MAHON, James Patrick, alias the O'Gorman Mahon (1802-1891), of Mahonburgh, co. Clare

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press

Constituency

Dates

1830 - 4 Mar. 1831
1847 - 1852
15 May 1879 - 1885
24 Aug. 1887 - 15 June 1891

Family and Education

b. 17 Mar. 1802,1 1st s. of Patrick Mahon of Snugville and Newpark and Barbara, da. and h. of James O’Gorman of Ennis. educ. Clongowes Wood Coll. 1815; Trinity, Dublin 1819; G. Inn 1825; King’s Inns 1828, called [I] 1834. m. bef. June 1830, Christina Maria, da. and coh. of John O’Brien of 12 Fitzwilliam Square North, Dublin, 1s. d.v.p. 1da. d.v.p. suc. fa. 1821. d. 15 June 1891.

Offices Held

Capt. Clare militia.

Biography

The O’Gorman Mahon, a grotesque character even by the exotic standards of some of the Irish Members in this period, was a figure of pure self-invention. Possibly descended from the medieval MacMahons of county Clare, he shared a common ancestor (Bryan the elder of Loughrea, county Galway) with Thomas Mahon of Corbally, county Clare, and Sir Ross Mahon of Castlegar, county Galway, who briefly sat for Ennis in 1820.2 His father (Bryan’s great-grandson), a Catholic who married a local heiress in 1798, was a respectable Ennis merchant and Clare magistrate, although his grandfather was apparently a poor farmer and his father a tithe proctor, while later gossip would have it that Patrick himself was once imprisoned for sheep-stealing.3 This Member’s personal details seem to have been obscured by his own delusions of grandeur: he gave his birth year as 1803, which would make him an exact contemporary of his school friend Maurice O’Connell*, but he was probably born in 1802.4 The birth date of 17 March, St. Patrick’s Day, although possibly accurate, he may have adopted in honour of his patronymic; the first name Charles would appear to be a later genuflection to the cult of Charles James Fox† since he was christened James Patrick; and the addition of O’Gorman as an extra name was doubtless an erroneous usage derived from the confusing status of his chosen title. This last, the O’Gorman Mahon, was a preposterous conceit; unlike, for instance, the O’Conor Don’s*, it had no precedent in historical practice and was perhaps only begun in imitation of one of his late uncles, who had pretentiously called himself ‘the O’Gorman’.5 Yet, with all the pride of an impulsive duellist and all the vanity of a Regency dandy, he insisted on being correctly addressed, even to the extent of making this a point of honour, a peculiarity which sometimes exposed him to ridicule.6 As Thomas William Coke I* of Norfolk used to relate, he once pompously told the usher in the royal antechamber, ‘Pray, be careful - THE O’Gorman Mahon!’, but the king’s attendant announced him in a stentorian voice as ‘Mr. Ōr man Mahōōun!’7

Patrick Mahon, a rebel in 1798, was evidently concerned about the rights of his co-religionists; for example, he and his father-in-law were appointed to the committee of the Catholics of Ireland at the county’s gathering in Ennis, 3 Aug. 1811. Their cause was also strongly backed by his brother-in-law, the barrister and activist Nicholas Purcell O’Gorman, who for several years was secretary to the Catholics of Ireland, though in 1824 Mary O’Connell, reflecting her husband’s sentiments, found him and his uncle Nicholas Mahon too moderate for her liking.8 The O’Gorman Mahon, who succeeded to a substantial estate on the death of his father in 1821 and was later, like him, a captain in the Clare militia, inherited this family interest in the Catholic cause, although he was very much on the radical wing of the movement. He attended Sir Francis Burdett’s* Westminster reform dinner in May 1825, as part of Daniel O’Connell’s* delegation to London that spring, when he was entered at Gray’s Inn. Through his friend Thomas Steele, he became active in the Catholic Association, for instance serving as secretary, 7 Dec. 1825, and condemning the anti-clerical measures of the Spanish Cortes, 11 Feb. 1826.9 Although not a burgess, he interrupted proceedings to propose William Nugent Macnamara* for the corporation borough of Ennis at the general election that summer, when he also unsuccessfully attempted to nominate him as a pro-Catholic candidate for Clare. He issued an address to promote the independent interest in the county, 20 June, and was prominent at gatherings of its Catholics in July and August 1826.10 He chaired his county’s Catholic meeting to protest against the defeat of the latest relief bill, 11 Mar., and, at an aggregate meeting of the Irish Catholics in Dublin, he criticized the Irish lord chancellor Lord Manners’s refusal to appoint more Catholic magistrates, 5 July 1827. Having spoken condescendingly in praise of O’Connell at the Louth Independent Club dinner, 7 Jan. 1828, he received a sarcastic dressing down from him at the Association on the 15th and differed with him during other debates that month.11

