The Mahonys and Fr. Prout

By Colman O’Mahony

Following Timothy Mahony’s death on 2nd January 1818, the business was run by Martin, who possessed a different temperament to his brother. We are told that he had: ‘…not an atom of the milk of human kindness about him – on the contrary, he is harsh and unfeeling …a selfish hard-hearted man, who looks as if he was always at war with everyone around him – an angry scowl for ever on his countenance, which having contracted in his youth, is now become a fixture…’!

In 1821 Martin Mahony was involved in a dispute with his workers who claimed that their wages were inadequate to support them and their families. Competition from cheap cotton goods caused much of the problem. Martin had tried to distribute the available work by giving each weaver three days work per week. Thus, his kindness on this occasion was not appreciated!

In 1824 Martin transferred the woollen business from Blackpool to a former flax mill at Blarney. The mill power consisted of one small 16 horse-power water wheel. By the mid-1830s some 120 people were employed at spinning, dyeing, etc…, at the mill. Mahony’s were the first firm to introduce the spinning of worsted by steam in the South of Ireland, an expert named Frederick Manley was brought from Yorkshire to supervise this development. Manley died in a drowning accident in 1836. His former employer Martin Mahony had died aged 70 in February 1834. His obituary tells us that: ‘under an apparently austere and stern exterior, there was a frankness, a goodness and ever a gentleman of heart that made him the idol of his friends and family ‘.

Following the death of his wife, the former Miss Hynes, in 1794, Martin Mahony had remarried – apparently to Maria Reynolds. These marriages produced six sons and five daughters, of whom the best known is Francis Sylvester – or to use his pen-name; ‘Fr. Prout’.

Francis was born on 31 December 1804 and entered Glongowes Wood College in February 1815. As a student he displayed exceptional talents, particularly in languages and literature. He did further study at the Jesuit Seminary in Paris and in Rome but failed to prove his vocation. He returned to Clongowes in 1825 and his duties there included the charge of students during recreation. One day in early November, Francis and a group of lads set off on a cross country walk to Maynooth. Dinner at Maynooth included a glass of whiskey punch and on the return journey the party stopped for refreshments at Celbridge. Tea and cakes were followed by more punch and soon a party atmosphere developed with no check on the numbers of decanters consumed. Eventually, some two hours behind schedule, a very drunk group staggered out into the darkness to face a five-mile walk to Clongowes. Their ardour was quenched by a violent thunderstorm and eventually the assistance of turf-cutters was sought to carry the lads back to College. The repercussions were severe and Francis was sent on probation to Switzerland. He did not subsequently become a Jesuit but was ordained a priest in 1830 at least.

He returned to Cork and devoted himself to helping the poor. His work in the Cork Foundling Hospital and House of Industry was remembered for many years. He also had contact with the Cork Lunatic Asylum and as a mark of appreciation for his work there the notorious Captain Steward (the perpetrator of the Mary Russell massacre in 1828) presented Fr. Mahony with a miniature ‘man-o-war’ which he had constructed.

Francis was also involved in philanthropic societies including the Cork Anti-Slavery Society; at one meeting in August 1830 the fellow speakers included the ‘Liberator’ Daniel O’Connell. Following a dispute about the provision of a new church, Rev. Mahony left Cork and went to London.

In London, he commenced writing for Frazer’s Magazine in 1834, but this may not have been his earliest published work. When Francis was in Cork in 1830, Fr. Prout of Watergrasshill died and a poetic tribute to his memory was published in the Cork Constitution of 28 August. The rhyming and humourous style of this poem bears similarities to Fr. Mahony’s later work under the name of Fr. Prout. The opening lines of the poem read:

‘Beneath this stone lies Fr. Prout, of stature low, but thick and stout;

His breath was equal to his length, Formed he was for massive strength…!

After 1834 Francis Mahony concentrated on his literary career and ceased to exercise his priestly functions. Prout rarely returned to Cork, one of his visits took place in August 1847 during the height of the Great Famine. He died in Paris on 18 May 1866. His body was brought to Cork and lay at rest overnight in St. Patrick’s Church – by coincidence, this was the same chapel which had caused the dispute which led to Prout’s departure from Cork in the 1830s. The body was interred in the family vault at Shandon and the Bishop of Cork officiated at the ceremony.

As a tribute to Prout’s memory, the Cork sculptor Richard Barter was commissioned to make a bust of the writer. The work was unveiled at the School of Art on 7 October 1890.

Unfortunately, the writings of Fr. Prout were principally ephemera and, with the exception of the ‘Bells of Shandon’, little else stood the test of time and survived in use to the present day.

The above excerpt is taken from a much larger article titled ‘Blarney Woollen Mills and the Mahony Family’ by Colman O’Mahony and published in Issue No.1 ‘Old Blarney’ Journal.

Contact: Mr. Brian Gabriel Email: bg1@eircom.net Tel: 021 4381349 Mob: 087-2153216