John Banim
John Banim was an Irish
Ireland is an island to the northwest of continental Europe. It is the third-largest island in Europe and the twentieth-largest island on Earth...

 novelist, short story writer, dramatist, poet and essayist, sometimes called the "Scott of Ireland." He also studied art, working as a painter of minatures and portraits, and as a drawing teacher, before dedicating himself to literature.

Early life

John Banim was born in Kilkenny
Kilkenny is a city and is the county town of the eponymous County Kilkenny in Ireland. It is situated on both banks of the River Nore in the province of Leinster, in the south-east of Ireland...

. At the age of four he was sent to a local school where he was taught the basics of reading and grammar. He was removed from this school at age five and sent to the English Academy at Kilkenny where his older brother Michael
Michael Banim
-Works:He assisted John in the O'Hara Tales, where he used the name "Abel O'Hara," and there is difficulty in allocating their respective contributions. While John was the more experienced writer, Michael provided material based on his social observations...

 (1796–1874) was a student. An account of this school is given in the novel Father Connell. After five years at the English Academy, John was sent to a seminary run by the Rev. Magrath, considered to be the finest Roman Catholic school in Ireland, where he remained for a year before being sent to another academy run by a well-known teacher named Terence Doyle. Throughout his school years he read avidly and wrote his own stories and poems. As a boy he came up with a birthday tradition where he would gather all of his writings of the previous year, re-read them critically, and then burn the ones he found lacking.

When he was ten, John visited the home of the poet Thomas Moore
Thomas Moore
Thomas Moore was an Irish poet, singer, songwriter, and entertainer, now best remembered for the lyrics of The Minstrel Boy and The Last Rose of Summer. He was responsible, with John Murray, for burning Lord Byron's memoirs after his death...

, bringing along some of his own poetry in manuscript. Moore encouraged John in his writing and gave him a season ticket to his private theatre in Kilkenny, where Moore himself was performing at the time. In his thirteenth year he entered Kilkenny College
Kilkenny College
Kilkenny College or KCK is a co-educational secondary school located in Kilkenny, in the South-East of Ireland. It is a private school which caters for both boarders and day students. It is the largest co-educational boarding school in Ireland...

 and devoted himself specially to drawing and miniature painting. He pursued his artistic education for two years in the schools of the Royal Dublin Society
Royal Dublin Society
The Royal Dublin Society was founded on 25 June 1731 to "to promote and develop agriculture, arts, industry, and science in Ireland". The RDS is synonymous with its main premises in Ballsbridge in Dublin, Ireland...

, and afterwards taught drawing in Kilkenny
Kilkenny is a city and is the county town of the eponymous County Kilkenny in Ireland. It is situated on both banks of the River Nore in the province of Leinster, in the south-east of Ireland...

, where he fell in love with one of his pupils, a girl of seventeen named Anne. His affection was returned, but the parents of the young lady interfered and removed her from Kilkenny. She pined away and died less than two months later of consumption. Her death made a deep impression on Banim, whose health suffered severely and permanently.


After spending the whole of 1818 recuperating, he spent five months living in idleness and dissipation, a choice that he soon regretted, as he began to get into debt. He then chose to return to his former industrious ways; he painted portraits and contributed to a local paper, the Leinster Gazette, of which he became the editor.

In 1820 he went to Dublin after deciding to commit himself to the work of literature. Upon his arrival in Dublin he went to meet an old student friend, the artist Thomas J. Mulvaney, who aided and advised him. At this time the Dublin artists where trying to obtain a Charter of Incorporation
A charter is the grant of authority or rights, stating that the granter formally recognizes the prerogative of the recipient to exercise the rights specified...

 and a government grant for the aid of Irish artists. Banim had become a contributor to several important Dublin newspapers in the short time that he had been in the city, and he was able to use his position with the papers to help strengthen the artists's claim in the public press. In 1820 the artists were granted their charter, and they gave an address and a considerable sum of money to Banim for his support. Much of the money he made in his early days in Dublin went to paying off his debts.

He became friends with the writer Charles Phillips
Charles Phillips (Irish barrister)
Charles Phillips was an Irish barrister and writer.Phillips was born at Sligo about 1787, was son of Charles Phillips, a councillor of the town, who was connected in some way with Goldsmith's family, was a Roman catholic, and died in 1800 . After receiving a fairly good education in Sligo from the...

