and are now recording the plan and scope of the projected works, - hereafter we shall, in the proper place, discuss the various topics connected with the tone and style of composition marking these excellent fictions. / Much as Banim longed to become a novelist of Ireland, yet knowing the great difficulties to be encountered and surmounted, he hesitated and feared and doubted. Whilst roaming through the demesne of Woodstock, while revelling mentally amongst the various scenes of sylvan loneliness of the landscapes around Inistiogue, he spoke of all his hopes and fears to his brother Michael [...]’ (pp.93-94.)

[Note: the phrases ‘[t]o raise the national character’ to ‘these evil qualities’ are quoted in Rolf Loeber & Loeber, A Guide to Irish Fiction, 1650-1900, Dublin: Four Courts Press 2006, p.lxi, citing Zimmermann, The Irish Story-teller, Four Courts Press, 2001, p.244.]

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Patrick Joseph Murray, Life of John Banim [facs. rep. of 10th vol. of Sadlier 1869 edn. of Works] (New York: Garland 1978), speaks of Banim’s early education from aetat. at Mr. George Charles Buchanan’s establishment, the ‘English Academy’; taught ‘oratorical reading’ and modern languages; Murray narrates a story like that in Father Connell of the elder brother protecting the younger from the tyrannically-inclined teacher, and eventually being rewarded by him for his show of loyalty; Banim left Kilkenny for Dublin in 1813; he returned from Dublin to Kilkenny in Feb. 1822, married Ellen Ruth [Rothe], the daughter of a man with whom he had lodged there, on 27 Feb. 1822, ‘preparatory to moving to London’, which he did with her on 13 March 1822. Note that phrase ‘bright-hearted, true-souled Irishman’, quoted prominently in Irish Literature (ed. Justin McCarthy, 1904), is used by Murray, op. cit., p.9.

[Note that phrase ‘bright-hearted, true-souled Irishman’, quoted prominently in the biographical notice on Banim in Justin McCarthy, gen. ed., Irish Literature (1904), is used by Murray in op. cit., p.9). And cf. the concluding sentence of Whittier’s introduction to the 1869 Chicago edition of John Philpot Curran's Speeches - viz, ‘when, in due season, her history is impartially written, his labors il lbe recognised as those of an ardent patriot, great advocate, and a whole souled Irishman.’ (Pref., p.14 [available at Internet Archive online].)

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Patrick Sheeran, “The Novels of Liam O’Flaherty: A Study in Romantic Realism”, Ph.D., UCG 1972) - on The Nowlans (1826): ‘Banim’s other fine novel of peasant life, The Nowlans also moves beyond the bounds of realistic fiction but for different reasons. It is particular interesting in that the work is a deliberate effort at mediating between the old contraries of Orange and Green. Daniel, the father of the novel’s protagonist, John Nowlan, marries a “black Protestant”. She “turns” Catholic on her marriage - as the Church demands - first hint that the two sides cannot really meet on equal terms. In the next generation John, now a Catholic priest, falls in love with the daughter of a Protestant neighbour. Reversing the earlier situation, they are married by a Protestant clergyman in London. One could view The Nowlans, metaphorically, as the world of romance superimposed on the world of the novel. Father John, cannot [180] forget the judgement of the Church on his state: “Tu es sacerdos in aeternum secundura ordinem Melchisadech”. He is a man for whom the doctrines of salvation and damnation are living, terrible realities. The polite social world into which his wife introduces him in London and Dublin takes on the linaments of Hell. He is as unseemly there as a Biblical citation in a comedy of manners. For Banim, as for so many other Irish writers, the figure of the Priest is charged with energies which break through any purely realistic surface. John and his wife Letty (the very names capture some of their differences) live unhappily. Letty dies and John returns home, mentally sick, to the bosom of his father and his God. These lovers, one bound to a world of religious images and obscure dreads, the other a free spirit, are recurring figures in Anglo-Irish fiction.’ (p.181; for full text, see RICORSO Library, “Irish Critical Classics”, via index, or direct.)

