Charles Kickham
Charles Joseph Kickham was an Irish
Irish people
The Irish people are an ethnic group who originate in Ireland, an island in northwestern Europe. Ireland has been populated for around 9,000 years , with the Irish people's earliest ancestors recorded having legends of being descended from groups such as the Nemedians, Fomorians, Fir Bolg, Tuatha...

 revolutionary, novelist, poet, journalist and one of the most prominent members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood
Irish Republican Brotherhood
The Irish Republican Brotherhood was a secret oath-bound fraternal organisation dedicated to the establishment of an "independent democratic republic" in Ireland during the second half of the 19th century and the start of the 20th century...


Early life

Charles Kickham was born at Mullinahone
Mullinahone is a village in the barony of Slievardagh, South Tipperary in Ireland. It is also a parish in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cashel and Emly.The Irish Census of 2006 recorded the village as having a population of 372.-Location and access:...

, County Tipperary
County Tipperary
County Tipperary is a county of Ireland. It is located in the province of Munster and is named after the town of Tipperary. The area of the county does not have a single local authority; local government is split between two authorities. In North Tipperary, part of the Mid-West Region, local...

, on 9 May 1828. His father John Kickham was proprietor of the principal drapery in the locality, and was held in high esteem for his patriotic spirit. His mother, Anne O'Mahony, was related to the Fenian leader John O'Mahony
John O'Mahony
John O'Mahony may refer to:*John O'Mahony , founder of the Irish Republican Brotherhood *John O'Mahony , Irish Fine Gael politician representing Mayo and twice an All-Ireland winner managing the Galway Football Team*Sean Matgamna , also known as John O'Mahony, Trotskyist theorist*Seán O'Mahony ,...

. Charles Kickham grew up largely deaf and almost blind, the result of an explosion with a powder flask when he was 13. He was educated locally, where it was intended he study for the medical profession.
During his boyhood the Repeal agitation was at its height, and he soon became versed in its arguments, and was inspired by its principles. He often heard the issues discussed in his father’s shop and at home amongst all his friends and acquaintances.

The Nation

From a young age he was imbued with these patriotic ideals. He became acquainted with the teaching of the Young Irelanders through their newspaper The Nation
The Nation (Irish newspaper)
The Nation was an Irish nationalist weekly newspaper, published in the 19th century. The Nation was printed first at 12 Trinity Street, Dublin, on 15 October 1842, until 6 January 1844...

 from its foundation in October, 1842. Kickham’s father used to read the paper aloud every week for the family. This reading would include the speeches in Reconciliation Hall (home of the Repeal Association
Repeal Association
The Repeal Association was an Irish mass membership political movement set up by Daniel O'Connell to campaign for a repeal of the Act of Union of 1800 between Great Britain and Ireland....

) and reports on Repeal meetings in the provinces. Also of interest was the lead articles and literary pages, including, the "Poet’s Corner." Like all the young people of the time, and a great many of the old ones, according to Seán Ua Ceallaigh, his sympathies went with the Young Irelanders on their secession from the Repeal Association.

Kickham contributed, when he was 22 year old, "The Harvest Moon" sung to the air of "The Young May Moon," to The Nation on 17 August 1850. Other verses were to follow, but the finest of Kickham’s poems according to A. M. O’Sullivan, appeared in other journals. "Rory of the Hill," "The Irish Peasant Girl," and "Home Longings" better known as "Slievenamon" were published in the Celt. "The First Felon" (John Mitchel
John Mitchel
John Mitchel was an Irish nationalist activist, solicitor and political journalist. Born in Camnish, near Dungiven, County Londonderry, Ireland he became a leading member of both Young Ireland and the Irish Confederation...

) appeared in the Irishman. "Patrick Sheehan
Glen of Aherlow (song)
The Glen of Aherlow is a traditional Irish song which originated as a ballad written by Irish republican Charles Joseph Kickham...

," the story of an old soldier, was published in the Kilkenny Journal, and became very popular as an anti-recruiting song, according to O’Sullivan.

Kickham began to write for a number of papers, including The Nation, but also the Celt, the Irishman, the Shamrock, and would become one of the leader writers on the Irish People, the Fenian
Irish Republican Brotherhood
The Irish Republican Brotherhood was a secret oath-bound fraternal organisation dedicated to the establishment of an "independent democratic republic" in Ireland during the second half of the 19th century and the start of the 20th century...

 organ, in which many of his poems appeared. His writings were signed using his initials, his full name, or the pseudonyms, "Slievenamon" and "Momonia."

1848 Rebellion

Kickham was the leading member of the Confederation Club in Mullinahone, which he was instrumental in founding, and when the revolutionary spirit began to grip the people in 1848 turned out with a freshly made pike to join William Smith O'Brien
William Smith O'Brien
William Smith O'Brien was an Irish Nationalist and Member of Parliament and leader of the Young Ireland movement. He was convicted of sedition for his part in the Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848, but his sentence of death was commuted to deportation to Van Diemen's Land. In 1854, he was...

 and John Blake Dillon
John Blake Dillon
John Blake Dillon was an Irish writer and Politician who was one of the founding members of the Young Ireland movement....

 when they arrived in Mullinahone in July 1848
Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848
The Young Irelander Rebellion was a failed Irish nationalist uprising led by the Young Ireland movement. It took place on 29 July 1848 in the village of Ballingarry, County Tipperary. After being chased by a force of Young Irelanders and their supporters, an Irish Constabulary unit raided a house...