, who helped him with his literary pursuits. Banim had thought of going to London, but Phillips convinced him to stay in Dublin. Phillips gave Banim advice in regard to some of his poetry and showed his early poem Ossian's Paradise to several publishers; it was published in 1821 as The Celt's Paradise. While still in manuscript the poem had been shown to Sir Walter Scott, who expressed a favorable opinion of it. After the publication of The Celt's Paradise, he focused on writing a classical tragedy. Banim's play Damon and Pythias was performed at Covent Garden
Covent Garden
Covent Garden is a district in London on the eastern fringes of the West End, between St. Martin's Lane and Drury Lane. It is associated with the former fruit and vegetable market in the central square, now a popular shopping and tourist site, and the Royal Opera House, which is also known as...

 on 28 May 1821, with William Macready as Damon and Charles Kemble
Charles Kemble
Charles Kemble was a British actor.-Life:The youngest son of Roger Kemble, and younger brother of John Philip Kemble, Stephen Kemble and Sarah Siddons, he was born at Brecon, South Wales. Like John Philip, he was educated at Douai...

 as Pythias. It was later performed at the Theatre Royal, Dublin
Theatre Royal, Dublin
At one stage in the history of the theatre in Britain and Ireland, the designation Theatre Royal or Royal Theatre was an indication that the theatre was granted a Royal Patent without which theatrical performances were illegal...


He visited Kilkenny
Kilkenny is a city and is the county town of the eponymous County Kilkenny in Ireland. It is situated on both banks of the River Nore in the province of Leinster, in the south-east of Ireland...

 at the end of 1821 where, with the help of his profits from Damon and Pythias, he was able to pay the last of his old debts. During his visit he discussed his future plans for novels and stories with his brother Michael. While in Kilkenny he lodged in the home of a close friend of his father, a man named John Ruth. He spent his days in the company of his brother and of John Ruth's three daughters. In a matter of weeks he came to love John's youngest daughter, Ellen Ruth. Before asking her to marry him, he returned to Dublin to take care of his affairs. He returned to Kilkenny in February 1822, and, after a courtship of five months, he and Ellen were married.

In 1822 he planned, in conjunction with Michael, a series of tales illustrative of Irish life, which should be for Ireland what the Waverley Novels
Waverley Novels
The Waverley Novels are a long series of books by Sir Walter Scott. For nearly a century they were among the most popular and widely-read novels in all of Europe. Because he did not publicly acknowledge authorship until 1827, they take their name from Waverley , which was the first...

 were for Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

; and the influence of his model is distinctly traceable in his writings. Another influence were the tales of everyday life by John Galt.

He then set out for London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

, where he supported himself and his wife by writing for magazines and for the stage. Their first residence was at No. 7, Amelia Place, Brompton, the former home of John Philpot Curran
John Philpot Curran
John Philpot Curran was an Irish orator, politician and wit, born in Newmarket, County Cork. He was the son of James and Sarah Curran.-Career:...

. At the end of 1822 his wife fell ill, and in November gave birth to a stillborn child. Her illness required John to do more work to meet the costs of her treatment. In 1823 John's own earlier illness returned. He was sick for several months before recovering, his finances, by that time, greatly diminished.

Unable to do much work for the weekly papers because of his illness, he began doing more work for monthly periodicals. This allowed him the time to do more carefully written and serious work. Around this time he was visited by the writer Gerald Griffin
Gerald Griffin
Gerald Griffin was an Irish novelist, poet and playwright.-Biography:He was born in Limerick, Ireland, the son of a brewer. He went to London in 1823 and became a reporter for one of the daily papers, and later turned to writing fiction...

, new to London, and in need of guidance. Banim befriended Griffin and did everything he could to assist him, helping to edit his plays and to have them submitted for production. Griffin said the following of Banim in a letter:
"What would I have done if I had not found Banim? I should never be tired of talking about and thinking of Banim. Mark me! he is a man – the only one I have met since I left Ireland, almost."

