Lenihan is the eldest of fifteen children (ten sons and five daughters) of James Lenihan, woolen draper, and Margaret Lenihan (née Bourke) from Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary, where her family is also involved in the woolen trade. He receives his early education at a school attached to St. John’s College, Waterford, and in 1823 goes to Carlow College, which then caters both for junior seminarians and lay students, and it is clear that he is in the latter category. He studies there as a boarder for eight years despite the financial pressure on the family arising from the death of his father in 1829.
Lenihan begins his journalistic career with the Tipperary Free Press in 1831, moves to The Waterford Chronicle two years later, and in 1841 becomes the editor of The Limerick Reporter. This is followed by a brief stint with The Cork Examiner before he settles in Nenagh in 1843 and establishes his own newspaper, The Tipperary Vindicator. In 1849 he purchases The Limerick Reporter, amalgamates it with his existing publication to form The Limerick Reporter and Tipperary Vindicator, and moves to Limerick, where he resides for the remainder of his life. His paper integrates local reporting and analysis with reports and commentary on national and international events and discussion of the major intellectual ideas of the age. He also fosters the careers of local writers, in particular the poets John Francis O’Donnell and Michael Hogan.
Lenihan plays a distinguished role in Limerick local politics, serving on the municipal council continuously from 1863 until his retirement in 1887, and as mayor in 1884. He takes a prominent part also in national political debates and controversies of the period. He is a moderate constitutional nationalist, strongly influenced in his youth by Daniel O’Connell, though he later defends Fenian prisoners. In the 1830s he supports the abolition of tithes, and campaigns in the 1860s for the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland. He champions the cause of Catholic education and favours the teaching of the Irish language in schools and colleges. He consistently supports liberal party candidates in elections and in the 1880s espouses the twin aims of land reform and parliamentary independence.
Lenihan marries a local Nenagh woman, Elizabeth Spain, in November 1843. They have two sons and seven daughters. The family is dogged by ill-health and steadily declining fortunes. The financial problems are caused in part by the losses incurred in the publication in 1866 of Lenihan’s major work of scholarship, Limerick, its history and antiquities. The genesis of this enterprise lay in a series of articles on the sieges of 1690 and 1691, which he had researched and published in his own newspaper. With the encouragement and guidance of his friend, the historian and scholar Eugene O’Curry, he spends five years in research and writing. He had amassed through purchase and borrowing an impressive collection of manuscript materials, most notably the Arthur manuscripts, and these are supplemented by transcripts from most of the principal sources then extant in both Britain and Ireland. He supplements this documentary material with his own local knowledge and oral evidence from elderly residents. The work is haphazardly, even chaotically, arranged and is notable for its voluminous footnotes. These arise from a self-confessed problem in organising his material and from the fact that he acquires further information after the main text has been drafted. These deficiencies are more than compensated for by the vast range of primary source material that, in addition to forming the basis for the main narrative, is reproduced in total or summary form in both the footnotes and appendices. This material has proved invaluable to subsequent generations of scholars researching the history of Limerick.
Poverty, poor health, and personal tragedy are prominent in his final years. His newspaper becomes progressively unprofitable and he is forced to sell his books and manuscripts to the British Museum. Five of his children predecease him. He dies on December 25, 1895, and is buried in Mount St. Lawrence Cemetery in Limerick.
(From: “Lenihan, Maurice” by Liam Irwin, Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie, October 2009)