BEHIND the façade of these premises in Newry Street lies a fascinating gem of history. It was here that John Mitchel (1815–1875) had his solicitor’s offices.
John Mitchel was born near Dungiven, County Londonderry, the son of a Presbyterian minister. He trained as a solicitor and in1840 obtained a job with Mr. Fraser in Newry, County Down. The firm expanded and opened premises in Banbridge using the above building with John Mitchel in charge.
When the potato crops failed during The Great Famine (1845-47) John Mitchel became enraged about the plight of subsistence farmers. His anger inspired him to write pamphlets and articles attacking what he perceived as the government’s inaction. In 1848, he started a journal called ‘The United Irishman’. His writing caused him to be tried for treason, found guilty, transported to Bermuda and he served 14 years as a prisoner.
On his release Mitchel travelled to South Carolina and became a voice for the Southern viewpoint during the American Civil War. He supported slavery because he thought American slaves were in a better situation than the poor at home in Ireland.
John Mitchel returned to Ireland and was elected as a Member of Parliament for Tipperary in 1875. The election was declared invalid because he was a convicted felon and a by-election was called. John Mitchel stood again and was re-elected with an increased majority. This posed a problem for the government which was solved by his death of natural causes also in 1875.
Does anyone know anything more about him? Contact The Leader or Doreen McBride on 406 23782.