Sir Charles Gavan Duffy, Early Life in Monaghan

The following is the first part of chapter 1, from ‘My Life in Two Hemisphere’s written by Charles Gavan Duffy. The chapter has been broken down into 4 sections or pages. Names mentioned in each section are linked to on that page. Mr. Duffy speaks of his schooling, the attitudes of Presbyterian children to Catholic children and vice versa, friendships with those who were not Catholic, Orange parades, books which were available to read at the time and much more. Part 1 deals with his introduction, the Sacrament of Confirmation and schooling. Part 2 with books, friends & Orangemen, John Sloan. Part 3 with Politics, Charles Hamilton Teeling, Dublin & Lord Mulgrave. Notes written at a later stage, relating to people or places mentioned in the chapter itself. Names mentioned include: Patrick Gavan, Captain John Dawson, Philip Hughes, Neil Quin, Revd. John Bleckly, Mat Trumble, Henry McManus, Terence Bellew McManus, John Sloan, Dacre Hamilton, Father Bogue, Father Tierney, Rev. John Caulfield, John Duffy, Charles Hamilton Teeling, Thomas O’Hagan,, Jimmy Sherry.

Charles Gavan Duffy

I am shy of pedigrees. When I was a boy, however, there were half a dozen of my relations among the Catholic priests of the diocese of Clogher, and I listened with complacency to their talk of the M’Mahons, chiefs of Oriel, and the M’Kennas, chiefs of Truagh, as our near kinsmen, and I was delighted to be told that under George III. when the existence of a priest was at last grudgingly recognised, provided he could find two freeholders willing to be sureties for his good behaviour, such sureties for a dozen priests of Clogher were furnished by the Duffys of Monaghan, who held land in their native Oriel, under the imperfect tenure permitted by law. These were facts which in after life I submitted to the test of critical scrutiny, and found to be authentic.

I was born in the town of Monaghan on Good Friday, 1816. My father, John Duffy, was a shopkeeper, who by industry and integrity had accumulated considerable property in houses and townparks, and had purchased a share in a bleach-green at Keady, the art of transforming the grey web into one of dazzling whiteness being then, as it still is, one of the standard industries of the country. The Ulster Catholics had been reduced by law to abject penury, but at the beginning of the nineteenth century they were here and there slowly lifting their heads. Even while the penury was sorest old social distinctions were cherished, and my father, as a descendant of “the old stock,” was one of the few leaders of the people in his district. Among the family papers bequeathed to me was a resolution of the Catholics of Monaghan, thanking him for having acted as their faithful treasurer for sixteen years, an authentic testimonial which I prefer to a glittering and shadowy pedigree furnished by Ulster King at Arms.

My maternal grandfather, Patrick Gavan, was notable in his day as a Catholic who had succeeded in emerging from the obscure and trampled multitude. He held on lease a large tract of land which had once belonged to his clan, and was in fact a gentleman farmer. He was known among his neighbours as “the King of Aughabog,” and I remember when a child pestering my mother to show me any crown or sceptre he had bequeathed to his posterity; but to my despair there were no regalia forthcoming. A tradition, however, has descended to us which keeps him and his dame fresh in our memory. When the Union was proposed it was sweetened by a promise of Catholic Emancipation from a united Parliament, which the Irish Parliament had peremptorily refused; and Paddy Gavan, like the Catholic Primate of the day, thought the compromise ought to be accepted, and got a petition in its favour signed by many of his neighbours. But our grandmother Judith flew into a rage at the proposal to give up Ireland for a bribe, and flung the petition into the fire. The flame she kindled that day has illuminated her memory for more than three generations among a numerous progeny who are proud to bear her name. Judith, I regret to say, derived her name, according to the genealogists, and perhaps her robust will, from a Puritan soldier; her mother being daughter and heiress of Captain John Dawson, of Dartry, who gave her in marriage to a native gentleman, one of the MacMahons of Oriel, father of our Judith.

When my father died I was only ten years of age, and the youngest of six children. As one of my elder brothers was in the office of Philip Hughes, an enterprising merchant in. Newry, who was our kinsman; a second in the office of another Newry merchant (the father of Sir Patrick Jennings, who has risen to distinction in New South Wales in recent time); and a third pursuing his studies as a medical student in Scotland, the management of the family interests fell wholly on my mother. If sleepless assiduity in the interest of her children could secure success she would have succeeded; but to regulate complicated accounts and take up the thread of incomplete projects, was a task for which she had no experience or training, and I was not of an age to be of any assistance to her. It looks like a dream of another life, that distant time when, seeing her exhausted with labour, I have induced her to hear me read a story to divert her jaded mind, “The Children of the Abbey,” perhaps, or “The Scottish Chiefs” for though the modern novel was born with Waverley it had not yet penetrated into provincial Ireland, and there was no national novel or romance of which I had ever heard.

The earliest political incident I can recall was hearing my father read the letters of Wellington and Peel, when they refused to serve with George Canning because he was friendly to Catholic Emancipation. I was barely nine years of age, but the oppressed learn their wrongs early, and I already knew dimly and vaguely that Catholic Emancipation incant the deliverance of our race from the subjection to Orange ascendancy in which we habitually lived.

