By Jim McCarthy
Con Houlihan contended that ten times more Irish people were familiar with the novel Knocknagow than they were with Ulysses. Knocknagow, however, has its own claim to fame. It honestly portrays a cross-section of the rural population.
Charles Kickham, author of Knocknagow, was a genuine patriot, journalist, writer and composer of popular verse.
What made these achievements remarkable was that in his early teens he had an accident while drying a flask of damp gunpowder. It exploded, causing permanent injury to his sight and hearing.
He was born in Mullinahone, County Tipperary, on 9th May, 1828. He was acquainted with everybody there and educated locally.
Reading aloud was a tradition in the Kickham home. Young Charles became familiar with the works of Shakespeare, Dickens and Burns.
His parents instilled him with patriotic fervour. His mother, Anne, was reputedly a kinswoman of the Fenian, John O’Mahony. His father, John, was a farmer and proprietor of a large drapery.
His father, a fervent disciple of Daniel O’Connell, was renowned locally for his patriotism. He read The Nation to his family. This newspaper was founded by Charles Gavan Duffy, Thomas Davis and John Blake Dillon.
All three belonged to O’Connell’s Repeal Association, which strove to overturn the 1800 Act of Union. The Repeal Association later became Young Ireland. The Nation had a profound effect on young Charles Kickham.
In addition, the nationalist community was consumed by Repeal of the Union. He heard it being discussed at home and in the drapery. He became familiar with its arguments and passionate about its objectives.