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W. J. McCormack, ‘A Manuscript Letter from Michael Banim (1874)’, in Hermathena, Vol. CXVII (Summer 1974), pp.37-38. The letter is a short reference for one Thomas Phelan (‘the bearer’) who ‘discharged the duty of letter carrier for sixteen years &c’. Signed Black Rock, Dublin 7 Feb. 1874, and found in a copy of The Boyne Water (Duffy 1865), previously owned by Thos. Brogan as being given to him in 1892 when he was post-master. McCormack cites the fact that Banim’s postmaster office was secured through the influence of the Earl of Carlisle. He also refers to the account of Banim as a generous and modest character in A. P. Graves’s contribution to the Cambridge History of English Literature.

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Bernard Escarbelt, ‘The Kilkenny Novelist’ [being a] preface to rep. edn. of The Boyne Water (Univ. of Lille 1976), pp.9-14, gives biog. and commentary: John Banim, ed. Kilkenny college; had published occasional pieces locally by age of 10; wrote “Hibernia” (1808), a 1,000-line poem; left Kilkenny for Dublin in 1813; 2 years in Dublin; fell in love with daughter of Protestant country gentleman; girl removed from school, dying shortly after; Banim contracted spinal disease [leading to his] ‘premature death at 44’; journalism for provincial papers, 1818-20; Dublin hack writing, from 1820; Celt’s Paradise, 1821 ‘not unsuccessful’; patronage of R. L. Sheil brought Damon and Pythias to stage; called for erecting of building devoted to art in Dublin in A Letter to the Comm. Appointed to Appropriate a Fund for a National Testimonial Commemorative of his Majesty’s First Visit to Ireland (1822); married Ellen Ruth in Kilkenny prior to departure for London; wrote for periodicals; The Sergeant’s Wife prod. English Opera House, 1824; Mrs. Banim’s ill-health; Tales, 1825 [order given wrongly]; The Denounced or the Last Baron of Crana [sic] and The Co nformists [sic] (1830); The Smuggler (1831); writings for English Opera House; Chaunt of the Cholera (1831); left for France in 1829; left Paris with wife and daughter, completely paralysed, 1835; had lost two sons; called on charity of friends to pay fare home; public reception in Dublin and Kilkenny on arrival home; Father Connell, written jointly (1842) in the year he died. [This notice retains traces of an older source, not cited here.]

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Bernard Escarbelt, ‘An Irishman in France: John Banim’, in Barbara Hayley & Christopher Murray, eds., Ireland and France - A Bountiful Friendship: Essays in Honour of Patrick Rafroidi, Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1992, pp.57-66: ‘In 1826 the ill health of his wife necessitated Banim’s taking her to France, where she remained while he returned to London and Ireland on field work for The Boyne Water, collecting his wife again after. [57] His own health problems, arising from the spinal disease of his youth, necessitated his visiting France in the late 1820’s, settling at Boulogne, the expatriate community - especially the scape-graces and refugees from civil prosecution at the Hotel d’Angleterre - which he characterises tongue-in-cheek in The Smugglers (1831) [Bentley 1837, p.351]’. (Escarbelt, pp.57-58.) ‘[…] succeeded only in frightening his audience with a stage rendition of The Fetches (p.58.) ‘The Sargeant’s Wife, set in France, though France is little more than this queer, foreign, alien, un-English place of gushing sentimentality and […] loose morals, where crime threatens at every step for the frail young Lisette in search of her husband, Frederick Cartouche. Cf., however, Banim’s ‘sermon’ the English misrepresentation of that country in parts of The Smuggler - a comparison which shows the straights he was in for money: ‘But do our dear countrymen and countrywomen of Boulogne - and perhaps of other places in France - never think of conforming themselves to the genius of the people among whom they have fixed their residence?’ (Smuggler, p.357). Further: ‘It may be added, however, that the cant of French carelessness in morals, once so pat in England, and taken up by silly and inexperienced, as well as innately vicious English people (few, we know, they are - fewer may than be!) - taken up, conveniently, on trust, has greatly helped to sink - even below the level of a just estimation of the facts - our own character for behaving ourselves, in the eyes of our neighbour.’ (Ibid., 357-358; Escarbelt, p.61.) Escarbelt characterises the “Chaunt” [see infra] as a dramatic poem in ballad-stanza form (by quatrains) dealing with the advent of the cholera epidemic then coming across Europe from India via Russia, to which he subsequently fell victim, though surviving. Besides that, ‘it transmutes the inner world of the writer into a long, grim poem in which he tries to come to terms with his own individual physical and moral sufferings, his own inner world of impending chaos, sick and helpless in France. [62] At this time Banim considered himself as striken - according to a letter to Michael - by a ‘VISITATION OF GOD.’ (Quoted in Murray, Life, p.217). [63].