Anxious that William Vesey Fitzgerald, the new president of the board of trade, should be opposed on his standing for re-election for Clare in June 1828, the O’Gorman Mahon entreated Macnamara to offer and, having failed in the attempt, was so desperate that he even called on the lord lieutenant Lord Anglesey’s son Lord William Paget* to ask him to stand, but Paget ‘laughed in his face’. On O’Connell entering, he returned to Clare to canvass extensively for him with other prominent members of the Association and he correctly forecast that the Catholic tenants would desert their landlords.12 Dressed in the uniform of O’Connell’s order of liberators and suspended above the crowd at the front of the gallery, he crushed the querulous objections of the sheriff to this extraordinary behaviour by threatening that

this gentleman ... tells that gentleman ... that if that gentleman presumes to touch this gentleman, this gentleman will defend himself against that gentleman, or any other gentleman, while he has got the arm of a gentleman to protect him.

After Vesey Fitzgerald had been proposed, the O’Gorman Mahon, who later revealed that he had himself declined to offer, paused dramatically before nominating O’Connell as the only real friend to the Catholic cause.13 He was active throughout the ensuing contest and, according to the recollections of a junior army officer on peace-keeping duties, he one night invited himself into the mess: he was

the right arm, at least so I believe he styled himself, of Daniel O’Connell. He sat down with us and delighted us with his brilliant jokes and truly amusing conversation. He was the very antithesis to the Agitator’s left arm, Tom Steele, who was certainly, though very clever and well read, one of the dullest and most melancholy companions.

In attempting to make arrangements for preventing disturbances on the last day of the poll, he had the temerity to treat the commanding officer ‘with all the effrontery of a rival general’; but he met his match in Sir Charles William Doyle, who told him, in relation to the forces at his disposal, that in the event of his being involved in any disorder, ‘you will find them exactly at your elbow, Mr. Mahon, wherever you are’, at which he ‘for once appeared abashed’.14 As Richard Sheil* wrote of him at the time:

He has a very striking physiognomy, of the corsair character ... His figure is tall and he is peculiarly free and dégagé in all his attitudes and movements. In any other his attire would appear singularly fantastical. His manners are exceedingly frank and natural, and have a character of kindliness as well as of self-reliance imprinted upon them ... His talents as a popular speaker are considerable. He derives from external qualifications an influence over the multitude, which men of a diminutive stature are somewhat slow of obtaining ... When O’Gorman Mahon throws himself out before the people, and, touching his whiskers with one hand, brandishes the other, an enthusiasm is at once produced, to which the fair portion of the spectators lend their tender contribution. Such a man was exactly adapted to the excitement of the people of Clare; and it must be admitted, that by his indefatigable exertions, his unremitting activity and his devoted zeal, he most materially assisted in the election of Mr. O’Connell.15

Apparently enraptured by the reception he received, he joined in efforts to prevent landlord retaliation against their tenants and was reimbursed with £700 by the Association for his expenses during the election.16

His antics had been reported by Doyle to the Irish administration, and Anglesey wrote to Peel, the home secretary, 20 July 1828, that, among other Catholic agitators who ‘are carried away by their feelings and thirst for popularity, and are very unguarded’, the O’Gorman Mahon, ‘if rebellion should break out, will be a very prominent character in the field’.17 He continued to act provocatively that autumn, when dinners were held in his honour in Killarney and Limerick, but what proved too much for Peel’s patience was his deliberate disruption of the inaugural meeting of the Clare Brunswick Club in Ennis, when he urged the attendant troops to resist the orders of the sheriff, an Orangeman, 20 Oct., and his furious declamations at the Catholic Association, which allegedly included a declaration that that assembly was the real government of the country, 18 Nov.18 It was perhaps on the latter occasion that a visiting German prince observed, presumably in relation to him, that a ‘handsome young man with enormous whiskers and an "outré" dress (the dandy of the Association) sprang on the table and uttered a thundering speech which obtained great applause’; while, according to Macnamara, ‘it was a speech Mahon made at the Association that broke him. O’Connell several times interrupted him and said he was sure Mahon meant differently ... but he persevered’.19 Anglesey, upheld by the Irish lord chancellor, Hart, who feared further unrest if he was punished, at first cleared him of any wrongdoing, but he was overruled by the furious prime minister, the duke of Wellington, who ordered him to be dismissed from the magistracy in December 1828; this row was one of the factors behind Anglesey’s recall soon afterwards.20 The following month the O’Gorman Mahon chaired a meeting of the Catholics of Clare and was named to the delegation to accompany their new Member to Westminster.21 As John Cam Hobhouse* observed in relation to the home secretary’s standing for re-election as an advocate of Catholic emancipation, in February 1829 the O’Gorman Mahon ‘actually came down to Oxford [University] in one of Peel’s coaches. Luckily he was not discovered, or he would have lost Peel many votes and perhaps his own life’.22 He attended the Thatched House meeting to petition in defence of the Irish 40s. freeholders, 7 Mar., and was sent by O’Connell to Henry Hunt* in an unavailing attempt to gain the support of other English radicals in this matter.23 At the London Tavern meeting to address the king in gratitude for emancipation, 6 May 1829, he moved the resolution for a grandiose scheme to list all the past friends of the Catholic cause on the pedestal of the statue which was to be erected in Wellington’s honour.24

