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13 December 2006

The John O’Connor Power page on Wikipedia was set up by Rcbutcher on 13 December 2006.

Coincidentally 13 December, the anniversary of the death of Dr Johnson, was a significant date for That Irishman and for The Johnson Club.

St Nicotine

Cope Bros & Co Ltd, based in Liverpool, manufactured tobacco products – snuff, cigars, cigarettes, tobacco.

The firm’s publicity material included Cope’s Tobacco Plant and Smoke Room booklets and Cope Bros cigarette cards.

In 1878, an illustration, Peerless Pilgrimage to Saint Nicotine of the Holy Herb, promoting ‘the soothing weed’, drew a great deal of attention. A signpost indicates the route ‘To Ye Shrine of St Nicotine’.  There are cartoons of over sixty contemporary literary and political figures.

Cope’s Modern Pilgrims had Cope’s Key, a decoding card. In the bottom left corner, on the grassy roadside, a blighted potato is depicted.  There are three colorado beetles with the heads of Irish obstructionists. Joseph Biggar (32) sits astride the potato, which is flanked by O’Connor Power (31) and Parnell (33).

Note the simian features of the potato head.

 

Were they all smokers?

Mr Phillips, Davitt and That Irishman

At the end of 1887, the Tory government’s ‘grim savagery … the policy of repression’ provoked a decisive counter-attack from Irish nationalists.

Mr William Phillips, Liberal, humanitarian, author of The Irish Home Rule Catechism for the English People (1886) and vice-chairman of Gladstone Candidates Election Fund, took up residence in the West of Ireland, ‘I am determined, in 1887, to go over and see and judge for myself …’.

At the end of the year, the Manchester Guardian‘s Irish correspondent wrote of a ‘very remarkable letter written by Mr Davitt to Mr Phillips … I should not wonder if new methods were soon to be taken up on lines less likely to suit Mr Balfour’s calculations than those with which he has had hitherto to deal’.

The Irish Liberal alliance, determined to topple the Tory government and bring in Home Rule, was preparing for a confrontation. O’Connor Power travelled to North America to promote the Home Rule agenda and organise its supporters.

See That Irishman, Part Four, Taking a Stand.

In April 1896, William Phillips retired from active political life.  His colleagues in the National Liberal Club presented him with a life size portrait of himself. O’Connor Power gave a vote of thanks. Bristol Mercury, 20 April 1896.

Black Power

In March 1879, O’Connor Power advised Disraeli’s Government that the war in South Africa was unprovoked and unpatriotic.  He deplored the ‘evil effects of aggressive imperialism’.

… if they wanted to be on good terms with the black population of South Africa, they must treat them as if they were a white population … [I am] expressing the true feeling of the Irish people on the subject, as well as the views of a large portion of the English nation.

Hansard 26 March 1879, Manchester Guardian, 30 March 1879.

With the decisive support of an organised Irish vote, Disraeli’ s government fell the following Spring.

[O’Connor Power claimed victory] for the first time in the political history of this country an English Minister has appealed in vain to the anti-Irish prejudices  of his countrymen: and his discomfiture affords incontestable proof of the growth of Irish political power and the advance of Irish opinion in England.

Hansard 20 May 1880.  See also That Irishman, pp. 98-99, 131.

That Irishman on the Terrace.

Barry O’Brien, biographer of Parnell, relates a conversation in the smoking room of the House of Commons. Parnell admits, ‘I am no match for him [Gladstone] … he knows more moves on the board than I do’.

He then paused; an Irish member entered from the Terrace. Parnell, shaking the ashes from a cigar, looked at  him, adding quickly, with an arch smile, ‘But he thinks he is a match for Mr Gladstone’.

Barry O’Brien takes care to conceal the identities of many of his colleagues.  Was this Irish member O’Connor Power?

R. Barry O’Brien, The Life of Parnell, p.323 (1910).

Birthdays

Charles Stewart Parnell, deeply superstitious and depressive, dreaded his birth month, October, ‘a month of influence’.  Gladstone, a workaholic, assessed the year’s achievements in December, the month he was born. O’Connor Power, with Hibernian flair,  marked his birthday, 13 February.

See ‘February 13th 1893’, The Speaker.

Also That Irishman, pp.232-234.

The Occasional Speaker

‘The Occasional Speaker’ is a chapter in The Making of an Orator.  O’Connor Power cites a speech of the Admiral of the Fleet Sir John Fisher, at the Royal Academy banquet 1903, as an example of ‘unconventional oratory …  breezy humour thinly veiling the serious purpose’.*

Sir John Fisher (1841-1920) modernised and rebuilt the Royal Navy, replacing wooden boats with steel-plated battleships and introducing torpedoes and submarines.  He is a towering figure  in British naval history.

Fisher outlawed flogging on his ships.  In 1904 he was First Sea Lord.

* The Making of an Orator, pp. 271-274.

13th December 1892

The Daily Graphic, Thursday 15th December 1892, devoted its front page to the Johnson Club’s commemorative supper at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese tavern off Fleet Street.

Tuesday 13 December was the 108th anniversary of Dr Johnson’s death. A brief text relates, ‘The rules of the club do not admit of any reporter being present at their meetings, but our artist was permitted to record as much as he could see through the smoke over the punch bowl.’

The presiding Prior claimed there was no record of Dr Johnson visiting the Cheshire Cheese, ‘but an eloquent gentleman present, an Irish ex-M.P., pointed out that when Dr. Johnson acted on his famous suggestion, “Let us take a walk down Fleet Street”, the Cheshire Cheese must of necessity have been included among his places of call.’

The detailed illustration depicts a candle-lit, smoke-filled room. A portrait of Dr Johnson on the far wall,  the steak pudding encased in a huge basin, the claret punch bowl with its long-tailed silver spoon and the steaming thick glasses enhance the mood. Some of the Brethren, a band of brothers, are smoking the traditional eighteenth century churchwarden long clay pipes.

There were thirty-one members in the club. Just fifteen have been sketched and named. Mr Augustine Birrell, Ireland’s Chief Secretary (1907-1916), and Mr John O’Connor (Long John six foot six of treason felony), a leading member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, are flanking and almost aligned with a grey-haired, bearded man who has his back to the artist. He is smoking a cigar, left hand to his brow, a thinker.* Towards the centre of the web, he remains anonymous.

The Johnsonians were in particularly good spirits. The Liberal party was back in government and Gladstone was poised to introduce the Second Home Rule Bill 13 February 1893, O’Connor Power’s forty-seventh birthday.

 

See That Irishman, Part Three, At Large. See also Post, Selected Writings, FEBRUARY 13TH 1893, pp. 167-169.  Available to download.

*”The traveller at once raised his left hand to his left eyebrow.’  Arthur Conan Doyle, The Valley of Fear,  Part Two.   A Fenian  salute, an inversion of the military salute. John McMurdo/ Birdie Edwards/Jack Douglas was a cigar smoker.

The artist was F Carruthers Gould, Prior of the Johnson Club in 1890, ‘He has also sometimes used a pencil  for our amusement and gratification.’

The image is available to view at Post February 6, 2017, ‘The Johnson Club, December 13, 1892.’

Seamus Heaney RIP

In 2011 I wrote to the great poet to point out that John O’Connor Power was ‘A witty profound Irishman’ in his friend Ted Hughes poem, ‘Wilfred Owen’s Photographs’.*

Two days later I was in the kitchen preparing vegetables when my mobile rang.  Immediately I recognised his warm, heart-melting brogue. A sink-side conversation followed with my favourite Irishman on my favourite subject.

*See FAQs