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James Cahalan, Great Hatred, Little Room, The Irish Historical Novel (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1983): ‘In The Boyne Water (1826), John Banim makes Evelyn write to Edmund, “In the great country of England, there must also arise a feeling to right the present wrong to which it has just lent itself. For, without her affirmation, the wrong could not have been committed. The descendants of the men who have sanctioned, and by that means caused the deliberate breach of their own treaty, made in the field, will awake to vindicate, as far as in the[m] lies, the name of their ancestors. A son, jealous of his father’s honour, pays his father’s debts, even to the common creditor. Englishmen will yet pay their fathers’ debt of faith in Ireland. The treaty of Limerick will yet be kept.”’ (The Boyne Water, New York: Garland 1979, Vol.3, pp.552-53; Cahalan, p.54). Banim wrote to his brother Michael, ‘Englishmen of almost every party, who may honour our book with a perusal, are now prepared to recognise the truth of the historical portraits we sketch and allude to’ (The Boyne Water, New York: Garland 1979, Vol. 3, p. xi). Banim dedicated his preface of The Denounced (1829), on the Penal Days, to ‘Sir Arthur, Duke of Wellington’, requesting him ‘only to point out a passage hostile to peace among all men, and that passage shall be expunged’, but suggested-in the shadow of the Emancipation Bill-that the only emotion of the part of ‘the Lately-Made-Free’ would be ‘gratitude to God and to Man for his escape from the shackles worn by his forefathers’ (Cahalan, op. cit., p.56).

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Tom Dunne, ‘The Insecure Voice: A Catholic Novelist in Support of Emancipation’ in Culture et Practiques Politiques en France et en Irlande, XVI-XVIIIe Siecle [Actes du Colloque de Marseille 1988 (Paris: Centre de Recherches Historiques [1988]), remarks that ‘Irish fiction after the Union was intensely and often self-consciously colonial in its ambition to present a more favourable image of Ireland to the imperial political elite, and the extent to which it (like the rhetoric of Irish politicians) was shaped by awareness of this English audience.’

Jan Jedrzejewski, ed., Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, The Cock and Anchor [ Ulster Monograph Ser., 9] (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 2000), Introduction: ‘[…] The key role in developing Irihs historical fiction was played by the brothers John and Michael Banim, whose novels explored some of the most important moment of modern Irish history, such as in particular the Williamite wars (John Banim’s The Boyne Water, 1826) and the rebellion of 1798 (Michael Banim’s The Croppy, 1828). It was indeed The Boyne Water, with its powerful analysis of the divided nature of late-seventeenth-century Irihs socierty and with its successful integration into its complex historical plot of powerful descriptions of Irish traditions, folklore, and landscape, that set the artistic standards for Irish historical writing for many years to come.’

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John Kelly, Intro. to The Anglo-Irish of the Nineteenth Century [1828] (NY: Woodstock Books 1997): ‘[Irish novelists like Banim] were forced to adopt a symbolic or allegorical as well as a realist discourse [...] Thus this novel’s frequent use of misprisioins, disorientations, disguises, and doppelgangers, which at one level seem no more than sensational narrative ruses [which] help to enforce the theme of deceptions and half-truths that must be negotiated if truth is to be reached.’ (q.p.; quoted in Richard Pine, The Disappointed Bridge: Ireland and the Post-Colonial World, Cambridge Scholars Publishing 2014, p.348.) Note: Pine also cites a speech of Banim of 1835 in which he says ‘there is no such thing as “exactly” in Ireland’, citing Kelly as above.)

