John O’Mahony (1816-77)

CriticismCommentary

Life
b. Kilbeheny, Co. Limerick [vars., 1819 DIW; 1815 DIH]; ed. Cork, and TCD (Classics); supported Repeal Association; joined Young Ireland; seceded from O’Connell, 1845; involved with William Smith O’Brien in 1848 Rising; attempted to organise a further rebellion, fighting at action in Ballingarry on Waterford-Kilkenny border; escaped to France, lived in of poverty and taught English; encountered James Stephens; emig. USA 1852 with Michael Doheny [var. 1853 DIH]; helped found Emmet Monument Assoc. in NY, 1854; published English trans. of Keating’s Forus Feasa na hEirinn (NY 1857);
 
founded Fenian brotherhood with Stephens and Doheny, 1858; raising $400 to establish IRB in Ireland, establishing a branch simultaneously in America; directed American Fenian movement as Head Centre till 1867; visited Ireland, 1860, returning in 1861 for funeral of Terence Bellew MacManus; organised 99th New York National Guard (Fenian Regt.) in American Civil War, 1861-65, serving as colonel; defended the spy Red Jim Macdermott; lost position as Head Centre to Co. W. E. Roberts, leader of Senate Wing, during reorganisation of Fenians, 1865; opposed attack on Canada and urged Stephens to bring on Irish rising; lived precariously in NY after the 1867 failure;
 
Stephens sought to heal breach between O’Mahoney and Roberts but was himself deposed by Thomas J. Kelly (who led the Chester raid and was himself rescued by the Manchester Martyrs); betrayed by MacDermott in his attempt to capture island of Compo Bello off New Brunswick; later years in obscurity, suffered mental breakdown prior to death in obscurest poverty; d. 7 Feb., NY, and given a ceremonial funeral and procession en route to the Dakota, which carried his remains to Queenstown [Cobh/Cork] before final bur. Glasnevin, with a large funeral; he was a good classical and Irish-language scholar. ODNB DIB DIW DIH FDA OCIL

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Works
John O’Mahoney, trans., Geoffrey Keating, The History of Ireland (NY: P. M.Haverty 1857); A Book of Memory: The Birthday Book of the Blessed Dead (London: Hodder & Stoughton [1906]); rep. as A Little Book for John O’Mahony’s Friends (Petersfield: Pear Tree Books P. 1906), another ed. (Portland, Maine: Thomas B Mosher 1909), with memoir by Katherine Tynan [of her brother-in- law].

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Criticism
There is a short section on O’Mahony in Desmond Ryan, The Singing Flame (1978). See also Padraig Ó Concubhair, “The Fenians were Dreadful Men”: the 1867 Rising (Cork: Mercier Press 2011), and sundry works on Fenianism.

Commentary

For a contemporary account of his funeral procession in New York from the Irish-American ( Feb. 1877), see attached.

Donald Torchiana, Backgrounds for Joyce’s Dubliners (1986): On several pages of The History of Ireland, O’Mahoney makes connections in his notes between old Fianna and the Fenians of his own day (viz., pp.7, 10-11, 345, n.64). Desmond Ryan cites those notes in The Phoenix Flame (London: Arthur Barker 1937), and discusses further connections established by the Fenians themselves and Finn and his Fianna. (Torchiana, n.4 & 8, p.187.)

