Tribute to John O’Donoghue of Carrigeen, Killarney, Barrister and Littérateur

'He may be classed as one of the ablest writers of the period’

In 1841, during the Ordnance Survey of Ireland, John O’Donovan surveyed the parish of Killaha, Co Kerry, including the ancient church and ruined castle of The O’Donoghue of the Glen:


About half a furlong to the south of this old church on a rising ground at the north side of the mountain of Crochan-Glen-Flesk stands O’Donohoe’s Castle of Killaha … It consisted of five stories, it had four fire places with chimney pieces of ornamented carved lime stone.[1]


In close proximity to the castle and the ruined chapel is the old graveyard of Killaha commented on by O’Donovan.[2]  In this burial place is the vault – the most imposing there – of the family of John O’Donoghue, Barrister-at-Law. It is inscribed:


Sacred to the Memory of
John O’Donoghue, Barrister at Law
of Carrigeen House Killarney
Who Died in Dublin
On the 23rd March 1893
He was Editor to the F.J. for 33 Yrs
Also his Brother
Daniel O’Donoghue
Who died at Carrigeen House
On the 13 Sept 1893


The ruined chapel of Killaha (centre) and the vault of John O’Donoghue.  On the left, a glimpse of the ruined Killaha Castle


During his lifetime, John O’Donoghue, barrister, was better known as a literary man.  He wrote for the Freeman’s Journal, The Irishman, and was Irish correspondent of The Daily News.[4] He was the author of The Summary Jurisdiction of Magistrates (1835)[5] and an Historical Memoir of the O’Briens (1860).[6]


He also wrote songs and poetry which he contributed to the Dublin University Magazine. His work appeared in Songs of Ireland (1849) edited by Hercules Ellis [7] and in Samuel Lover’s Poems of Ireland (1859).[8]  A poem was addressed to him in one of the collections of Clare native, William MacNamara Downes.[9]


John O’Donoghue was born c1810, eldest son of Daniel O’Donoghue, Gent, of Killarney.[10]  In 1831, he was a scholar of Trinity College Dublin, BA 1833, and was subsequently called to the Irish Bar.[11]


During the years 1838 to 1871, he was connected with the Freeman’s Journal (which he edited for a period) and was a leading contributor to its columns:


He was a close friend of Daniel O’Connell during the Repeal agitation, being then the ‘editor’ of the Freeman’s Journal, and he gave powerful and effective expression to the national sentiment.  He was on intimate terms and held in high regard by many leading figures on the judicial bench and at the Bar.  He was the friend of Doherty, Perin, Brady, Pigott, and O’Hagan and he was known and esteemed by some of the great advocates of the past – Richard Lalor Shiel, Whiteside, Fitzgibbon, Heron, and Martley.[12]


John O’Donoghue, who was described as of ‘modest bearing and old fashioned courtesy’ died suddenly at his chambers, No 9 Henrietta Street, Dublin.  His habits were described thus:


In King’s Inn’s library he was a familiar figure, as he was a constant reader there.  His figure was equally familiar during the early spring and summer months in Trinity College grounds, where it was his delight to walk on every favourable day.  Considering his great age, the slightness of his physique, Mr O’Donoghue’s powers as a pedestrian were really remarkable.  Until a few months ago, when he suffered from an attack of rheumatism, he used to walk daily for miles, generally through the Phoenix Park to Knockinaroon, and on to Lucan.  He was prone to exhibit his faith in exercise as one of the best of medicines.


Mr O’Donoghue kept in close contact with his family in Kerry:


Every autumn Mr O’Donoghue, who was a native of the county of Kerry, visited his relatives, who resided near Killarney, returning to Dublin about the beginning of October, when to any friend he met he was turn to speak enthusiastically of the advantages of rural life and the aids to health acquired by the pure air, plain wholesome food, and perfect freedom from care and work.


His death was sudden:


Mr O’Donoghue’s death was quite unexpected.  Until a few hours before the sad event he appeared to be in his usual health.  Mr O’Donoghue came down to breakfast on Thursday morning at the usual hour.  Mrs Holland, the housekeeper, noticed that he partook of little at the morning meal.  He retired to bed shortly afterwards, and when Mrs Holland entered his room at 3 o’clock she saw he was quite dead.


An obituary described him as an intellectual, honourable, and remarkable man who in bygone years, gave ‘powerful and effective expression to the national sentiment and immense services to the Catholic and national cause’:


Mr O’Donoghue was, in truth, perhaps the last surviving link, but one or two, between the past and present generations of political notabilities – of judges, advocates, and literary men … He was on intimate terms and held in high regard by many leading figures on the judicial bench and at the Bar.[13]


The remains of John O’Donoghue were removed from Dublin to Headford station in Co Kerry.[14] From there the funeral took place in the family vault at Killaha.[15]


John O’Donoghue, who does not appear to have married, died intestate.[16]  A subsequent dispute over his will revealed that his next of kin was his brother, Daniel, who died in the same year, and two nephews, John D Horgan and William Horgan (brothers).[17]


In February 1901, D J F O’Donoghue, LRCSI, wrote from Carrigeen House, Killarney to the editor of the Killarney Echo (23 February) regarding his resignation as medical officer of the Coom dispensary district.  His relationship to John O’Donoghue, if any, is not known.



