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.* 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. 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.’
I took That Irishman to revisit his old haunts – London’s Fleet Street, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese and the Middle Temple. A call to the Johnson House revealed that the library’s holdings will shortly be on-line.
Coincidentally, my travelling companion, William Boyd’s Any Human Heart, makes mention of Hodge twice.
My next port of call was Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, a tavern unspoilt by ‘the fury of innovation’ and a favourite haunt of O’ Connor Power. The atmosphere remains warm and welcoming and I presented the manager with a copy of That Irishman.
And so to Somerset House, former home to the Admiralty, for a delightful lunch with Sile, overlooking the Thames. She joined me on my afternoon tour of the Middle Temple. We took photographs of O’Connor Power’s chambers – 5 King’s Bench Walk (1882-7), 2 Brick Court (1888-96), 1 Essex Court (1897-1916). 2 Brick Court was a former home of Oliver Goldsmith.
Oliver Goldsmith Chambers celebrates Rumpole of the Bailey:
I made efforts to locate a bust of O’Connor Power, MP, 1881, by John Lawlor, the famous Irish sculptor. It was entered for a Royal Hibernian Academy exhibition in 1881 and then withdrawn because of political unrest. The Royal Hibernian Academy and the Royal Academy in London were helpful but the location of the bust remains a mystery.
That Irishman’s father, Patrick Power, was from Ballygill, just outside Ballinasloe. ‘Power’s Garden’, as it was known, was close to Ballygill Bridge.
The eighteenth century Ballygill Lodge was ’10 chains East of the river Suck’ and in ruins when O’Connor Power was a boy. Anthony Trollope’s The Landleaguers (1883) describes a meet for the local hunt in Ballytowngal.
A visit in late September to Kilmainham Gaol. O’Connor Power was arrested in Dublin in February 1868, a few days after his twenty-second birthday. He was released in July.
Photographs of a prison cell in the Victorian East Wing. That Irishman spent several months in this cell or in one just like it.
‘Home Rule sun rising up in the northwest’ James Joyce, Ulysses.
As the Irish Republican Brotherhood’s Supreme Council representative for Connacht, O’Connor Power moved to Mayo. The Fenians campaigned for Catholic landlord George Henry Moore in the Westminster elections. It was at meetings in Moorehall that Moore and Fenian leaders agreed on a new departure – constitutional and physical force Nationalists to work together and separately to forward the goal of an independent Ireland.
For an account of the Moores of Moorehall visit www.historicalballinrobe.com. There are photos of Moorehall in all its nineteenth century glory.
Moorehall as it is today.