Although born into the privileged life of a landed Presbyterian family, John Martin laid it aside to serve his suffering fellowman through the dark days of the Famine. He also endured exile to a foreign land because he sought to reform the Government which he saw as destructive to his native land during the poverty stricken years of the 1840’s.
His financial security also suffered greatly, as he campaigned vigorously for ‘Home Rule’ in the 1860’s to 70’s. It may be said that all his struggle led to his early death, as it did for his lifelong friend, John Mitchel who lived for the same ideals and were both laid to rest within a week of each other.
His date of birth was always considered 8th Sept 1812 but a recent article found in
Around 1810, Jane married her neighbour from Loughorne, Samuel Martin, who was some 36 years her senior. She had always high ideals for her son John and taught him the principles of truth and justice and concern for his fellowman. She raised him with a knowledge of the classics and of the ‘Good Book’. He attended Dr Henderson’s private school in Hill Street Newry, where he met John Mitchel who was to become his lifelong friend and future brother in law. Many times John Mitchel accompanied him out to his home at ‘Loughorne Cottage’ and the two boys would spend their nights reading books and their days, exploring the countryside.
He secured a place at
Owing to this his medical career was put aside and returning to Loughorne, he took up the duties which fell on him as a small landlord and farmed some of his lands. As a landlord he proved a model and it is said he was, ‘a friend of all, giving medical attention to the poor and food to the hungry.’ He was a quiet, cultured, country gentleman, loved by all. His manner was mild: he was tender hearted, at war with oppression and always seeking some means to overthrow injustice.
In 1839 he went to visit his sister, Jane and her husband, Donald Fraser in
On 16th July 1847 he suffered his greatest loss when his beloved mother died of the fever, caught when attending to the sick and dying. This event and the suffering caused by the famine, when many poor, sick and dying people gathered around his door, moved him to campaign for the Repeal of the Act of Union and so he became known as ‘John Martin The Repealer’.
When John Mitchel left the ‘Repeal Association’, he began his own journal ‘The United Irishman’, to which John Martin contributed articles. On 27th May 1848 John Mitchel was arrested and the government seized his journal. He was sentenced to 14 years transportation for his seditious articles. Immediately he began to keep a journal, which was later published and is now a famous piece of Irish literature. Owing to Mitchel’s arrest, John Martin in Loughorne immediately settled his affairs and moved to
For his trial on 18th August 1848, a lot of his Loughorne tenants travelled to
Before his transportation he was kept in Newgate prison, but had the freedom to exercise, receive visitors and read books. Many of his family and friends called and brought gifts of food and drink; a Mrs Boyd of Loughorne, even sent eggs and fowl and his Uncle James sent up some of his books. His cousin John Harshaw took care of his estate, selling his crops and livestock and around October, he organised an auction of agricultural implements at ‘Loughorne House’. On his behalf he continued to collect the rent from the tenants.
About May 1849 he set sail for exile with his friend Kevin O’ Dougherty (a Catholic) on board the ‘Elphinstone’. During his voyage he kept a diary, which is remarkable reading, and is now kept at the Public Records Office Belfast and is also displayed on the Internet – Click here.
He arrived at
In April 1850 he had the company of John Mitchel, who was brought on account of his health, as the climate of
Together the boyhood friends explored the countryside around, just as they had done when growing up in
Despite their exile they always managed to get hold of Irish newspapers, to be kept up to date with political and social issues in the land of their birth. Strangely John Mitchel could never bear to look at them and so John Martin read them to him.
In July 1850 John Mitchel had the idea of bringing his wife and family out to join him and he discussed it with Martin. Eventually in 1851 Jenny Mitchel and the 5 children were reunited with husband and father and their close friend- almost brother.
As the cottage was too small for the entire family, Martin was once again living alone as the Mitchel family took up residence at ‘Nant Cottage’ Bothwell. From John Mitchel’s ‘Jail Journal’, we find this was the most happy, contented time of his life, as he settled down to turn his hand to farming. Martin probably had a similar contentment, as he now had so many close friends near him and when John and Jenny went to visit the other exiles, it was he who looked after the children. Returning from one visit the Mitchel’s brought home a little kangaroo to their children and there was great joy at ‘Nant’ over this.
Sadly this idyllic life could not go on for ever and in January 1853, one P. J. ‘
John Mitchel was more adventurous and went ahead with the scheme and following some time on the run, by August 1853, he and his family left Australia on the ‘Orkney Lass’ and after transferring to an American ship the ‘Julia Ann’, sailed to San Francisco. During this time a close watch was kept on John Martin, as an attack was also expected from him.
The authorities need not have worried as he never gave them any trouble, quietly living out his exile until he was given a ‘Conditional Pardon’ in 1854 – the condition being that he should not visit any part of the United Kingdom. So leaving ‘Van Diemen’s Land’, he took up residence in
In 1858 he took a quiet tour of
In 1860 he began to write for ‘The Nation’ newspaper, having met Mitchel the previous October in
In 1864 his political life recommenced, when with others he founded ‘The National League’. On 8th June he was back in Loughorne to lay the foundation stone for the Manse.
In 1866 he was presiding officer of ‘The National League’ and saw Mitchel twice in
Although 1867 started quietly it became more eventful, as his Uncle James suffered a stroke and he attended to him until his death. In August he took a month’s tour to the continent. 1867 was the year of the ‘Manchester Martyrs’ and two weeks after their execution, he took part in an impressive demonstration in
Despite his advanced years and failing health or perhaps owing to them, in November 1868 he married Henrietta Mitchel, (youngest sister of John) in
In the Autumn of 1869 the new Mrs Martin and her husband visited the
While there he also visited
While he was away from
Before returning home in April 1870, he visited
In May his name was nominated for a vacancy in Meath and he won it, his constituents paying his expenses. Henrietta was a good help to him as she knew her way around London, but speaking in Parliament seems to have been a daunting task to him, as is clearly seen in a letter written to Mitchel, from Warrenpoint on April 13th 1871- "The Parliament was such a bore to me, and the idea that I ought, that I must, sometimes speak in it and say and keep saying things to make the men in it hate me worse than hell was such an irritation and fever to my nerves".
During this time he lived at ‘Seaview’, Warrenpoint which was rented accommodation. In April 1873 he had to leave it, as his financial situation had become so bad. This was because as secretary to the ‘Home Rule Association’, he at first took half pay and later none and he spent his entire fortune in the cause of ‘Home Rule’. He thought about returning to ‘Loughorne Cottage’ but his wife objected, so for the next few years, it seems they lodged with friends as they travelled around the country and back and forward to
In March 1875 John Mitchel stood as candidate for
‘John Martin Born 8th September 1812