Sentenced to fourteen years hard labour for treason, Irish nationalist and Fenian Charles Kickham is incarcerated in Pentonville Prison on February 10, 1865. He is released in 1869, partly due to ill health. He is a contributor to The Irish People and the organiser of the Fenian movement and the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), which the English authorities deem seditious. He also authors a number of novels including the critically acclaimed Knocknagow (1873).
The revolutionary movement which comes to be known as Fenianism is unlike that of 1848 in the character of its leaders. The older political agitation is associated with a brilliant outburst of intellectual effort. The majority of the leaders have left behind high intellectual heritage, or asserted under other skies, and in more favourable circumstances, their possession of great intellectual powers. The Fenian movement, on the other hand, is poor in its literary products. Few of its leading spirits reach to any lofty position since its collapse. The best part of Fenian literature is found in The Irish People, the journalistic organ of the association. Along with Kickham, the chief contributors to the journal are Thomas Clarke Luby and John O’Leary.
Kickham is born at Mullenahone, County Tipperary on May 9, 1828. At the age of thirteen he meets with an accident that deprives him of his hearing. He probably owes the many fine productions of his pen to this accident. At around 18 year of age he begins to contribute poems and tales to Irish journals and magazines and when The Irish People is started he becomes one of its chief lead writers. As a result of his involvement in the Fenian movement, he draws the attention of the government and is tried, convicted and sentenced to fourteen years of penal servitude. His comment at the conclusion of the trial is terse: “I have endeavoured to serve Ireland, and now I am prepared to suffer for Ireland.” Four years after his conviction he is released.
Kickham publishes two complete stories, Sally Cavanagh, or The Untenanted Graves, and Knocknagow, or The Homes of Tipperary. These stories have been read wherever there is an Irish home, and have made sad or joyous thousands of Irish hearts. They have also found approval in the columns of English and not friendly journals, which have found themselves able to meet him in friendliness on the impartial ground of literature. His books deserve their popularity with the peasant and the approval of the critic. His pictures of life, especially of peasant life, are wonderfully true to nature, full of keen observation, humour, and fidelity. In his attention to minute details and homely incident he resembles in a great degree the style of Erckmann-Chatrian.
Kickham’s ballads are equally popular, and are just what ballads for the people should be – simple in language, direct in purpose, and in an easy and common measure. A collected edition of his works is published by Duffy & Son of Dublin.
Charles Kickham dies at the age of 54 on August 22, 1882 at the house of James O’Connor, a former member of the IRB and afterwards MP 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. He is buried in Mullinahone, County Tipperary.
(From: The Cabinet of Irish Literature, Volume 4, edited by T. P. O’Connor)