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Claire Connolly, ‘Irish Romanticism, 1800-1839’, in Cambridge History of Irish Literature (Cambridge UP 2006), Vol. I [Chap. 10]: ‘Despite the considerable interest of these past-oriented fictions by female Protestant writers, however, literary historians still tend to ascribe the proper beginnings of Irish historical fiction to two middle-class Catholic men: John and Michael Banim (1798-1842 and 1796-1874), brothers from Kilkenny who collaboratively published their Tales of the O'Hara Family throughout the I820s - including The Nowlans (1824), The Boyne Water (1826), The Croppy: A Tale of 1798 (1828) and The Anglo-Irish of the Nineteenth Century (1828). The Banims (like Thomas Moore and Gerald Griffin) subscribed to the cult of anonymity made fashionable by Walter Scott and published under the pseudonym “The O'Hara Family” (as brothers Abel and Barnes O'Hara). Scholars have disputed the exact authorship of each fiction, and the precise nature of their literary collaboration remains under-researched. The novels are prefaced with letters from one (fictional) brother to the other, usually rooted in reported travels around Ireland.’ (p.421.) [Cont.]

Claire Connolly (‘Irish Romanticism, 1800-1839’, 2006) - cont.: ‘The Banims' fictions broadly divide into stories of contemporary peasant life, which take the form of tales or short fictions, and large-scale historical fictions that are presented in novel form. The tales flirt with supernaturalism, [421] but usually assign rational causes to such Otherworldly manifestations as fetches and banshees, fairy-blasts and strokes. The novels are more evidently in the tradition staked out by Edgeworth and Owenson (often specifically responding to their themes and tropes), yet also represent a new departure. Like Maturin (and the later Owenson), the Banims' novels allow us to chart 'the transformation of an allegorically flattened national character … into one torn apart by the contradictions of uneven development'. [Trumpener, Bardic Nationalism [… &c.], Princeton 1997, p.142.] The novels characteristically end (and sometimes begin) with a depiction of nervous and shaken individuals, their futures blighted by the invasion of politics into their, lives. Most notable is their characterisation of the anguish suffered by John Nowlan, the novice priest of The Nowlans, who falls in love with and marries a young Protestant woman.’ (pp.421-22.) [Cont.]

Claire Connolly (‘Irish Romanticism, 1800-1839’, 2006) - cont.: ‘The Banims were not the first writers to feature the Catholic clergy in their fictions: The Wild Irish Girl features a genial chaplain who encourage the young lovers, and in 1819 William Parnell published Maurice and Berghetta; or, the Priest of Rahery (1821), a controversial national romance centring around the benevolent actions of a kindly Catholic priest. Narrated by a cleric at the end of his life, the novel caused one reviewer to accuse Parnell of apostasy [Quarterly Review, 1819; quoted in R. F. Foster, Charles Stewart Parnell: The Man and His Family, Harvester Press 1976, p.27], and led another to condemn the flawed understanding of any individual who could 'speak of Popery as in itself of innocuous or of beneficial tendency' [Eclectic Review, 12, 1812, pp.245-67; p.247]. In The Nowlans, however, the focus falls emphatically on the psychological suffering of the priest figure, himself made the centre of the romance plot. The shadow of conversion looms large, and helps explain some of the anguish experienced by the young John Nowlan. The Revd George Brittaine's (1790–1847) virulently anti-Catholic fictions (Reflections of Hyacinth O'Gara, 1828; Confessions of Honor Delany, 1829; Irishmen and Irishwomen (1830) belong to this world also, immersed as they are in the detail of evangelical battles and evoking the new spectre of the 'Maynooth priest': educated in Ireland, not on the continent (Maynooth College opened in 1795), and part of the machinery of O'Connellite politics..’ [Cont.]

