Banim, Michael (DNB00)

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BANIM, MICHAEL (1796–1874), brother of John Banim [q. v.], and co-worker with him in the series of novels called the ‘O'Hara Tales,’ was born at Kilkenny, 5 Aug. 1796. He was educated first in Kilkenny and afterwards at a well-known catholic school conducted by Dr. Magrath. At the age of sixteen he was offered the choice of a profession, and chose that of the bar. He studied assiduously for some time, and looked forward hopefully to his future. But his prospects were overcast by a serious reverse of fortune which befell his father. ‘With a self-sacrifice for which his whole life was remarkable, Michael Banim gave up his cherished design, and quietly stepped back into what he considered the path of duty. He took up the tangled threads of business, applied his whole energy and perseverance to the task, and at length had the satisfaction of unravelling the complication, and replacing his parents in comfort, both material and mental’ (READ). For himself he found happiness in studying the lives of those around him, and in the enjoyment of the beautiful scenery of Kilkenny. It was in 1822 that John Banim broached to Michael his scheme for a series of national tales. The elder brother at once fell in with the idea, and related certain circumstances which were well adapted to serve as the foundation of one of these novels. Urged by his brother to write the story himself, Michael consented to do so in such hours as he could snatch from business, and the result was the novel entitled ‘Crohoore of the Billhook,’ which proved one of the most popular in the first series of the ‘O'Hara Tales.’ Many years later, in explaining the reasons why these tales were undertaken, and in also defending their bias, Michael Banim wrote: ‘When Irish character was dealt with only to be food for risibility in consequence of its peculiar divergence from established rules of judgment, the wish of the authors of the “O'Hara Tales” was to retain its peculiarity of humour, even in adversity, while accounting for its darker phase of retaliation for insult and injury. It was the object of the authors, while admitting certain and continued lawlessness, to show that causes existed, consequently creating the lawlessness. Through the medium of fiction this purpose was constantly kept in view.’

Michael Banim travelled through the south of Ireland for the purpose of supplying the historical and geographical details for his brother's novel, the ‘Boyne Water;’ and in 1826 he visited John in London, making the acquaintance of many distinguished men of letters. When the struggle for catholic emancipation was at its height, Michael worked energetically for the cause. In 1828 he published the ‘Croppy,’ and the same year, after his return to Kilkenny, he had the honour of a visit from the Comte de Montalembert, who was then on a tour through Ireland. The comte told Banim that he had first read the ‘O'Hara Tales’ in Stockholm, and that he could not leave Ireland without journeying from Cork to Kilkenny, specially to thank the writers of those tales. A prolonged illness interfered with Banim's literary exertions; and it was not until five years after the publication of the ‘Croppy’ that his next venture, the ‘Ghost Hunter and his Family,’ appeared. But from 1834 onward, for a number of years, stories appeared in rapid succession from his pen. When John Banim was struck down by illness, his brother wrote and earnestly besought him to return to Kilkenny and share his home. ‘You speak a great deal too much,’ he observed in one letter, ‘about what you think you owe me. As you are my brother, never allude to it again. My creed on this subject is, that one brother should not want while the other can supply him.’ In 1840 Michael Banim married, being then a man of ample means; but in less than a year he lost almost the whole of his fortune through the failure of a merchant. The blow fell severely upon him, and a second serious illness ensued, through which he bravely struggled. When he had sufficiently recovered, he wrote ‘Father Connell,’ one of the most pleasing of the fictions written by either brother, the chief character being a faithful delineation of a worthy priest who had been known to Banim since childhood. As a creation, Father Connell has been compared by some critics, and not unfavourably, with the Dr. Primrose of Oliver Goldsmith. In 1852 Banim's ‘Clough Fion’ appeared in the ‘Dublin University Magazine,’ and about the same time, through the influence of the Earl of Carlisle, the author was appointed postmaster of his native city of Kilkenny. Although Banim was in a very delicate state of health for some years after receiving this appointment, he fulfilled its duties; but all literary occupation was suspended. It was not until 1864 that the ‘Town of the Cascades,’ his last work, was published. In this story, which exhibited no lack of power, the author depicted the terrible effects of the vice of intemperance. Banim's health completely broke down in 1873, and he was obliged to resign his situation of postmaster. Leaving the neighbourhood, he went with his family to reside at Booterstown, on the coast of the county of Dublin. The committee of the Royal Literary Fund made him an annual allowance. But there is no doubt that his closing years were years of anxiety and hardship. He died at Booterstown on 30 Aug. 1874. The Prime Minister (Mr. Disraeli) granted his widow a pension from the civil list.

In character Michael Banim was amiable, unambitious, modest, and generous to a degree. He unselfishly thrust himself into the background, in order that his younger brother might enjoy to the full the fame that was dear to him. He even refrained from claiming his fair share in the tide of popularity which set in upon the authors of the ‘O'Hara Tales.’ ‘At the same time, it is a noteworthy fact that his contributions to the joint publications, which appeared under the well-known nom de plume of the “O'Hara Family,” were most favourably criticised by the public journals.’ While not possessing the poetic vein of the younger brother, Michael Banim was certainly his equal in the power of vividly depicting passion and character. He had also an irresistible, if at times uncouth, eloquence of style.

As there has been much misunderstanding concerning the relative share of the brothers in the composition of the various tales written by them, we may quote from a document drawn up by Michael Banim, in which he set forth his own share of their joint labours. Out of a total of twenty-four volumes, he claimed to have written thirteen and a half, including the following stories: 1. ‘Crohoore of the Billhook.’ 2. ‘The Croppy.’ 3. ‘The Ghost Hunter and his Family.’ 4. ‘The Mayor of Windgap.’ 5. ‘The Bit o'Writin'.’ 6. ‘Father Connell.’ 7. ‘The Town of the Cascades.’

[The Nation (Dublin); Cabinet of Irish Literature; Freeman's Journal (Dublin); Murray's Life of John Banim.]

G. B. S.