Charles Joseph Kickham

From The Cabinet of Irish Literature, Volume 4, edited by T. P. O'Connor

The revolutionary movement which came to be known as Fenianism was unlike that of 1848 in the character of its leaders. As has been seen from previous memoirs, the older political agitation was associated with a brilliant outburst of intellectual effort; and the majority of the leaders have left behind high intellectual heritage, or asserted under other skies, and in more favourable circumstances, their possession of great intellectual powers. The Fenian movement, on the other hand, was poor in its literary products; and few of its leading spirits have, since its collapse, reached to any lofty position. The best part of Fenian literature was to be found in the Irish People, the journalistic organ of the association; and the chief contributors to that journal were Mr. T. Clarke Luby, Mr. John O'Leary, and Mr. C. J. Kickham.

Charles Joseph Kickham was born at Mullenahone, county Tipperary, in 1830. At the age of thirteen he met with an accident, to which we probably owe the many fine productions of his pen: he was deprived of hearing. He began in about his eighteenth year to contribute poems and tales to Irish journals and magazines; and when the Irish People was started he became, as has been said, one of its chief leader-writers. Involved thus in the Fenian movement, he was one of those on whom the government made a descent; and having been tried and convicted he was sentenced to fourteen years' penal servitude. His comment on the conclusion of the trial was terse: "I have endeavoured," he said, "to serve Ireland, and now I am prepared to suffer for Ireland." Four years after his conviction he was released.

Mr. Kickham has published two complete stories, Sally Cavanagh, or Untenanted Graves, from which we give an extract, and Knocknagow, or the Homes of Tipperary. Those stories have been read wherever there is an Irish home, and have made sad or joyous thousands of Irish hearts. They have found approval also in the columns of English and not friendly journals, which, disliking, perhaps bitterly, some of the ideas of the author, have found themselves able to meet him in friendliness on the impartial ground of literature. His books, indeed, deserve alike their popularity with the peasant and the approval of the critic. His pictures of life—especially of peasant life—are wonderfully true to nature, full of keen observation, humour, and fidelity. In his attention to minute details and homely incident he resembles in a great degree the style of MM. Erckmann-Chatrian.

Mr. Kickham's ballads are equally popular, and are just what ballads for the people should be—simple in language, direct in purpose, and in an easy and common measure. A collected edition of his works is now being published by Messrs. Duffy & Son. Two volumes containing the stories already named have appeared ; two more are promised, the one consisting of a new story; the other of Mr. Kickham's songs and ballads.