Claire Connolly (‘Irish Romanticism, 1800-1839’, 2006) - cont.: ‘The emergence of organised Catholic politics in the 1820s is crucial for understanding the Banims' historical fictions, published in the years just before the gaining of Catholic emancipation. The Boyne Water opens with news of the Catholic James II having succeeded to the throne and concludes with the end of the Williamite wars and the introduction of the Penal Code. In the place of the Glorious Revolution of popular English memory, The Boyne Water depicts a tripartite story of dynastic contest between Scottish, English and European interests; a struggle between Tories and Whigs for power over the islands, centred in London; and, finally, a conflict between natives and settlers in [422] Ireland that has a crucially religious dimension. The influence of Scott on the novel has often been noted, in particular on a narrative designed to allow opposing forces to rub up against each other until equilibrium is achieved. The Boyne Water does not provide any final moment of balance or harmony, however, nor can it reassure its readers that insurgency is safely consigned to the past. Published in the immediate aftermath of agrarian disturbances, the novel concludes on the open question of Ireland's political future.’ (pp.422-23; for longer extracts, go to RICORSO Library, “Irish Critical Classics”, via index or direct.)

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Chaunt of the Cholera’: ‘From my proper clime and subjects, / In my hot and swarthy East, / North and Westward I am coming / For a conquest and a feast. // […] ‘and he hopeth to escape me - / Yet he is quaking still, / For he knows no watch can bar me, / When I would work my will!’ [he being the Czar, who is duly engulfed:] ‘And with my spume-lips kiss him - / and with my shaking hand / Press down his heart, and press it, / till its throb is at a stand - / Low laughing, while an horror / His despot eye-ball dims - / My knarled arms twined round him, / And my cramp’d and knotty limbs!’ ‘To chasten, by Destroying! / To spare not! till a Few, / Alone, be left, in tremblings, / Earth’s people to renew, / And to cry - There is a Godhead! / And man his anger braved! / And to raise a race to fear Him / We, lonely-ones, are saved!’ (Quoted in Bernard Escarbelt, ‘An Irishman in France: John Banim’, in Ireland and France - A Bountiful Friendship: Essays in Honour of Patrick Rafroidi, ed. Barbara Hayley & Christopher Murray, eds., Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1992, pp.57-66.)

“The Irish Mother in the Penal Days”
  Now welcome, welcome, baby-boy, unto a mother’s fears,
The pleasure of her sufferings, the rainbow of her tears,
The object of your father’s hope, in all he hopes to do,
A future man of his own land, to live him o’er anew!

How fondly on thy little brow a mother’s eye would trace,
And in thy little limbs, and in each feature of thy face,
His beauty, worth, and manliness, and everything that’s his,
Except, my boy, the answering mark of where the fetter is!

Oh! many a weary hundred years his sires that fetter wore,
And he has worn it since the day that him his mother bore;
And now, my son, it waits on you, the moment you are born;
The old hereditary badge of suffering and scorn!

Alas, my boy, so beautiful! - alas, my love so brave!
And must your gallant Irish limbs still drag it to the grave?
And you, my son, yet have a son, foredoomed a slave to be,
Whose mother still must weep o’er him the tears I weep o’er thee!

Given in Padraic Colum, ed., Anthology of Irish Poetry (NY 1922; rev. ed. 1948) - Item 138; available at Bartleby Quotations - online.