O’Connell, who had been sent back to be re-elected for Clare, wrote to him on 14 June 1829 that if (which was not yet clear) ‘there is to be a battle, we cannot go to battle without you’, and encouraged him in his own ambitions to represent the county.25 About that time he replied to the timid Macnamara, who had contemplated a compromise with the Tory proprietors, by commanding him to

retrieve this unintentional blunder at once by declaring from your own knowledge of me that the Devil himself could not deter your friend O’Gorman Mahon from proposing the president of Irish liberators in the teeth of all the shoneens [Clare landlords] in or out of Christendom.

He also requested Macnamara to nominate him for Clare at the next opportunity, unless there should offer

any man old or young better acquainted with the real state of the county, its wants and capabilities, the feelings and interests of its inhabitants, or more capable of securing attention to the necessity of redressing the wrongs of the people ... I shall thereby best effect my primeval and dearest object - the welfare of our country.26

Before leaving London, he acted as second to Steele in his duel with William Smith O’Brien*, 30 June, when so tense was the atmosphere that he nearly ended up fighting Smith O’Brien himself.27 Describing Ireland as in a state of suppressed rebellion, he proposed O’Connell at his unopposed return, 30 July, and formally offered himself for the county at the following election, 1 Aug.28 Later that month O’Connell’s then associate Pierce Mahony†, commenting on the O’Gorman Mahon’s ‘most foolish canvass’, wrote that it ‘is strange that a man in his circumstances should dream of such a thing but he is so eaten up with inordinate vanity!’29 By September the O’Gorman Mahon had broken with O’Connell, who announced that he intended to continue to represent Clare, although on the 29th at the town meeting in Ennis, where he moved the resolution condemning the unrepresentative state of the franchise, he denied the existence of any such obstacle to his pretensions.30 Despite the now disaffected Mahony’s statement in December 1829 that he ‘disavows and disowns’ the Liberator over the latter’s dubious behaviour towards the Beresfords in Waterford, O’Connell, urging Nicholas Purcell O’Gorman to stand for that county that month, wrote that ‘surely O’Gorman Mahon will come forward; what he saved from [the money he would have spent on a contest in] Clare, he should give now’.31

In January 1830 O’Connell was assured by one supporter that ‘the Gag would not get a single vote’ in Clare and in March his wife, who noted that the O’Gorman Mahon was constantly with the Misses O’Brien in Dublin, wrote that he would make no headway, as he was ‘so fallen in the estimation of the people and of the aristocracy of that county’. Similar statements were made that spring, but his marriage to Christine O’Brien, an heiress with £60,000 who had at one point been thought of for Maurice O’Connell*, rehabilitated his fortunes.32 The Irish secretary Lord Francis Leveson Gower*, who believed that her £500 a year would help return him as a self-proclaimed supporter of the administration, reported to Peel that summer that he had seen him

in Kensington Gardens and nothing but the New Jerusalem, which you never saw, or the lord mayor’s coach, which you may have seen, could give you a notion of the generous splendour of his appearance. His dress was all the colours of the rainbow, his materials, for he had several, starred and striped like the American flag, and he had a sort of halo in glory of bright hair round his face. This is the Drawcansir [a character in a burlesque] who is to enter and kill them all on both sides in Clare.33

He applied to Leveson Gower to make his brother a magistrate in compensation for his own supersession, but failed to secure this or the backing of the Irish government at the forthcoming general election.34 By mid-June Steele had apparently effected a reconciliation between him and O’Connell, whose agent feared that, with Macnamara certain to be returned first, he risked coming third to the O’Gorman Mahon, who in any case could choose to exploit O’Connell’s verbal promise to stand down in his favour.35 The O’Gorman Mahon replied to rumours that he might not stand by issuing from the Windham Club in London, 28 June 1830, an affected address (‘Feeling that the hour of my birth was but the registered epoch of my enrolment in the service of Ireland’), in which he promised to enter and made suggestions on how to agitate for the relief of distress.36