Banim published a volume of miscellaneous essays anonymously in 1824, called Revelations of the Dead Alive. He met the American author Washington Irving
Washington Irving
Washington Irving was an American author, essayist, biographer and historian of the early 19th century. He was best known for his short stories "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" and "Rip Van Winkle", both of which appear in his book The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. His historical works...

 the same year, finding him to be a good hearted and genuine man, while other literary celebrities he had met had disappointed him. The first series of Tales of the O'Hara Family appeared in April 1825, achieving immediate and decided success. One of the most powerful of them, Crohoore of the Bill Hook, was by Michael Banim. The two had worked on the Tales through correspondence during 1823-24, periodically sending each other their completed work to be read and criticized. Banim and Gerald Griffin were still close friends, despite a misunderstanding that had temporarily parted them, and Griffin was often called upon to offer criticism on the Tales.
After the publication of Tales of the O'Hara Family, John began work on a his novel The Boyne Water, a story of Protestant - Catholic
The word catholic comes from the Greek phrase , meaning "on the whole," "according to the whole" or "in general", and is a combination of the Greek words meaning "about" and meaning "whole"...

 relations during the Williamite War
Williamite war in Ireland
The Williamite War in Ireland—also called the Jacobite War in Ireland, the Williamite-Jacobite War in Ireland and in Irish as Cogadh an Dá Rí —was a conflict between Catholic King James II and Protestant King William of Orange over who would be King of England, Scotland and Ireland...

. He travelled back to Ireland, spending time in Derry
Derry or Londonderry is the second-biggest city in Northern Ireland and the fourth-biggest city on the island of Ireland. The name Derry is an anglicisation of the Irish name Doire or Doire Cholmcille meaning "oak-wood of Colmcille"...

 and Belfast
Belfast is the capital of and largest city in Northern Ireland. By population, it is the 14th biggest city in the United Kingdom and second biggest on the island of Ireland . It is the seat of the devolved government and legislative Northern Ireland Assembly...

, to do research on the novel, which was published in 1826. That same year, a second series of Tales of the O'Hara Family was published, containing the novel, The Nowlans.

Upon visiting John in London, in the summer of 1826, Michael found that his brother's illness had aged him and made him appear much older than his twenty eight years. The next effort of the "O'Hara family" was almost entirely the production of Michael. The Croppy, a Tale of 1798 (1828), a novel of the Irish Rebellion of 1798
Irish Rebellion of 1798
The Irish Rebellion of 1798 , also known as the United Irishmen Rebellion , was an uprising in 1798, lasting several months, against British rule in Ireland...

, is hardly equal to the earlier tales, though it contains some wonderfully vigorous passages. The Mayor of Windgap, and The Ghost Hunter (both by Michael Banim), The Denounced (1830) and The Smuggler (1831) followed in quick succession, and were received with considerable favour. Most of these deal with the darker and more painful phases of life, but the feeling shown in his last, Father Connell, is brighter and more tender.

In 1827 John became friends with the young writer John Sterling
John Sterling (author)
John Sterling , was a British author.He was born at Kames Castle on the Isle of Bute. He belonged to a family of Scottish origin which had settled in Ireland during the Cromwellian period...

. He accompanied Sterling on an excursion to Cambridge
University of Cambridge
The University of Cambridge is a public research university located in Cambridge, United Kingdom. It is the second-oldest university in both the United Kingdom and the English-speaking world , and the seventh-oldest globally...

, which temporarily restored Banim's health. His illness soon returned, along with consequent poverty. He continued to write, and encouraged Michael in his writing of The Croppy. In July 1827 John's second child, a daughter, was born. In 1828 John's novel The Anglo-Irish of the Nineteenth Century was published anonymously, but wasn't well received by critics or the public.

After another misunderstanding with Gerald Griffin, the two resumed their friendship through correspondence in the middle of 1828. Their friendship was of high importance to both writers, and brough them much satisfaction. During this time John and his wife lived in Eastbourne
Eastbourne is a large town and borough in East Sussex, on the south coast of England between Brighton and Hastings. The town is situated at the eastern end of the chalk South Downs alongside the high cliff at Beachy Head...

, East Sussex
East Sussex
East Sussex is a county in South East England. It is bordered by the counties of Kent, Surrey and West Sussex, and to the south by the English Channel.-History:...

, where they had moved for the sake of John's health, and then Sevenoaks
Sevenoaks is a commuter town situated on the London fringe of west Kent, England, some 20 miles south-east of Charing Cross, on one of the principal commuter rail lines from the capital...

 in Kent
Kent is a county in southeast England, and is one of the home counties. It borders East Sussex, Surrey and Greater London and has a defined boundary with Essex in the middle of the Thames Estuary. The ceremonial county boundaries of Kent include the shire county of Kent and the unitary borough of...

. In 1829 they moved to Blackheath, London
Blackheath, London
Blackheath is a district of South London, England. It is named from the large open public grassland which separates it from Greenwich to the north and Lewisham to the west...

 for business purposes.

