John Banim (1798-1842), Irish novelist, sometimes called the "Scott of Ireland," was born at Kilkenny on the 3rd of April 1798. In his thirteenth year he entered Kilkenny College and devoted himself specially to drawing and painting. He pursued his artistic education for two years in the schools connected with the Royal Society at Dublin, and afterwards taught drawing in Kilkenny, where he fell in love with one of his pupils. His affection was returned, but the parents of the young lady interfered and removed her from Kilkenny. She pined away and died in two months. Her death made a deep impression on Banim, whose health suffered severely and permanently. In 1820 he went to Dublin and settled finally to the work of literature. He published a poem, The Celts' Paradise, and his Damon and Pythias was performed at Covent Garden in 1821. During a short visit to Kilkenny he married, and in 1822 planned in conjunction with his elder brother Michael (1796-1874), a series of tales illustrative of Irish life, which should be for Ireland what the Waverley Novels were for Scotland. He then set out for London, and supported himself by writing for magazines and for the stage.
A volume of miscellaneous essays was published anonymously in 1824, called Revelations of the Dead Alive. In April 1825 appeared the first series of Tales of the O'Hara Family, which achieved immediate and decided success. One of the most powerful of them, Crohoore of the Bill Hook, was by Michael Banim. In 1826 a second series was published, containing that excellent Irish novel, The Nowlans. John's health had given way, and the next effort of the "O'Hara family" was almost entirely the production of his brother Michael. The Croppy, a Tale of 1798 (1828) is hardly equal to the earlier tales, though it contains some wonderfully vigorous passages. The Denounced, The Mayor of Windgap, The Ghost Hunter (by Michael Banim), and The Smuggler followed in quick succession, and were received with considerable favour. John Banim, meanwhile, had become much straitened in circumstances. In 1829 he went to France, and while he was abroad a movement to relieve his wants was set on foot by the English press, headed by John Sterling in The Times. A sufficient sum was obtained to remove him from any danger of actual want, and to this government added in 1836 a pension of £150. He returned to Ireland in 1835, and settled in Windgap Cottage, a short distance from Kilkenny; and there, a complete invalid, he passed the remainder of his life, dying on the 13th of August 1842. Michael Banim had acquired a considerable fortune which he lost in 1840 through the bankruptcy of a firm with which he had business relations.
After this disaster he wrote Father Connell (1842), Clough Fionn (1852), The Town of the Cascades (1862). Michael Banim died at Booterstown on the 30th of August 1874.
The true place of the Banims in literature is to be estimated from the merits of the O'Hara Tales; their later works, though of considerable ability, are sometimes prolix and are marked by too evident an imitation of the Waverley Novels. The Tales, however, are masterpieces of faithful delineation. The strong passions, the lights and shadows of Irish peasant character, have rarely been so ably and truly depicted. The incidents are striking, sometimes even horrible, and the authors have been accused of straining after melodramatic effect. The lighter, more joyous side of Irish character, which appears so strongly in Samuel Lover, receives little attention from the Banims.
See P. J. Murray, Life of John Banim (1857).