Sacrament of Confirmation

At what time does a boy discover that he has in his bosom a monitor who punishes him when he misbehaves, and comforts him if he suffers unjustly? The Sacrament of Confirmation is administered to Catholic children at an early age, generally before they enter on their teens, and I received it in the ordinary course. The bishop and a senior priest sat on the altar steps, and questioned each boy in turn on the principles of Christian doctrine. When I had gone through the examination the bishop asked the assistant priest, “Do you think we may pass this lad?” The priest thought perhaps they might, and I retired deeply humiliated. The ceremony was followed by a distribution of prizes supposed to be granted in the order of merit. The schoolmistress of the chapel school who had prepared the boys for the sacrament arranged the prize list, and to my consternation I heard the first prize assigned to Charles Duffy, who in fact, had barely escaped rejection. For many a day afterwards I was disturbed and unhappy with the sense of being an impostor who had received a distinction in the face of the whole congregation which he did not deserve. I have never since doubted that conscience is a tribunal before which the boy is as peremptorily summoned as the man.

An ardent youngster must have some outlet for his sympathies, and before patriotism awoke I was passionately religious. I can recall a time when I was despatched to bed at nightfall and took a coarse board with me to kneel upon under the blanket lest my prayers should be too luxurious; and for years after I read controversial books with avidity, and was ready on the shortest notice to defend the most abstruse mysteries of religion. But the first passion was superseded after a time by one which has lasted all my life – the determination to love, and, if possible, serve Ireland.


Some account of my early schools will help the reader to understand the social condition of Ulster at that time. The Ulster Catholics had been deprived by the Puritan Parliament in Dublin of their lands, their churches, and their schools at the beginning of the eighteenth century, and they were long forbidden by statute to obtain education at home or abroad, or to possess property in land. At the time I speak of their schools were still very often what were then known as “poor schools.” The schoolroom was commonly a barn or a garret, the furniture rude and scanty, the walls and windows bare, and some of the pupils probably shoeless and unwashed. But these establishments were regarded as evidence of remarkable progress by those who remembered the “hedge schools” of a previous generation, which had not even the shelter of a roof. My first schoolmaster was a one-handed man, named Neil Quin, who had probably become a teacher because this deficiency unfitted him for any other employment. He performed duties which were merely manual with marvellous dexterity – mending a pen, for example, as speedily and skilfully as a man with two hands. A long loop of twine passed through two holes in a table held the quill, flat, and was kept fast by his foot in the other end of the loop, while he trimmed it with his right hand, which happily remained. Of the elements of education Mr. Quin did not teach us much, I fear, but he told us stories, generally little apologues or homilies, intended to impart a homely moral. His rudimentary science was taught with a scanty equipment of instruments, but he contrived to make it impressive. One day he let his hat fall from his head to the floor, and exclaimed, “Now, boys, which of you will tell me why that hat fell down to the ground instead of failing up to the ceiling?”

My escape from this primitive institution was one of the most fortunate incidents of my life. My eldest sister, a girl of vigorous will, met me one day coming home from school in the midst of a clamorous swarm of urchins, some of them bare-footed and ragged, and all riotous and undisciplined, and she interposed with a vigour worthy of our grandmother Judith. She peremptorily declared that I should never return to that society. But where was I to go? There was not a Catholic school in the county a whit better. There was, however, a classical academy in the town taught by a Presbyterian minister, the Reverend John Bleckley, where the boarders were sons of the small gentry and professional men of two or three neighbouring counties, and the day boys sons of the principal townspeople. There were about fifty pupils, all Protestants or Presbyterians, a Catholic boy never having been seen within the walls. It needed a considerable stock of moral courage to contemplate sending me to such an, establishment, where I might be ill-received, or, if not ill-received, where I might be taught to despise the boys of my own race and creed whom I had quitted.

The consent of my guardian, a parish priest( Rev. James Duffy, P.P., of Muckno, Castleblayney, afterwards canon of his diocese, Clogher.) living a dozen miles away, had to be obtained, and he had liberality and good sense enough to approve of the project. Mr. Bleckley received me graciously, but during the first day one of the boys told me (what I soon learned had been muttered among many others) that it was unpardonable presumption for a Papist to come among them. But the bigotry of boys is mostly inherited from their elders, and has little root. This lad, Mat Trumble, son of a lieutenant in the British Army, but also grandson of a chaplain of the Volunteers, afterwards a notable United Irishman soon became my close friend. He was a youth of good intellect, resolute will, and considerable reading, and with such aid I did not do badly in the strange society on which I had intruded. During the first year a boys’ parliament, a boys’ regiment, and a boys’ newspaper were established, which I did something to initiate, and my connection with them was vehemently resisted in the name of Protestant ascendancy. But after a fierce debate the majority voted my emancipation, three years before the legislators of larger growth at St. Stephen’s made a similar concession to my seniors. I used to boast that I was the first Catholic emancipated in Ireland, but though tolerated I was never allowed altogether to forget that I belonged to the race who were beaten at the Boyne. A cynical lad, who afterwards became a noted local preacher, sometimes occupied the recreation hour with marvellous stories of Popish atrocities designed for my edification.

One of them is worth quoting as an illustration of the cruel and wicked inventions by which the rancour of race hatred was promoted:
A farmer’s son – so the story ran – went to confession, and as his offences were serious the priest made a tally with chalk on the sleeve of his coat, that the penance might be proportionate to the sins. “I was too intimate with a neighbour’s daughter, your Reverence.” “Very bad,” says the priest, making a stroke on his arm with the chalk. “There was a baby, your Reverence, and, to keep it dark, I made her throw it in the river.” “Oh, you unfortunate miscreant,” cried the priest, making two long strokes on his arm; “I’m afraid you’ll never see purgatory. Anything else?” “Yes, your Reverence, God forgive me, there’s something worse. The girl took to fretting; I was afraid she’d tell her people, and I shoved her into a bog-hole.” ” Away with you,” cried the priest, starting to his feet in a rage. “I can’t absolve a double murderer who has hid his crime from punishment.” “But, your Reverence, – wait a minute, I forgot to tell you she was a black Prisbiteran.” “Pooh ! pooh!” says the priest, brushing the score off his arm, “why did you make me dirty my coat?” (‘Black’ as used here does not refer to the colour of the girl’s skin)

Mat Trumble, who was present, remarked that if the story was true, and doubtless it wasn’t, the priest might have found a precedent in Anglo-Irish history, when the violation of a married woman, with which two Norman soldiers were charged in a court of Pale ended in a judgment that no offence was proved, as the victim was a mere Irishwoman!

