The OıMahony in Navan

With 16 Keegan Cup wins to their credit, Navan OıMahonyıs are the most successful senior football club in Meath, but what of the man after which they are named? The connection between the current OıMahonyıs club and the Navan Pierce OıMahonyıs club that had a brilliant but brief existence in the late 19th century has been well documented. But who was the aforementioned Pierce OıMahony asks Liam OıRourke.

In the course of his commentary of this year’s Allianz National Football League Division 1 final between the Kerry and Galway on Sunday, May 2, Michael O’Muirecheartaigh welcomed the ten countries from Eastern Europe that joined the EU the previous day and remarked that Pierce O’Mahony traveled widely in the region in the early years of the 20th century.

Pierce Charles de Lacy O’Mahony was a Kerryman, born in on June 9, 1850 at Kilmorna, in the north of the county between Abbeyfeale and Listowel. He was the third son of Pierce Kenifeck O’Mahony and Jane Gun-Cunningham, who originally hailed from Newtownmountkennedy, County Wicklow. His father died when he was a few months old.

He inherited the liberal views of his grandfather, who was Daniel O’Connell’s solicitor, as well as a love of botany. His great-grandfather, another Pierce O’Mahony, converted from Catholicism to Protestantism and dropped the ‘O’ from his surname.

His mother married again, this time to Charles Vicars, a retired British Army colonel and it appears the new family unit moved to Leamington in England.

O’Mahony had a privileged upbringing and was educated at Rugby School, Oxford University before making his mark at the Royal Agricultural College at Cirencester, winning in 1875 the Haygarth gold medal for practical agriculture in 1875.

He married Helen Louise Collis in 1877 and they had two sons, Pierce Gun who died in 1914 (as a result of a shooting accident) and Dermot Gun who later became a Cumann na nGaedheal/Fine Gael TD for Wicklow between the years 1927 and 1938,

Two years after the death of his first wife in 1899, Pierce O’Mahony married again. His marriage to Alice Jane Johnstone lasted five years until her death in 1906. In 1900, Pierce inherited the estate at Grangecon, County Wicklow following the death of his uncle David. Grangecon is roughly halfway between Baltinglass and Dunlavin in the west of the county.

Working for the Land Commission in the 1880s, O’Mahony traveled widely throughout the country in his work as an assistant commissioner with the Land Commission. He was also very friendly with Charles Stewart Parnell.

A series of events led to O’Mahony being elected as M.P. for North Meath. First, the sitting Member of Parliament, Kevin O’Doherty decided to return to Australia. Parnell, who held the seat between 1875 and 1880 before successfully standing for Cork City, persuaded his friend to contest the election.
Parnell’s support was enough to persuade the electorate in North Meath to support the Kerry-native and he was elected unanimously. O’Mahony remained loyal to his friend to the bitter end and remained committed to Home Rule cause after Parnell’s death aged 45 at Brighton on October 6, 1891.

O’Mahony lost his seat in the General Election the following July when the Irish Nationalist Party put Michael Davitt, who was a central figure in the Land League as well as being a patron of the GAA on the card. A bitter campaign ensued and Davitt triumphed by 403 votes, 2,549 to 2,146.

However, the matter did not end there and O’Mahony successfully took an election petition to court claiming that the then Roman Catholic Bishop of Meath, Dr. Nulty had intimidated voters into voting for Davitt. In court a pastoral letter issued by Dr. Nulty was produced and was deemed to be unlawful interference and a second election in the constituency was called.

Davitt himself was cleared of any blame after it was shown he tried to prevent publication of the offending letter, but was bankrupted after failing to win the seat.

Another narrow defeat was O’Mahony’s lot in the second election, which took place on February 17th 1893, with James Gibney of Kells claiming the seat by 2,635 votes to 2,377. O’Mahony again blamed Nulty for his defeat but there was no comeback on this occasion.

O’Mahony’s travels to eastern Europe began as an attempt to lay claim to a large fortune left in Russia by his ancestors the de Lacys and in 1905 he is reputed to have received property, gold and silver valued at £300,000, a considerable sum of money one hundred years ago. One of his relatives, Peter de Lacy, had been a Field Marshall in the Russian Army.

Around this time while traveling through Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, with his second wife Alice Jane, they encountered children orphaned in the aftermath of the St Ilinden’s Day uprising of August 2, 1903.
Moved by their plight they founded an orphanage in the city that was opened on March 30 the following year. It appears he used his Russian inheritance to fund the venture. O’Mahony took a personal interest in their welfare and even brought some of them back to Ireland to be educated that “they might be a credit to their country”.

The orphanage remained in existence for over a decade. O’Mahony was an advocate of Bulgarian independence from the Ottoman Empire, which was finally achieved in 1909. A few years later King Ferdinand I rewarded O’Mahony with the ‘Order of Civil Merit’, while there is a street in Sofia named after him. During his stay in Bulgaria he adopted the title “The O’Mahony” and is still fondly remembered in that country by that name.

O’Mahony and the Bulgarian monarch fell out over the latter’s decision to side with the Germans in the Great War. After returning home, O’Mahony supported John Redmond’s efforts to recruit soldiers for the British Army for which he was honoured with a CBE (Commander of the British Empire) in 1920, but a few months later he declined the honour in protest at Britain’s failure to grant Home Rule to Ireland after the war.

A Deputy Lieutenant during the Great War, he also resigned from the British Army - he had been a Deputy Lieutenant during the war - and burned his uniform, replacing it with a traditional Irish outfit complete with kilt, black beret and feather, tan coat and green shawl fastened with a Tara brooch.
While in Bulgaria, O’Mahony also pursued his interest in botany and traveled widely on plant-hunting expeditions with the help of the king, who lent him his special train.

O’Mahony retained a special interest in Bulgaria’s fate and in 1915 published a series of letters on the policy of the super powers in the country while after the war he argued that the country should be spared reparations.

Pierce O’Mahony’s half brother Arthur Vicars, who worked at Dublin Castle, was blamed for the disappearance of the Irish Crown Jewels from there in 1907. Though the mystery of their disappearance was never solved, Vicars was forced to resign. He retired to the family homestead in Kilmorna, where he was shot during a raid on the house in 1921.

When his son Dermot returned from Kenya to live at Grangecon with his wife in 1921, Pierce O’Mahony retired to Coolballintaggart. With the help of Sir Frederick Moore, curator of the Botanical Gardens, he cultivated many rare plants and trees.

He also showed considerable interest in the affairs of the local GAA club Ballymanus, putting his house at their disposal for fund raising céilís, while at Christmas time he gave a pound of tea and a candle to every local family.

Originally a member of the Church of Ireland, O’Mahony later converted to the Russian Orthodox Church before being received into the Roman Catholic Church just over a year before his death. One of his last public appearances was a function for the Papal Nuncio. Pierce O’Mahony died on October 31, 1930 aged 80 and he was buried at Ballynure, County Wicklow.

Taken from Royal County
December 2004