On O’Connell, who had already announced his retreat to county Waterford, attempting to make a grand entry into Ennis, 18 July 1830, the O’Gorman Mahon spitefully manoeuvred his followers into the way and recklessly clambered on to O’Connell’s carriage in a largely successful effort to derail his triumphant procession. Although Steele took grave exception to this, O’Connell, who called his conduct unwise and unnecessary, declined to show any resentment, partly because it was in his own interest to appeal to his Clare supporters to, as he put it, ‘give O’Gorman Mahon at least vote for vote for any his friends give me in Waterford’.37 Having intervened aggressively in Ennis to try to prevent the return of Smith O’Brien on his and his family’s interest there, he repeated his attack on their territorial influence in opposing his brother Lucius O’Brien* at the county election, when he agreed to pledges for lower taxes, parliamentary reform and the introduction of a poor law. He was elected in second place behind Macnamara after a week-long contest, at the end of which he again urged radical Irish reforms and expressed his sense of commitment to the electors, but was threatened with a petition.38 His expenses were reported to be at least £8,000 and by September, when he privately declared that ‘from the beginning of the election up to the present moment I have not given a single sixpence to any human being, nor will I’, his printer and agent began to press for payment of their costs under threat of exposing his electoral malpractices.39 On the 15th he attended the Dublin liberal meeting arranged to welcome the recent revolution in France, but his behaviour, in seconding a vote of thanks to Lafayette, only exposed further his rift with O’Connell. As Sir Henry Hardinge*, the new Irish secretary, reported to Mrs. Arbuthnot, the O’Gorman Mahon, ‘on some pretence, called upon me and said he should support the duke against the libels of the Liberator O’Connell, and did so manfully at the meeting. In short, nothing could have terminated so well to convert the great meeting of the Irish people into a farce’.40 The imbroglio involved him in a quarrel with the press, but he vindicated his conduct in a letter to the people of Ireland, 5 Oct., and, despite the ridicule of the Tory Clare Journal, travelled to France that autumn to present the meeting’s congratulatory address in the chamber of deputies.41 In his absence, he was added to the Ennis committee of independence on its formation, 11 Oct. 1830.42

He was listed with the ‘neutrals’ in Mahony’s analysis of the Irish elections, but government counted him among its ‘foes’ in September 1830. Writing to his brother John from London, 4 Nov., Macnamara noted that ‘O’G. M. is here. He told me he would support ministers though he came shortly after and sat next [to] me on the opposition bench. In fact, he is insincere and deceitful. He does not seem to know anyone here’.43 Attacked in Clare and Dublin for being inactive, he attempted to explain his behaviour and stated in a published letter that had he been in the House he would have voted against O’Connell’s minority for repeal of the Irish Subletting Act, 11 Nov., but reluctantly for Parnell’s motion for reducing the duties on wheat imported to the West Indies, 12 Nov.44 Believing that he had plenty of time to dine, he was accidentally shut out from the division on the civil list which led to Wellington’s resignation, 15 Nov., when a petition alleging the use of bribery and party emblems was entered against him. He made his maiden speech on presenting a local repeal petition, 9 Dec., when he indicated that he would probably have divided against ministers on the civil list. He angrily rebutted the printed allegations of an unnamed Member that he had been in the pay of the previous administration, even thanking O’Connell for coming to his defence over this; and he was lavish in his praise of Peel’s statesmanship, but insisted that he was consistent in his parliamentary politics and emphasized his support for reform, retrenchment and non-interference abroad. Displaying his argumentative and short-tempered character, he justified the current agitation for repeal and urged the relief of Irish distress, 11 Dec., and he was in sarcastic form about English Members’ attitudes to his country, 13 Dec. According to Macnamara, who thought him ‘a most extraordinary man’, he told O’Connell that he would vote for Hume’s amendment to refer the truck bill to a select committee, ‘after which he voted against it’, 14 Dec.45 He moved for a return of bankrupt Irish magistrates, many of whom he considered inadequate, 15, 23 Dec., pinned the blame for distress in Ireland on its absentee proprietors, 17 Dec., and complained of the improper conduct of Frederick Shaw* as recorder of Dublin, 20, 23 Dec. His withering attack on Inglis over tithes was met with the counting out of the House, 21 Dec., and, on his again being denied the opportunity to make interventions on Irish affairs, he condemned the Commons for crushing the voice of truly representative Irish Members, 23 Dec. 1830. As a potential seconder of O’Connell’s expected repeal motion, he that day menaced his colleague and the Grey ministry with reprisals should they fail to support it.