. On hearing of the progress of O’Brien through the country, Kickham had set to work manufacturing pikes, and was in the forge when news reached him that the leaders were looking for him. It was here that Kickham would meet James Stephens
James Stephens (Irish nationalist)
James Stephens was an Irish Republican and the founding member of an originally unnamed revolutionary organisation in Dublin on 17 March 1858, later to become known as the Irish Republican Brotherhood , also referred to as the Irish Revolutionary Brotherhood by contemporaries.-Early...

 for the first time. At O’Brien’s request, he rang the chapel bell to summon the people and before midnight a Brigade had answered the summons. Kickham would later write a detailed account about this period which brought his connection with the attempted Rising of 1848 to a close.

Irish Republican Brotherhood

After the failure at Ballingarry he had to conceal himself for some time, as a result of the part he had played in rousing the people of his native village to action. When the excitement had subsided, he returned to his father’s house, and resumed his interests in the sports of fishing and fowling, and spent much of his time in literary pursuits, for which he had great natural capacity and all the more inclined as a result of the accident. Some of the authors in which he was well versed were Tennyson and Dickens and he greatly admired George Eliot, and after Shakespeare, was Burns.
In the autumn of 1857, a messenger, Owen Considine arrived from New York with a message for James Stephens from members of the Emmet Monument Association, calling on him to get up an organization in Ireland. On the 23 December Stephens dispatched Joseph Denieffe to America with his reply, and outlined his conditions and his requirements from the organisation in America. Denieffe returned on 17 March (St. Patrick's Day) 1858 with the acceptance of Stephens' terms and £80. That evening the Irish Republican Brotherhood commenced. Those present in Langan's, lathe-maker and timber merchant, 16 Lombard Street, for that first meeting were Stephens, Kickham, Thomas Clarke Luby, Peter Langan, Denieffe and Garrett O'Shaughnessy. Later it would include members of the Phoenix National and Literary Society, which was formed in 1856 by Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa
Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa
Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa , was an Irish Fenian leader and prominent member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood. His life as an Irish Fenian is well documented but he is perhaps known best in death for the graveside oration given at his funeral by Pádraig Pearse.-Life in Ireland:He was born at...

 in Skibbereen
Skibbereen , is a town in County Cork, Ireland. It is the most southerly town in Ireland. It is located on the N71 national secondary road.The name "Skibbereen" means "little boat harbour." The River Ilen which runs through the town reaches the sea at Baltimore.-History:Prior to 1600 most of the...


Irish People

In mid 1863 Stephens informed his colleagues he wished to start a newspaper, with financial aid from O’Mahony and the Fenian Brotherhood
Fenian Brotherhood
The Fenian Brotherhood was an Irish republican organization founded in the United States in 1858 by John O'Mahony and Michael Doheny. It was a precursor to Clan na Gael, a sister organization to the Irish Republican Brotherhood. Members were commonly known as "Fenians"...

 in America. The offices were established at 12 Parliament Street, almost at the gates of Dublin Castle. The first number of the Irish People appeared on 28 November 1863. The staff of the paper along with Kickham were Luby and Denis Dowling Mulcahy
Denis Dowling Mulcahy
Denis Dowling Mulcahy was a leading member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood and a medical doctor.He was born in Redmondstown, County Tipperary, Ireland and later lived at Powerstown, near Clonmel....

 as the editorial staff. O’Donovan Rossa and James O’Connor had charge of the business office, with John Haltigan being the printer. John O'Leary was brought from London to take charge in the role of Editor. Shortly after the establishment of the paper, Stephens departed on an America tour, and to attend to organizational matters. Before leaving, he entrusted to Luby a document containing secret resolutions on the Committee of Organization or Executive of the IRB. Though Luby intimated its existence to O’Leary, he did not inform Kickham as there seemed no necessity. This document would later form the basis of the prosecution against the staff of the Irish People. The document read:

Kickham’s first contribution to the Irish People appeared in the third number titled, “Leaves from a Journal,” based on a journal kept by Kickham on his way to America in 1863. This article left no doubt as to his literary capacity according to O’Leary. The third edition also saw the last article by Stephens titled “Felon-setting” a much used phrase now to the Irish political vocabulary.
It would fall to Kickham, as a good Catholic to tackle the priests, though not exclusively with articles such as “Two Sets of Principles,” a rebuff to the doctrines laid down by Lord Carlisle, and “A Retrospect” dealing with the tenant-right
Tenant-right is a term in the common law system expressing the right to compensation which a tenant has, either by custom or by law, against his landlord for improvements at the termination of his tenancy....

 movement chiefly but also the events of the recent past and their bearing on the present. Kickham would articulate the attitude held by the IRB in relation to priests, or more particularly in politics:
On the 15 July 1865 American made plans for a rising in Ireland were discovered when the emissary lost them at Kingstown railway station. They found their way to Dublin Castle and to Superintendent Daniel Ryan head of G Division. Ryan had an informer within the offices of the Irish People named Pierce Nagle, he supplied Ryan with an “action this year” message on its way to the IRB unit in Tipperary. With this information, Ryan raided the offices of the Irish People on Thursday 15 September, followed by the arrests of O’Leary, Luby and O’Donovan Rossa. Kickham was caught after a month on the run. Stephens would also be caught but with the support of Fenian prison warders, John J. Breslin and Daniel Byrne was less than a fortnight in Richmond Bridewell when he vanished and escaped to France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

. The last number of the paper is dated 16 September 1865.