Mr. Bleckley was a careful and assiduous teacher, much devoted to his school, and for five years I profited by his instructions. We parted under circumstances which, as I have never since doubted, justified me in quitting him abruptly. One morning before the arrival of the head-master I had a contest with one of the boys about something I have altogether forgotten. He complained to an usher, but, as the ushers were not permitted to punish the boys, this one promised to report me for misconduct. On the arrival of the master he did so, and Mr. Bleckley, who was perhaps disturbed by some personal trouble, immediately laid hold of me, stretched me over a desk, according to his practice, and administered a sharp discipline with a leather strap. When he had finished he faced me and demanded, “Now, sir, what have you got to say for yourself ?” Though the result proved a great inconvenience to me I can never regret what happened as a test of character. “Say,” I roared, “I say it is too late to ask for my defence after I have been punished; and that I will never suffer you to lay hands on me again.” I seized my cap and vanished out of the school. Mr. Bleckley reported the facts to my mother, not ungenerously, I think, but I could not be induced to submit again to his authority. With the assistance of a student preparing for Maynooth, and in concert with my constant chum Mat Trumble, I read at home, to replace, as far as I could, the direction of a competent teacher.

The Presbyterian planters from whom my schoolfellows were descended preserved to an amazing degree the characteristics of their Scottish ancestors. They were thrifty, industrious, and parsimonious, and sometimes spoke a language worthy of Dumfriesshire. Their familiar sayings were of the same origin. “Keep the halter shank in your ain hand,” was a Pawkie warning against rash confidence; or, “Don’t let the want come at the web’s end,” an exhortation to fore-sight. The name employed to designate a courtesan was “an idle girl,” a phrase which implies a population devoted to labour and duty. The few books which circulated among them were steeped in the bitterness of hereditary feuds. I remember being horror-struck by a copy of “Fox’s Book of Martyrs,” with illustrations fit to poison the spirit of a community for a century. Men reared for the liberal professions might in time outlive these prejudices, but with the poor and ignorant time only deepens them. But the nationalities sometimes mingled marvellously. I can recall more than one descendant of Puritan settlers smitten with sympathy for the Celtic tongue and Celtic traditions, and on the other hand O’Neills and MacMahons speaking a dialect that might pass muster in Midlothian, and practising economies which would charm Sir Andrew Wylie.


A thoughtful boy needs a supply of books almost as imperatively as his daily bread. There were few books in my mother’s house, but they included, some which were treasures to an inquisitive lad. “Gil Blas,” in pocket volume, with illustrations which are as familiar to my memory as the cartoons of Raphael; “Robinson Crusoe,” “Ward’s Cantos” (a burlesque history of the Protestant Reformation), and above all a volume of a little periodical full of Irish ideas, entitled “Captain Rock in London, or the Chieftain’s Weekly Gazette. I laugh still at a pleasant dialogue on the affairs of Ireland between the editor and an English gentleman whom he accidentally met of a morning in the Green Park. At the conclusion of their talk the stranger presented his gold snuff-box to his interlocutor, saying, “Take this, my friend, as a little memorial of the most useful and instructive conversation I have ever had on Irish affairs; you will not value it the less when I tell you that I am the Prince Regent.” “Will your Royal Highness,” said the Irishman, “permit me, in tendering my grateful thanks, to name myself, for I fear your Royal Highness has heard of me before?” “By all means,” said the Prince, a good deal amused at the assurance of the intrepid Irishman, “tell me who you are.” “May it please your Royal Highness, I am Captain Rock!” The Captain’s name in those days was equivalent to a dynamiter or an Irish Invincible in our own.

I laid all our neighbours under contribution, and I can remember a friendly shopkeeper hoisting me up in his arms while I ransacked the upper shelves of his shop where the books of a dead customer were stowed away. I fished out “Peregrine Pickle,” “Roderick Random,” “Billy Bluff,” “Irish Rogues and Rapparees,” and some odd volumes of ‘the Spectator’ . Later a new world opened up to me in the library of my guardian. The spiritual shepherds naturally shared the privation of their flocks, and my guardian, like many another priest of that day, was content to live in a peasant’s cottage into which a village carpenter had put some sash windows and wooden floors, and which a country mason had plastered and whitewashed, but which was rich in books and engravings. I do not think he ever introduced me to any of his collection, except a couple which came in too threatening a form to be welcome, Valpy’s “Prosody,” and Dr. O’Reilly’s “Catechism of Catholic Doctrine,” but I discovered treasure-troves for myself. I found three or four soiled and tattered plays of Shakespeare, and read them with avidity, but I did not know, and was probably afraid to inquire if there were any more by the same hand. It was years later that I met elsewhere a large volume as big as the family Bible labelled “Shakespeare,” and took it up with trembling hands and in a fever of excitement to ascertain whether there actually existed and was attainable such a store-house of the pleasure, I had already tasted. I found also “Robin Hood” among my guardian’s books, but the volume was so ill-edited that one met Little John and Friar Tuck in company with Robin long before reaching the ballad describing their first encounter. I was tortured with the incongruity, and to re-edit that book was one of my earliest literary projects, before I had ever seen a publisher or a printing office. There were a volume or two of Swift’s prose and poetry, of which I could make little. I chanced upon the story of “An Unfortunate Lady,” that entrusted the management of her affairs to a neighbouring squire, who plundered her habitually and quite shamelessly for his own profit. The author’s advice that the ill-used lady should continue to maintain the knavish squire in the position of her agent, on condition that he undertook to spend her rents for the future for the benefit of her tenants and not for his own pleasure, seemed to me a singularly weak and unsatisfactory dinouement of such a story. I was impatient to see the knave kicked out of the partnership, and peremptorily required to refund his pilferiiigs. It finally dawned on me that Dr. Swift was perhaps telling the story of Ireland, of which I knew almost nothing, and I was restless till I got my conjecture verified, “Moore’s Melodies” (Thomas Moore) were there and soon passed permanently into my memory, and Burns’s poems, which were as common in Ulster as in Dumfriesshire.

