John McCullagh August 29, 2005
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John Mitchel (1815-1875) was a Young Irelander leader and perhaps the most esteemed republican to come from Newry. He was in fact born in Maghera, son of the Rev John Mitchel and Mary (Haslett) but the family settled in Newry from 1823 when the minister received an appointment here.


 

 

The family lived at Dromalane, John’s father surviving until 1840, his mother until 1863. John was educated at Dr Henderson’s school in Newry and later at TCD (1830-34). He was apprenticed as solicitor to John Quinn of Newry and later practiced as an attorney at Banbridge. In 1836 he eloped to Chester in England with Jenny Verner, then aged sixteen but they were forced to return. The following year they were married in Dromore, Co Down. (Jenny’s story follows).

From 1842 Mitchel came under the influence of the Young Irelanders who were impatient with Daniel O’Connell’s conservatism. He was especially influenced by Thomas Davis of The Nation newspaper, who induced him to write a Life of Hugh O’Neill. After Davis‘s early death in 1845, Mitchel became main journalist of The Nation and the articles became much more radical and outspoken. In Dublin he lived first in Leeson Street, then at Charlemont Bridge. In 1846, with other friends he seceded from O’Connell’s Repeal Association to form the Irish Confederation. By 1848 Mitchel’s position was so radical that he had left The Nation to found the United Irishman. Encouraged by events in Paris the more radical Young Irelanders were contemplating a revolution.

Before it could happen Mitchel was charged with seditious writing and was sentenced to fourteen years’ transportation. He was sent via Bermuda to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) where his wife and family joined him in 1851. In Jail Journal (1854) he described how he eventually escaped in 1853 to the USA. In America he farmed for a while, then edited the Irish Citizen newspaper and wrote The History of Ireland. 

In the American Civil War he sympathised with the South, lost two sons in the fighting and was for a short while imprisoned by the victorious Northern forces. He went to Paris where he observed his much-loved daughter Henrietta (Henty) – who had become a Catholic – die while still at school. 

In 1866 his Young Irelander friends John Martin and Fr Kenyon came over from Ireland and they all visited the Coll

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