[1] Ordnance Survey Letters, parish of Killaha, pp186-190.  ‘The fifth day of February was formerly kept holy in this parish in honour of the patron saint whose name is now forgotten.’  See same for full description of church and castle.

An account of the reign of The O’Donoghue of the Glens and his foster brother Daniel is contained in Tait’s Edinburgh Magazine, Vol I, 1832 (‘O’Donoghue of the Glens’). It commences thus: 'There is a large tract of land situated among the mountains to the east of Killarney, called Glenflesk.  It is inhabited by a fine race of people, stout, tall, hardy mountaineers; and about sixty years since, these fellows, under the countenance of their chieftain, O’Donoghue of the Glens, rode rough-shod over the town of Killarney.  On every fair and market day they marched through it, shouting, hallooing, and offering five pounds for the head of any man that would dare to oppose them.  The chieftain, O’Donoghue, was a man of gigantic size, and truly barbarian spirit, somewhat tinetured with insanity.  He generally marched at the head of his sept on those occasions; and you will readily believe that his enormous strength, along with the respect that clung to his rank, and his large property, contributed a good deal to their ascendancy.  He was accompanied by his foster brother, also called Daniel O’Donoghue, and scarcely inferior to him in size though not so savage in disposition.  Many persons who saw Daniel in his old age have described him to us; and it is plain he would have been, even to one of Homer’s heroes, a formidable antagonist.’

See also The O’Donoghue (1845) by Charles Lever which contains accurate representations of Killaha Castle. ‘The name of O’Donoghue should, we conceive, make this tale, apart from its intrinsic merits, an especial object of interest to all Kerry readers for ‘The O’Donoghue of the Glens’ was, and still is one of the Milesian chieftains of the Kingdom of Kerry.  Indeed, this old family is one of the few of that class who have still preserved their position among the magnates and landowners of the country.  We also find two or three other well-known Kerry names already introduced into this story; Glanflesk, where the scene opens, and Lough Kittane.  We will therefore expect to see it in every drawing room in this county’ (review, Kerry Evening Post, 15 January 1845).

The current representative of The O’Donoghue of the Glens is Geoffrey Paul Vincent O’Donoghue, born in 1937, son of Geoffrey Charles Patrick Randal O’Donoghue and Kathleen Finnegan.

[2] O’Donovan remarked on an epitaph by David H-t Collins (died 1831) in memory of his wife Bridget who died 18 May 1823, which O’Donovan described and transcribed, and found ‘very silly indeed.’  The inscription (and also one to the Rev John O’Reilly, Parish Priest of ‘Barraduv’ and Killaha, who died in 1824) was also given by Crofton Croker in Legends of the Lakes (1829, vol II), ‘The Return,’ pp199-204.

The gravestone, which is located alongside the surrounding wall near the burial place of Denis MacCartie of Headfort, who died on 5th May 1851, is now almost effaced.

[3] On the side walls of the tomb are two plaques, the first inscribed: In Memory of/Daniel O’Donoghue/Carrigeen House/Died October 1955/His wife Julia died December 1944/Their sons Michael Died 1947/Daniel died October 1958/John died January 1979/Patrick Died 28 October 1983.  The second, closest to the ruined church, is inscribed: In Loving Memory of/Julia O’Donoghue/Died 11 March 1988/Catherine O’Donoghue/Died 3 March 1992.
Carrigeen House was situate in the townland of Carrigeencullia / Carrigeenaculla, Knocknahoe, near Killarney.  It was demolished many years ago.  Information courtesy Breda Slattery, Carrigeen. 

[4] His poetry appeared in the Freeman’s Journal and Irishman under the name ‘S.T.C.D.’  Reference, The Poets of Ireland; a Biographical and Bibliographical Dictionary of Irish Writers of English Verse (1912) by David James O’Donoghue, p350.

[5] ‘John O’Donoghue, 11 Trin Coll Dublin July 1835.’  The book was reissued in 1840. 

[6] Dedicated ‘To Lucius, Lord Inchiquin; William Smith O’Brien Esq; and the Other Members of the House of Dromoland, This Memoir of Their Ancestors is Inscribed.’ The book was reviewed in the Dublin University Magazine (Vol 56, 1860, pp241-247), ‘It is because the author of the book before us is not an O’Brien, that we have to thank him for a sufficiently judicious memoir of a race of men who did not yield the point of being quite Irish to the De Burghs and Fitzgeralds, even when these latter were proverbially said to surpass the natives in nationality.  Protesting moderately against the drawbacks of this work, written as it is from an Irish, Roman Catholic, and therefore, antagonistic point of view, we are, at the same time, glad to hear the other side, and to give this memoir a place on our book-shelves, in its light of a tribute to one of the most celebrated clan families of our country, as a literary monument, conceived in much the same sentiments that induced ‘Florentius O’Donohou, Eques Auratus’ to set up, in the year 1700, a marble one in the Scots College in Paris, in memory of a noble Gaelic relative.’ 