The prints in the single sitting-room were as instructive as the books. I remember best an engraving of “Louis XVI. taking leave of his Family,” for Irish Catholics were Royalists till misgovernment made Radicals of them ; and “Pius VI. refusing Bonaparte’s offer of a National Cockade and a Pension.” There were also portraits in rude wood- cuts of O’Connell and Sheil, and of some Irish ecclesiastics.

There was no regular bookseller’s shop in Monaghan, but a couple of printers sold school-books; and at a weekly market there was always a pedlar who supplied, at a few pence, cheap books printed at Belfast, of which the most popular were the “Battle of Aughrim” and “Billy Bluff” The drama of the battle was in the hands of every intelligent schoolboy in Ulster, who strode an imaginary stage as Sarsfield or Ginkle, according to his sympathies. I can recall a device employed by a book-hawker at that time to stimulate the interest of his customers, which may perhaps have been borrowed from precautions invented in the penal times. “I won’t sell my book,” he cried, “and I darn’t sell my book, for the law forbids me to sell my book, but I’ll sell my straw (producing a stalk of wheaten straw), and whoever buys my straw for a penny shall have my book for nothing.” I bought the straw on an occasion, counting upon some tremendous disclosure of iniquity in high places or some device for liberating Ireland. I forget what the brochure contained, but I have a painful recollection that the investment did not answer my expectation.

Friends & Orangemen

Next to books-perhaps before books-a boy’s earliest craving is for friends. I had three friends at that time who shared my whole life, and who in after years associated themselves with me in my public career, and continued till death my intimates and confidants. One was my school-fellow, Mat Trumble who was afterwards an occasional writer in the ‘Nation’; another was Henry MacManus, the artist, who ten years later, with John Hogan, the sculptor, presented to O’Connell, at the monster meeting of Mullagh-mast, a National Cap (which the English journalists insisted on identifying as the crown of Ireland); the third, Terence Bellew MacManus, who a quarter of a century later appeared in arms at Ballingarry, while I was a prisoner in Newgate, and in 1870 had a public funeral, so abnormal in extent and enthusiasm that it may be described as an historical event. By a happy accident these three young men represented three totally distinct elements of Irish society. Terence MacManus was at that time serving his apprenticeship to a woollen draper. He was a good-looking, strapping young fellow, full of life and gaiety; and as his people were under-stood to be a junior branch of the Bellews of Barmeath, he stood apart from his class-even his master at times designated him “the sprig of aristocracy.” Our Sunday afternoons (his only free time) were spent in long rambles, occupied chiefly with speculations and visions of what might be accomplished to reinstate our dethroned people in their rightful position. We did not know much of history, but we got what in recent times would be called “object lessons,” to keep it alive in our memory.

The Orange drum was heard on every hill from June till August to celebrate the Boyne and Aughrim Orange flags and arches adorned the town on party festivals; every office of authority in the province was held by men or their patrons and prolégés, and to be a Protestant of any sort was a diploma of merit and a title to social rank not to be disputed. My comrade and I felt our present wrongs keenly, but we knew little of the remote causes from which they sprang. I had never seen a history of Ireland at that time. A few years earlier I had walked half a dozen miles to borrow a quasi history, Moore’s “Captain Rock,” in a country parish which had the rare good fortune to possess a parish library. The Orange processions forbade us to forget the past, and there was a history transacted under our eyes of which it was impossible to be ignorant. The bench of magistrates who administered what was called justice was exclusively Protestant; the Grand jury, who expended the rates paid by the whole population were exclusively Protestant, and took care, it was alleged, that the improvements they projected should benefit only loyal citizens, themselves first of all.

There had been a Corporation endowed out of confiscated lands, but the body had long ceased to exist, and its endowment had fallen to the local landlord, Lord Rossmore, who, to keep up the pretence of a Corporation, still named a town sergeant and other subordinate officials at his sole pleasure. There was a corps of Yeomanry receiving arms and uniforms from the State, which was called out occasionally for inspection, and as the arms were left with the corps permanently, every Orange lodge had a liberal supply of guns, and used them freely at their annual festivity.

One of my earliest recollections is to have seen a butcher named Hughes shot in the public street before my mother’s door by a Government gun fired from an Orange procession. Hughes had probably used some offensive language, or perhaps thrown a stone at the procession, and for his offence, whatever it was, the immediate punishment was death. He was carried to the grave in a coffin festooned with red ribbons, to signify a murdered man, but there the incident ended. To indict any one for the murder would have been the idlest work of supererogation. His comrades in the procession would not have given evidence against him, and his comrades in the jury box would not have convicted him. The ordinary result of a party conflict at that time was that if a prosecution followed the Catholics were convicted, and the Orangemen escaped scot free, either by an acquittal or a split jury. On such juries a Catholic was not permitted to sit one time in a hundred.

