Patriot, novelist, and poet, b. at Mullinahone, Co. Tipperary, Ireland, 1828; d. at Blackrock, Co. Dublin, 22 Aug., 1882. He was the son of John Kickham, a wealthy draper of Mullinahone, and Anne O'Mahony, lovingly described in his novel "Sally Cavanagh", a kinswoman of the Fenian chief, John O'Mahony. When he was about fifteen years old, his sight and hearing were permanently injured by the explosion of a flask of damp gunpowder which he was drying. He took part in the Young Ireland Movement in 1848, and helped to found the Confederate Club at Mullinahone. After the failure of the rising at Ballingarry, near his home, he was forced to hide for a time. A little later he joined the Tenant Right League, and when it failed he lost faith in legal agitation. He joined the Fenians about 1860, and was appointed one of the editors of "The Irish People", the organ of the Fenian Party, along with John O'Leary and T. C. Luby. Arrested at Fairfield House, Sandymount, Dublin, 11 Mar., 1865, he was tried for treason felony at Dublin, 5 Jan., 1866, and sentenced by Judge Keogh to fourteen years' penal servitude. On his way to his cell he picked up a piece of paper from the ground. It was a picture of the Blessed Virgin. He kissed it reverently, saying to the warder: "I have been accustomed to have the likeness of the Mother of God morning and evening before my eyes since I was a child. Will you ask the governor if I may keep this?" His health, always weak, gave way in prison, but he bore up bravely. The question of his ill-treatment in prison was raised in Parliament (7-26 May, 1867) by John Francis Maguire, M.P. for Cork, and, from solitary confinement at Pentonville, Kickham was removed to the invalid prison at Woking, and finally released in March, 1869, when his health had been shattered and he had practically lost his eyesight. He was returned as member of Parliament for Co. Tipperary (1869), but defeated upon a scrutiny, 26 Feb., 1870. Thenceforth he confined himself to literary work.
Kickham contributed largely to Irish national periodicals, such as "The Nation" (1848), "The Irishman" (1849-50), "The Celt" (1857), another paper called "The Irishman" (1858), "The Irish People" (1865), "The Shamrock", "The Irish Monthly" (1881). His articles in these papers appeared over various sigantures, e.g. "K. Mullinahone", "C.J.K.", "Slievenamon", "J.", "Momonia". His best known poems are: "The Priest and his People"; "Rory of the Hill"; "The Irish Peasant Girl", who like himself "lived beside the Anner at the foot of Slievenamon"; and "Patrick Sheehan". Among his shorter prose writings are his "Memoir of Edward Walshe"; "Poor Mary Maher"; "Annie O'Brien"; "Never Give Up"; "Joe Lonergan's Trip to the Lower Regions". During his imprisonment he wrote his first novel, "Sally Cavanagh or the Untenanted Graves" (published in 1869 with a portrait of the author), a simple tale of love among the small farmer class, describing the tragic results of landlordism and emigration but enlivened with touches of humour. "Knocknagow or the Homes of Tipperary" (1879) is his masterpiece, and is considered by many the greatest of Irish novels. It consists of a series of pictures of life in a village in Co. Tipperary so true to nature that they could not have been written but by one who knew and loved the people. He left behind another novel, "For the Old Land or a Tale of Twenty Years ago" (published in 1886), treating also of the small farmers under the old land system. His serial "Elsie Dhu" began in the "Shamrock" of 24 June, 1882, shortly before his death. No writer has produced more faithful pictures of Irish country life. He had wonderful powers of observation and delicate analysis of character. He wrote with restrained simplicity, and was skilful in intermingling humour and pathos. No other novels give a truer insight into the character and Catholic spirit of the Irish peasantry.
M.R., Introduction to Knocknagow, ed. DUFFY (Dublin, 1879); HAMILTON in Dict. Nat. Biog., s. v.; O'DONOGHUE, The Poets of Ireland (Dublin, 1912), s. v.; O'LEARY, Recollections of Fenians and Fenianism (Dublin, 1896); Irish Book Lover, II, III (1910-1912); BROWN, Reader's Guide to Irish Fiction (Dublin, 1910).