The O’Gorman Mahon, who again travelled to France that month, rallied to the defence of the arrested O’Connell at a repeal meeting in Dublin, 25 Jan. 1831.46 Anglesey, the reinstated lord lieutenant, informed Lord Melbourne, the home secretary, on the 28th that ‘there is not one respectable man who sticks to him [O’Connell]. O’Gorman Mahon is the nearest approach to the character, and he is in low estimation and only playing a game for the county [of Clare]; he, however, detests O’Connell’.47 To the initial jeers of the House, Hughes Hughes’s complaint about his frequent use of the exclamation ‘Gracious God!’ and the indignation of the Speaker at having to restore order, 8 Feb., he delivered a ferocious tirade against the recent proclamations preventing repeal agitation; during it he revealed that he and Sheil had been the only two Irishmen to vote for Hunt’s motion for an amnesty for the English ‘Swing’ rioters earlier that day. He read a litany of Irish grievances, begged ministers to grant repeal before the Irish pressure for total separation from Britain became irresistible and declared, of the unjustly prosecuted O’Connell, that ‘the moment you consign him to a dungeon, the connection between the two countries is at an end’.48 Not least because of his revelation that for over 11 years he had been a member of a secret society in Ireland, as well as owing to his ludicrous propensity to threaten duels in the chamber, the speech left ‘Ogreman’, as he was nicknamed in Parliament, generally discredited.49 Maria Edgeworth, whose source was Sir James Mackintosh*, related that

he first wanted to challenge the [former] attorney-general [Sir Charles Wetherell*] and then to challenge the Speaker - with the whole House at his [the Speaker’s] back! The House resolved to hear him with the utmost patience and cold silence. He felt this ... O’Gorman [Mahon] felt that he was undone when he had [been] heard out and expressed this as he left.50

Edward Smith Stanley, the Irish secretary, considered that by disgusting the Commons he had played into ministers’ hands: ‘The repealers got a complete set down, and Mr. O’Gorman Mahon is gone. The general opinion is that he is quite mad’.51 Although a relative reported to him from Dublin that ‘the honest anti-Unionists (with scarce one exception) highly approve of it and the public in general admire the matters of fact it exposes so manfully’, even he warned that it had been counterproductive in that an idle rumour had circulated that O’Connell had been constrained to plead guilty on 12 Feb. 1831, ‘in consequence of the O’G. M.’s speech, which they say was calculated to injure him in the minds of the court and jury’.52 He was privy to attempts by Ellen Courtenay to expose O’Connell’s alleged mistreatment of her, but it is not clear that he took any part in the unsuccessful endeavour to smear O’Connell over it at this time.53

In the Commons, where his appetite for controversy was unabated, he resumed his attack on Shaw, 10 Feb., and raised matters of Dublin concern, 14, 17 Feb. 1831. He created uproar, 11 Feb., by accusing ministers of sanctioning bloodshed in the suppression of repeal demonstrations and was again called to order by the Speaker. He condemned the legal proceedings against O’Connell that day and on the 14th, when he objected to increased taxes, denied that English Members took any interest in Irish questions and complained about being interrupted. He supported attempts to raise the issue of Irish distress, 16, 18 Feb. On the 17th, when he advocated Jewish emancipation, he insisted on dividing the House on Lord Ebrington’s censure motion about the Bridport election (it was lost by 55-38). He made a furious attack on Sir James Graham, the first lord of the admiralty, 18 Feb., for diverting attention from what he saw as the government’s poor record by making an easy hit against Irish demagogues who supposedly favoured the dismemberment of the empire; amid derisory laughter, he called on Graham to name names and declared that he would never give up the struggle for repeal. He privately demanded an explanation from, but did not in the end fight, Graham, who on the 21st shabbily stated that he had had O’Connell in mind; by this he was considered to have put himself needlessly in the wrong, as he had clearly intended the remark to apply to the O’Gorman Mahon, whom Thomas Gladstone* called ‘a wild, turbulent fellow’.54 He was in the minority of six for Hume’s amendment to reduce the army by 10,000 men, 21 Feb., and was presumably the solitary voter in the minority of one for Ruthven’s bill to relieve Irish smallholders of the potato tithe, on which he made the House divide, 22 Feb. He criticized the expenditure on the Kildare Place Society and other such grants, given that the engagements made at the Union had still not been met, 23 Feb., when he again lost his temper at being impeded from pursuing matters of Irish concern. Damning both government and O’Connell for hypocrisy in denying that they had compromised over his trial, 28 Feb. 1831, he assailed the former for prohibiting peaceable gatherings and praised the latter for furthering the cause of repeal. James Joseph Hope Vere* reported that day that the O’Gorman Mahon and the lord advocate Jeffrey ‘are similar in one respect - the talent of speaking a cataract of words’.55