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R. F. Foster, Modern Ireland (1988): ‘The word “Fenian” arose in Ireland during the MacPherson controvery and referred solely to Fionn Mac Cumhaill [until] about 1858 [when] it was given political resonance when it was appropriated by John O’Mahoney for the Irish Republican Brotherhood.’ Further: ‘The name is appositely vague for a movement that emerged, rather than being founded. Though formally constituted as the Irish Republican Brotherhood in 1858, the Gaelicist label Fenian (a reference to the Fianna army in the medieval saga of Fionn MacCumhail) was the identification that stuck. It brought together remnants of Anglophobic Young Ireland like John O’Mahony, and James Stephens, organisers of local nationalist clubs like O’Donovan Rossa, and expatriate nationalists who formed societies with code names like the Emmet Monument Association. Technically the IRB was a conspiratorial, pledge-bound secret society based in Ireland, while the Fenian Brotherhood was a support organisation, largely based in America, intended to provide the sinew of war; but Fenian did duty for both. In fact, the IRB in its early days avoided naming itself altogether, the organisation, the brother hood, the firm, served as identification ... occupied natural place in Irish political life [Townsend] ... adopted ethos of secret societies such as Ribbonmen ... view of England as satanic power on earth and mystic commitment to Ireland, and belief that an independent Irish republic ‘virtually’ established in the hearts of men, possessed a superior moral authority. See also bio-note on O’Mahony. (pp.390-91.)’ [See also biography in Foster, op. cit., under References, infra.

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References
R. F. Foster, Modern Ireland (1988): O’Mahony joined Repeal Association, then YI, 1845; Irish Confederation with Smith O’Brien, 1848; escaped to France, moved to NY, 1852; cofounded Emmet Assocation, 1855; trans. Keating, 1857; inaugurated Fenianism in proposing new revolutionary organisation to Stephens, 1958; organised Fenian regiment, as Colonel, in Civil War, 1861-65; ceased to be Head Centre with rise of ‘Senate’ wing, 1865; no further political influence; d. NY, bur. Glasnevin. Also, under Stephens, q.v.: Stephens blamed O’Mahony for delay of revolution, 1861; but also, Stephens denounced for delay, 1867. [ top ]

Justin McCarthy, gen.ed., Irish Literature (Washington 1904), contains no references to O’Mahony - presumably in keeping with Home Rule agenda of that anthology.

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Seamus Deane, gen. ed., The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry: Field Day 1991), Vol. 2, p.243 [went to New York 1853 and fnd. the Emmet Monument Assoc. with Michael Doheny in 1857 [note to Sigerson’s Modern Ireland, 1868, also detailing his revolutionary involvement with Stephen’s in Paris]; 245 [after the failure of 1867, John O’Mahony’s Fenian brotherhood was replaced by the new Clan-na-Gael organisation]; 263 [John O’Mahony and American Fenians unimpressed by Stephens’s dictatorial attempt to forestall the rising in 1867].

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Dominic Daly, The Young Douglas Hyde (1974): John O’Mahony (1815-1877), Fenian organiser; 25 years in US, where he died in poverty; keen interest in Irish language; his translation of Keating’s history of Ireland at the top of Douglas Hyde’s list of Anglo-Irish books; because of technical breach in copyright, using with full acknowledgements the notes from O’Donovan’s edition of Annals of the Four Masters, the sale of the book was prohibited in Ireland [n., 207] Hyde’s ‘O’Mahoney’s Lament’ [i.e., John O’Mahony], read by Hyde to Sigerson, Tynan, Taylor, Rose Kavanagh, and others at John O’Leary’s house in Leinster St., is printed in Poems and Ballads of Young Ireland (1888), and also in Dublin Verses by Members of Trinity College, ed. HA Hinkson (1895). [87; n., 207], ‘In a foreign land, in a lonesome city,/With few to pity, or know, or care,/I sleep each night while my heart is burning/And wake each morning to new despair ... I have within me such demons in keeping/As are better sleeping without a name ... Not a single hope have I seen fulfilled ... My heart lingers on its native strand/And american land holds nought for me. ... I have rescued nought but my honour only/And this aged, lonely, and whitening head.’ [n., 207]. The poem was reprinted in Poems and Ballads of Young Ireland (1888). Tynan wrote of ‘Douglas Hyde’s poem on John O’Mahoney the Fenian which I have heard John O’Leary say exactly mirrored the mind of him whom Douglas Hyde had never known’. (Middle Years, p.22) [n., 207]

Belfast Public Library holds J. ,O’Mahoney, The Sunny Side of Ireland (n.d.) [prob. another author].

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