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Kickham, Charles Josephlocked

  • R. V. Comerford

Charles Joseph Kickham (1828–1882)

by unknown engraver, pubd 1869

Kickham, Charles Joseph (1828–1882), Fenian leader, was born in early May 1828 at or near Cashel, co. Tipperary, the eldest of the eight children of John Kickham (d. 1861), shopkeeper, of Mullinahone, co. Tipperary, and his wife, Anne Mahony (d. 1848). Charles received his formal education in a local pay school. When he was thirteen an accidental explosion of powder from a hunting gun scarred his face and left him with impaired hearing and vision. The repeal campaign of the 1840s awoke his interest in national politics, while the early Nation newspaper (founded 1842) won him over to the romantic nationalism of the Young Irelanders. He rang the chapel bell to summon support when William Smith O'Brien and his entourage arrived in Mullinahone on 25 July 1848 in the course of their fruitless attempt to foment a rising.

When two curates in nearby Callan began the tenant protection movement in 1849, Kickham became an enthusiastic supporter. And when the independent opposition movement in which the tenant campaign had been absorbed was betrayed, as he saw it, by Sadleir and Keogh in 1852, Kickham had found reason to become permanently disillusioned with parliamentary politics. Admiration for John O'Mahony outweighed doubts about James Stephens when Kickham adhered to the Fenian organization in 1861. In December 1863 he moved to Dublin to join the editorial team of the Fenian weekly the Irish People. Over the next twenty-two months he was a regular contributor of leading articles, and specialized in the rebuttal of clerical attacks on Fenianism.

Following government suppression of the Irish People, Kickham was arrested on 11 November 1865. Subsequently convicted on a charge of treason felony and sentenced to fourteen years of penal servitude, he served in Pentonville, Portland, and Woking prisons until released in March 1869. On returning home he began the writing of Knocknagow, or, The Homes of Tipperary (1873), his most celebrated work. For half a century and more this unwieldily composed evocation of rural life was to be one of the most popular books in Ireland.

From about 1873 until his death Kickham was president of the supreme council of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB). He advocated an intransigent ‘purist’ policy, opposing Fenian participation in the home-rule campaign and the land war. He died at the Blackrock, co. Dublin, family home of James O'Connor, journalist and IRB man, on 22 August 1882 and was buried in Mullinahone.


  • R. V. Comerford, Charles J. Kickham: a study in Irish nationalism and literature (1979)
  • J. Maher, ed., The valley near Slievenamon: a Kickham anthology (1942)


  • NRA, priv. coll., papers, corresp., and literary papers
  • NL Ire., letters to James Francis Xavier O'Brien


  • engraving, pubd 1869, NPG [see illus.]
  • photograph, 1869, repro. in Tipperary Annual (1912)
  • plaster death mask, 1882, NG Ire.; repro. in Maher, ed., The valley near Slievenamon, 58; plaster cast, NG Ire.
  • J. Hughes, bronze statue, 1898, Main Street, Tipperary

Wealth at Death

£1577 7s. 2d.: administration, 24 Nov 1882, CGPLA Ire.