To the disappointment of Mary O’Connell, who commented that ‘now he has taken the honest side, I should regret his losing his seat’, and of her husband, who remarked that ‘at present it would be a triumph to our enemies that he should be turned out’, the O’Gorman Mahon was unseated, 4 Mar. 1831.56 In Tom Macaulay’s* words:

O’Gorman [Mahon] fell greatly. Caesar in the senate did not die with more attention to the proprieties of character. He came to hear, what few people care to hear, his own sentence read at the bar by the chairman of the committee. To make the matter better he was expelled for bribery by his agents. The fellow sat on the treasury bench, heard the report and never stirred. ‘Sir’, said the Speaker, ‘you must withdraw’. Up he got and swaggered off as fast as he could with his acre of ruff and his three bushels of dirty hair.57

Despite being short of money, the O’Gorman Mahon, who was incapacitated from standing again during that Parliament, announced that his brother William Richard Mahon would offer for Clare at the ensuing by-election as his locum. O’Connell, who privately confided to his wife that he ‘is not to be relied on and his absence from the House is not a subject of regret’, hesitated to start his son Maurice against his erstwhile friend’s interest, but the O’Gorman Mahon, lacking popularity and resources, capitulated and supported the young O’Connell’s successful candidacy on the hustings, 21 Mar. 1831.58 He was advised by one supporter in Ennis to show more deference to respectable opinion and to liquidate his ‘nasty election debts’ in order to secure his success at the general election that spring, when he offered again and wrote confidently to his sister-in-law Kate O’Brien that ‘you need have no doubt of my return, no matter what you hear. Do not mind what you see in the rascally papers. We will beat them, the whole county is with me!’59 By this he was probably referring to the allegations, which involved him in a quarrel with Steele, that he was using the agrarian rioters known as Terry Alts to intimidate voters in his favour. O’Connell, who was bent on removing him from the scene, gleefully informed on the O’Gorman Mahon, who was said to be in hopes of fermenting a revolution so as to prove himself another Lafayette, to Smith Stanley.60 He in turn reported to Lord Grey, who was frustrated that it in fact led to nothing, that O’Connell ‘distinctly declares that he [the O’Gorman Mahon] is at the head of the whole insurrectionary movement in Clare, and he has offered most respectable evidence to convict him of spoken treason’.61 On the hustings, he justified his early absences from the Commons and attacked the editor of the O’Connellite Pilot newspaper, 13 May 1831, but he trailed throughout the poll, which he kept open as long as possible, apparently in order to exploit his various nefarious electoral practices. He finally accepted defeat on the 19th, when he complained of being ill rewarded for his significant contribution to O’Connell’s former victory there. His vituperative personal abuse of Macnamara nearly ended in a challenge, while his brother William came close to fighting the other re-elected Member Maurice O’Connell. He only escaped from an ugly mob in Limerick through O’Connell’s intervention a few days later, and in July he was forced to respond to a virulent printed attack by Steele over his supposed conduct at the election.62

The O’Gorman Mahon created a frightful scene at the county Dublin reform meeting in December 1831, when he was flung out of the room and prosecuted by O’Connell’s son-in-law Christopher Fitzsimon†, and he continued to be involved in judicial disputes and the subject of the O’Connells’ displeasure for several years.63 He had been invited by Hunt to stand for Preston in 1831, but nothing came of that then (or later), nor does it appear that he pursued a requisition the following year to offer for the newly enfranchised borough of Oldham, where William Cobbett† was returned. It was thought that he would stand as a Repealer for Clare at the general election of 1832, but O’Connell kept him out.64 Two years later Lady Glengall reported to Wellington, the acting chief minister in Peel’s putative administration, that the O’Gorman Mahon, who desired a seat as a supporter of government, ‘is O’Connell’s furious enemy and only wants to get into Parliament to fly at him for his monstrous conduct in trying to have him arrested as a Terry Alt’, although she added that he intended to advocate repeal of the Union and was untrustworthy.65 In May 1835 Robert Graham of Redgorton recorded of the O’Gorman Mahon, ‘a hot, lively, pugilistic kind of fellow’, that he, now a Liberal, ‘was originally closely connected with O’Connell, but was not subservient enough to continue of the Tail and at the last [sic] election, O’Connell supported one of his own sons against O’Gorman Mahon and threw him out’.66