[7] A number appear in Songs of Ireland including ‘For You and Me.  Song’ which begins:  Why are stars above us shining,/Beautiful and bright – love?/Why is day so soon reclining/in the arms of night – love?/Why are winds in fragrance dying,/O’er each flower and tree – love?/Soft and sweet as angels sighing –/All for you and me – love.

[8] ‘The Plaint of the Exile’ appears in Lover’s work.  A note below states that ‘These lines, though of no great literary merit, have the redeeming grace of a strong love of native land in them, and find a place here for that reason.  The entire of the first verse is too obviously imitated from Moore’s exquisite lines: How dear to me the hour when daylight dies/And sunbeams melt along the silent sea;/For then sweet dreams of other days arise,/And memory breathes her vesper sigh to thee.’

[9] William MacNamara Downes or Downs (c1813-1853) native of Co Clare, poet, author, journalist.  Published a number of collections of poetry, including Poetic Sketches, Rural, Pathetic and Descriptive (1836) which includes ‘The Magic Well: A Legend of Killarney’ and Poems, Epistles Etc (1839) dedicated to the Right Honourable Lord Viscount Morpeth. 

Downes was a contemporary of John Jackson (1812-1857) (see Kilrush Petty Sessions (2015) A Selection of the Nineteenth Century Sketches of John Jackson Esq of Kilrush).  His address in 1842 was Moher, Lahinch, Ennistymon and in 1853, Carrigaholt, Co Clare.  It is worth noting that in 1840, John MacNamara Esq, brother of William Nugent MacNamara MP (the member for Clare) was of ‘Moher.’

In 1853, Downes travelled to New York where he died on 15 September 1853 (shortly after his arrival).  He was in his fortieth year, and comforted in his final moments by his brothers, Captain Downes of the O’Brien Guard and Mr Downes of Brooklyn.  He was buried in Green-Wood Cemetery, New York.  An obituary was published in the Irish American Weekly, 1 October 1853 which stated he was ‘nearly connected with some of the first families of his native county (Clare).’   Short biography in The Poets of Ireland; a Biographical and Bibliographical Dictionary of Irish Writers of English Verse (1912) by David James O’Donoghue.

[10] Different sources give year of birth as 1810 and 1813. 

[11] The Warder and Dublin Weekly Mail of 13 January 1836 announced that ‘John O’Donoghue Esq, eldest son of Daniel O’Donoghue, gent, of Killarney, county of Kerry’ was sworn in Barrister-at-law in the Court of Chancery.

[12] Freeman’s Journal, 24 March 1893.

[13] Freeman’s Journal, 24 March 1893. ‘We have very special reason to mourn his death with the memory of his lengthened and valued connection with the Freeman’s Journal … when he laid down his pen after 33 years of most devoted and efficient service … In 1871, being then nearly 60 years of age, Mr O’Donoghue found his journalistic labours pressed too heavily upon him and retired from the Freeman’s Journal.  From that time till the day of his death he always felt the liveliest interest in the paper, to which he was so long attached, and held the most kindly relations with those of the staff who were contemporaries with him during part of his reign in Prince’s Street.  Mr O’Donoghue did not seek for practice at the Bar.  Had he done so he had ability enough to have been a success.’ 

[14] Headford Junction railway, at Cools townland (which adjoins Headfort townland), operated from 1890 to 1959.

[15] ‘It is with feelings of regret that I announce the death of Mr John O’Donoghue, B.L. (brother to Mr D O’Donoghue, Corrigeen, Killarney) which occurred suddenly in Dublin on Wednesday.  The deceased gentleman was born at Corrigeen in 1810.  In 1831, he completed a distinguished career in Trinity College, Dublin, and a short time after he was called to the Irish Bar.  Being a scholar of high literary attainments his practice at the Bar was very limited – devoting his time to literary and press work, he may be classed as one of the ablest writers of the period.  He was connected editorially with the Freeman’s Journal in 1839.  For the past twenty-three years he may be said to have retired from any literary work but he still took a great interest in current events.  During his periodical visits to Killarney he made a host of friends by his kind and amiable manner which won for him the respect of everyone with whom he came in contact.  On Friday the remains of the deceased arrived at Headford by the day mail train at 2.55pm.  A hearse was in waiting outside the station and after a short delay, the funeral cortege started for Killaha, where the interment took place in the family vault of the deceased’ (Irish Society (Dublin), 1 April 1893).

[16] ‘Mr John O’Donoghue, barrister-at-law, who had been for some years editor of the Freeman’s Journal, Dublin, died intestate a couple of months ago; and it has now transpired that he has left assets totting up to the colossal fortune of £33,500’ (Donegal Independent, 17 November 1893).

[17] Kerry Weekly Reporter, 18 November 1893.  Caveat filed in the probate court by George Hickson and Tim Counihan (executors of Daniel O’Donoghue).