The town we lived in was an eminently historic one. It was founded by monks in the sixth century, and is heard of throughout all the contests with England. During the Elizabethan wars it was frequently besieged, and was occupied alternately by Irish and English soldiers down to the time of Cromwell, when Owen Roe was succeeded in command of the national army by a Monaghan man, Heber MacMahon, chief of the MacMahons of Oriel, and at the same time Bishop of Clogher. In 1798 the first martyrs for Irish liberty were three of the Monaghan Militia, who were shot for being “Croppies.” But of this history we knew little except what concerned the affairs of 1798. Survivors of that era were still plentiful in the north, and one old servant entertained me constantly in my boyhood with its legends and traditions. She even dazzled me with the hope of some day being shown “where the Croppies bid their arms when the troubles were over” if I were a good boy and minded my books; but I suppose my conduct did not answer her expectations, for I never was shown the buried treasures.

Henry MacManus was of a widely different class. He was a Protestant, originally an Orangeman, and his training furnished a notable illustration of the policy and method of English rule in Ireland. His father was a Catholic soldier who died with his regiment, whereupon the paternal Government laid hold of his little boy, and reared him a Protestant in the Soldiers’ Hospital in Phoenix Park. But all this I came to know only in after life. He was several years my senior, and at the time when our intimacy commenced was an artist engaged in the impossible task of living by his profession in an Irish country town. We rarely spoke of politics at the beginning of our intimacy; but he was a passionate lover of art, familiar with the lives of great artists and with many great works of art, and he introduced me to an unknown region full of wonder and delight.
My first decisive impulse towards practical politics from without.

John Sloan

Our next door neighbour John Sloan, generally regarded as a Quaker, but belonging in fact to a more limited church, of which he was himself the patriarch, took an early interest in me, and undertook, as he declared, to open my mind. He had been a United Irishman, a generation earlier, and was one of a little club of shopkeepers and tradesmen, generally belonging to his own peculiar faith, who met once a week over pipes and punch to discuss the affairs of the nation. He was a tall, gaunt man, with only one eye, which gave his face an alarming but not at all a sinister expression.

His only daughter, a young woman of charming manner and striking beauty, was a mantua-maker. All day long he sat behind her counter, with a shelf of dingy books at his elbow, most of them, as I soon came to know, beyond the sympathy or intelligence of a boy. He had published a little tract himself, called “The Naked Truth,” the scope of which I can surmise from the naked truths he was in the habit of disclosing to me from time to time. His daughter one day, when I was a school-boy, called me playfully “Royal Charlie.” “No, no,” cried the old democrat, “he shan’t be ‘Royal Charlie,’ he shall be ‘Anti-Royal Charlie.’ I hope before his head is grey he will see the last of royalty here and everywhere.” From that time he spoke to me habitually of politics, and some of his axioms and homilies still remain in my memory. “Mind this, my boy, ’tis not so much the question of kings or governments which concerns us here in Ireland as the question of the land from which the people get their daily bread. In 1798 we spouted Gallic sentiments and sang the ‘Marseillaise’ and the ‘Shan Van Voght! over our grog; but all that was folly. What we ought to have borrowed from France was their sagacious idea of bundling the land-lords out of doors and putting the tenants in their shoes. When you are enrolling your United Irishmen a dozen or a score years hence, promise every man who will fight loyally for the cause twenty acres of land, rent free for ever, as soon as Ireland is liberated. The Orangemen, poor creatures, kept together to protect the landlords’ rents, may not listen to you. The drum and fife by day, and the jolly carouse at the lodge at night, will be too much for you; but the Presbyterians whose fathers were United Irishmen, would prefer twenty acres of free land to the whole clanjaffray of kings, Parliaments, and bum-bailiffs. You see the agent, Dacre Hamilton, cantering into town on a big horse every morning, and you hear of his master, Lord Rossmore, now and then, as the providence on which all our lives depend; but did you ever reflect, my boy, that the corn would ripen just as well, and the flax blossom, and ‘Cork reds’ eat as sweetly with chicken and bacon, if there was no agent and no landlord?” As patriarch of his little congregation John Sloan was accustomed to utter sonorous maxims of morality on occasion; but he was considerate of the Catholic lad, and I can recall only one dogma which he was accustomed to assure me included the whole corpus of Christian doctrine
“Do all the good you can, my boy, and do no harm.”


The most persuasive political teaching is often that which is altogether unpremeditated. During my father’s lifetime the Catholic leaders in the county, several of whom were his kinsmen, met habitually at his table; and after his death my guardian, when he visited Monaghan, gathered them round the same board. Such social reunions at that time were always the occasion for speech-making, and I was allowed to creep into some silent corner and listen to the oratory. The passionate talk of men striving for religious liberty moved me strangely, and whatever I did, not comprehend was explained to me later, if I asked for light, by Father Bogue and Father Tierney, who had taken the sympathetic boy into special favour. (the same Fr. Tierney was indicted with Daniel O’Connell and Charles Gavan Duffy for political conspiracy in later years)

But more specific knowledge came to me from another source. The senior curate in Monaghan, the Rev. John Caulfield, maintained the sort of friendship with me with which a generous man sometimes favours an intelligent boy. He spoke to me at times of the religious persecutions in Ulster. How the native princes, who were Catholics, were lured into foreign countries, and their fertile lands given to Scotchmen and Englishmen. How when the natives rose to regain their own, they were savagely repressed and almost exterminated, as if it was an unpardonable crime to take back the lands which their forefathers had held since the coming of St. Patrick. How, when the natives rose to support King James, and were defeated at the Battle of the Boyne by a foreign army, they still held Limerick year after year till the new king, with whose hooked nose Orange banners made me familiar, scaled a treaty with them, securing them the enjoyment of their lands and their religion and how the Puritan Parliament in Dublin, with a shameless disregard of honesty and honour, denied them the rights so secured. How the daughter of James, when she became queen, sanctioned laws designed to exterminate the Irish race. They were not permitted to till the lands except as serfs; it was a crime punishable with crushing penalties to teach them to read or write; and a priest, who performed the sacred functions for which he was ordained, was liable to be hanged. How their churches were taken away from them, and in later times they were not only humiliated by annual processions to celebrate their overthrow, but were compelled by law to pay a special tax levied only on Catholics to defray the cost of flags and regalia for some of their insulting celebrations.