Later that year he began to travel in Europe and visited several other continents, but he sat for Ennis as a repealer in the 1847 Parliament. After another period in Paris, where he was a journalist and financial speculator, he resumed his quixotic adventures abroad in the 1850s and 1860s; among other tales that he later told, he supposedly served as a lieutenant in the tsar of Russia’s bodyguard, as a general in the government forces in Uruguay, as a commander of a Chilean fleet, as a colonel under the emperor of Brazil and as an officer on the Union side in the American civil war. His always tottering financial situation had collapsed by 1872, but he re-entered Parliament as Home Rule Member for Clare in 1879, acting with Charles Stewart Parnell†, to whom he delivered O’Shea’s challenge in 1881.67 He was the original of ‘the Mulligan’ in Thackeray’s Mrs. Perkins’ Ball (1881). Alluding to his reputation as a duellist, William Ewart Gladstone† wrote of him in 1889 that the ‘Commons is now familiar with the stately figure of an Irish gentleman advanced in life, who carries with him the halo of an extraordinary reputation in that particular, but who is conspicuous among all his contemporaries for his singularly beautiful and gentle manners’.68 As Member for county Carlow, he was, after the death of Christopher Rice Mansel Talbot* in 1890, the last surviving Member of the unreformed House to hold a seat in the Commons, although several others outlived him, including the longest survivor of all, John Charles George Savile, Viscount Pollington (the 4th earl of Mexborough). He died in June 1891, a throwback to an imagined ideal of Irish chieftainship.69

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Stephen Farrell

Notes

Denis Gwynn, The O’Gorman Mahon: Duellist, Adventurer and Politician (1934), the only biography, is inaccurate, ramshackle, repetitive and unsatisfactory.

