John O'Mahony

From A Compendium of Irish Biography, 1878

« Daniel O'Mahony | Index | Grace O'Malley »

O'Mahony, John, organizer of the Fenian movement, was born at Kilbeheny, County of Cork, in 1816. His father and uncle had been implicated in the insurrection of 1798. On the death of an elder brother, he came into the enjoyment of property worth £300 per annum. He entered at Trinity College, Dublin, but never proceeded to his degree. He studied Hebrew and Sanscrit, became an accomplished Gaelic scholar, and was in after life able to teach Greek and Latin, and to contribute articles to French newspapers. In 1843 he became interested in the Repeal movement. He attached himself to the Young Ireland party, and was one of those who took the field with Smith O'Brien in 1848.

After the failure at Ballingarry, he escaped to France, and lived in Paris for several years. In 1854 he joined Mitchel in New York, and took part in the Emigrant Aid Association, the Emmet Monument Association, and other Irish organizations. In 1857 he published the History of Ireland, by Geoffrey Keating, D.B., translated from the original Gaelic, and copiously annotated. (New York, 1857). Dr. Todd, in his preface to the Wars of the Gaedhill with the Gaell, says: "His translation of Keating is a great improvement upon the ignorant and dishonest one published by Mr. Dermod O'Connor more than a century ago, but has been taken from a very imperfect text, and has evidently been executed, as he himself confesses, in great haste." [See KEATING, GEOFFREY.]

O'Mahony's notes are copied from O'Donovan's Four Masters. It was on this ground that Hodges & Smith procured an injunction against the sale of the book in the United Kingdom. This work brought Mr. O'Mahony no pecuniary profit, and, partly owing to the mental strain thrown upon him in its composition, he had soon afterwards to be placed for a short period in an asylum. The extent to which the early portion of Keating's History is occupied with the exploits of the ancient Fenians, probably led to the adoption of this name for a secret society inaugurated by O'Mahony about the year 1860, to promote the object ever nearest his heart — the independence of Ireland.

The Fenian Brotherhood, or Irish Republican Brotherhood (I.R.B.) was reorganized at conventions held in Chicago in 1864, and at Cincinnati the following January. At this time O'Mahony held the rank of Colonel of the 69th Regiment of New York State Militia, recruited mainly from the ranks of the Brotherhood, which had also furnished a large proportion of Meagher's Irish Brigade, the Corcoran Legion, and Irish regiments engaged in the civil war. But the rapid growth of the organization demanded the unceasing attention of its chief officer; and, at the urgent request of the Central Council, O'Mahony resigned the colonelcy of his regiment, and devoted himself entirely to Fenianism, and though various differences arose from time to time with James Stephens and the Central Council relative to the policy to be pursued for the attainment of their object, he continued President for some years.

The designs of the Brotherhood seemed to be favoured by the conclusion of the American civil war in the spring of 1865, which liberated a large number of Irish-Americans anxious to see service elsewhere. It would be impossible to particularize the events that followed, and the immense influence this society came to exercise in Ireland. Perhaps £80,000 was contributed to its exchequer in the United States and Canada between 1860 and 1867. Although O'Mahony for many years assisted in its councils, he appears not to have taken part, personally, either in the raids upon Canada, or the abortive insurrection in Ireland, which Lord Kimberley stated in Parliament to have been the most formidable effort, since 1798 to sever the connexion between England and Ireland.

The latter part of John O'Mahony's life was passed in literary pursuits, under the shadow of declining health and poverty, in New York. The man who had handled thousands of public money was utterly regardless of it for himself. A New York paper, describing him, says: "John O'Mahony was a strange being. He was tall and well formed, and had shaggy, dark brown hair and handsomely chiselled features, but a haggard and care-worn expression... He had friends who were willing to sacrifice anything for him: yet he was often sadly in need of a dollar, and when his poverty was discovered he declined to receive assistance in any shape or form. One way or another he always managed to earn his own living. He seemed, however, to care nothing for success in life, his whole mind being absorbed with one idea — rebellion in Ireland. A ten-dollar greenback over and above his immediate wants was a fortune to him, but one that he held a loose hold of; for any person who approached him with a woeful story was sure to get it out of him."

He died in New York 7th February 1877, aged 61; and his remains were shortly afterwards brought to Ireland, and attended to the grave at Glasnevin with the honours of a public funeral.

Sources

233. Manuscript and Special Information, and Current Periodicals.

« Daniel O'Mahony | Index | Grace O'Malley »