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John Doe, in Tales of the Family, 3 vols. (1825), Vol. III - Chap. I:
‘The old devotion to a private skirmishing of the Irish peasantry is well known. Skirmishing would indeed be too mild a word to express the ferocious encounters that often took place among them - (we speak in the past tense, for, from a series of wretchedness the spirit has of late considerably decreased) - when parties, or, as they are locally termed, factions of fifty or a hundred, met, by appointment, to wage determined war; when blood profusely flowed, and, sometimes, lives were lost.
  But apart from the more important instances of the practice those pitched battles presented, accident, and the simplest occurrences of their [1] lives; pleasure, rural exercise, sport; or even the sober occupation of conveying a neighbour to his last home, supplied, indifferently well, opportunities for an Irish row.
  On festival days, when they met at a “pattern” (patron, perhaps) or merry-making, the lively dance of the girls, and the galloping jig-note of the bagpipes, usually gave place to the clattering of alpeens, and the whoops of onslaught; when one of them sold his pig, or, under providence, his cow, at the fair, the kicking up of a “scrimmage,” or at least the plunging head foremost into one, was as much matter of course as the long draughts of ale or whiskey that closed his mercantile transaction; at the village hurling-match, the “hurlet,” or crooked stick with whcih they struck the ball, often changed its playful utility; nay, at a funeral, the body was scarce laid in the grave when the voice of petty discord might be heard above the grave’s silence.
  These contentions, like all great events, generally arose from very trivial causes. A drunken fellow, for instance, was in a strange public house; he could not content himself with [2] the new faces near him, so struck at some three, six, or ten, as it might be, and in the course, got soundly drubbed; on his return home he related his case of injury, exhibiting his closed eye, battered mouth, or remnant of nose; enlisted his relatives, “kith-and-kin;” in fact, all his neighbours who liked “a bit of diversion,” and they generally included the whole male population able to bear arms; at the head of his faction he attended the next fair, or other place of popular resort where he might expect to meet his foes; the noise of his muster went abrod, or he sent a previous challenge; the opposite party assembled in as much force as possible, never declining the encounter; one or other side was beaten, and tried to avenge its disgrace on the first opportunity; defeat again followed, and again produced like efforts and results; and thuse the solemn feud ran through a number of years and several generations.
  A wicked, “devil-may-care” fellow, feverish for sport, would, at fair, pattern, or funeral, sometimes smite another without any provocation, merely to create a riot; the standers-by would take different sides, as their taste or connexions [3] inclined them, and the fray thus commencing between two individuals who owed each other no ill-will, embroiled half the assembled concourse. Nay, a youth, in despair that so fine a multitude was likely to separate peaceably, stripped off his heavy outside coat, and trailed in through the puddle, daring any of the lookers on to tread upon it; his defiance was rarely ineffectual; he knocked down if possible the invited offender; a general battle ensued, that soon spread like wild-fire, and every “alpeen” wa at work in senseless clatter and unimaginable hostility.
  The occurrence of the world “alpeen,” here and elsewhere, seems to suggest a description of the weapon of which it is the name, and this can best be given in a piece of biographical anecdote.
  Jack Mullally still lives in fame, though his valiant bones are dust. He was the landlord of a public-house in a mountain district; a chivalrous fellow, a righter of wrongs, the leader of a faction of desperate fighting-men, and like Arthur, with his doughty knights, a match for any four among them, though each a hero; and, [4] above all, the armourer of his department. In Jack’s chimney-corner hung bundles of sticks, suspended there for the purpose of being dried and seasoned; and these were of two descriptions of warlike weapons; shortish oaken cudgels, to be used as quarter-staves or, par excellence, genuine shillelaghs; and the alpeens themselves - long wattles with heavy knobs at the ends, to be wielded with both hands, and competent, under good guidance, to the felling of a reasonable ox.
  […] Note the ‘vanithee’ [ban an thi] is his wife; 5.] Such ordinary facts as we have here glanced at, never fail to strike an astonishment, if they do not greatly interest, the English visitor to “the sister isle,” when he is first made acquainted with them. In both ways, perhaps, they were regarded by to English officers [7] quartered at a remote, though no very remote period, in the inland town of Clonmel, before whom a native acquaintance descanted with natural ease on these traits of local character, as he and his military friends sat over their evening bottle. The bottle was emptied and the Clonmel visitor gone, and lieutenants Howard and Graham remained together, still occupied with the new and extraordinary anecdotes they had heard. They separated for the night, and contined to recur with interest to the information of their friend. They were amazed, if not shocked; they could not understand how the thing should happen. In a civilized country, indeed, a motive to the cool, scientific punishment that Spring and Neat, or Spring and Langan bestow upon each other, was easily comprehened; but they stared with utter consternation at the mystery of an Irish fight, because it was discussed with shillelaghs and alpeens instead of fists and knuckles.
  Next morning they met, after their early parade, at Graham’s private lodgings; for, at the time we speak of, the officers of a regiment were afforded, even in considerable towns in Ireland, [8] but scanty accommodating at barracks. It was a hot, oppressive forenoon in the close of July […] Note: in the ensuing narrative the officers are led to the scene of a faction fight by one Mr. Burke, who further enlightens them on the history of the custom.’

[Note: The other novels in the collection are Crohoore of the Billhook (Vols. I & II), and The Fetches (Vol. II). The copytext of the Bibliobazaar edition is not available in the version online; accessed 08.04.2010.]