Our wrongs, he said, were not merely historic; little more than a generation ago in the neighbouring county of Armagh, the Catholic farmers who possessed profitable farms were ordered to abandon them to their Protestant neighbours; a notice was served on them at night by a secret society called Peep o’ Day Boys, fixing the date at which they must betake themselves “to hell or Connaught,” and for a long time the Government at Dublin refused them protection, and they had no choice but to fly or have their houses burnt over their heads. In the acrimonious epigram of the time, the emigrants selected Connaught and left the alternative locality for their oppressors. My immature judgment was naturally inflamed with rage at these crimes; a rage which did not abate when I came to read history later and found the tragic story was substantially true. These, it may be said, were not teachings calculated to promote tranquillity and good will; but whether does the blame belong, to the men who committed or to the men who narrated the offences?

My three brothers died before I reached manhood. Of John, the brother nearest my own age, I heard recently, a story from a grey-haired kinsman, a landowner in Buenos Ayres, which I think will touch generous hearts. “I was present, a boy in my first breeches, when my elder brother was sharply called for by our father, a strict disciplinarian with his sons. ‘Mick,’ he cried, ‘bring me your pocket- knife.’ Michael was in consternation, and whispered, ‘What shall I do? I’ve lost my knife.’ ‘Take mine,’ says John Duffy, ’tis the same colour.’ ‘No, no,’ my brother muttered, ‘the blade of my knife was broken, and father will know the difference at a glance.’ Cousin John, without a word spoken, put the blade of his knife under his heel and broke it off. The tears, concluded my friend, ran down my face at the, time, and after sixty years they could run down still when I think of that generous transaction.”

The early death of my brothers seemed to presage mine. In all my nonage, my health was feeble and uncertain, and dyspepsia came so early that it must have been hereditary. I can gauge the sharpness of my dolor by remembering that when literary ambition began to awake, and I had written some chapters of a novel, and some scenes of a play, I confessed that if I had the choice of producing a romance equal to “Ivanhoe” every year, or enjoying tranquil sleep and painless meals, I could scarcely reject the latter blessing. Of the precautions necessary to secure and reclaim health no one had ever spoken to me, and since I arrived at the years of discretion I have constantly insisted that the principles of physiology and the structure of the human body ought to be taught to children at school with more care than the multiplication table. When I was approaching manhood, a young Irishman, returned from the United States, lent me a ‘Journal of Health’ from which I got the first gleam of light on that structure which is so fearfully and wonderfully made. One of the maxims in the ‘Journal’ which I have never forgotten, served me well throughout life – “Keep your head cool, your feet dry, your skin clean, your digestion regular, and a fig for the doctor.”

Charles Hamilton Teeling

When I was nearly eighteen my guardian still treated me as a boy whose duty it was to be silent in the presence of his elders. I had thought a good deal and written a little at this time, chiefly about love and patriotism, I fancy; but I uttered my thoughts to no one except my three friends. But my emancipation came at last. One day a stately, venerable gentleman walked into my mother’s house, and was announced as Charles Hamilton Teeling, and for the first time I saw an historic man, one of the surviving leaders in 1798. He was establishing a newspaper in Belfast, and after some talk invited me to accompany him on a round of calls to promote this object in Monaghan. I took up his project with enthusiasm, for was he not a man who had served under the Green Flag which I had never seen except in dreams? He rewarded me by telling me a hundred things I had longed to know. When we returned to dinner my guardian had arrived, and fell to discussing the newspaper project, but, to his surprise and mine Mr. Teeling insisted on having my opinion on every point debated. He was my first patron, and from that time I was emancipated from the ‘status pupilaris’.

My new friend gave me his “Personal Narrative” of the transactions of 1798. It was the first book dealing frankly with the aims and hopes of Irish Nationalists which I had read, and it thrilled me with a new emotion. Only a generation ago there was an Irish army led by Irish gentlemen, which swept the British forces out of two counties, and might have swept them out of two-and-thirty but for adverse accidents. What men had done, men, with God’s help, might do again – and do better, and if Heaven was propitious I might be there to, see. From that time my mind was largely occupied with speculations and reveries on Ireland. I read all the books I could buy or borrow on the history and condition of the country, and gradually came to understand the epic of Irish resistance to England, often defeated, often renewed, but never wholly relinquished.

Mr. Teeling made his appearance from time to time in Monaghan, and always brought me sympathy and encouragement. But his most effectual service was to invite me to contribute to his journal, the ‘Northern Herald.’ I began timidly to send scraps of prose and verse, which were well received. The paper was edited from London by two law students, who poured out weekly long and sonorous essays on the wants and wrongs of Ireland. I read, admired, and emulated these productions, the ordinary stages in self- discipline. I made vigorous but quite unsuccessful efforts to draw my comrades into this study, and became, I dare say, under this new passion which entirely engrossed me, an intolerable young prig and pedant. But I obtained ideas more or less exact on many public problems, and began studies which were never to be relinquished. The spirit of the ‘Herald’ was the old fraternal spirit of 1798 – the union of Catholics and Protestants for the national cause. The chief contributor was a young Catholic whom I had never seen, but who was destined to be my closest friend through life.(Thomas O’Hagan who became Lord O’Hagan, Lord Chancellor of Ireland) His associate was a Protestant of an old plantation house who, in the end, became a clergyman and relinquished his early opinions; but his comrade believed the change to have been an honest one, and maintained a regard for him to the end.

