Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/O'Neill, John (1777?-1860?)

O'NEILL, JOHN (1777?–1860?), temperance poet, was born in the city of Waterford on 8 Jan. 1777 or 1778, and was the son of a poor shoemaker. He left school when nine years of age, and was apprenticed to the shoemaking business under his uncle. In 1798 he was living in Carrick-on-Suir, and in 1799 went to Dublin in search of employment. He returned to Carrick in the following year, and there married, though in extremely poor circumstances. At this time he began to write verse, some of which became popular, and he produced a satire against master-tailors called ‘The Clothier's Looking-Glass.’ His poverty was great, but he prided himself on his sobriety. After his removal to London early in the century he tried many callings, but was unsuccessful in all. Meanwhile he wrote poetry, eight dramas, and a novel in three volumes, entitled ‘Mary of Avonmore; or the Foundling of the Beach.’ None of these works seem now accessible. Hampered by a very large family, he managed to subsist by working as a shoemaker.

Connecting himself with temperance organisations, he prominently identified himself with their principles, and attracted the notice of Mrs. S. C. Hall and George Cruikshank. In 1840 he published a poem called ‘The Drunkard,’ and dedicated it to Father Mathew [q. v.] For a new edition of 1842 Cruikshank designed his remarkable etchings of the effects of the ‘Bottle.’ O'Neill died about 1860.

His published works are: 1. ‘Irish Melodies.’ 2. ‘The Sorows of Memory,’ a poem. 3. ‘Alva,’ a drama, 1821. 4. ‘The Drunkard,’ a poem, 12mo, London, 1840; ditto, with a portrait and etchings by George Cruikshank, 8vo, 1842; another edition, under the title of ‘The Blessings of Temperance,’ and containing the author's life and portrait, 12mo, London, 1851. 6. ‘The Triumph of Temperance; or the Destruction of the British Upas Tree,’ a poem in three cantos, 12mo, London, 1852. 7. ‘Handerahan the Irish Fairy-Man, and Legends of Carrick’ (edited by Mrs. S. C. Hall), 12mo, London, 1854.

Another John O'Neill published a poem entitled ‘Hugh O'Neill, the Prince of Ulster,’ in Dublin, 1859.

[The Blessings of Temperance, 1851, introduction; O'Donoghue's Poets of Ireland; Brit. Mus. Cat.]

D. J. O'D.