  • 1. Authorities vary, though most (following Gwynn, 34-35) give ?1800 (e.g. Oxford DNB); but King’s Inns Admission Pprs. ed. E. Keane, P. B. Phair and T. U. Sadleir, 323, states 1802, which is confirmed by Al. Dub. 548, where it is noted that he was admitted to Trinity, aged 16, 1 Mar. 1819.
  • 2. E. MacLysaght, Irish Fams. 217-18; NLI, O’Gorman Mahon coll. 8491 (5), ped.
  • 3. P. White, Hist. Clare, 335-6; H. Weir, Houses of Clare, 209, 249; Gwynn, 31-34; Gladstone Autobiog. Memoranda ed. J. Brooke and M. Sorenson, 38.
  • 4. O’Connell Corresp. ii. 640, 643; P. Costello, Clongowes Wood, 80. See n. 2.
  • 5. Gwynn, 9, 13, 31, 34.
  • 6. Ibid. 7-8, 36, 109; J. Kelly, ‘That Damn’d Thing Called Honour’, 254, 263-4.
  • 7. Stirling, Coke of Norf., 301-2.
  • 8. Oxford DNB; O’Connell Corresp. i. 310, 342; iii. 1107.
  • 9. O’Connell Corresp. iii. 1236; Dublin Evening Post, 8 Dec. 1825; O. MacDonagh, Hereditary Bondsman, 223.
  • 10. Dublin Evening Post, 22, 29 June, 18 July, 15 Aug.; Morning Reg. 1 July 1826.
  • 11. Dublin Evening Post, 15 Mar., 7 July 1827, 10, 15, 19, 26 Jan. 1828.
  • 12. Dublin Evening Post, 19, 26, 28 June, 1 July; The Times, 27, 28 June; Add. 40334, f. 211; 51567, Anglesey to Holland, 1 July 1828; Gwynn, 40-46.
  • 13. Dublin Evening Post, 3, 5, 8 July 1828; R. L. Sheil, Sketches of Irish Bar (1854), ii. 284-7; Gwynn, 21-30.
  • 14. H. R. Addison, Recollections of Irish Police Magistrate, 65, 70-73.
  • 15. Sheil, ii. 274-5.
  • 16. Gwynn, 58-61.
  • 17. PRO NI, Anglesey mss D619/32A/2/87; Add. 40325, f. 127.
  • 18. Dublin Evening Post, 2, 26 Aug., 16 Sept., 11 Oct.; Dublin Evening Mail, 22, 24, 27 Oct. 1828; Wellington mss WP1/961/27; 965/15.
  • 19. Tour by a German Prince, ii. 131; NLI, Stacpoole Kenny mss 18889 (12), W. to J. Macnamara, 10 Dec. 1828.
  • 20. Dublin Evening Mail, 8 Dec. 1828; Anglesey mss 32A/2/153, 159, 160; Wellington mss WP1/966/13; 968/14, 18, 26, 31; 969/7, 11; Gwynn, 63-71, 74.
  • 21. Dublin Evening Post, 10, 12 Feb. 1829.
  • 22. Broughton, Recollections, iii. 306.
  • 23. O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1533, 1536.
  • 24. M.D. Jephson, Anglo-Irish Misc. 186.
  • 25. O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1585.
  • 26. Gwynn, 83-84, 97-101.
  • 27. Ibid. 85-94; Clare Jnl. 6, 9, 13 July 1829; NLI, Smith O’Brien mss 426/39.
  • 28. Dublin Evening Post, 1 Aug., 10, 17 Sept. 1829.
  • 29. O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1601.
  • 30. NLI, Monteagle mss 549, Rice to Vesey Fitzgerald, 23 Sept.; Clare Jnl. 1, 5 Oct. 1829.
  • 31. Anglesey mss 32A/3/1/254; Gwynn, 110-11; O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1624.
  • 32. O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1550a, 1629, 1642, 1668, 1670, 1678; Gwynn, 110.
  • 33. Add. 40338, f. 207.
  • 34. NAI, Leveson Gower letter bks. Leveson Gower to Hart, 7 July 1830.
  • 35. Dublin Evening Post, 13 May, 10 June, 8 July 1830; O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1679, 1687.
  • 36. Add. 40338, f. 209.
  • 37. Clare Jnl. 15, 19, 22, 29 July 1830; W. Fagan, Life and Times of O’Connell, ii. 49; Gwynn, 112-15; O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1696; viii. 3420.
  • 38. Clare Jnl. 5, 12, 19 Aug., 2, 30 Sept. 1830; Gwynn, 115-19.
  • 39. Stacpoole Kenny mss 18891 (10), Woulfe to Macnamara, 7 Sept. 1830; Gwynn, 120-6.
  • 40. Dublin Evening Post, 16, 19 Sept. 1830; Arbuthnot Corresp. 139.
  • 41. Clare Jnl. 30 Sept., 4, 11 Oct. 1830; Gwynn, 140-2.
  • 42. Clare Jnl. 14 Oct. 1830; Gwynn, 120.
  • 43. Stacpoole Kenny mss 18889 (15).
  • 44. Clare Jnl. 25 Nov., 2 Dec. 1830; Gwynn, 119-20, 133-7.
  • 45. Stacpoole Kenny mss 18889 (15), W. to J. Macnamara, 15 Dec. 1830.
  • 46. Clare Jnl. 10, 31 Jan. 1831.
  • 47. Anglesey mss 29B, pp. 49-51.
  • 48. Dorset RO, Bankes mss D/BKL, Bankes jnl. Feb. 1831; Broughton, iv. 83; Three Diaries, 48.
  • 49. Hants RO, Carnarvon mss 75M91, Howard to Lady Porchester, 16 Feb. 1831; O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1766; Moore Jnl. iv. 1384; Unrepentant Tory ed. R.A. Gaunt, 138.
  • 50. Edgeworth Letters, 480.
  • 51. Anglesey mss 31D/15, 18.
  • 52. O’Gorman Mahon coll. 8491 (8), Vance to O’Gorman Mahon, 14 Feb. 1831.
  • 53. Gwynn, 127-32.
  • 54. St. Deiniol’s Lib. Glynne-Gladstone mss 197, T. to J. Gladstone, 19, 22, 23 Feb.; Clare Jnl. 28 Feb. 1831; Three Diaries, 56, 58.
  • 55. Hopetoun mss 167, f. 222.
  • 56. ‘My Darling Danny’ ed. E.I. Bishop, 45; O’Connell Corresp. viii. 3424.
  • 57. Macaulay Letters, ii. 6-7; M.D. George, Cat. of Pol. and Personal Satires, xi. 16628.
  • 58. O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1780-2, 1787; Stacpoole Kenny mss 18889 (16), W. to J. Macnamara, 2 Mar.; Derby mss 920 Der (14) 121/1/2, Gosset to Smith Stanley, 10 Mar.; Clare Jnl. 10, 17, 21 Mar. 1831.
  • 59. Gwynn, 135, 143-6; Clare Jnl. 2 May 1831.
  • 60. Derby mss 121/2, Gosset to Smith Stanley, 28 Apr.; 125/12, O’Connell to Gosset, 6 May; Clare Jnl. 9 May 1831; O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1800, 1808-9.
  • 61. Grey mss, Smith Stanley to Grey, 9, 14 May; Derby mss 117/5, replies, 11, 18 May 1831.