The fraternal doctrines of 1798 had few friends in Ulster in the first quarter of the present century. The Protestants and Presbyterians had for the most part renounced them, and the Catholics, who were subject to daily insolence and injustice, thought it idle to talk of being embraced as brethren till they were received as equals. Mat Trumble, who cherished the opinions of his grandfather, was still a United Irishman, somewhat modified by his surroundings; and the subject was constantly debated between us. He was impatient of Orange excesses, but more impatient of Catholic retaliation. “Don’t you see,” he would urge, “that to irritate the Northern Protestants is to defeat, or at any rate to postpone, the liberation of the Catholics? You can’t get rid of the Ulster-men, we are fighting fellows with England behind us; and if you could get rid of us it would be a gross injustice, for time settles such disputes as ours, and we have been here two hundred years. Make good Irishmen of us and the battle with England is won. And why not? Thirty years ago we were better Irishmen than any of you, and I assert that we might, could, would, and should become so again. But when an Orangeman is maimed in a Catholic riot the most moderate Protestant in Ulster thrills with sympathy. Like Falkland I cry “Peace, peace, peace!”
“Peace!” I rejoined, “does that mean abject submission to contumely and wrong? I hate party riots as much as you do; but when a riot breaks out I wish with all my heart that the Catholic may have the best of it; for the Orangeman or his sympathisers will never listen to the claims of justice till we prove strong enough to be dangerous. Peace by all means, if we are treated with some approach to fair play; but if the Orangeman breaks the peace, thrash him; that’s my doctrine. Our rights will not come by being submissive, but by being strong.”

Mr. Teeling from time to time urged my guardian to send me to Trinity. College to complete my education; but he would not hear of the project. To obtain the honours and prizes of the only University in Ireland, a student was required to take the Sacrament of the Church of England, and though it is possible that opposition would have operated as it did at school to make me firmer in my religious opinions, and I might have ignored honours and prizes, so many students had succumbed to the temptation that I have never blamed him for refusing.

I read many hours every day at that time. The major duomo of Colonel Westenra, brother of Lord Rossmore, did me the inestimable service of lending me books, one volume at a time, from his master’s library, and I dipped into many new reservoirs of thought. One curious result is worth noting; I read Blackwood’s Magazine’ from the days of the Chaldee Manuscript down to the pasquinades on Peel for granting Catholic Emancipation. The wild drolleries Maginn, the rhapsodies of Wilson, and Lockhart’s letters of Timothy Tickler, which rivalled Cobbett in vigour and Sydney Smith in pungency, gave me infinite enjoyment. But they did not convince or persuade me the least in the world. The constant object of their obloquy was the Cockney school, Hazlitt, Hunt, Lamb, and their associates whom they mauled in every number. But the rabid critics sometimes quoted a passage from the writings they condemned; and I was so fascinated by the spirit of Hazlitt, that a few years later I bought a file of the ‘Examiner’ to become better acquainted with him and his colleague and his portrait hung over my writing-desk for nearly a generation. As evidence, I think, that malice overdone misses its aim.

About this time I was drawn into my first political adventure. An election was on foot in which the son of Lord Rossmore, landlord of the town, was a candidate, against what was called the Liberal Club, practically the Catholic electors. I took the popular side with enthusiasm, wrote one or two election squibs, and canvassed right and left;at any rate I made myself disagreeable to the great man’s agent, at this time a person known as Colonel Lewis, from an imaginary command in a local regiment of militia, which had no existence except on paper. The income of my family arose mainly from the rents of town property, most of which fell out of lease shortly after the election. When the ordinary renewal was demanded the agent announced that he would not continue as tenants a family which reared such a fire-brand, and the houses built or bought by my father were confiscated by the landlord. This peremptory decision started me in life with a lively impression of the land system in Ireland, which in good time bore fruits.

About this time I made my first journey to England to visit my eldest surviving brother, a doctor practising in Liverpool. His illness and death protracted the visit, which extended over a year. A great commercial depot and crowded seaport were phenomena new to me. The great streets, the multitude of comfortably-dressed artisans and sailors and the total absence of beggars made it a land of wonders. The Reform movement, which began in 1830, had not yet spent its force, and public meetings as well as a liberal supply of books furnished me with a crowd of new ideas which I had abundant leisure to digest. After my return to Monaghan I found that my comrades were doing something while I was doing nothing. I was now on the eve of my twentieth year, and I became uneasy and anxious for some decisive change.


An accidental visit to Dublin made me acquainted with a kinsman some years my senior, who was a successful journalist. T. M. Hughes was then in Dublin as a special correspondent of the ‘Morning Chronicle;’ at a later period he became correspondent of the ‘Times’ at Madrid, and published books and edited periodicals which may still be encountered occasionally. (Revelations of Spain; The Ocean Flower, a Poem; The Biliad, a Satire; The London Charevari, a Monthly Magazine.) was charmed with the gay independent life he led. He showed me O’Connell at the Corn Exchange, and Plunket and Bushe at the Four Courts; took me to theatres and public meetings in the evening, and allowed me to browse at intervals of leisure on a harvest of periodicals scattered through his sitting-room, the like of which I had never seen. But above all, the little lectures he gave me over his mahogany on current politics often appeared next morning as a leading article, and I, who dreamed I had something to say, longed for such a marvellous method of communicating with the people. I was fascinated, and determined to become a journalist. My guardian, whom I had accompanied to Dublin, opened negotiations with Michael Staunton, the proprietor of the ‘Morning Register,’ a daily paper founded a dozen years earlier by the Catholic Association. He had no vacancy, but he was willing to take me as a tyro, to be trained in journalism, who could afterwards get employment if he proved fit for it. Early in April, 1836, when I was just twenty years of age, I set out anew for Dublin, my friend, Terence MacManus accompanying me, as he also obtained employment in one of the monster shops which were then beginning to be founded by adventurous Scotsmen; Henry MacManus had preceded us by a few weeks and was now resident in the metropolis, and Mat Trumble had become usher in an English school.