Trial and Sentence

On 11 November 1865, Kickham was sentenced to fourteen years’ penal servitude. The prisoners’ refusal to disown their opposition to British rule in any way, even when facing charges of life-imprisonment, earned them the nickname of ‘the bold Fenian men’. In the course of his speech from the Dock Kickham was to say:
Quoting then from Thomas Davis
Thomas Osborne Davis (Irish politician)
Thomas Osborne Davis was a revolutionary Irish writer who was the chief organizer and poet of the Young Ireland movement.-Early life:...

 Kickham continued:
The judge William Keogh
William Keogh
William Keogh PC was an unpopular and controversial Irish politician and judge, whose name became a byword for betraying one's political principles.- Background :...

, before passing sentence asked him if he had any further remarks to make in reference to his case. Mr. Kickham briefly replied: "I believe, my lords, I have said enough already. I will only add that I am convicted for doing nothing but my duty. I have endeavoured to serve Ireland, and now I am prepared to suffer for Ireland." Then the judge with many expressions of sympathy for the prisoner, and many compliments in reference to his intellectual attainments, sentenced him to be kept in penal servitude for fourteen years.

Released under partial amnesty of March, 1869, because of ill-health, and upon his release Kickham was made Chairman of the Supreme Council of the I.R.B. and, according to Devoy, ‘the unchallenged leader’ of the reorganized movement. According to Desmond Ryan, Kickham was an effective orator and chairman of meetings despite his physical handicaps, he wore an ear trumpet, and could only read when he held books or papers within a few inches of his eyes. Kickham for many years carried on conversations by means of the deaf and dumb alphabet.


Charles Kickham was the author of three well-known stories, dealing sympathetically with Irish life and manners and the simple faith, the joys and sorrows, the quaint customs and the insuppressible humour of the peasantry. “Knocknagow,” or “The Homes of Tipperary,” one of the finest tales of peasant life ever written, suggests O’Sullivan. “Sally Cavanagh,” or “The Untenanted Graves,” a touching story illustrating the evils of landlordism and emigration; and “For the Old Land,” dealing with the fortunes of a small farmer’s family, with its lights and shades.

John O’Leary was to say of Kickham in his Recollections of Fenians and Fenianism:
John Devoy called him “the finest intellect in the Fenian movement, either in Ireland or in America.”

Charles Kickham died on 22 August 1882, in his 54th year. He died at the house of James O’Connor
James O'Connor (Irish politician)
James O'Connor was an Irish journalist and nationalist politician who sat in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom as a Member of Parliament from 1892 to 1910, first for the anti-Parnellite Irish National Federation and then for the re-united Irish Parliamentary Party .He was born in the...

 (a former member of the IRB and afterwards M.P. for Wicklow) 2 Montpelier Place, Blackrock, Dublin, where he had been living for many years, and had been cared for by the poet Rose Kavanagh
Rose Kavanagh
Rose Kavanagh was an Irish editor, writer and poet.Rose Kavanagh was born at Killadroy, in County Tyrone. When she was eleven years old, her family settled at Mullaghmore, near Augher. She was educated chiefly at Loreto Convent, Omagh. She first wanted to become a painter, and she began studying...

. He was buried in Mullinahone, Co. Tipperary.


  • Dr. Mark F. Ryan,Fenian Memories, Edited by T.F. O'Sullivan, M. H. Gill & Son, LTD, Dublin, 1945
  • John O'Leary, Recollections of Fenians and Fenianism, Downey & Co., Ltd, London, 1896 (Vol. I & II)
  • Leon Ó Broin, Fenian Fever: An Anglo-American Delemma, Chatto & Windus, London, 1971, ISBN 0-7011-1749-4.
  • Ryan, Desmond. The Fenian Chief: A Biography of James Stephens, Hely Thom LTD, Dublin, 1967
  • Four Years of Irish History 1845-1849, Sir Charles Gavan Duffy, Cassell, Petter, Galpin & Co. 1888.
  • Christy Campbell, Fenian Fire: The British Government Plot to Assassinate Queen Victoria, HarperCollins, London, 2002, ISBN 0-00-710483-9
  • Owen McGee, The IRB: The Irish Republican Brotherhood from The Land League to Sinn Féin, Four Courts Press, 2005, ISBN 1-85182-972-5
  • Speeches From the Dock, or Protests of Irish Patriotism, by Seán Ua Cellaigh, Dublin, 1953

External references

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