James Clarence Mangan
Mangan was the son of a former hedge school teacher who took over a grocery business and eventually became bankrupt.
Born in Dublin, he was educated at a Jesuit school where he learned the rudiments of Latin, Spanish, French, and Italian. He attended three different schools until the age of fifteen. Obliged to find a job in order to support his family, he became a lawyer's clerk, and was later an employee of the Ordnance Survey and an assistant in the Library of Trinity College, Dublin.
Mangan began submitting verses to various Dublin publications, the first being published in 1818. From 1820 onwards he adopted the middle name Clarence. In 1830 he began producing translations from German, a language he had taught himself.Of interest are his translations of Goethe. From 1834 his contributions began appearing in the Dublin University Magazine. His translations from the German were generally free interpretations rather than strict transliterations. In 1840 he began producing translations from Turkish, Persian, Arabic, and Irish. It must be pointed out, however, that he was also well known for literary hoaxes; thus some of his "translations" are in fact works of his own e.g. the superb poem "Twenty Golden Years Ago", attributed to a certain Selber.
Although his early poetry was often apolitical, after the Great Famine he began writing poems with a strong nationalist bent, including influential works such as My Dark Rosaleen or Róisín Dubh and A Vision of Connaught in the Thirteenth Century.
Mangan was a lonely and difficult man who suffered from mood swings, depression and irrational fears, and became a heavy drinker. His appearance was eccentric, and later in life he was often seen wearing a long cloak, green spectacles and a blond wig. In 1849, weakened by poverty, alcoholism and malnutrition, he succumbed to cholera, aged 46, and was buried in Glasnevin Cemetery.
James Joyce wrote a significant essay on Mangan, and also used his name in his works, e.g. "Araby" in Dubliners. The significance, it is said, lies in part in Joyce's reluctance to acknowledge influence from the Irish literary tradition: he was otherwise chary of adopting any artistic predecessors.
His poems were published in The Nation (Irish newspaper), a nationalist newspaper first published in October 1842. Yeats considered Mangan one of the best Irish poets, along with Thomas Davis and Samuel Ferguson, claiming, "To the soul of Clarence Mangan was tied the burning ribbon of Genius."
His most famous poems include Dark Rosaleen, Siberia, Nameless One, A Vision of Connaught in the Thirteenth Century, The Funerals, To the Ruins of Donegal Castle, Pleasant Prospects for the Land-eaters and Woman of Three Cows. He also wrote a brief autobiography on the advice of his friend, Father C. P. Meehan, which ends cutoff mid-sentence. He must have been writing in the last months of his life since he mentions his narrative poem of the Italian Gasparo Bandollo which was published in the Dublin University Magazine in May 1849. A sensationally discovered continuation of the autobiography appeared in the Dublin journal Metre in 2001, but was later discovered to be a fake.
Among the contemporary Irish writers he has influenced are Thomas Kinsella, Michael Smith, James McCabe (author of the hoax autobiography) and David Wheatley, author of a sonnet sequence on Mangan. He is also cited by the song writer Shane MacGowan as an inspiration, both for his work and his lifestyle. A 1979 novel by Northern Irish-Canadian novelist Brian Moore, The Mangan Inheritance, tells the story of (fictional) young American James Mangan traveling to Ireland to try to determine whether he is descended from the famous poet.
James Clarence Mangan: Selected Writings ISBN 978-1-900621-92-2
- Cousin, John William: A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature. (London, J.M. Dent & sons; New York, E.P. Dutton, 1910)
- Boylan, Henry, A Dictionary of Irish Biography, (Dublin, Gill and Macmillan, 1978)
- Anton, Brigitte. "Mangan, James Clarence". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/17930. (subscription or UK public library membership required)
- "James Clarence Mangan". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913.