Biography

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Charles James Patrick Mahon, better known as the O'Gorman Mahon (1800-1891)

This article was written byFrederic William Whyte and was published in 1893


Charles James Patrick Mahon, better known as the O'Gorman Mahon, Irish politician, was born at Ennis, co. Clare, on 17 March 1800. His father, Patrick Mahon, had taken part in the rebellious movements of 1798 [ now better known as the 1789 Rising]. His mother was the daughter of James O'Gorman of Ennis. Educated at a small clerical school in Dublin, and afterwards at Trinity College, where he matriculated in 1819 and graduated M.A. in 1826, The O'Gorman Mahon had barely attained his majority when in 1821, upon his father's death, he became a J.P. for co. Clare. A boldness of demeanour, rare in those days among Roman catholics, combined with a singularly handsome face and imposing stature to attract attention to him as a young man.

Before 1826 he had become acquainted with O'Connell's famous lieutenant, Tom Steele, who introduced him to the Catholic Association, of which he soon became a member. He was one of the first to impress upon O'Connell the desirability of wresting Clare from William Vesey Fitzgerald on the latter's accepting office as president of the board of trade in the Duke of Wellington's administration in 1828, and, as soon as O'Connell had decided on the struggle, Mahon spared no pains to secure his victory. Not content with ordinary electioneering tactics, he exploited to the full the eccentric resources of his own picturesque personality. On the opening of the polling in the court-house, he suspended himself from a gallery over the heads of the gaping crowd below, attired in an extravagant national costume, and with a medal of the ‘Order of the Liberators’ on his breast. In a whimsical speech he declined to obey the high sheriff's direction that he should remove the badge. O'Connell was returned triumphantly at the head of the poll, 5 July 1828. On 17 August 1830 he was himself elected M.P. for Clare along with Major William Nugent INamara, but was unseated on petition on a charge of bribery. Next year this place was filled by Maurice O'Connell. In the following general election in May 1831 The O'Gorman once more appeared as candidate in opposition to Major INamara, in whose interest O'Connell threw his influence. The O'Gorman was defeated, and the contest, which was conducted with some bitterness, resulted in a quarrel, never healed, between him and O'Connell. He now took up his residence at Mahonburgh, became a D.L. for his county, and a captain in the West Clare militia.

In 1834 he was called to the Dublin bar, but did not practise, and in 1835 he set out on foreign travel. Paris was his first destination, and there he made the acquaintance of Talleyrand, and became a favourite at the court of Louis-Philippe. From Paris he proceeded to one European capital after another; and he travelled in Africa and the East, and was for a short time in South America before he returned to Ireland in 1846. He represented Ennis in parliament from 1847 until 1852, when on again offering himself as candidate he was defeated by Lord Fitzgerald.

The following years also were devoted to foreign travel. At Paris he interested himself in financial, literary, and journalistic projects, and proceeding thence to St. Petersburg he attracted the notice of the czar, who appointed him a lieutenant in his international bodyguard. Subsequently he hunted bears in Finland with the czarevitch, fought against the Tartars, travelled in China and India, and served under the Turkish and Austrian flags. About 1862 he returned to Paris, and afterwards made his way to South America. He served as general under the government during the civil war in Uruguay, had command of a Chilian fleet in the war with Spain, held the post of colonel under the emperor of Brazil, and took part in the American war on the side of the north. On returning once more to Paris, in 1866, he obtained a colonelcy in a regiment of chasseurs from Louis Napoleon, but, always restless, proceeded in 1867 to Berlin, where he became intimate with Bismarck and the crown prince, and mixed much in society.

He reappeared in Ireland in 1871, and took part in the home rule conference of 1873. As a supporter of Charles Stewart Parnell he was in 1879 elected member for Clare, and was re-elected in 1880. In June 1887, after two years' absence from parliament, he was returned for Carlow, and that constituency he continued to represent until his death in Sidney Street, Chelsea, London, on 15 June 1891. In spite of his great age he retained all his faculties to the end, and his last public act was to repudiate Mr. Parnell, of whose treachery to the Irish cause he was convinced. He was buried in Glasnevin cemetery, within the O'Connell circle, on 21 June 1891.

The O'Gorman married in 1830 Christina, daughter of John O'Brien of Dublin, and had an only son, St. John, whose death on 22 Sept. 1883 was perhaps the greatest affliction of his life.

The O'Gorman Mahon was one of the last of the old race of dare-devil Irish gentlemen, and was more in his element upon the famous ‘fifteen acres’ than on the floor of the House of Commons. He fought thirteen duels in all; in how many the result proved fatal is not known. One of his duelling pistols bears two notches that seem significant, but he was able to say that he had never done anything to provoke a challenge; and to his gentleness of demeanour, in times of peace, all who knew him have borne testimony.


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