John Martin

From A Compendium of Irish Biography, 1878

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Martin, John, a distinguished Irish nationalist, was born 8th September 1812, at Loughorne, near Newry, where his father was a Presbyterian clergyman. After a preliminary education at Newry, he passed to Trinity College, where he took a degree in 1834. He then commenced the study of medicine, which he eventually abandoned, partly from want of nerve in the dissecting-room, and partly from want of faith in the science. The death of an uncle in 1835 left him in independent circumstances. In 1839 he visited America, and in 1841 travelled on the Continent. His attention was turned to politics by the progress of the Repeal agitation, and he gave in his adhesion to the movement, nothing but diffidence preventing him from advocating the cause in public. He joined in the secession of the Young Ireland party, and took a prominent part in the councils of the Confederation, occasionally contributing articles to the United Irishman.

Although the purity and sincerity of his character were well known, he showed more courage and determination than he had been credited with, when, on the seizure of the United Irishman in 1848, he settled his affairs in the north, proceeded to Dublin, and commenced the publication of the Irish Felon from the abandoned office of the United Irishman and openly advocated the policy of revolution and forcible separation from Great Britain. After the issue of the third number a warrant for his arrest was in the hands of the police, and the fifth number was the last. On 8th July 1848 he surrendered himself to the authorities (having kept out of the way for a few days to avoid trial at a commission then sitting), and was committed to Newgate. On 19th August he was tried for treason-felony before the Commission Court sitting in Dublin, and a verdict of guilty having been returned, he was sentenced to ten years' transportation. Next year he was sent in the ship Elphinstone, in company with Kevin I. O'Doherty, to Tasmania, where they arrived in November 1849. During his exile, in common with the other Irish political prisoners, Mr. Martin enjoyed comparative freedom in the district assigned to him.

In 1854, together with William Smith O'Brien and Kevin Izod O'Doherty, he was pardoned, on condition of not visiting the United Kingdom, whereupon he returned to Europe by the overland route, and settled in Paris in October. Two years afterwards his pardon was made unconditional, and he paid a short visit to his friends in Ireland. He had made no effort to secure these pardons, and in accepting them placed himself under no restraint as to his future action. His sister-in-law died in 1858, and the illness of his brother induced him to return to Ireland to tend him in his dying moments, and to assume the guardianship of his children and the care of his business at Kilbroney, Rostrevor. These duties he performed with scrupulous fidelity, and in their discharge, and in communion with nature in the romantic neighbourhood of Rostrevor, he found the best support against the anguish he endured at the failure of his hopes for Ireland, and the faithlessness of many of his old friends. In January 1864, with The O'Donohoe and some others, he established "The National League," having for its object the securing of the legislative independence of Ireland. It had a short existence, chiefly owing to the active opposition of the Fenian party, then rising into power.

On Sunday, 8th December 1867, Mr. Martin took a prominent part in the funeral procession in Dublin in honour of Allen, Larkin, and O'Brien, who had been executed at Manchester a few days previously. For this he was prosecuted by Government, and defending himself in a speech of singular ability and moderation, was acquitted. Mr. Martin gave in his hearty adhesion to the principles of the Home Government Association, established in May 1870, to agitate for a federal arrangement between Great Britain and Ireland. Late in the same year he was, without cost to himself, elected member of Parliament for Meath. When applied to by the editor of Debrett's Heraldic and Biographical House of Commons for his arms, he wrote: "I carry no arms: this is a proclaimed district." He was re-elected by an overwhelming majority at the general election in 1874.

Attendance at the House of Commons was very irksome to him: yet when he spoke it was with feeling and impressiveness, and he won general respect. His greatest parliamentary effort was perhaps a speech delivered during the discussion of a Coercion Act, 26th May 1871, in reply to Mr. Gladstone, who taunted him with being "the servant of the evil traditions of his country," and said the Ministry were "not afraid to compete with him for the future confidence of Ireland." At the Home Rule Conference of 1873 in Dublin, he unreservedly accepted the programme then adopted. For a time he was induced to occupy the post of Secretary to the Home Rule League — drawing, however, only half the salary agreed upon, although his means had been much straitened by his unceasing sacrifices for Ireland.

Shortly before his death he resigned the paid secretaryship, and accepted an honorary one, finding it impossible, on any terms, to receive money for patriotic services. The death of his friend and brother-in-law, John Mitchel, in March 1875, was severe blow to him. Within one week thereafter he succumbed to an old complaint, spasmodic asthma, on the 29th March 1875, aged 62, and was buried in Loughorne churchyard, close by the homestead where he was born. Few men have been more revered both in public and private life. He was lovingly known in Ireland as "Honest John Martin." His knowledge of languages was extensive, and his literary tastes were refined.

Sources

157. Hamilton Manuscripts: Edited by T. K. Lowry, LL.D. Belfast, 1867.

233. Manuscript and Special Information, and Current Periodicals.

308. Speeches from the Dock: Alexander M. Sullivan. Dublin, 1868.

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