In the Autumn of 1829, he went 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...

 on the reccommendation of his doctors. While in France he wrote The Smuggler, which went unpublished until 1831 due to a dispute with the publisher. He also submitted a novel called The Dwarf Bride for publication, but the manuscript was lost by the publisher. In June 1830 his mother passed away. John was unable to return to Kilkenny to see her due to his increasingly frail health. He continued to make something of a living contributing to periodicals and writing plays. In 1831 his first son was born. His son's birth improved John's state of mind after the death of his mother, but it also placed him in deeper financial need. In 1832 he suffered an attack of Colera
Cólera is a Brazilian punk rock band formed in October 1979 in São Paulo, by Redson , Val and Pierre . They are currently one of the oldest punk bands in activity in Brazil, with a career that spans almost 30 years...

 but survived.

At the end of 1832 his second son was born. Soon after, in January 1833, a movement to relieve his wants was set on foot by the entreaties of Ellen Banim to John's literary friends, and then by the English press, headed by John Sterling and his father in The Times
The Times
The Times is a British daily national newspaper, first published in London in 1785 under the title The Daily Universal Register . The Times and its sister paper The Sunday Times are published by Times Newspapers Limited, a subsidiary since 1981 of News International...

. Contributions were also collected in Ireland. A sufficient sum was obtained to remove him from any danger of actual want. Among the contributors was Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey
Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey
Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey, KG, PC , known as Viscount Howick between 1806 and 1807, was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 22 November 1830 to 16 July 1834. A member of the Whig Party, he backed significant reform of the British government and was among the...

 and Sir Robert Peel in England and Samuel Lover
Samuel Lover
Samuel Lover was an Anglo-Irish songwriter, novelist, as well as a painter of portraits, chiefly miniatures. He was the grandfather of Victor Herbert....

 in Ireland.

Later life

In 1833 he and his wife moved to Paris
Paris is the capital and largest city in France, situated on the river Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region...

, in the hope that John would find a doctor who could help him with his condition. He was diagnosed as having an inflamation of the lower spine, and subjected to often excruciating treatments, which provided no relief. The death of his youngest son came early in 1834. He stayed in Paris throughout 1834, doing what writing he was capable of and spending time in the society of the distinguished literary men of the city. His oldest son died at the beginning of 1835, of croup
Croup is a respiratory condition that is usually triggered by an acute viral infection of the upper airway. The infection leads to swelling inside the throat, which interferes with normal breathing and produces the classical symptoms of a "barking" cough, stridor, and hoarseness...


He returned to Ireland in July 1835, taking up residence in Dublin. On meeting him again in August, Michael Banim found his condition to be that of a complete invalid. He was often in pain and had to use opiates to sleep, but during the short intervals between the attacks of his illness, he was able to enjoy conversation and the company of his brother and friends. In September he returned to Kilkenny and was received with an address from the citizens of Kilkenny showing their appriciation of him, and a subscription from them of £85. After a short stay in his childhood home, he settled in Windgap Cottage, a short distance from Kilkenny. He passed the remainder of his life there, dying on 13 August 1842.

Michael Banim had acquired a considerable fortune which he lost in 1840 through the bankruptcy of a firm with which he had business relations. After this disaster he wrote Father Connell (1842), Clough Fionn (1852), and The Town of the Cascades (1862). Michael Banim died at Booterstown
Booterstown,, is a coastal townland and civil parish, situated in the Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council area of the former County Dublin, about south of the city of Dublin in Ireland.-Location and access:...

 in 1874.


His strength lies in the delineation of the characters of the Irish lower classes, and the impulses, often misguided and criminal, by which they are influenced, and in this he showed remarkable power.

An assessment in the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition
Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition
The Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition is a 29-volume reference work, an edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica. It was developed during the encyclopaedia's transition from a British to an American publication. Some of its articles were written by the best-known scholars of the time...

 (1911) reads:
The true place of the Banims in literature is to be estimated from the merits of the O'Hara Tales; their later works, though of considerable ability, are sometimes prolix and are marked by too evident an imitation of the Waverley Novels. The Tales, however, are masterpieces of faithful delineation. The strong passions, the lights and shadows of Irish peasant character, have rarely been so ably and truly depicted. The incidents are striking, sometimes even horrible, and the authors have been accused of straining after melodramatic effect. The lighter, more joyous side of Irish character, which appears so strongly in Samuel Lover, receives little attention from the Banims.

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