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The Boyne Water (1826): Introductory Letter from Mr. Abel O’Hara to Mr. Barnes O’Hara, Gray’s Inn. [Addressed Inishmore, February 2, 1826.; pp.vii-xv]:

‘[…] While, from your opinion of English principle and character, you venture, in more of hope than of misgiving, before an English reader, you entertain some dread of an Irish reader. Now, I have been in Ireland all the time you have been out of it - of course, I possess so much more observation of the country; and I am bold to rally your hear [xi] on this point: don’t be chicken-hearted, Barnes. In the name of St. Patrick’s “green, immortal shamrock,” I tell you to go on, and not fear it. […] No period of our history is, in Ireland, so little understood, so little known, as that we have stumbled on. No period is so much involved in traditionary gossip and popular stories. Through the medium of popular stories, both sides are, indeed, best acquainted with it. [xii; …]
 I will not, Barnes, examine at unreasonable length, here, all the opposing opinions of one party or the other. I ahve satisfied myself that the portraits held up as likenesses of the rival princes, James II, and his son-in-law, William, are neither of them true prictures. I have taken all due pains, as I was bound to do, to get at the bottom of the (in Ireland) muddy well, where truth is to be found; and my mind is at ease as to the result of my researches. I have the approval of my conscience, touching my desire to substitute facts for loose representations. Let there be realities say I, instead of delusions; and then, sound footing will be preferred to Will-o’the-Wisp erroneous.
 I will tell you, Barnes, what I would like to aid: I would go so far to assist in dispersing the mist that hangs over Irish ground. I would like ot see those dwelling on the Irish soil looking about them in the clear sunshine - the murkiness dispelled - recognising each other as belinging to a common country, and exchanging the password, “This is my native land.”
 If, even through the medium of a work of fiction, we make a step towards the above result, I see no reason to anticipate hostility - we must claim the credit of good intention, at all events.
  I am oversanguine, perhaps; but, for my part, I expect that partizans, even, will not cling to error, merely because it coincides with their preconceived prejudices. We, here in Irelnad, ought to be anxious to ascertion our position accurately, if for no other reason than that we may give ourselves a common country. At present, the Irish, as a people, have no country, while the children of every other soil boasts a proud identity with their native land.
 At all events, we havve nothing to fear, even from displeasure. We come forward on this occasion with clean breasts. Very likely we may not fit the knuckle of either side: that we cannot help, while we reconcile our humble efforts to our own consciences. This, you will say, is valient for me. Probably I do wax valiant, when I know that [xiii] every statement of factions, or allusion to them, which we are compelled incidentally to put forth, is authorised by historians whom both sides are bound to admit; and nothing can be objected to us, which must not be objected to Dalrymple, or Harris, or Burnet, or Hume, or Smollet, or James’s Memoirs, or Walker’s Diary of the Siege of Derry, with many other general and local histories.
 When our historical people speak on historical points, we have given them, as often as possible, the words that history puts into their mouths, and never one word which, in our opinion, is not authorised by their characters, sentiments, or actions. In the latter instance, they may be conceived to utter thoughts and feelings too vivid for some who, at one side or the other, love not them, nor their thoughts nor their feelings; but we may plead that a dramatist, while trying to give natural speech to his characters, is not accountable for all they choose to say.
 We have unhesitatingly restored to their true shapes and features all those we have found disguised according to the musty fanaticism prevailing nearly two centuries ago; and we hold ourselves accountable for exercising our right to take such freedoms with the dead and gone.
 And now get the three unwieldy volumes printed as fast as our respected northern fellow-countryman, Mr. J. M’Creedy, can manage it - with my blessing; and my request, too, that concerning the point upon which I have been so loquacious, you will give yourself no farther trouble.
 Other parts give me more uneasiness: but no matter now; let them pass to their great account.
 Heaven help us! I have gone near to frighten myself, by using at random that last expression. It creates a very uncomfortable sensation - a kind of shuddering about the seat of life.

  My dear Barnes,
Your affectionate brother,
[ Postscript follows [p.xv]; full text available at Google Books (UK), online; accesed 08.04.2010. ]


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