John Banim

Banim, John, a distinguished novelist and poet, was born in Kilkenny, 3rd April 1798-the second son of Michael Banim, a small shopkeeper. The lad was of a wondrously sensitive and loving disposition. After attending successively two dames' schools, he was, in his fifth year, sent to Mr. Buchanan's English school in Kilkenny, and in his tenth year to the Rev. Mr. Magrath, who kept what was then considered the best Catholic school in Ireland. He commenced writing at six years of age, when he composed a fairy tale; and at ten he wrote a romance and some poems! An introduction to Moore further stimulated his literary ambition. In 1811 he was placed at Kilkenny College, where he developed such a taste for art that he determined to pursue it as a profession. After leaving the College he continued his studies at the schools of the Royal Dublin Society in Dublin, for upwards of two years. When but eighteen he returned to Kilkenny, and commenced life as an artist: an engagement of marriage with one of his lady pupils, unhappily broken off, resulted in her death, and the temporary blighting of his prospects.

In 1820, he settled in Dublin, and for a time earned a precarious livelihood by occasional literary work. In 1821 appeared his first poem, The Celt's Paradise. This gained him the acquaintance of literary men; and with Shiel's countenance he brought out The Jest, and Damon and Pythias at Covent Garden Theatre, London. We next find him back in Kilkenny, composing, in conjunction with his elder brother Michael, that series of tales upon which their fame mainly rests — The Tales by the O'Hara Family. He shortly after married a Miss Ruth, and removed to London, where he encountered the usual difficulties of a young literary man in that great city.

His first residence was 7, Amelia-place, Brompton, the house in which Curran died. In April 1825 appeared the first series of the O'Hara tales. They were immediately successful, and The Boyne Water and other works followed in rapid succession. He befriended Gerald Griffin in his trials and difficulties, became the intimate friend of John Sterling, and for a time appeared likely to attain a permanent position as a writer. More than one visit was made to Ireland for the purpose of conscientiously examining the localities referred to in his historical tales.

In 1829 his prosperity was sadly dimmed by the death of a child, and his own and his wife's illness. Subscriptions, set on foot by the Press, enabled him to visit the Continent for a change. In 1835 he returned home a complete wreck. On his passage through Dublin, a benefit was accorded him at the Theatre Royal, whilst at Kilkenny he was received with almost regal honours. He settled in a small cottage outside the town, feelingly referred to in his works as "Windgap Cottage," where his quiet life was often enlivened by visits from Gerald Griffin and other friends. Walking was impossible to him, and he spent his time chiefly in a bath-chair in his little garden, or out driving in the vicinity of his residence. In 1837, through the kindness of the Earl of Carlisle, he received a pension of £150 per annum from the Civil List, with £40 for the education of his daughter, but his health never rallied, and the composition of the last joint work of the brothers, one of the Tales, is believed to have hastened his death, which occurred at Windgap Cottage, 1st August 1842. He was buried in St. John's graveyard, Kilkenny, aged 44.


19. Banim, John, Life. Patrick John Murray. London, 1857.