A Compendium of Irish Biography/Banim, Michael

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search

Banim, Michael, brother of John, and the "Abel O'Hara" of the Tales by the O'Hara Family, was born in Kilkenny, in August 1796. He was not, as was his brother, a literary man by profession, but always had an occupation distinct from that of authorship. John Banim had laid aside the painter's palette soon after he had taken up his residence in London, whilst Michael continued to reside in their native Kilkenny, the writings of each being transmitted to the other for correction. In 1825 Michael's first work, Crohoore, was written. Amongst his other contributions to the Tales were The Mayor of Windgap, Father Connell, and The Croppy; and a study of much literary interest is to be found in comparing the style and spirit of these productions with those of the younger brother—such as John Doe, The Nowlans, and The Boyne Water. After John's death Michael wrote Clough Fionn, which appeared in The Dublin University Magazine in 1852, and The Town of the Cascades, published in 1864. He has himself stated the object with which The Tales by the O'Hara Family were written to have been, "To insinuate through fiction the causes of Irish discontent, and to insinuate also, that if crime were consequent on discontent it was no great wonder; the conclusion to be arrived at by the reader, not by insisting on it on the part of the author, but from sympathy with the criminals." For many years before his death, Michael Banim filled the office of Postmaster in his native city, of which he had been at one time elected Mayor. He died 30th August 1874, aged 78. Fortunately, the Royal Literary Fund came to the aid of narrow means before his death, and after his decease a pension to his widow was placed upon the Civil List by Mr. Disraeli. The following critique upon the writings of the Banims appeared in the Daily News a few days after Michael's death:—"The brothers Banim have always enjoyed a certain celebrity, a sort of succes d'estime, in Ireland, where the desire to have some great national novelist has very naturally made people eager to supply deficiencies, and gentle to criticise faults in Irishmen of talent who endeavour to win the title. We do not mean to disparage or to speak in patronising tone of the Banims. They had really some of the greater gifts of the storyteller. Many very powerful dramatic situations, and many vigorous, original, and thoroughly lifelike sketches of character are to be found in their stories. But they failed to force their way finally across the barrier which shut in provincialism of any kind, unless where the impulse of genius carries an author fairly over it. … Tales by the O'Hara Family aimed distinctly at a national reputation, and they seemed at one time not to miss the mark by a great deal. … The early repute of the Banim brothers was a good deal owing to a kind of impression engendered by the marvellous success of Sir Walter Scott. Because Scott's novels succeeded in bringing Scottish history, legends, life and manners into public notice and into fashion, it seemed to be supposed that other parts of the Empire had a right to expect the same result if attention were likewise directed to them. The feeling prevailed in England just as much as elsewhere. People reminded each other of what delight they had had when Scott illustrated for them his country's life and history—'Why should not some one do the same for Ireland?' Of course there was not the slightest reason why some one should not do this, provided only that some one had the genius." [1]

Authorities
  1. Manuscript and Special Information, and Current Periodicals.