Lord Mulgrave in Monaghan

Before I left Monaghan the monotony of provincial life was interrupted by an event which produced a prodigious clamour in Parliament and the Press, but is now altogether forgotten. It was, however, of genuine, even of historic, importance. The Lord Lieutenant, Lord Mulgrave, made a tour in Ulster, and, for the first time since the capitulation of Limerick, the representative of the Sovereign received Catholics and Protestants on perfectly equal terms. He employed the royal prerogative in favour of prisoners whose term of detention was nearly completed, or whose conduct in prison justified clemency.

This was an unheard-of procedure, and TyrConnell O’Mulgrave, the Orange Press declared, was clearing the jails of convicted rebels, and, in the character of the King’s Viceroy, opening his arms to the scum of society. The gentry held aloof from him, but the Catholics and the more intelligent Liberals thronged his undress levées. As he approached Monaghan the leaders of the Liberal Club voted an address and deputation, and I made my debut in public life as secretary of the movement. The great man of the town, the Provost of a Corporation which had not met for a quarter of a century, could not, as land agent of an Irish Lord angling for a British peerage, altogether withhold his countenance ; but he intimated that he would visit the Viceroy on his own account, and not form part of any deputation. The men we mustered were the local doctor, attorney, woollen-draper, an exceptional farmer or two, and half a dozen priests, headed, or rather heralded, by a hand-some and stately old gentleman, who was a casual visitor to the town at the moment – no other than Charles Hamilton Teeling. Mr. Teeling’s name was a familiar one throughout the North, and it is probable that it was this unwonted spectacle of priest and rebel honouring; the constituted authorities which is commemorated in Colonel Blacker’s contemporary Orange ballad
“Forth starts the spawn of treason, the ‘scaped of ’98,
To bask in courtly favour, and sway the helm of State.
He comes the open rebel fierce, he comes the Jesuit sly,
But put your trust in God, my boys, and keep your powder dry.”

Lord Mulgrave received us as if we came in court suits, and he did wisely, for these men were the leaders of the club which ten years before had opened the county for the first time since the Union, by electing an emancipator against a combination of the gentry and the Government.

This was my formal entry into public affairs. It was on a provincial stage, indeed, but the occasion did not seem a small one to men, some of whom remembered when Ulster Catholics were ordered to betake themselves to hell or Connaught, and the authorities were deaf as stone to their complaints. At any rate it was for me the beginning of work. The era of indolent studies, of perfuming my brain with romances and reviews, was at an end, and the serious business of life had begun. I quoted laughingly to my dear mother the ordinary opening of Folk Lore stories which she was accustomed to tell me.
“Bake me a bonnock, mother, and cut me a collop, I’m going to push my fortune.”


1. In a diary kept in Melbourne half a century later, I find this entry on the same subject: Jimmy Sherry, an Irishman, between seventy and eighty years of age, but in possession of his faculties, and even active and agile, who had been a servant of my grandfather Patrick Gavan fifty years ago called upon me and told me a good deal of family gossip which was new to me. My grandfather leased the townlands of Latnamard and Drumhilla, in the parish of Aughabobg; the lands were two miles square, and he cultivated the greater part of them, employing about forty men, but subletting a portion. His sons, Frank and Michael, were the finest and strongest men that appeared at Monaghan fair, and were, Jimmy asserts with great unction, a terror to the Orangemen. He had another son named Peter, who went to Canada, and had become prosperous there, his son-in-law and descendants named Lane being in a good social position. When the land fell out of lease he was offered a renewal of it for ninety-nine years at 10s. an acre. He declined, and it was afterwards let

2. The Editor of the Chieftan’s Weekly Gazette was M. J. Whitty, who a generation later established the’Liverpool daily Post’ and became father of a man of genius, Edward Whitty, author of the ‘Friends of Bohemia’.

3. There were rustic poems of a national spirit printed from time to time, especially among the weavers of Ulster and the schoolmasters of the South; classes whose sedentary pursuits lent themselves naturally to poetry. I remember a poem entitled “Knight of the Shamrock Plume”, printed in Monaghan, when I was a schoolboy, which described an episode in 1798 in curiously inflated and sonorous verse, modelled on Pope’s Homer, one couplet describing pike-making – which I considered prodigiously fine – I can still recall –
“The busy smiths with unabating care
From hissing bars the shining lance prepare.”

4. Hazlitt was a man whose heart was tortured by the injustice with which the world was governed, and he was proportionately abhorred by all who profit by injustice. Gavan Duffy describes him as a ‘great pioneer of public justice’ and gives the following as an example of how Hazlitt was insulted by others. ‘Christopher North, it may be premised was a nom de plume of the editor of ‘Blackwood’, and the colour of the cover of the journal was olive, whereas that of the Liberal organ, the ‘Edinburgh Review,’ was blue trimmed with yellow:
“Thus saith our Christopher to his gallant crew,
Up with the olive flag down with the blue;
Fire upon Hallam, fire upon Hume,
Fire upon Jeffrey, fire upon Brougham,
Fire upon Sydney, fire upon Moore,
But spit upon Hazlitt
The son……”